EDITORIAL 

A Queer Business

Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona, Representative David Dreier of California, Representative Ed Shrock of Virginia, Representative Bob Bauman of Maryland, Representative Jon Hinson of Mississippi. These names constitute an honor roll of sorts, the tip of what could be a considerable-sized iceberg, indeed. Who are they? Current or former Republican members of the House of Representatives. Not just that: They all have served as paragons of the everlasting struggle of American values against moral debauchery -- especially the kind designated by the term "gay rights," which each of these worthies has voted consistently to oppose. And not just that: Each of these past and present congressmen has been reliably identified as homosexual.

The tip of an iceberg, we say, because we are leaving out a veritable host of other nationally prominent Republican gays -- fund-raisers, spokespersons, ideologists, what-have-you -- because most of them have not been as directly involved in antihomosexual initiatives as the aforementioned congressmen, whose votes to restrict or deny gay rights are on the record. One unavoidable exception: We have to note that the bogus "newsman" James Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon), who has been serving as a paid shill for GOP and conservative causes at presidential press conferences for the last two years, was also fronting fully for explicit male-hustler Web sites.

We do not mean to suggest that homosexuality in politics is disproportionately Republican, but the facts are that, questions of hypocrisy aside, the homosexual orientation of politicians, male or female, is A) none of our business and B) distributed fairly evenly across racial, ethnic, and political boundaries.

But you would never guess so from the kind of publicity tactics pursued by spokespersons for the conservative right -- most recently in a notorious ad from USANEXT, an advocacy group that is pushing President Bush's controversial plan to privatize Social Security. The ad targets the American Association of Retired Persons, a famously stolid group that backed Bush's costly prescription-drugs legislation two years ago but has so far demurred on the president's Social Security plans. For that offense, USANEXT launched a $10 million campaign against AARP with an ad juxtaposing a picture of American soldiers, marked through with a big red X next to a shot of two men in tuxedoes kissing. Never mind the inappropriateness. You get the message.

Gay-baiting of another kind figured closer to home this week, as the Tennessee legislature moved quickly and overwhelmingly to vote for a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to prohibit not only gay marriage but the honoring of marital or civil-union prerogatives accorded gay partners in the laws of other states.

Let it not be said that the beleaguered John Ford is without honor. Ford was one of only three state senators who dared vote against the resolution in a hurriedly called session Monday night. The others were Ford's Memphis colleague Steve Cohen and Senator Joe Haynes of Nashville. As Haynes quite sensibly said, "This is overkill. We already ban same-sex marriage in the statute. I respect our constitution too much to vote for this."

Senator Cohen made a valiant 11th-hour effort to amend the resolution so that it at least recognized certain contractual rights and benefits of same-sex unions deemed valid elsewhere. His motion was tabled. Comparing Monday night's rush to judgment to the hothouse legislation passed during the time of segregation, Cohen said, "It's the same warped logic that's feeding this frenzy today."

Yep. In the old, pre-sexual meaning of the term, this is pretty queer stuff.

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