Bush's Gay Gambit

Does Silence = Support for Gay Rights?

We live in a time when expectations are so low that it's possible to confuse the pretense of tolerance with the will to change. All John Ashcroft has to do is permit a gay-pride forum at the Justice Department and his slate is wiped clean. Never mind the beliefs he brings to making judicial recommendations or his longtime opposition to gay rights. Indeed, Ashcroft opposed the Judge Act, warning that it would have "unintended and unfortunate results." His unintended consequence is our equality.

Yet, to Chris Crane, who runs a syndicate of gay papers, Ashcroft "just isn't the nightmare we were warned about, at least so far." That's true if you judge a threat solely by the noise it makes. As for Bush, Crain writes in the Washington Blade, "his brand of 'compassionate conservatism' at least appears to be generally sunny and benign, looking at sexual orientation through something like the 'colorblind' perspective that Ronald Reagan viewed race." This is an all-too-apt comparison, since Reagan's "colorblind" policies had a devastating effect on the poor. Bush's benign neglect could have a similar impact on the least fortunate gay people, those who need civil rights protections most.

His program will pass, homophobia and all, if the Senate reverts to the Republicans next fall. On the other hand, if the Senate remains as it is and the House goes Democratic, ENDA will very likely appear on the president's desk. Then we'll see what substance there is to the sunshine.

The real question is why the gay community settles for so little when we can achieve so much—if only we keep our eyes on the difference between a wedding and a wink.

Richard Goldstein is the author of The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right (Verso).

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