Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sell Out

Our first dip into activism came just before the push in the Utah legislature to put a constitutional amendment to forbid our legal marriage on the ballot. I was speaking out against a bill aiming to do the same in regular law up on capitol hill.

After that and once the push to make that bill into an amendment began, I was asked by a representative to give the opening prayer for the legislative day, as an open gay man and father. She wanted them to have to see me.

To put this in context, not many legislators came to hear my testimony... Okay, hardly any came; they didn't want to hear what they were doing to people and were seemingly content with the assessment Senator Buttars provided of gay families (or what's the term he prefers? Child abuse collectives?). He gave them all some pamphlet about what the gays do in bed. He knows, see.

I'm sure none of them wanted to be near enough to a gay man that hand shaking might become a possibility after reading that, let alone to have to consider his family in their legislation.

Anyway, so here was a chance for me to have a captive audience. They'd have to see a gay father, without warning. They'd have to know they were going to hurt someone real. They'd have to know more about our lives and concerns than they got from the paper or the news the day after they didn't show up to hear what we had to say. They'd have to see we shared some common ground.

Sure, that may be very little, but it's something. Consider that the bill passed by one vote.

I'm ashamed to admit I was tempted. I was. I thought out some justifications: "I'm not an atheist; I can say a prayer as an agnostic, can't I?" "It's no big deal. I at least know what faith feels like..." "This could soften some hearts; a prayer without faith is the lesser of two evils."

I came close, so close that that episode is something I'll keep as a constant reminder of how weak I can be. It's something to weigh me down when I start to float.

Nevertheless, I didn't do it. I called the representative and told her I couldn't do it, that it would be improper. She ended up using her turn to select an Episcopal for the person giving the prayer, straight man though.

I didn't do it because, as an agnostic pretending to speak to anyone in prayer, I would have been selling out one of my core principles, my respect for democracy and science in epistemology. I would be doing that for possible political gain. Equal treatment, sure, is another of my core principles, but I don't want it reached that way. Some sins can spoil the best blessings.

Still, I wonder to this day, what if there was just that one legislator on the brink, thinking of gay men as shallow club hoppers with no more need of marriage rights and responsibilities than the average fraternity brother. What if they never thought gay men were men of family, and dedication, that they weren't parents, parents terrified of how their government is treating their home. Could a sliver have made a difference? Probably not, but...

That brings me to yesterday. I opened the mail and found a thank you card from my representative, now running for senate. I donated to their campaign last month, just a couple years after refusing to even put up a lawn sign for them because they voted for Amendment 3. I donated not because I now like this person; I donated because I want to break the super majority the republicans have in the senate. In short, the thank you made me feel a bit dirty, unexpectedly; it made me feel like I feel when I think back to considering that prayer.

One must be careful. I have to be careful. It seems there's no greater a population, per capita, of lesser evils than in politics.

Of course I can't support the republican here, she's worse on most of the issues I care about. And at least this representative knows my disappointment, we've talked numerous times and even their campaign staff knows me by face and name (they must have some sort of malcontent constituent file?). I'm sure she can easily guess why we've donated now, and knows we're not now anti-gay rights...

Still, for some reason, I'd rather have not been told thank you; that thank you lowered my opinion of my self, just enough to sting.


Kengo Biddles said...

You know, I don't think you're necessarily a sell-out. And I have to say, I never thought I'd do it, but I'm thinking I'm going to vote straight party.

What kills me is Utah has the lowest voter registration of any state, and I'll bet those that aren't registered are Dems and Independents who feel like their vote won't count.

*sigh* Anyone up for a queerosphere voter registration drive?

Scot said...

"What kills me is Utah has the lowest voter registration of any state"

That surprises me for the patriotism we display.

"*sigh* Anyone up for a queerosphere voter registration drive?"

Here's a start :-)


"You know, I don't think you're necessarily a sell-out. "

Maybe I was too down about this. Not technically. It's just that feeling... Supporting someone because it's the best of two bad options. It was the thank you that got to me. Also kind of odd that it's a temptation to pray and a temptation to help an anti-gay rights candidate that are on the conscience :-).

J G-W said...

You didn't know any believing homos you could have referred to your representative? A quick call to Affirmation might have rousted out a few...

Politics is generally nasty business, when it comes down to it. You made the right decision both times, I think -- when you refused to pray and when you donated to a campaign that was the lesser of two evils. The former would have been a dishonest personal statement in a way that the latter could never be.

For a brief period in grad school I harbored purist fantasies about my poltical involvement. I would ONLY vote for and support financially candidates and causes I believed in 100%. Those days are long over... All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to wait for the purest and best political option. Working against lesser evils in anticipation of a better day and more righteous battles is a necessity of the world we live in...

Scot said...

"You didn't know any believing homos you could have referred to your representative?"

I tried a couple friends but they feared for their jobs, business, or reaction from family to get anywhere near going public. Gay parents in this town, with dependent children and without family or coworkers that would react negatively if they spoke openly, are hard to find. I don't know why the rep, who should have more connections than me, couldn't find another. Maybe the thing was we were up there and in the media; we could have been known to be gay dads without awkwardly working that into a prayer?

"Working against lesser evils in anticipation of a better day and more righteous battles is a necessity of the world we live in..."

You make a good point, it's just... it just feels icky.

J G-W said...

I forgot that Utah is maybe a riskier place to be high-profiledly out of the closet than, say, Minneapolis.

I might have volunteered as I have no problem praying, except that I would have issues of conscience related to the blurring of church state separation by praying in a legislature, not to mention religious qualms about praying for the purpose of public display (which, as Jesus pointed out, sort of defeats the purpose of prayer).


[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

I know exactly what you mean, Scot. While I've never been in this situation, I have been in ones where I felt I was pressured to so something that I felt was not in accordance with my personal ethics, but which was "for the greater good". Even if something good may come out of it, I would, like you, feel that it was tainted.

I've often thought about whether "The ends justify the means", and for the most part, I don't believe they do. If the means are immoral or wrong, than that sullies what you're trying to accomplish, no matter how noble.

Take, for example, how certain LdS church leaders (cough... Oaks) seem to think (and preach) that it is okay to cover up truth (especially with regards to church history) and twist it so as to keep things from the members which might "negatively impact their testimonies". They are trying to "help" the members (in their weird way), but I believe that the truth is always the right thing, no matter how inconvenient or "damaging".

As you point out, it is much more difficult than we'd often like it to be to decide when something violates our morals. Is there something we might feel a little uncomfortable about, but isn't quite bad enough to make the possible rewards not outweigh the cost? Is it a cost you would regret paying (quite literally in this case)?

I guess apart from all my non-answers, all I can say is that I probably agree with John, in that in this situation, voting for/supporting the one who is least slimy and evil was the best choice. It's really frustrating when our political system forces us to have candidates where both are undesirable. More and more, I'm convinced that a multi-party system has the advantage in situations like this. (YAY Canada!)

J G-W said...

I've given a lot of thought to that whole issue... At some level, I too like the multi-party systems of countries like Canada (YAY!), which encourage people to vote for the candidate they really like the most.

But multi-party systems still require coalitions to function, which means that the compromises get made any way -- only by politicos in parliament. In the U.S. system, the coalition building essentially happens at the street/voting booth level. The Democratic Party is basically a "coalition" party of environmentalists, civil rights groups, Keynesian economists, peace activists, etc. The Republican Party is basically a coalition of religious conservatives, big business, pro-defense groups, and so on.

Depending which part of the coalition you identify with most, you will be more or less disappointed by compromises politicians make to satisfy other parts of the coalition... (Which is why, for instance, religious conservatives will be forced to swallow a bitter pill this fall if they wish to defeat Obama.)

That's politics...

Dave said...

I want you to meet my dad! You need to help him win his election! :)

Java said...

You think too much.

No, I don't really mean that. Your thoughts drive you to do honorable things. You exhibit more integrity than many faithful religious people I know. By not giving the opening prayer that day you were true to your beliefs.

You have well reasoned motives to donate to the representative's campaign for senate. This is politics, and as you know we must take the good with the bad. It's strategy. I assume this thank you card was not a personally hand-written note from the candidate? Money runs politics (and most everything else) and this thank you note is the candidate's strategy to get more money. It's a standard form; etiquette, if you will. Your strategy is to support this campaign for the greater good of breaking the Republican stronghold in the senate. Her (his?) stragegy is to properly acknowledge a donation in hopes of receiving more of the same. That's all. It's a form letter. It's polite society.

You think too much.

Scot said...

"Take, for example, how certain LdS church leaders (cough... Oaks) seem to think (and preach) that it is okay to cover up truth"

and that's why the proposed ends are best if infinite :-). Who wouldn't try to save gay people from eternal punishment, by causing them a little pain today?

Java "You think too much. "

At least a wandering mind lends itself to blog posts :-).

Your points are well taken.

"I assume this thank you card was not a personally hand-written note from the candidate? "

Nope, handwritten, the candidate even got both our names on there, even remembered to use my nick name. Now that you bring it up, I think the idea of them sitting down and writing that after the words we've exchanged regarding our home was one of the most annoying aspects... I'd rather an automated response; it would be less politicky in that case. It also feels maybe like an "I told you so; you've got no where else to go" from them :-).

But, eh, I'm over it.