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November 03, 2004

When reality fails me

While I am reality-based, many of you know I am a person of faith as well. Reality is failing me today, so I ended up at Saint Mark's on the way to work. The letter below, which I just emailed to my family, is the result.

The bit at the end will not sit well with some of you, but the battle ahead will be as much for the soul of America as the ballot box. So we can't ignore the role that religion will play, or the role of people of faith in making sure that religion becomes, once again, a positive force in our country.

Dear Family--

I am sure that a lot of you are wondering what to say to me in the aftermath of this election. Quite frankly, nothing will console me. I think you all know my views on the dangerous direction Bush is taking our great country, both domestically and abroad. I certainly hope that I am wrong in my fears about what the next four years hold.

But I am certain about one thing: the buck now stops with George W. Bush. With strong majorities in both houses of Congress, there can be no blaming anyone else for the results. As Colin Powell said famously (if not quite correctly about store policies) about Iraq—“Pottery Barn rules: you break it, you buy it.” That goes for this country too. Bush will have almost unprecedented leeway in instituting his policies, and if they fail to produce positive results it will be impossible to hide.

I suppose I should be glad this election was not won, like the last one, by dirty tricks and court challenges. But I am not. Because this election was won with a strategy that is far more reckless and much more personal for me and for David. Bush won by appealing to the basest prejudice and bigotry, with a strategy that put gay marriage at the center of an appeal to people of faith. There is no question that turnout on the anti-gay amendment in Ohio produced the turnout that drove Bush’s victory.

Some of you may feel that Bush was right to do whatever was needed to produce a victory. I would ask you to think long and hard about the “moral values” that lie behind such a strategy. I will never, ever forgive him or his party for the terrible slander they undertook against my family and my person. If any of you really believe that my marriage to David in any way, shape or form could possibly damage anyone else’s relationship to their spouse, please tell me—so that I can be certain to stay far enough away from you to ensure that this will not happen.

Sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that is exactly the logic that won the election for this president—an entirely theoretical and baseless supposition of threat that David and I and many of our dearest friends pose to “normal” people. Across the nation, in ten states including Oklahoma, marriage has been “protected” from the likes of David and me. I really hope that this does some good—that straight couples and above all Republican politicians stop divorcing, having affairs, and abusing their spouses because of these laws “protecting marriage.”

Yes, I hope these laws do some tangible good because they have served very effectively to make me feel less safe, less respected, and less welcome in my own country. Not to mention in Oklahoma. The thought of going home fills me with a dread that I daresay few of you have ever had to worry about—I am a member of a minority that is hated, feared and abused, and I have to watch as that fear and hatred is stoked and manipulated for craven political purposes. Again, if that sounds silly to you, please compare my fear of being harassed or beaten—something that happens to gay folks with increasing frequency in this country—to the supposed harm David and I do to everyone else’s marriage. One fear is real, and one is the figment of Karl Rove’s twisted political imagination.

So celebrate victory, as is your right. But please NEVER ask me to respect this president, because he has no respect for me, my vows, or my deep and abiding love for David. And as for Senator Coburn… well, have fun with that one. He’ll be useful to my side for the next six years, saying the outrageous things that many Republicans think but are too politic to say—assuming that there are any limits left in political discourse.

What, you way wonder, are we doing? David and I are in very terse negotiations about moving to Australia. I, frankly, am not sure I have the heart to stay and watch what I fear is unfolding here. Even if everything else turns out well, the crushing burden of debt the country has taken on threatens to cause economic ruin—even the most conservative among you can agree with that. David had talked of moving before the election, but when our fears became fact he became very upset and said “I’ve moved all my life and finally found a place to call home—I don’t want to leave.” We both love Seattle and our “urban family” here, so I imagine we will wait and see.

But any student of history knows that the situation for any minority that has basic rights stripped away by popular vote if truly dire… if we are a “threat” today, how long until we start being called “terrorists”? There is a very real possibility—felt by all thoughtful gay people I know—that this could be the beginning of a time when violence against us moves from mere speech to devastating action. We will not wait for our Kristallnacht, our Reichstag fire—we will speak up and fight for the rights we are due but if the tide turns we will leave for safety’s sake. Words have costs and rhetoric incurs responsibility; if that horrible time comes, it will be due in large part to the low, dishonest rhetoric used to win yesterday’s election.

Though many people I know would consider this to be counterintuitive given the role of religion in this election, I am asking you all to pray about this, for me and for David, and for our country—because that is how I started my day. As I often do when I don’t know what else to do, I stopped by my church on the way to work this morning, a little late for the 8 am service. The nave of the austere Cathedral was open though, and the organist was preparing for a Requiem service to be held Saturday. I slipped into the sanctuary quietly, welcomed by its complete emptiness, and kneeled at a pew in the back of the great open vault. As many times as I had been there, and as many burdens as I had brought, I had never been alone in the Cathedral and that sense of aloneness was both terrifying and deeply beautiful.

The organist played gloriously but it was indeed a rehearsal, with the stopping and repetition that always entails. I heard the same passage four, five times before the organist, high above me in the rafters, moved onto the next. Luckily for me, it was not a particularly dark part of the Requiem, but a lighter section that sounded hopeful, thankful. Suddenly my sitting there and listening was not about music but about all that we imperfect humans do to try to perfect ourselves and the world. Sometimes the feeling is right but the notes are not and we have to try again.

As I listened, I wept, and hoped that the music we all hear today is just a rehearsal—that in the future we will try this again and do better, that when we speak of religion we can speak of love and unity instead of hate and division. However hopeful the notes I heard today, they were part of a Requiem and the part of me that is fearful hopes that it is not a Requiem for the country that we love, that loves freedom and extends hope to those who are suffering and oppressed. Please keep praying, and pray for an end to the false divisions that separate us as a nation and a family. Please pray for me and for David and for all of us who are left feeling frightened. I will pray for you, for understanding, for tolerance, and for the grace that is greater than any sin that we might pridefully impute in each other.

Much love always,

Jay

Posted by jay at November 3, 2004 12:00 PM | TrackBack
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Comments

The fact that you can find words to express yourself today at all blows me away. That you can do it so thoughtfully, well, it's one more thing to be speechless about.

I can't stop looking at the EU residency sticker in my passport.

Posted by: pam on November 3, 2004 12:11 PM

Jay, I can only imagine your discouragement on an issue so close to home to you, and I am touched by your eloquent and heartfelt response to this election.

What scares me more than four more years of Bush is the defeatist attitude many Kerry supporters I've spoken to today seem to be taking. I hope that this talk is a manifestation of the shock that they're feeling, and, once it wears off, they realize that it's up to us to turn things around. Nay, it is our responsibility to. For if we don't, who will?

The Democrat's defeat yesterday has spurred me to fight for change like nothing else has.

Remember that historically, controversial issues such as gay marriage need to play out before real change occurs. But things change. Indeed, it was 30 years between the of the National American Suffrage Association and the approval of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, it might take that long for this country to recognize gay marriage. It was 10 years between the Montgomery bus boycott and Blacks getting the right to vote.

People fought to win these rights. And to fight, you need to be here.

Posted by: Kate on November 3, 2004 04:58 PM

Thank you, Jay, for what you do and have done.
I read Nonfamous as often as I can, and "the Judy" and I talk about it together. I concur that something terrible is afoot, and in the same breath hope that I am wrong. I hate the thought of having to give up the stability of employment, a home of our own, and my family here, but if it comes down to survival then that is the risk we must all take.
And the fact that this wicked ol' Pagan Queen is praying for sanity, humanity and peace should indeed be marked as significant.
You and David both as well as all of the contributors to this blog are included in those prayers.
Keep on Keepin' on!
From the Front...
Albin Zotigh

Posted by: albin on November 3, 2004 05:10 PM

I am so embarassed and so sorry. I did not do all that I could. I did not speak up. I did not make my voice heard on your behalf. No, in fact, I have sat up and said that I can live in Oklahoma, that I can make a life here. A few days ago, I truly had faith in these people. The people that raised us, taught us, were kind to us. But when those numbers went up last night while I sat with friends at the restaurant I will always associate with fun times with my perfect big brother, those horrible margins, unbelievable. I say to them that you are perfect. You are the consummate example of love, friendship, faith, hope and honor. I will support you in any decision and I will not be quiet any longer. I will speak for you and for sweet David, and I refuse to shut up. They will proabably kick me out, I welcome that.

Posted by: julie on November 3, 2004 07:02 PM

Jay,

Thank you for the opportunity to read your thoughts and share in the reality. Scary times are indeed ahead. The cynic in me hopes that now they are in office for another four years the Republicans will tell the evangelicals to go to hell. The realist in me sees just how embedded into the heart of the party they really are.

The only thing for any true champion of democracy can do is exactly as you, David and this blog community continue to do - speak out, mobilise and gather for the next fight. On a national level that is the next congressional election in 2 years.

Anyone willing to sit down and fill out some 527 forms?

Posted by: terry on November 3, 2004 08:21 PM
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