Now that President Barack Obama has “come out of the closet” by announcing his support for gay marriage, Tennessee is once again making headlines by remaining a bastion of bigotry. For instance, when Julie Pace wrote about Obama’s history-making announcement for the Associated Press, she quoted Cynthia-Andrews Looper, the pastor of a local church. Looper believes gay marriage will one day be accepted “even” in places like Nashville but says it “will take time.”
How much time? If the past is prelude, perhaps decades or centuries.
It once took Tennesseans a considerable length of time to stop stealing land from Native Americans and forcing them to walk the Trail of Tears. It also took Tennesseans considerable time (not to mention “persuasion” by the federal government) to give up the idea that they could enslave other people and profit from their misery. Then it took even longer for Tennesseans to realize that women and minorities were not really “inferior” to white men and grant them equal rights.
Is there, perhaps, a pattern that Nashvillians might discern after 233 years of white heterosexual male chauvinists denying other people basic human rights? Nashville was founded in 1779, while the ink was still fresh on the American Declaration of Independence’s ringing line that “all men are created equal.” But when have our city, state or nation ever lived up to that creed, for everyone?
True equality remains an elusive dream because the men in power always favor people who — unsurprisingly — look and act like themselves. Such bigotry has created no end of suffering for minorities, women, homosexuals and non-Christians, through the years.
How would one of those white heterosexual male chauvinists feel, if the government wouldn’t allow him to marry the person he preferred? How would he feel if the government claimed that his church was “dangerous” because someone of the same faith had committed a crime, and he was therefore suspected of being a “terrorist” due to guilt by association, even though he was personally innocent?
Bigots lack the empathy to step into someone else’s shoes and share their pain. While I am not gay, I can easily imagine the pain and grief of a gay man who is being denied the right to marry the person he loves. And I know that his marrying another man is not going to make me suddenly want to desert my lovely wife. So why should he be denied the right to marry the person he loves? As the basketball saying goes, “No harm, no foul.”
If anyone understands the Southern penchant for bigotry, it’s undoubtedly Barack Hussein Obama, whose skin color, unusual-sounding name and possibly unorthodox religious beliefs make it impossible for him to win states like Tennessee, where the “good ole boys” rule the roost and regularly come up with such legislative gems as the recent “Guns in Bars,” “Don’t Say Gay” and “No Hand-Holding” bills.
Why did Barack Obama “come out” shortly before the upcoming election? Probably because he understands that the people who call him a Muslim, the anti-Christ and the Devil are the same people who are bigoted against homosexuals and want to deny them the right to marry. They’re not going to vote for him, so he can do the right thing without major political consequences. Or perhaps his thinking really did evolve, and he simply changed his mind, as many other Americans have done.
I wish President Obama had done the right thing sooner, but I’m glad that he did the right thing in this lifetime. How long will it take for the majority of Tennesseans to realize that it is just as wrong to discriminate against homosexuals as it was to discriminate against minorities and women? When will they finally realize that it’s wrong to discriminate against Tennessee Muslims who never hurt a fly in decades of peaceful coexistence? Hopefully sooner rather than later, but I’m not holding my breath.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.