In Washington, Democratic senators are scrambling to get on the record in support of same-sex marriage. The red and pink equality box is replacing profile pictures of people and their pets on Facebook.
By BARBARA SHELLY
The Kansas City Star
Even in the hidebound recesses of the Missouri legislature which only recently was proud to have initiated the nations first constitutional amendment banning gay marriage there is a sense that homophobia is not smart politics at the moment.
No attempt has been made this session to revive the odious dont say gay (in public schools) legislation that brought ridicule on the state last year. And GOP Rep. Kevin Engler, who sponsored the constitutional amendment in 2004, now is trying to expand the states anti-discrimination laws to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Engler says he still doesnt support same-sex marriage, but his stand against discrimination is progress.
The tide is shifting fast on immigration, too, as the national Republican party has abruptly realized that alienating Latinos and other new arrivals is a lousy formula for winning national elections.
This leads to a question: If gays and lesbians are suddenly cool, and immigrants are a newly found political asset, who do we marginalize?
There has to be someone. Marginalization is a byproduct of aggrievement, and aggrievement gets people to the polls. It sells books and boosts TV and radio ratings. So its crucial for certain politicians, interest groups and media bottom feeders to continually give people something to feel aggrieved about.
At different points that purpose has been unwillingly served by black Americans, suspected communists, feminists, Japanese Americans, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, gays and immigrants. We have been told they threaten our language, our Christian values, the institution of marriage and our nation itself.
None of the doomsday predictions have panned out, but opportunists abhor a vacuum. With gays and immigrants at least temporarily off limits, where will they turn?
Muslims are still fair game. Check out the rush among state legislatures to ban state courts from applying Islamic law.
And theres always the poor. When it comes to marginalization, they are the fallback position.
In state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, on talk radio and cable TV, we hear the poor derided as bloodsuckers. They want to get their hands on your hard-earned money. If they are poor, they must be doing something wrong, so lets require drug tests before we hand out benefits. And let them buy their own health insurance, even if its a mathematical impossibility.
Public opinion shifted rapidly on same-sex marriage once people realized that, sexual orientation aside, gays and lesbians arent much different from anybody else. They live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, churches and gyms and shop in the same stores. Its hard to marginalize them when they turn out to be us.
Its different with the poor. Our neighborhoods and schools are stratified by income. We use different modes of transportation and seek health care in different hospitals. Better-off Americans want the poor to be more like us, but we let politicians take away the tools that will help them do that.
The hugs for same-sex couples and handshakes for immigrants are great developments. But our baser instincts will always demand a group to marginalize. And as a certain pilgrim, himself an object of aggrievement, said in Biblical times: The poor we will always have with us.