December 23, 2011 was the day Governor Snyder signed into a law that stripped the domestic partners of many public employees of their health benefits. It was also the day I finally lost patience with Gov. Snyder. I’ve appreciated the Governor’s reluctance to pander to the bottom feeders known as ‘social conservatives’ that dominate his Republican majorities in the legislature. But in signing this bill the Governor finally gave in to his party’s worst instincts, revealing that he’s just been paying lip service all along, happy to discard his veneer of tolerance when it became politically inconvenient.
Why they are doing this? We’re an easy target, and making our lives difficult is an easy way to score points with the vocal & significant percentage of the Republican base that hates us. They can’t undo Lawrence v. Texas, they can’t ban us from serving in uniform any longer, & they can’t round us up & put us in concentration camps. This seemed like the easiest way to put us in our place. This has zero to do with saving money, by the way. That excuse is a fig leaf for Republicans like Snyder, who know that outright bigotry no longer plays as well with the public at large.
(I focus specifically on Republicans because on the domestic partner benefits issue there were exactly one Democrat apiece in the House & Senate who voted for the domestic partner benefits issue: Sen. Tupac Hunter & Rep. Richard LeBlanc. No Republicans in either house voted against.)
Republican voters, and the leaders they elect, like to paint themselves as defenders of marriage and of the family. I think we are getting better at emphasizing that ‘social conservative’ leaders don’t give a damn about saving marriages or families, they just want to punish people like me for the unforgivable sin of finding romantic happiness. Our task is to heighten the cognitive dissonance experienced by Republicans like my cousins on one side of the family, who love watching shows like Glee and have never made me or my partner feel unwelcome, but who want to sidestep the consequences of the votes they cast.
Our ability to fight back is further constrained by Michigan’s political dynamics. We are clustered in safe Democratic districts so Republican legislators have no reason to even acknowledge our existence. They have nothing to lose – certainly not our votes.
In this we have a lot in common with black Michiganders, though I know a lot of black people bristle when sexual minorities draw comparisons between our situations. Like black Michiganders, we are almost entirely a Democratic constituency. The rage at PA 4 that has erupted in majority-black communities reflects their realization that with all three branches of state government in Republican control, they are effectively powerless. When the anti-PA 4 activists complain that the act subverts the democratic process, they forget that the democratic process is no friend to them, either: Majoritarian democracy has no inherent protection for minorities.
And we accept it. The political impotence of Michigan’s sexual minorities is partly a function of our learned helplessness. But it’s also partly due to our own apathy. For lots of us, especially when we’re young and uncommitted and have so many other pressing concerns, marriage equality and the family are abstract concepts. And it can seem frivolous to donate money for causes like marriage equality when sexual minorities in so much of the non-Western world face more severe challenges in their own societies.
I myself have been guilty of apathy. While I supported marriage and adoption equality, neither was much of a priority to me until I finally ended up in a committed long-term relationship & started to have something economic at stake. Once I began to face decisions about health insurance, tax deductions, estate planning, I began to understand why I could no longer sit on the sidelines.
Last Wednesday two examples of grassroots political activism were juxtaposed in a way that I found both illustrative and frustrating. One was, of course, the SOPA/PIPA blackouts. My Facebook feed erupted in a way I don’t think I’d ever seen before, with anti-SOPA/PIPA posts from what seemed like half of my contacts. Not since the Obama campaign had my Millenial peers, in particular, seemed so politically engaged.
The day of action at the state Capitol protesting the domestic partner benefits ban, in contrast, seemed to get hardly any attention at all except from certain LGBT organizations like Equality Michigan & Affirmations. Even the gay football team the Michigan Panthers, who I follow on Facebook, didn’t make a peep.
I felt a wee bit guilty for not taking the day off work to join the protest. That feeling grew stronger when at the day’s end, I read the post* by autBar’s owner Keith Orr reporting back on the event:
(I)f we are going to make an impact, we need more than the 250 people who showed up to work for the cause… (W)e need our straight allies to “come out of the closet”. They need to be active and vocal about our civil rights.
But we can’t expect it of them if we don’t do it ourselves… (I)t felt very real chanting “Gay Families Matter”.
But we need a bigger “family”…
We have to make them care.
And we have to get our friends and family to care.
I agree with Keith Orr that we can do better. Today, we’re getting another chance to get it right, as a lesbian couple in Hazel Park sued to overturn the state’s ban on adoption by unmarried couples. You know Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose hatred and contempt for people who aren’t straight is unsurpassed among state elected officials, will fight this suit every step of the way.
If you’re upset by this post and starting to feel a bit guilty yourself, head over to one of the following websites and donate to one or more of the organizations who are fighting hard against the Republican legislature’s agenda of hate:
And if you live in a state legislative district represented by a Republican, or you yourself are a Republican, it’s even more important that you contact your Republican legislator or your party leadership to let them know that what they are doing is not OK. It’s time to stop systematically undermining families and condoning hate. The Party has to do better.