February 19, 2010 | by Erwin de Leon
Rewind: Week of Feb.19

Conservatives have descended upon the nation’s capital for their annual pow-wow and pep rally. They are poised and determined to win back the nation and in the process undermine hard-fought progress won by our community and allies.

The Conservative Political Action Conference, which began yesterday, acknowledges GOProud as one of its sponsors but does not allow any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender voices to be heard in its colorful agenda. The only gay right-wing voices heard this week were those of author and blogger Andrew Sullivan and Britain’s openly-gay Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Nick Herbert. They were both part of a forum at the Cato Institute that asked whether there is a place for gay people in the conservative movement.

Sullivan ended up debating National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher on same-sex marriage while Herbert made solid arguments for welcoming LGBT people into the right-wing fold. The Tory pointed out that equality for all citizens is a basic tenet of conservatism and admitted that his party’s leadership had realized that if they were to remain relevant and win the votes they need, then they had no option but to open the doors to queer folk. His admonishment should be taken seriously by the GOP. The rest of the nation, particularly the next generation, is fast abandoning social conservatism and its demonization of LGBT individuals and families. If the Republican Party and other American conservatives are to live up to our ideals of freedom and equality, as well as secure the votes of gay conservatives and socially progressive independents, then they have to make room for those among us who’d like to be under their tent.

Unfortunately, social conservatism is very much alive and kicking in the United States, reinvigorated by the worsening disenchantment with the Obama administration and ineffectual Democratic “controlled” Congress.

In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell applied principles he articulated in his controversial graduate school thesis — that government policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators” — by quietly and unceremoniously stripping protections for LGBT state employees two weeks ago. On Feb. 5, he signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities,” but not sexual orientation, which McDonnell’s predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, had added.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Catholic Archdiocese ended its 80-year-old foster care program this week in protest of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the city. The diocese’s social service arm responsible for the service, Catholic Charities, runs more than 20 programs for the District and receives $20 million from the city’s coffers. Although the church will be exempt from marrying same-sex couples, its leaders nonetheless chose to end aid to the needy, an apparent tantrum for not successfully bullying the D.C. City Council into abandoning gay marriage legislation.

The threat posed by LGBT people gaining basic human rights and acceptance in some societies is felt all the way to the top of the Vatican. Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra proclaimed that public officials who openly support same-sex marriage cannot consider themselves to be Catholic. It is worse for lawmakers who introduce or vote in favor of gay marriage bills. “It’s impossible to consider oneself a Catholic if that person in one way or another recognizes same-sex marriage as a right,” according to a doctrinal note Caffara released last weekend concerning “Marriage & Homosexual Unions.”

Such fundamentalist zealotry has gone to such extremes in Africa, where the very lives of gay, bisexual and transgender women and men are threatened every day.

In Malawi, the homosexual witch hunt has intensified since the arrest and incarceration of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who held a public marriage ceremony in December. A 21-year-old man was sentenced to two months of community service for pasting pro-gay rights posters. A senior government minister expelled a woman from her area even after a court acquitted her on charges of having sex with two girls. A 60-year-old man has been arrested and accused of sodomizing a much younger man. Police are hunting for a group of underground gay rights activists who are distributing pro-gay rights leaflets.

In Uganda, it has been reported that David Bahati, chief of the Scout Board of Uganda and author of the pending anti-gay bill, is proposing that all serial homosexual offenders, including scouts and scout leaders, should be hanged. Children are not exempt. And to stoke anti-LGBT hysteria, Christian pastor Martin Ssempa has been showing gay pornography he downloaded from the Internet at his church to “educate” his flock. He also plans on taking his show on the road and to enlighten parliamentarians on the joys of gay sex.

However, while conservatives may feel particularly empowered now and will do all they can to halt our progress toward full equality, we do have allies and fair-minded politicians and leaders who are willing to do right by us and our constitution.

On Monday, the New Hampshire House rejected a bill that sought to repeal the state’s new same-sex marriage law. Opponents of the anti-LGBT bill, which outnumbered proponents two-to-one, felt strongly that it would be wrong to backtrack and to deny same-sex couples the rights afforded to opposite-sex couples.

Our military leaders and the administration continue to learn that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not an issue for the majority of Americans and those in the military. During a recent question and answer session with about two dozen troops, Adm. Michael Mullen once again confirmed that serving with openly gay service members is a non-issue for enlisted young women and men. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney has come around on the issue. In an interview on “This Week,” Cheney said, “Twenty years ago, the military were strong advocates of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ when I was secretary of defense. I think things have changed significantly since then.” He articulated his openness to the repeal of the discriminatory law, adding, “When the chiefs come forward and say, ‘We think we can do it,’ then it strikes me that it’s — it’s time to reconsider the policy.”

The GOP and conservatives seem to be finding their way out of the wilderness. This is not altogether a bad thing and can be good for our democracy. However, the Republican Party has to move into the 21st century, loosen the choke hold of religious fundamentalism and reclaim conservatism’s core values of limited government, individual freedom and fiscal responsibility.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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