You may have noticed that this is a very gay blog. That is no accident, since I am a very gay person. I don't like to think that being gay as my sole defining characteristic, but it is certainly something which I see as being intrinsically part of me. I think being gay, accepting that part of myself and engaging with the feelings of exclusion which it can sometimes bring from 'mainstream' society has made me a better person - more empathetic and understanding then I might otherwise have been. It forced me to grow up early and quickly. I don't want to sound like I have the whole life thing figured out or anything (I am still a regular fuck-up) but being gay is important to me. I wouldn't be straight for the world.
I know that my own personal acceptance of being gay is not the case for many people - that their individual journeys towards an acceptance of their sexuality can be immeasurably more torturous and complicated for personal, family, social, economic or religious reasons. I do not think there is a single way of being gay or a gay identity that all homos should be aiming towards. Which is why I think the current battle lines which are being drawn in California about the question of what it means to be gay are so fascinating. I can't imagine another minority who would be subjected to this kind of invasive questioning of their very right to exist. Religion, which I see as far more mutable and less defensible then sexuality would never have been subjected to this. But if there is one thing that American gays have learnt, it is the the usual rules just don't apply to them.
A little background for those not up to speed. In 2008 Californian voters passed Proposition 8, which over-turned the state Supreme Court ruling allowing gay people to marry. This defeat for gay rights, which took place the same night as Obama's victory, was a deep shock to the gay community. After months of recriminations, and some fairly convincing post-mortems about how the campaign was distorted by the lies of religious organisations, a strategy of attacking the proposition at a state court level and working to repeal it at another election was instituted by the leading gay rights organisations.
Then, in stepped David Boies and Ted Olsen, conservative legal stars who nevertheless recognised gay marriage as an civil rights issue and one which they fervently supported. Against the wishes of the mainstream gay organisations, they filed against the proposition in federal court in the states, with a view to eventually taking the case to the US Supreme Court. Broadly, if they succeeded, the Supreme Court would grant gay people the title of 'suspect class' and in that single ruling, the entire edifice of state and federal gay discrimination laws would be struck down. It is a breath-taking gamble - one that has the potential to massively advance gay rights or trip them up for decades to come.
You should read the article to get a sense of what is in play here. Essentially, the Court would be asked to rule that being gay is something intrinsic to a person's identity. That it is not something destructive to society which state and federal authorities have the right to draft discriminatory laws against. All these things which are self-evident to gay people are potentially to be out in the hands of nine elderly people - six men, three women, largely conservative and disproportionally Catholic.
This is insane.
No, let me say that again, this is INSANE!
I have no idea what the chance of Olson and Boies winning are. I doubt anybody does. But Olson and Boies are not babes in the wood. They were opposing lead counsels in the historic Bush v Gore case which decided the 2000 Presidential election. Their reasons for taking this chance are routed in a basic belief that gay people have waited long enough (one which the current occupants of the White House and Downing Street would do well to think on). It would force a clear, almost foundation level debate about who gay people are, and what their role in society is, without the clouding theatrics of the Sky Fairy Brigade.
Perhaps that type of apocalyptic showdown is precisely what America needs in order to see gay rights as a true civil rights issue. These piecemeal referenda in states play directly into the hands of bigots by denying gay people a grander narrative about oppression, one which is vital if straight people are to sit up and take notice. A Supreme Court battle, pitching conservative lawyers against religiously funded opposition about the role of gay people in civil society would be about as ideal a framing as possible in the current climate.
I don't mean to imply that everything is hunky dory over here in the UK. On Friday I went to the Rapahel Samuel's Memorial Lecture which was given historian Jeffrey Weeks about the development of the gay community in the last couple of decades and he made it clear that while there have been huge strides in the legal status of gay rights in England, there was still work to be done, particularly around ensuring full marriage equality and that homosexuality is included in the proposed Equality Bill. Once that's done, there is only the small matter of centuries of toxic socially ingrained homophobia to counteract. As the movements for gender and racial quality have shown, laws are ultimately only part of the battle if the social forces favouring oppression aren't similarly engaged.