Frank Rich, Prop 8, David Blankenhorn, George Rekers, and Glee

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Frank Rich has written a piece in today’s New York Times that’s getting a lot of attention. He reminds us that the closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzengger are this week, that David Blankenhorn’s testimony is crap, and that we’re lucky to have Glee. Rich also makes some connections to Elton John performing at Rush Limbaugh’s (fourth) wedding as well as Al and Tipper Gore’s divorce.

At face value, Rich’s piece is great. The case against Proposition 8 needs all the attention it can possibly get by the media. The questions Judge Walker has raised in preparation for the closing arguments suggest that this will be a defining point in the historic march toward marriage equality. And yes, we do care about people’s marriages and divorces and yes, Limbaugh is a great example of conservative social hypocrisy, and these examples probably help readers find relevance to the trial.

But Rich does not do much to mention same-sex couples, even though it’s the point of his piece. He doesn’t even mention the plaintiffs’ names, just that their children have sat in the courtroom. Otherwise, he lets Boies speak for him. His piece seems overly concerned with the politics of the trial and not as much the lives it affects. In fact, his concern actually seems to be for heterosexual people and the “shadow” on their marriages because of inequality. I suppose it might be an effective way to paint things for some people, but is heterosexual guilt a good reason for same-sex marriage? I don’t think it carries a lot of weight with most of us truly affected by the issue.

We’re reminded about how clandestine the trial seems without much media access, but again, Rich approaches this from a political angle. His concern isn’t all that we could learn from the experiences of the plaintiffs or the expertise of the plaintiffs’ experts; he just wanted the foolish defendants’ experts to be embarrassed.

This brings us to David Blankenhorn. Rich has been slamming Blankenhorn a lot lately for having read some of George Rekers‘ research in preparation for his testimony. Blankenhorn is feeling beat up about it. As far as that point goes, I’m willing to let Blankenhorn off the hook. Attempting to reduce all of his testimony to one article he read by a hypocrite doesn’t exactly seem fair. Here are a few things Blankenhorn has said in trying to separate himself from George Rekers (from 6/2/10 and 6/5/10):

For example, I told the court that I believe that we are all born equal in rights and dignity.  I told the court that I believe in the equal dignity of homosexual love.

I have publicly stated my support for gay adoption.

The fact that I did not recall even having read Mr. Rekers’ report reinforces my main point, which is that there is no substantive link between Mr. Rekers’ views and anything that I either wrote in my expert report to the court or discussed in two days of testimony on the stand.

The problem here is that despite all this lovely verbiage coming from Mr. Blankenhorn is that he still maintains that it is “possible to be for gay rights and against gay marriage.” No, it’s not. And whether Blankenhorn has a connection to Rekers or not, Rich is perfectly fair in comparing the two. I think this piece on Slate‘s Double X blog makes the point most concisely (kudos to Mr. Blankenhorn for linking us to posts against him):

Because no matter how elegant and defensible your arguments against discrimination may be, when you make them, you lay down with others who make a less appealing case.

And at the heart of both arguments is some form of the exact same anti-gay stereotyping. Any “compromise” that Blankenhorn comes up with to defend his oxymoronic position is still going to privilege heterosexual couples! It’s still going to perpetuate the very untruths that all the plaintiffs’ experts debunked in their testimony. He won’t truly be supporting gay rights, as he claims, until he stops making concessions for heterosexuals, which anything short of marriage equality does.

And so while I credit Rich this point, I’m incredibly disappointed by the final point he makes about Glee. While offering a somewhat poignant aside about Jane Lynch’s new wife’s troubles with adoptive visitation, he makes the bigger point that Glee, in the way its characters’ families are set up, offers a realistic portrayal of America’s families. More importantly, he suggests “we’re lucky that the era when they could banish a show like “Glee” from network television seems to have passed.”

This, to me, sounds much like the people who suggest that we’ve made progress because of shows like Will & Grace and movies like Brokeback Mountain. This is exactly what the defense explicitly tried to do during their cross-examination of Professor Letitia Peplau on the third day of the trial. To suggest that a single piece of media is itself an example or guide post of progress is misguided. Certainly, we have made progress in the way issues of same-sex orientations are able to permeate the mainstream, but legally, we have made almost no progress. And given the fact that Proposition 8 passed (which was only six months before the pilot of Glee premiered), we certainly have a long way to go in terms of educating the public.

All in all, I’m glad Frank Rich is taking the time to write about these issues in a venue where they will get a lot of attention. I just wish he could get to the heart of it instead of playing politics and taking cheap shots. Discrimination persists.

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