“This law is no different. . . “

The U.S. Olympic Committee is doing its best to tread a very fine line for Sochi:

The athletes are always going into countries with laws different than his or her own country. They’re going to agree with those laws in some ways, they’re going to disagree with those laws in other ways.  It’s our strong desire that our athletes comply with the laws of every nation that we visit. This law is no different.

It’s true that law, in the abstract, means roughly the same thing no matter where you are: It is the rules citizens and even visitors are expected to obey.  And because Olympic athletes by definition must visit many countries, it’s hardly unreasonable to expect that they should not intentionally break the laws of any country in which they compete.

But is the Russian law truly no different from any other law?  Certainly athletes at the Sochi games should not murder people or steal or commit rape.  Even laws that have less universal agreement should generally be obeyed, both out of respect and prudence.

The Russian law, though, prohibits propaganda.  In itself, this is an indication of illegitimacy, at least by modern standards.  The law also prohibits only propaganda of a very specific kind.  Here is the closest I have been able to come to an English translation of Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses:

Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

One of the cornerstones of law is clarity.  People must know, within reason, what the law requires or prohibits.  This law is a model of vagueness.  What are “nontraditional sexual relations?”  For that matter, what are “traditional” ones?  Can Russian TV run “Sex and the City?”  Discuss.

Still, we clearly know what the Duma and Vladimir Putin intended — Shut up about the gay rights.  More specifically, shut up in front of the children.

This a a modern spin to remove the stigma against laws about propaganda.  Everyone wants children protected.

But children are everywhere.  More specifically, any form of journalism in the modern world, from NBC to the internet, may be seen by minors, which means the practical effect of this law is to prohibit any public discussion of gay rights.  The invocation of children is superfluous to the goal of banning pro-gay speech.

And that equates exactly with prohibiting any chance of achieving gay rights.

Absent an explicit equal protection guarantee, minorities have little but speech with which to make their case.  By definition, minorities must persuade a large number of the majority if they are to have any peaceful political participation at all.  Majorities seldom change their minds just because.

The Russian propaganda law is ideally designed to prohibit not just Russian discussion of gay equality, but to make sure it doesn’t happen when Russia is on the world stage.  At its best, this law is little more than Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  At its worst, it is the first step toward a set of Nuremberg Laws for Russia’s lesbians and gay men.

This makes it not just important to mock the law, it makes it imperative.  However, that can be done respectfully, even joyously.  Rainbow fingernails? Perfect. Holding hands?  Sweet.  These and hundreds more small gestures skirt the law without violating it.  Maybe the rainbow fingernails are a fashion statement.  And holding hands is just holding hands, right? Heck, in post WWII Russia, this was a postage stamp!

The discussion of gay equality in Russia has a long way to go, but reliance on state control of information will not help it be seen as a modern nation.  It will be uncomfortable for Russia’s population to experience, within its borders, the increasing support among heterosexuals for gay equality.  But there is no wishing — or legislating — away that conversation.

The IOC has a choice

The International Olympic Committee has the authority to do Vladimir Putin’s dirty work for him.  The NY Times reports the IOC charter prohibits political expression by athletes.

The issue is coming into focus after Frank Bruni proposed a silent rainbow flag protest by American athletes — or any athletes — during an Olympic ceremony.

There is no doubt that, while it is possible the Russian government might try to go after openly gay or lesbian athletes — there are very few of them, after all — they could not possibly go after every straight athlete who expressed support for gay equality, which would be a clear violation of the law prohibiting propaganda.  While the Russian people clearly retain much of the world’s remaining prejudices about homosexuality, it’s hard to think they would have the stomach to really punish thousands of Olympic athletes for simply articulating — possibly silently — a widespread political opinion.  Let’s not forget that these athletes are overwhelmingly young, and well within the demographic of greatest support for gay equality.

The IOC, though, has much greater control over the athletes than the Russian police.  They have their political expression rule for their own administrative reasons, and the athletes would obviously have to take a public pronouncement seriously.

This would be collaboration of the ugliest sort.  I don’t think there is any reason to believe the IOC would actually do this.  But if they do, I think it’s pretty likely Putin would greet the news as a public relations victory and an enormous gesture of assistance.


Calling Putin’s Bluff

I want to go behind the problem Steve calls out.

Activism loses the oxygen of victimization with every success, and eventually becomes indolent and tedious.  The proposed boycott of Russian vodka (or, as Scott Shackford argues, “Russian” vodka) is the knee-jerk, conventional response of a gay rights movement that is settling into its golden years.  It has little chance of doing anything, except possibly harming a fairly stable gay-rights supporter.

Vodka is a symbolic product, and the only value of a boycott is the calling of the boycott — which draws some attention to the problem.

There’s some value in that, but by focusing on this tired tactic, we are missing the bigger opportunity.  Rather than attacking a company that is (supposedly) doing a harmful thing by providing financial support to Russia, or something, we should leverage some of the corporate successes we’ve had in the U.S. and around the world.

NBC will be the face of the American media in Sochi, and they have blandly, corporately told Chris Geidner that they’re all in favor of equality, of no specific sort.

So how about if NBC had an openly gay or lesbian co-anchor in Sochi?  Neil Patrick Harris has conquered most of the other forms of entertainment spectacle, and this is exactly the kind of challenge he might be up for.  Or Ellen, for color commentary.  There’s no shortage of high profile, openly homosexual celebrities who I’m sure would make a fine addition to NBC’s coverage, including some (I’m sure) who are actual athletes.  Or straight supporters who would have no problem mentioning a gay athlete’s husband, a lesbian producer’s wife, or some other innocuous fact that punctures the law’s fiction.

The Russian No Promo Homo law at issue is the kind of thing that only a country without a vibrant first amendment could even attempt, but that’s exactly the thing that a healthy corporate body like NBC could give the lie to.  Russia’s law is the last gasp of the closet, and the number of ways NBC, or any other nation’s supportive media could ruffle Russian feathers is limited only by the creative ideas of those who are ready to mock it.

It is creativity that our activists seem to have lost.  That is why the only idea that occurred to them was the boycott.  We can do better than that.


Justice Anthony Kennedy has one thing in common with Father Scalia: They both believe that human dignity is important.

Here is Justice Kennedy, overturning DOMA in U.S. v. Windsor:

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.

And here is Father Scalia:

. . . we should not predicate “homosexual” of any person. That does a disservice to the dignity of the human person by collapsing personhood into sexual inclinations.

Paul Scalia is a Catholic priest, and it is his formulation of the issue that crystallizes what the right thinks they are arguing over, far better than his Justice father’s dissent in Windsor.

Many of us at IGF agree that “collapsing personhood into sexual inclination” can be problematic.  Human beings are more than their sexual desires and actions.

But Scalia goes further.  In praising Fr. John Harvey’s decision to not use the phrase “sexual orientation” at all, he tries to eliminate the notion that there can even be homosexual people:

This reflects the increased appreciation for the fact that homosexual tendencies (to use a term from magisterial documents), do not constitute a fixed, unchangeable aspect of the person and therefore should not be considered an “orientation.” Further, the term does violence to a proper understanding of human sexuality. Either our sexuality is oriented in a certain direction (i.e. toward the one-flesh union of marriage), or it is not. We cannot speak of more than one sexual “orientation” any more than we can think of the sun rising in more than one place (i.e. the orient).

This is not a question of placing sexuality in the context of other parts of your identity, it is the denial that sexuality can even be a part of a person’s identity.  Sexuality transcends identity.  It is, itself, the natural order over which humans have (or should have) no proper choice.  It simply is, like the sun.

In contrast, Justice Kennedy not only accepts that some people identify as homosexual, he posits that it is up to them to choose what part sexuality plays in their identity, and, within the confines of a constitution premised on individual liberty, concludes that the federal government has no power to discourage or punish that exercise of self-definition.  Americans may choose to let their sexuality dominate who they are, or may give pride of place to their ethnicity or profession or style of dress or nothing at all.  That’s up to them.

The Catholic Church, which by definition, is composed only of fellow believers, has the ability to decide for itself what forms of identity it will accept, what brands of human freedom it finds intolerable.  This is as difficult a task for them in the modern world as it is for Islam or any other religion that prefers to adhere to a chosen orthodoxy, but that is their choice.

But the U.S. Constitution’s insistence on liberty includes the liberty of self-creation.  Americans — and not only Americans — have taken that to heart.  And that includes some people whose identity includes religion.  Here is rapper Mr. J. Medeiros:

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay. I do know what it’s like to love someone in a way that only a marriage can describe. I do know what it’s like to have an identity. To believe these things should be denied to roughly 9million people living in the US (or the much greater number worldwide) does not sit well with my conscience. The same conscience that brought me to seek my God in the first place. I am a Christian who supports gay rights.

Choosing an identity, having an identity — this is a natural part of liberty.  Marriage, as a most deeply personal act, cannot help but be an important part of how anyone presents themselves to the world.  Any institution, whether government or religious, will struggle mightily to interfere in something so bound to the self.

The constitution limits the federal government’s folly in trying.  In that, Windsor may restore a measure of the government’s own dignity.

H/T to The Dish for the cite to Mr. J. Medeiros.

Back to Basics

Same-sex marriage came and went in the US Supreme Court, and the the most reactionary Republican dominated state legislatures responded by — passing new laws restriction abortion.  While the high court was deliberating a case challenging the power of Congress to prohibit or punish same-sex marriage under state law, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota and Indiana were all exploring creative ways to provoke the high court to revisit Roe v Wade.

The lack of an outcry about U.S. Windsor is partly due to the fact that the opinion left those states’ anti-marriage laws intact.  But the renewed focus on abortion and Roe, at a time when the highest court in the land was setting down a marker about marriage equality suggests something else is at work.

That something else can be seen in the non-reaction in California to the opinion overturning the notorious Prop. 8. In 2000, California voters passed Prop. 22, an initiative statute prohibiting same-sex marriage, with 61% of the vote.  The state Supreme Court overturned Prop. 22 as a violation of the state constitution in 2008, which prompted Prop. 8, an initiative that amended the state constitution itself to prohibit same-sex marriage.  Prop. 8 got a little over 52% of the vote, but a win is a win.

So California’s voters must be furious about the decision in Hollingsworth v Perry, right?

If so, it’s hard to see.  Less than two days after the ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the final step to permit same-sex marriages again in California, and while a very few of the usual suspects showed their faces to television cameras at the subsequent marriages throughout the state, there are no signs of outrage among the voters whose will was thwarted.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is different from opposition to abortion.  There is a real and substantial moral question with abortion: At what point does human life begin?  In the 40 years since Roe, that moral question has remained alive and vibrant, and the constitutional argument about abortion has seldom flagged.  Moral feelings about abortion start strong and tend to stay strong.

Not so for same-sex marriage, where moral feelings may have started strong, but have weakened substantially over time.  The moral consensus around same-sex marriage was collapsing even before the Supreme Court weighed in.  With each new iteration of the issue, voters see less reason for opposition, more reason in the arguments made for equality.  The moral argument against same-sex marriage is no more than the moral argument against non-procreative sexual activity; once heterosexuals can see their own procreative sexual desires in the broader context of a world in which procreation is controllable, the idea of sex for other reasons — pleasure, relational intimacy, emotional bonding or just for the hell of it — moves homosexuals from their historical outsider status to a proper role as fellow members of the human family.  Procreation is a good thing, but it is not all that sex is for.

The shift back to abortion for the old guard of the GOP is some evidence that this cultural shift on same-sex marriage is taking hold.  It is harder and harder to argue against the images of joyous couples getting married, and now joyous heterosexual friends and family are joining in the celebrations.  Connection and inclusion are moral instincts, family imperatives, that it takes an effort to deny.

There is still a strong sense that abortion is worth the effort.  For a small minority, the fight against same-sex marriage will continue to be a priority.  But the continent on which they once stood is becoming more of an island every day.



Windsor was a big decision, but it was not a decision about equality — due respect to all the Facebook users who have replaced their photos with equal signs.

That’s not a bad thing at all.  A Supreme Court opinion squarely addressing the many constitutional questions about the equal protection clause (not least of them being what standard of review to use) would have gotten the court and the country into some very difficult terrain.  There was no need for that in order to overturn DOMA.  The opinion also does not say that marriage is a fundamental right, though it comes closer to that.

Justice Kennedy’s reasoning leaves breathing room for politics.  With only 14 states now recognizing same-sex marriage (I continue to count DC as a state, and of course today’s other opinion brings California fully into the fold), Kennedy again demonstrates the ability to balance justice and pragmatism in the area of gay rights.

But there’s one other big piece of political news.  The dynamics of marriage lite have now shifted.  Only full marriage comes within the court’s ruling, a point made by both majority and dissenting justices.  States will still have the ability to take half-measures, and I expect some will.  But by doing so, they will be enacting laws they cannot expect to be fully equal to marriage.  If they have any doubts, they can refer to Windsor.

So if the political argument continues to be about equality (and it should), anyone promoting civil unions as a political compromise will explicitly be compromising that.  Politics is made of compromise, but even though today’s opinion does not rest on the equal protection clause, that constitutional protection is ever more visible through the political haze.

Expect to hear more about it.

Bad Religion

The GOP is in a pickle.  You can only finesse extremists for so long.

Republicans are furiously trying to downplay the social issues that are so deeply important to their Christianist base; first because Romney has so firmly come down on so many sides of them, and it’s hard to keep the true believers focused on the right answers he’s given; but even more because the party leaders know that this whole religious thing is ready to collapse.

There are plenty of religious moderates in both parties, and they’re not the problem.  The problem is that the GOP has been actively courting the know-nothings, the ignorant, the crackpots and screwballs who take pride in their shallow thinking and insensitivity.  And now that they have these folks as a critical part of their voting base, they are stuck with loser candidates like Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and others.

The Democrats clearly have their shallow and insensitive interest groups that need hothouse political care, but there is a very big difference.  Labor, environmentalists, women’s groups, etc., are all motivated by narrow self-interest – exactly the kind of self-interest this nation’s founders anticipated and even expected.  No nation or system of government known to them was without factions, and their sensible response was to provide as many checks and balances on those factions as they could reasonably imagine.

They saw religion, though, as a special case.  The founders not only provided for the free exercise of religion, but also the prohibition on government establishment of religion.  That is because of the special factionalism and intensity that religion inspires.  The establishment clause not only protects government, itself, from religious fanaticism, it protects religions from one another, as well.  Any religion that could take hold of the levers of political power could far too easily use it against unbelievers or heretics.  The Puritans fled to this country for exactly that reason.

But there is no establishment clause for political parties, and the GOP has unwisely cultivated conservative religion, in particular, without understanding its inherent political pandemonium.

It is one thing to oppose abortion as a moral matter.  But in the 21st Century, it is something else entirely to take the position that contraception is the same moral issue.  The fine theological gradations necessary are not just inconsistent with American values, they are antithetical to them.  And just as a matter of raw politics, the use of contraception by American women at some point in their life is within the margin of error of being 100%.  The Vatican can get away with taking a position that only a fraction of its followers take seriously; it’s much harder for an American political party to pull that off.

It is that sophistry of the unsophisticated that got Todd Akin where he wound up.  The debate over “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape is bad enough.  But let’s not forget that he really did say he thinks women’s bodies can make a moral judgment along those lines, and “shut down” the bad pregnancies.  This from a man who represents Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

There is a good, even a respectable debate to be had over abortion, but these folks prevent Republicans from engaging in it.  Party leaders were virtually unanimous in trying to get Akin to leave the race precisely because they do not want to have the debate on these terms.

And that’s also true of same-sex marriage.  The crude, hollow stereotypes that drive the GOP’s anti-gay voters short-circuit any responsible debate over equality, so the GOP prefers to ignore the issue, and cut it off as quickly as possible when it comes up.  Silence isn’t just golden, it’s an imperative.

But as with the relationship between abortion and contraception, there is a growing sense among even voters who instinctually believe that full marriage is wrong that the moral argument is nuanced.  But that sentiment is shut down to cater to the least common denominator thinking of the religious extremists.

As the party censors itself, it simultaneously alienates socially and morally reasonable voices, and makes itself look ridiculous.  That is what Log Cabin exploited with the party’s platform. Yes, they got rolled.  The paper-thin, entirely non-specific language about  how “all Americans” have the right to be treated with “dignity and respect,” is hard to square with the platform’s proposed language calling for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, unless you can respectfully and with dignity deny people equality.

But being in the room makes a difference.  The anti-gay forces had to directly face the people they want to discriminate against, and Log Cabin looked back.

Moreover, the contrast with the Democrats for reasonable Americans is now that much starker.  The GOP was right, strategically if not morally, to want to avoid the social issues in this campaign.  They’re not a winner for the party any more.  But the party fought hard for those conservative religious voters, and got what they wished for.

Paul Ryan’s Intelligence

Paul Ryan is a great choice for Vice President.  As his running mate said, he is an intellectual leader of the GOP, one of the few practicing politicians who even seems to aspire to that crown.

As Rich Lowry observed, Ryan is an idealogue in the best sense of that term – a man who is motivated by ideas.  As a politician, he has to work within the framework of his party’s orthodoxies (as Ryan Lizza’s must-read profile in The New Yorker shows) but what politician doesn’t?  Ryan has been successful in doing the one thing a true leader can do – bend those orthodoxies in his direction.  He was forced to bow to the GOP jingoism on bloated military spending — though even his too-fat proposal for the military budget is below the obese 4% that Romney has committed to.  But in exchange, he was allowed to place some genuine ideas on the table to deal with our gross federal budget, including some issues like Medicare and Medicaid that were considered politically untouchable.  He had to struggle with his own party, and he moved the bar.

That is how he differs from his running mate.  Romney doesn’t challenge orthodoxy, he embraces it.  If Massachusetts believes in an individual health insurance mandate, a mandate they shall have.  If they’re for gay rights, he’s for gay rights.  But like Zelig, when he shows up in front of Texas voters, he looks just like one of them, too.

This obviously makes it hard for him to run as a national candidate, since he doesn’t have the good fortune of being able to take pride in any of his individually orthodox accomplishments.  And when it comes to taking a stand on any issue, his greasiness is risible, a circus act.

So I have come to take for granted Romney’s multiple shades of support and opposition to gay equality.  On what issue hasn’t he changed his spots?  For this election, it’s heterosexual marriage only, and what are the gays complaining about?  His party’s obtuse orthodoxy on gay rights is the natural spawn of Nixon’s southern strategy, exploiting the south’s prejudices to the nation’s detriment and the GOP’s short-term, but nowadays more difficult tactical victories.

Gay equality clearly isn’t one of the ideas that animates Ryan, of course.  But the small mindedness of the GOP right doesn’t seem to suit his style.  Romney has characteristically adapted to the biased impulses of his party, but Ryan seems to be made of different stuff.  He had a brief flirtation with a vote on gay rights (ENDA), but it arose like Brigadoon and then disappeared.  He now more demurely conforms to the party’s small religion on unequal rights.

That has allowed Ryan to pursue his much larger project, and his formidable abilities can benefit us all.  But now that he is a formal national presence, the pressure to conform to this undignified prejudice cheapens him.  What civilized person in today’s world can simply ignore the fact that lesbians and gay men do not have the same, fundamental right to marry the person of their choosing that heterosexuals take for granted, and pretend that it makes no difference to the group, or to our own national identity?

By subjugating himself to the worst impulses of his party, Ryan undermines his own character for thoughtfulness and reason.  Romney has no identifiable character, and loses nothing by being a chameleon, but Ryan has demonstrated both commitment and as much integrity as party politics will admit.  On some issues, like the military budget, there is room for fudged compromise.  And even on the absolute issue of equal marriage rights, there is room, at least, to breathe – domestic partnership or civil unions — for those politicians who lack the courage to vote for full equality.

Ryan does not seem to lack courage in general.  On the national stage, he will have a lot to do.  But when he is asked about same-sex marriage – and he will be – the intelligence he should be so proud of will be put to a real test.

Hiding Bigotry in Plain Sight

Maybe Dan Cathy isn’t a bigot.  And maybe Mitt Romney didn’t mean to insult the Palestinians.  Maybe.

All Cathy said was that he supports what he thinks is the biblical definition of marriage.  He didn’t even use the words “gay,” “lesbian” or “homosexual,” none of which would seem to come easily to his lips.  How could that be bigoted?

There was that aside about “God’s judgment” raining down on us for our “arrogance” in thinking we can define words that are His to delimit.  That was kind of taking sides.

But as Doug Mataconis notes, a fair definition of “bigotry” includes “. . . obstinately or intolerantly” holding to opinions and prejudices, particularly when that involves hatred or intolerance of some group.  I’m assuming Cathy thinks this is a God-approved definition, though Cathy hasn’t weighed in on that.

As Mataconis argues, some people who oppose gay marriage are bigots under this definition, some are not.  Responsible people can and do draw that kind of distinction before labeling someone with such a severe word.

Mataconis applies the test to Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, and concludes Fischer is a bigot, which is a fairly easy case.  But he lets Cathy off the analytical hook.  I think he deserves the hot seat.

A fair test of the intolerance that properly characterizes bigotry should involve a look at whether the individual holds a humane and thoughtful view of the group (usually a minority), or really does seem to be intolerant toward them.

I can’t find any statements from Cathy about how he feels about homosexuals in particular, but I think it’s fair to say the view he holds of the bible’s position is obvious enough.  He doesn’t mention Leviticus or abominations or death, but those are all common enough citations.  If he thinks God is judging those of us harshly who support same-sex marriage, it’s probably not unreasonable to think he believes the bible supports a harsh judgment for such positions.  Perhaps he tempers his judgment with a more Christ-like understanding, but so far, Cathy hasn’t suggested he might think homosexuals, too, deserve love and family.  So he seems to think those who support gay equality deserve the judgment of an angry God.

Does the fact he has not explicitly said that get him off the hook?  That’s where Mitt Romney comes in.

Romney’s statement in Israel did not explicitly damn Palestinians.  Rather, he was praising Israelis.  In his inevitable walk back, Romney protested that he “did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy . . . . That is an interesting topic that perhaps can deserve scholarly analysis but I actually didn’t address that.”

There’s just enough truth in that to pass political muster.  Romney, like Cathy, intended to compliment the side he preferred, but that compliment is pregnant with an insult to the group not being addressed directly.  Sometimes, a speaker can honestly say he was not aware of the implicit insult.  Such people apologize.

The apology is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, often unintentional.  It aligns the speaker with the insulted group, and demonstrates awareness of having caused some harm.  We have obviously defined offense down in our culture, lowering the bar to a Princess and the Pea level of hypersensitivity.  But some things really are offensive, and are meant to be.  And in our ever vigilant environment, where scouts are always on the lookout for possible offense, burying an insult inside a compliment is becoming a preferred strategy.

Those who are familiar with Maggie Gallagher know exactly how this works.  She perfected the art of a laser-like focus on the value of heterosexual marriage, and a polite but insistent obliviousness to what that might mean for the very people who are excluded from her thinking.  “I’m not insulting anyone,” her demeanor pleads.  “How could anyone think I’m a bigot?”

That is one way that bigotry hides behind the façade of the status quo in a debate that is about nothing else but changing the status quo.  It is the easiest way of avoiding the entire substance of the debate, claiming there is no debate to be had.

Unless Romney is an entirely unserious candidate, he cannot possibly have been ignorant of the fact that his comments praising Israeli culture necessarily involved insulting Palestinians.  And unless Dan Cathy has been utterly absent from the world his restaurants serve, he cannot plausibly claim that his comments supporting the “biblical family” were not plainly and quite naturally going to demean lesbians and gay men and their supporters.

If either man truly did not intend the silent insult, they can very easily correct the misimpressions.  They can acknowledge that the insult was there, hiding in plain sight, and they missed it.

Neither has shown even the remotest sign that they are interested in doing that.  And in both cases, maybe it’s time to conclude that the bigotry they shirk from really does have some substance.

Privacy As The Enemy

Sally Ride is an American hero.  She is also an icon for women’s equality.

And, as Andrew Sullivan puts it, she is the absent heroine of the gay rights movement.

That is not necessarily damning.  There’s only so much one human being can do with her life.

But I don’t want to let Ride get off as easily as the media is allowing.  The New York Times obituary is typically lazy:

Dr. Ride was known for guarding her privacy. She rejected most offers for product endorsements, memoirs and movies, and her reticence lasted to the end. At her request, NASA kept her illness secret.

There are different kinds of privacy.  Resisting the commercial temptations of fame is not the same thing as keeping the fact that you have cancer a family matter.  And neither of those is the same as staying in the closet.

Ride was born into the two revolutions that directly affected her life: women’s equality and gay equality.  She took up one of those revolutions, and rejected the other.

Her life’s work was to make sure girls who were interested in science would not feel the pressure she faced to repress that inner drive.  She was instrumental in helping to change that, and the world is better for her accomplishments.

But the gay rights revolution was not her thing.  Even those of us who pay close attention had no idea she was a lesbian, much less a woman who had maintained a 27 year relationship with another woman.

No one has an obligation to be politically active.  Vito Russo, in the new HBO documentary about his very politically active life, articulates the point well:

This is a good question: What makes people political in their lives?  The world is full of injustice.  Some people it bothers, some people it doesn’t. Me, it bothers.

The injustice of gay inequality, and particularly the injustice of the closet did not bother Ride.  Or, maybe more accurately, it did not bother her enough to do anything with the public side of her life to try and change it.  She simply accepted the closet, and took advantage of the work that others were doing on that front in order to live in a not-very-public-but-not-entirely-private lesbian relationship.

She shares this approach to the gay rights revolution with Mary Cheney.  They are among the free-riders of this struggle, letting others do the fighting.

The psychological damage that cultural homophobia did to those of Ride’s generation cannot be underestimated, and maybe her passivity can be forgiven or excused or pitied.  In the world she grew up in, that brand of privacy was often the only natural protective device that those who lacked Russo’s political spirit and intolerance of injustice had.

But it’s time to retire privacy as the Get Out Of Politics Free Card.  Fear can still justify the closet in many places and circumstances.  So can personal economic strategy, I suppose.  But not privacy.  That cramped isolationism is exactly the thing we are fighting.  It’s a form of self-indulgence at best, and more often it’s just shame.  We should draw a distinction between external forces that make coming out problematic, and internal ones that are corrosive remnants of an older view of homosexuality.

Even heterosexuals are lining up to support our equality today.  Ted Olson and David Boies, Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt, Ben Cohen and Scott Fujita are on the front lines of our battle.  The bar should be extremely high for any of us to remain aloof from our own fight for our own self-worth.  Every homosexual does not need to be out in the streets if they are not politically inclined.  But that’s not a matter of privacy, it’s a matter of preference.  It should go by its right name.