Monday, February 24, 2014

'I Was Not Concerned.' Gay Marriage in Utah.

Michelle Mumford's comments on the rhetoric surrounding the legalization of gay marriage in Utah (Op-ed, 2/15) are well taken. Words such as ‘apartheid’ and ‘bigotry’ are indeed strong and her experience in California is deplorable. The question of their accuracy is a different matter. I would think that these labels derive from a legal and legislative landscape that has still not decriminalized sodomy and has dragged its feet to protect a group that “gives them pause” from housing and employment discrimination, or include them in hate crime legislation. I would argue that these deeds go beyond semantics and verbal abuse. They impact the safety of ordinary Americans and their families. They do very much criminalize their actions (76-5-403), and limit their ability to partake in ordinary civic life, such as health and inheritance benefits. If this is not the essence of “apart-hood” or apartheid, it is certainly the beginning.

Another historical parallel can be found in the early days of Nazism. One of the first things the Nazis did when they came to power was to wade into the bedrooms of ordinary Germans, and outlaw marriages and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. (Utah leaders who argue that they are representing the vox populi will be interested to learn that the Nurenberg Laws of 1935 had a petition of over a million signatures supporting the measures).

It is because of such laws, that we today think of the Jews and the Nazis as separate entities in apart-hood, like antagonists in a moral play: the winners and the losers, the bullies and the victims. But in reality, they were once one. They spoke the same language and shared the same beds – and children. They were integrated members of society, yet became a separate class through the laws that were passed. As we now know, these laws had a domino effect in Germany, and led to some of the most egregious crimes in history.

But it is worth considering that the same can be said for many other conflicts, which began with marital and sexual restrictions, to the point where one might argue that they could serve as signals or predictors in the rise of Fascism. History has shown that no society – however righteous – is immune to this cancer. We have only to remember the tragedies in Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.

Moreover, lest we forget that we live in a state where Americans have already been targeted and incarcerated into labor camps, at the Topaz Internment Camp near Delta. Given the tendency for these ideas to run amok, why open the door?

One of the few blessings to emerge from the Holocaust was the voice of evangelical Pastor Martin Niemöller, who famously wrote:

When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew, and therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions, and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant Church – and there was nobody left to be concerned.

The Pastor’s message makes clear the capacity in ALL of us to turn a blind eye, because “I was not concerned.” Our nation is already on shakey ground. Americans are divided between the insured and the uninsured, the documented and the undocumented, and still the black and the white. Do we really need more division and strife? I ask readers of The Tribune, along with the legislators of our State: who among us is so righteous so as not heed Pastor Niemöller’s warning? Our laws and our leaders are the only stopgaps we have against the tyrany of evil – and the capacity in all of us to say “I was not concerned.” Why not learn from the mistakes of others? If we don’t, we may be haunted by that other ominous warning from George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”