August 15, 2010
by Adam Bink
I was watching HBO’s True Blood yesterday, whose character Lafayette reminded me of the memorable Belize from Angels in America. I’ve seen the amazing Tony Kushner play twice (and the made-for-TV version a third time), but I was driven to watch clips of it this morning. As I watched the moving portrayal of the stigma around HIV/AIDS, I wondered how NOM and their rank and file supporters would have reacted to such an epidemic and “homosexual disease” racing across America. Would they have shown the same intolerance and disdain for a debilitating disease as they do for equality?
Then I watched this video Anthony took in Harrisburg, PA. Take special note of this man’s comments about AIDS and “homosexuals”:
Absolutely stunning. This is the ugly face brought out and exposed by NOM’s “Summer for Marriage” tour.
In a coincidence, Frank Rich’s NYTimes column from yesterday happened to be titled “Angels in America”. In it, he describes Judith Peabody and her mother-in-law, Mary Peabody, two “high society” women who shook up the circles in which they traveled by volunteering for civil rights and AIDS activism. Rich writes:
The Peabody women were among the countless players in these larger civil rights dramas. They are testimony to the courage, big-heartedness and sense of fundamental fairness that can flower in our country in the most unexpected quarters even as the angrier and more malign voices dominate the debate.
Voices like this man’s- who refused to even give his name to Anthony because Anthony is gay- are among those faces Rich describes, which we’ve seen exposed into the sunlight over the course of this tour. While it is painful to watch, I don’t believe it is a bad thing. Videos like this man’s will become the new version of firehoses spraying civil rights activists in Birmingham, footage which shocked many Americans and led to an awareness of the evils of discrimination and segregation during the civil rights movement. So while NOM’s hate and the hatred and bigotry of men like this may be dominating the debate, I say: let them talk. We will document their language and show it to the rest of this country.
I believe doing so will help us continue on the path to defend constitutional rights from a majority vote. As I wrote this afternoon, election law by design prevents civil rights from being put to a popular vote in the District of Columbia. Ted Olson memorably told Chris Wallace on FOX News “Would you like FOX’s right to free press put up to a vote?… These are fundamental constitutional rights.” This reminds me of a quote from Rich’s piece and one of my favorite quotes from Belize in Angels in America (bolding mine):
We are still a young, imperfect, unfinished country. As a young black man working as a nurse in a 1980s AIDS clinic memorably says in Tony Kushner’s epic drama “Angels in America”: “The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word ‘free’ to a note so high nobody can reach it.”
But sometimes we do hit that note, however tentatively. How one wishes that the many gay Americans who were left to die in the shadows during that horrific time — and, in most cases, without a Judith Peabody, let alone a legal spouse, by their side — could hear Judge Walker’s clarion call.
Sometimes we do hit that note- and if we do, let’s make sure we expose the face of those who helped make it so, so it never happens again.