What is the sound of one hand clapping?
It is me applauding the news that some Republican presidential candidates are showing a willingness to accept the support of gays. Among those mentioned in this report by the New York Times are George W. Bush, John McCain and Elizabeth Dole. A single hand for them all.
But the other hand I reserve for the day when these GOP leaders -- or any others -- actually condemn those of their colleagues who speak of homosexuals in hateful and dangerous ways. The fact remains that for all the good intentions of certain Republicans, the party itself remains much too hospitable to anti-gay bigots.
For example, take the recent remarks of Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who for some reason is running for president. He told Utah Republicans they could be proud because "we don't have the gays and lesbians with us" -- a statement he would not have made to almost any other group and which, incidentally, was almost certainly not true.
The list of GOP gay-bashers is long and troubling. It includes the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, and the majority leader in the House, Dick Armey. It also features Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who fears for both his country and Western civilization if James Hormel, a gay man, becomes ambassador to Luxembourg; and Gary Bauer, No. 4 in the Iowa straw poll but maybe first in his emphasis on the immorality of gays. (He often travels with Reggie White, the former professional football player, who has it from God himself that gays are terrible sinners.)
What's amazing is that these are precisely the same politicians who assert a connection between, say, violence in the media and violence in society -- or, if you will, sex on the tube and the utter collapse of morality just about everywhere you look. Yet they see no connection between their own rhetoric and incident after incident of gays being assaulted or, in some cases, killed on account of being nothing more than homosexuals. The latest victim appears to be Barry Winchell, a soldier at Ft. Campbell, Ky. He was beaten to death last month with a baseball bat.
Nearly all of these GOP leaders cite the Bible to explain their views. But the good book is infinitely elastic. It was once used to support slavery and Jim Crow. It is used to keep women in their presumed place and, just recently, to banish the teaching of evolution from the state of Kansas. Besides, there are plenty of religious people who have no problem with homosexuality or, regardless of their feelings, think it's a private matter -- in other words, hardly a reason to block an ambassadorial nomination.
A recent letter writer accuses me of being "animated by blindness and bigotry" when writing about Christians. Not so. I am merely appalled -- appalled that people would use religion in the furtherance of bigotry or, as in Kansas, the furtherance of ignorance. It is not bigotry to criticize the imposition of onerous and ugly religious beliefs on the public.
The Christian right's attack on homosexuality -- its validation of bigotry and violence -- is no less wrong just because it is sincere. The same with its insistence that Kansas's school kids graduate dumb as a post about an important part of science. Yet Dole and Bush could not even bring themselves to criticize the Kansas decision -- a local matter, they said. What if Kansas decided two and two were three? Another local matter?
It is instructive to return to Orrin Hatch and what he said by way of explaining his ugly crack. "Gays and lesbians, by and large, are very intelligent, highly educated, high-earning people, who support mainly Democrats," he said.
How interesting. Does he know of an IQ test given to gays? I don't. But I do know that Hatch is really describing a sort of universal bogeyman, sometimes the Jew, sometimes the city dweller, sometimes the communist -- the personification of all that ails society. This helps explain the prominence of the issue and why even secularly minded Republicans say nothing when gays are attacked: They find it useful.
But the rest of us ought to find it both repugnant and scary. The protection and respect of minorities is the responsibility of us all -- and so, for that matter, is the denunciation of those who attack them.
So I withhold my applause when it comes to certain GOP leaders and their new toleration of gays. It's fine as far as it goes. But it does not -- as the victims of attacks on gays can attest -- go far enough. What is needed is a full-throated denunciation of ignorance and bigotry.
For thato we are still waiting.