Last week I had the good sense to accompany this column’s cartoonist to the MSUM theater department’s performance of “Cabaret.” A saucy-cum-serious musical about love during the rise of the Nazis in late Weimar Germany, it was an excellently timely choice by whichever impresario first decided MSUM should see it.
Those unfortunate enough not to see it missed the stirring subplot in which Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz are prevented from marrying by the disgusting prejudice of the Nazis.
The United States is a country that will, in all likelihood, never be governed by fascist belligerents like the Nazis, which is why any comparison of a current political figure to Adolf Hitler is shrill, tedious and wrong.
The brilliance of “Cabaret,” however, is that it shows just how familiar and ugly antiquated prejudice can be. This is an important concept to remember at a time when the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and New York’s recognition of same-sex marriage has focused attention on LGBT rights.
We are fortunate to live at a time in which attitudes towards other sexual orientations is modernizing. In a few decades, pride parades for the LGBT community have blossomed into perhaps the most effective display of free speech society has ever seen. Watching anti-gay marriage groups has become like watching the slow-but-certain train crash of a locomotive conducted by anachronistic bigots.
But though pride parades are looking more and more like victory marches, there is much more to do. New York is only the sixth state that allows same-sex marriage, meaning that in the other 44 states —including Minnesota and North Dakota — same-sex couples are considered second-class citizens by their government and denied the ability to obtain a marriage license.
The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a welcome close to yet another unbecoming chapter in homophobic government policy. Yet the booing of an openly gay soldier at the Republican debate on Sept. 22 demonstrated that this monstrous ignorance still exists in the minds of many.
Claiming to support the troops while loudly deriding a soldier with a vocal group of likeminded bigots is a classical performance of George Orwell’s “doublethink” — the ability to hold two views in direct conflict. That none of the Republican candidates stood up for the soldier was a nationally televised embarrassment, and it provided a sometimes lethargic President Obama with a dynamite bit of rhetoric: “You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.” Candidate Obama may be back.
The problem that anti-gay movements are having is that there is no rational argument for their beliefs. The moral arguments against homosexuality originate almost entirely from religious texts written by those who conveniently can’t be asked to defend their arguments because they are either long-since deceased or have always been imaginary. Perhaps ancient religious writers would have persuasive arguments in defense of homophobia could we ask them today. We can’t ask them though, which I suspect saves them from much sputtering embarrassment.
It’s both revealing and historically predictable that religion would serve as the justification for these unenlightened viewpoints though, a fact I imagine makes the many religious people free from this sort of prejudice uncomfortable. After all, using religion as a tool of oppression makes it remarkably easy for atheists to portray it as a tool of oppression.
It’s a tremendous shame that the word “patriot” has become synonymous with the same portion of our political right that insists we continue to treat members of the LGBT community as unnatural inferiors. The original patriots of the American Revolution were fighting for personal liberty, a fact that makes them entirely opposite to the modern anti-gay movement that has somehow convinced itself it can patriotically fight to oppress citizens of our country.