Republicans don’t have solutions for the unemployment crisis (how often can you spend $180 billion on an illegal war to make the economy seem like its growing?). They have no handle on the Iraq quagmire, and want to sidestep the growing discontent of 41 million seniors, hide the health care crisis, and take attention away from the international isolation Bush has led us into. Additionally, they fear that Bush is losing support even in his own far-right base. So, what is their hot item issue? They have initiated efforts to define marriage constitutionally as between a man and a woman – the Federal Marriage Amendment.

This amendment essentially tells lesbian, gay, and transgendered people that they do not qualify for equal participation in the rights and benefits of society. Ironically, the Republicans are trying to codify this anti-democratic sentiment in the Constitution, a document that, though very battered in the last two years, is still recognized as a protector of our basic rights. A “marriage” amendment would be the capstone for the ultra-right’s anti-equality, anti-rights agenda.

Further, the drive for this amendment is intended to suggest that people who support equality in principle might be supporting deviants. After last summer’s Supreme Court ruling overturning anti-sodomy laws, Bush said our ideal of tolerance and equality “does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage.” Bush was encouraging people who think they are “like him” to oppose equality for lesbian, gay and transgendered people. More to the point, he was saying that opposing equality is morally justifiable.

Others in the far right have likened the struggle for equality for gay people to terrorism. They blame gay people for crime, disease, the decline of the country, child poverty, and even teen pregnancy. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who last spring came under attack for calling gay people sexualized animals, called efforts to expand marriage laws to include gay people as “attacks” on marriage. Santorum wrote in USA Today last July that gay people want to destroy families and that “in study after study, family breakdown is linked to an increase in violent crime, youth crime, teen pregnancy, welfare dependency and child poverty.”

Santorum doesn’t indicate which studies show that gay people are the cause of family breakdown. Nor does he mention as sources of family breakdown the elimination of millions of jobs, the stripping of the manufacturing base, the declining real wage, the decay of communities caused by the flight of capital offshore, or the fact that more and more people must work three and four jobs to make ends meet. He is silent on the increasing tax burden on working people as wealth is redistributed to the ultra-rich with “tax reform.” Not a word on the slashing of public investment in job training, public education, health care, welfare and other social programs that help keep working families together. And don’t look for him to mention immigration policy that criminalizes the search for work across national borders, ripping tens of thousands of families apart each year.

No. It’s gay people that are the source of our ills.

Far-right loudmouth Jerry Falwell recently announced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, saying, “I’m dedicating my talents, time and energies over the next few years” to passing the antigay measure. Apparently, the 66 million people in or on the verge of poverty don’t make his priority list.

In short, the far right is desperate to avoid critical issues like the economy, the war, the health care crisis – issues that touch directly on the quality of life of the vast majority of people. Instead they lead a charge against the rights of a minority whom they blame for the problems we face. Antigay scapegoating, like its racist, sexist, and anti-immigrant cousins, is designed to split us, when we need unity most.

Heightened attention to this issue presents a new challenge to the working class. Perhaps at one time it was enough to be silent on the issue of gay equality: “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Silence is no longer sufficient. Our unity and social progress depend decisively on our vigorous defense of civil rights and equal access to social benefits for everyone. Together we can deliver a blow to the far right by defending equality for lesbian, gay and transgendered people. Say no to the Federal Marriage Amendment; say yes to equality for lesbian, gay and transgendered people.

Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs.
He can be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net.