Tennessee has moved one step closer to signing a bill banning, before grade nine, discussion of sexuality not related to the "science of human reproduction." Because, as Tennessee state senator Stacey Campfield astutely observed, "homosexuals don't naturally reproduce," this law has the side effect of preventing any mention of varying sexual orientations, right down to the fact of their existence. That just so happens to be exactly what Stacey and his fellow senators wanted in the first place. (Sidebar: Stacey being a dude goes a long way towards explaining why the particular combination of "gayness + grade school" might be so traumatic for him. I doubt third grade was much fun for this guy. But I digress.)
On one hand, this sort of stuff is infuriating. It's a naked attempt to restore the taboo around homosexuality. It points to gays and lesbians, people who have been openly living in polite society for the better part of twenty years, and says, "We liked it better when no one knew you existed. Go away." And it's not just an attack on them. As the article above points out, some of the kids in these schools will have been raised by gays or lesbians. What would this law say to those kids about their upbringing? The bill is an affront to common sense and decency, pure and simple.
But on the other hand, there's an air of desperation around the whole thing. Does anyone really think many kids in Tennessee schools will now grow up unaware of gays and lesbians? For that matter, does anyone think kids currently in Tennessee schools are learning about homosexuality in the classroom? Of course not. You want to know about being gay? Turn on the TV. Or, you know, just talk to people on the street. It's in the culture. Stacey Campfield is way too late.
All this bill really does is highlight the utter backwardness of the Republican position on gay rights. And holy moly, is it ever. This is the party that overwhelming supported DADT, and whose presidential candidates still yammer on about repealing the repeal, as if there were the the faintest glimmer of a chance that such a thing could happen. This is the party which keeps pushing anti-gay amendments into state constitutions. And this is the party whose dead-enders have a seemingly limitless capacity to dream up creative new ways, like the Tennessee law, or gay adoption bans, to force gays back out of American public life. I'm embarrassed just watching them.
Is there any issue where the GOP is further from the American mainstream ? Any half-attentive observer can see which way the winds are blowing. The topic of gay rights isn't shocking or, well... anything anymore. The country overwhelmingly opposed DADT. Progress on the marriage front has seemed all but inevitable for a while now, and it increasingly appears that right now, this moment, a majority of Americans support full marriage equality.
If I were a Republican trendsetter, it would keep me up at night. Maybe smearing gays riles up the base, but in the long term, it drags down the party. It reminds everyone under 40 who's on the right side of history. For that matter, it reminds people who was on the right side of history in the past, and where all the segregationists went. Unless the GOP wants to cement into place all the stereotypes about being a party for the old and intolerant, it should figure out a way to reject relics like Senator Campfield.