It’s been in the news recently: a private sports club in Philadelphia which accepted a fee of $1900 for the children of Creative Steps summer camp to swim in their pool one day a week for the summer – but after the first day the kids showed up, returned the fee and told Creative Steps they shouldn’t come back.
Why? Well, the sports club president John Duesler says: “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club.” The kids of Creative Steps were black. The Valley Swim Club was, covertly until this week, whites only. (They’re so disturbed by news of their very public racism, that their website www.thevalleyclub.com has now been replaced with a message denying everything.)
There’s a happy ending to this story: not only did the kids of Creative Steps get offered an alternative swimming venue by Girard College, a local ice-cream store, Gumdrops and Sprinkles, gave them a day of free candy and ice-cream making. So the kids may have learned that rich white people can be mean as knives, not wanting to share what they have in case it’s “polluted”, but they’ve also got the message that most people are not like that.
What does this kind of petty prejudice – we aren’t sharing our facilities with you – remind me of? Why, the changing the definition of marriage argument: the don’t let same-sex couples get married elsewhere and think they can be recognised as married at home argument; the don’t let corporations think they can buy advertising in gay magazines argument; the don’t let schools teach children to love and respect each other argument; the teach homophobia and promote self-hatred argument. It’s all much the same, but on a much wider scale: these bigots are splashing and screaming that they want the queers out of their pool.
Marriage in their view is not about pledging to love, to honour, and to cherish the one your love till death to you part; it’s not a civil right necessary to the orderly pursuit of happiness, as the Supreme Court decreed 42 years ago; marriage is a privilege, a strictly limited pool, and allowing lesbians and gays in the pool will “change the complexion of the club”.
Slacktivist wrote in May last year:
Imagine, for example, that California’s legislature had passed a law stating that the Irish were forbidden from getting driver’s licenses. Such a discriminatory law would have been quickly voided by the courts. Anti-Irish bigots would have decried that ruling as “judicial activism,” but that’s an epithet, not an argument. The state’s constitution simply will not tolerate new law that attempts to exclude particular classes of people from the same rights and protections available to everyone else. Voters might well respond to the court’s decision by passing a ballot measure redefining a “driver” as a “non-Irish person,” and thus excluding by semantics those whom the constitution did not previously allow them to exclude by statute, but I can’t imagine the courts finding this transparent ploy convincing. This hypothetical anti-Irish proposition wouldn’t be any more constitutional or legitimate than the shamefully non-hypothetical anti-gay Proposition 8 is.
Supporters of Proposition 8 were forced to resort to Lying for Jesus — pastors will be jailed! your church will be forced to conduct gay weddings! your organist may become even more flamboyant! — because they weren’t able to articulate any honest basis for opposing this right as an equal right. The ‘vixen and I got our marriage license on the same day that George Takei and Brad Altman got theirs. The wedding of George and Brad neither picked my pocket nor broke my leg, so what possible cause would I have had to object to it? What reason would I have to deny George and Brad the same happiness that my wife and I were permitted to enjoy? Such exclusion makes no sense unless we appeal to some imagined grave consequences such as those dreamed up by the Liars for Christ.
And here again we see that basing policy on imaginary fears and imaginary grave consequences leads to different, but very real, grave consequences. When we choose to make laws based on imaginary fears, we see our own rights reduced to mere privileges. This is what always happens when we place fear on the throne.
This fear – that if the black kids are allowed to swim in the same pool with the white kids, the “atmosphere” will change: that where two men or two women are able to marry, this “changes the definition of marriage”, dovetails in my mind with a parable Fred retold earlier this year: the workers in the vineyard. These people are not content to enjoy their own orderly pursuit of happiness – you feel (I do) they are terrified that other people are somehow getting away with something. Rather than taking joy in their own marriage (if they can) and at least ignoring the people getting married in a way they don’t approve of, they grumble “These couples who were wed recently worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
“Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Yes. Yes, they are.