Newsreal: Gays in Maine

The recent vote in Maine to deprive the state's gays the guarantee of equal rights in housing, employment and other areas prompts one commentator to recommend going one step further: Refuse to allow them to pay taxes.

Published February 13, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

The good heterosexual citizens of Maine had more important things on their minds Tuesday than hearing who was nominated for the Academy Awards. Bravely, they emerged from their igloos on a freezing morning and slogged their way to snow-covered polling stations to vote on a matter of extreme urgency: whether to deny certain "other" citizens of the Pine Tree State the same essential human rights protections they have enjoyed as a birthright, or whether to uphold a measure signed into law by Gov. Angus King guaranteeing that those rights be enjoyed by the entire yeomanry of Maine, regardless of sexual predilection.

The "others" got their answer that night. By 52 percent to 48 percent, Maine's voters decided that their gay and lesbian neighbors were less than human. Therefore, from now, they should be left to the unregulated mercies of bigoted employers, mercurial landlords and beady-eyed creditors. No longer do they have the right to work where they want, live where they might or own what they can pay for.

The local worthies are doubtless proud of the fact that theirs is the very first state in the nation to promulgate such a measure. Can Mississippi or Alabama claim that? No, they cannot. Especially pumped by the outcome (an almost exact reversal of the vote on a similar proposal two years ago) are the warriors of the Christian right, who collected 58,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot. To them, it must have felt like a miraculous vindication of God's will, seeing as independent opinion polls showed almost two-thirds of Maine's citizens actually favor gay rights. Where were these two-thirds on Tuesday -- laid low by plagues of locusts and boils?

We must also ask, where were the state's homosexual and lesbian citizens? Even the Christian right hasn't found a way to deny them the vote yet. It is unpleasant to think that they may have stayed under the covers Tuesday rather than brave the swirling ice storms, while their hardier heterosexual brethren were hauling on their galoshes. All sorts of stereotypes, of the limp-wristed nature, raise their ugly heads. At least one would have thought that American gays would have learned by now the danger of underestimating the enemy.

Sad to report, from Maine and elsewhere, the enemy may be larger in number than we thought. In a dispiriting little piece In the Feb. 8 issue of the New York Times Magazine, entitled "The Homosexual Exception," Boston University professor Alan Wolfe wrote that the suburbs of America, in 1998, remain a forbidden frontier for gays. Under the umbrella of nonjudgmentalism, which Wolfe describes as "the reigning moral precept of American middle-class life," straight suburbanites are prepared to accept almost anything -- multiculturalism, racial integration, atheism, working mothers, even Muslims! But not gays.

"Four times as many people we spoke with condemned homosexuals as were willing to offer them positive acceptance," Wolfe wrote. "Some simply refused to discuss the subject ... others responded with nervous laughter." The usual adjectives were tossed around: "abnormal," "immoral," "sinful," "sick," "untrustworthy" -- even "mentally deficient." If the latter isn't the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is. Who would you rather have as stimulating dinner guests, Gore Vidal or the Beans of Egypt, Maine?

But this is how the suburban middle class in the most powerful nation on earth thinks. To be homosexually oriented is to be immoral, untrustworthy, sick. The idea that such people should enjoy the basic right to work, to live indoors, to love someone is, then, quite simply beyond the pale. Gays and lesbians may be smarter than dogs, but not much, and it's doubtful whether they deserve any more consideration.

If, as the voters in Maine have suggested, we don't have many more rights than our canine friends, then perhaps it's time to rethink our responsibilities. Do dogs pay taxes? They do not. But every queer from Bangor to Portland does. Therefore, I humbly suggest to the tax collectors housed in Maine that they forthwith desist from subtracting 30-40 percent of every queer's paycheck. This would, of course, include taxes that help build schools to educate the sanctified spawn of heterosexual matrimony. Let's face it -- anything gay being funneled in the direction of your children -- even gay money -- should be regarded as part of the conspiracy to recruit them to the cause of the antichrist. Before you know it, your 13-year-old is indulging in the joys of tit clamps and cock pumps.

Given the sorry performance of gays in Maine last Tuesday, it might be a bit much to expect them (not to mention the rest of us) to unite in such a telling act of civil disobedience. These days, when it comes to even the most mundane instance of defiance, most queers just roll their eyes and pass the K.

Which is a pity. If we tore ourselves away from our clinical self-absorption and heedless hedonism for a moment, we might appreciate just how politically significant the gay accumulation of wealth has become. Hell, David Geffen alone must pay enough in taxes to keep a Third World nation going. If we're so contemptible and undeserving, so lacking in morals and loyalty and intelligence, then our money should be seen as no good, either. And we should be prepared to act on that fact.

Of course, some of us are a little better than others, so perhaps a system of disability allowances should be worked out based on our abhorrent lifestyle choices, or the degree of mental deficiency those choices imply. Are we into water sports? Fisting? Or merely blow jobs -- which aren't even considered sex on a federal level?

Of course, this might lead the average faggot to pretend to be more depraved than he is, merely for the tax break. But this is the kind of kink that could be ironed out by our upstanding Internal Revenue Service, in time.

By Daniel Reitz

Daniel Reitz, a frequent contributor to Salon, is a writer living in New York. His film "Urbania," based on his play, "Urban Folk Tales," will be released in August.

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