While debating whether or not America hates gay people with a group of UC students studying abroad in Austria (or, to be more precise, not debating, since they were quick to cover my mouth with their hands, embarrassed as they were at the prospect of being identified as American in front of the British people present at our table), it came to my attention that many of us see ourselves as Californian and not American. This paradox is a reflection of the sharp divide this country has seen in recent years, and the helplessness that we feel in a nation controlled by the Bible Belt.
According to the FBI, ‘a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against [the victim’s] sexual orientation’ constitutes a hate crime. With the lack of legal recognition from the federal government, gay people today are denied governmental protection in areas straight people take for granted: explicit protections in the workplace, housing and immigration; the right to serve in the military (apparently gay people in Canada and England are different from those in the United States in that they can get by without disrupting unit cohesion) and, of course, the right to marry. It’s amazing the automatic rights married couples get, not to mention those fat tax breaks.
Without these explicit rights, the United States continues, with the support of the plurality, to engage in a sort of hate crime against gay people on a daily basis.
The question has boiled down to whether or not a government entity you voted against represents you.
When the debate arose at our table in Austria, people were quick to point out that they did not personally harbor any ill feelings towards gay people. In fact, they were all liberals and wanted gay people to achieve the same status that straight people have. They then proceeded to heap the blame on George W. Bush and other conservatives in the United States, claiming that they did not represent them.
While I agree that the politics of the state may not reflect the politics of the individual, the sobering reality is that as long as we are United States citizens, American policies, both foreign and domestic, represent us.
The rest of the world does not care about our politics as individuals. They only see the policies that the electorate as a whole puts into place. When this country was founded, the word ‘American’ was associated with the freedoms outlined in the Constitution that U.S. citizens felt everyone should be endowed with. Saying you are an American today means Bush, the Iraqi occupation, torture of ‘terrorists’ and open discrimination against gay people.
A federal government, as outlined by James Madison in the Federalist Papers, is meant to unify the states into a singular entity because an individual state is weak, but the states collectively have more power. This doctrine’s one weakness is that it requires some degree of power to be handed from the state to the national government in order for it to work.
One does not get to pick and choose the policies by which one wishes to abide. As long as California is part of the Union, if one wants to be a Californian, he or she must also be an American.
If it is the American policy to hate gay people, then as long as one is paying federal taxes, he or she is supporting the state policy. Emerson Thoreau may have been on to something when he decided to protest the Mexican-American War and slavery by not paying six years’ worth of taxes.
It is not enough to identify yourself as Californian and distance yourself from the imperial American government.
History does not record the whimpers from individuals against a nation, especially when all they had to do was show up to vote.
Nein, we as a group will be remembered much like the resistant citizens of Austria and Germany during the years leading up to and during World War II, as footnotes in books written about the war machine that continued to trample everything in its path.