By now it should be no secret: America’s founding fathers envisioned a land free from tyrannical restraints. In theory, this revolutionary American government would foster civil involvement, hold politicians accountable and insure a clean separation of powers. No more monarchy for the colonies. Too bad the presidency’s potency threatens the nation…
Under the American Constitution, federalism would solidify state rights, while a single-member plurality voting system meant to maintain equal representation. Unfortunately, federalism furthered inequality and the plurality voting system bolstered a two-party rule and helped entrench conservative powers.
That election system, however, doesn’t apply to presidential applicants. Those Commanders-In-Chief get elected by that old dinosaur, the electoral college: a system of party-affiliated proxies that cast the deciding votes for president. If a candidate garners a plurality of votes in a geographical area, he receives that electoral college. Aside from causing a headache, this system enhances the one man, one vote’s inherent flaws: a president need not get a majority of the people, but a majority of the electoral votes, or 270 seats.
Once he – or, potentially, she – gets to the Oval Office, the president takes control of both the government and the state. This leader holds both the actual and the symbolic seats of political power for four – or, potentially, eight – years. Unlike a parliamentary system, in which a Prime Minister must work with all parties to ensure the state’s efficiency, an American president can feasibly, but not easily, rule with a hostile Congress.
If a Republican led Congress passes a law, a Democratic president can veto their legislation. Yes, there’s such a thing as a super veto, but it’s rarely employed – or possible. Our Commander-In-Chief can stall the government if he so chooses, as President Bush does when he vows to veto “pro-gay” laws, like hate crime legislation. The distinction of powers meant to nurture liberalism hinders gay rights and America’s universal promise.
Even the American people, who the President’s meant to represent, can’t sway the chief. Barring an impeachment or death, our figurehead’s in office for at least one term. In a parliamentary system, the MPs can boot a prime minister. Electoral evictions don’t come easy in America, even when there’s cum involved.
Besides signing bills into law, declaring war and appointing ambassadors, our American president can also install Supreme Court Justices. Though the Senate gives their stamp of consent and judges maintain nominal political impartiality, our A-list adjudicators often reflect their appointing president’s political leanings.
Certainly the Court doesn’t always take ideological sides. In fact, in 1981, the Supreme Court shocked gay rights activists when it refused to overturn a gay victory against New York state sodomy laws. Their inaction, however, doesn’t mean the Court favored queers. They just refused to get involved in a state’s matter, but that wasn’t always the case.
During this period, one anti-gay man ruled the judicial roost: Warren Burger. A Richard Nixon appointee, Burger made clear that he intended on steering the nation down a new path. In addition to supporting desegregation-aiding busing, the Burger Court, which consisted of six other Republican-appointed justices, passed Roe v. Wade, thus ensuring women’s right to choose. While Burger granted blacks and women a somewhat better American life, gay rights weren’t high on his agenda, as evidenced in Bower v. Hardwick.
This case against Georgia’s sodomy laws came up earlier in America’s Queer Liberty. For those of you not paying attention, here’s the deal: in 1982, police busted in Michael Hardwick’s bedroom and arrested him for having consensual sex with another man. Hardwick retaliated by suing Attorney General Michael Bowers. The Georgian courts ruled in Hardwick’s favor – even gays deserved a bit of privacy. Bower and his cronies weren’t having it, so they took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. In his stinging, stinking consent, Burger made clear he saw no future for American faggots:
I write separately to underscore my view that in constitutional terms there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy.
…The proscriptions against sodomy have very “ancient roots.” Decisions of individuals relating to homosexual conduct have been subject to state intervention throughout the history of Western civilization. Condemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards. Homosexual sodomy was a capital crime under Roman law…and the Western Christian Tradition… The common law of England, including its prohibition of sodomy, became the received law of Georgia and the other Colonies. In 1816 the Georgia Legislature passed the statute at issue here, and that statute has been continuously in force in one form or another since that time. To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.
This is essentially not a question of personal “preferences” but rather of the legislative authority of the State. I find nothing in the Constitution depriving a State of the power to enact the statute challenged here.
Could it be Burger and his boss man, Richard Nixon, were reading from the same anti-gay play book?
Consider this taped May 13, 1971, conversation between the late President and adviser John D. Ehrlichman. Nixon’s griping about gays on tv:
NIXON: I don’t mind the homosexuality. I understand it. Nevertheless, goddamn, I don’t think you glorify it on public television, homosexuality, even more than you glorify whores. We all know we have weaknesses. But, goddammit, what do you think that does to kids? You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that. So was Socrates.
EHRLICHMAN: But he never had the influence television had.
NIXON: You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. Neither in a public way. You know what happened to the popes? They were layin’ the nuns; that’s been goin’ on for years, centuries. But the Catholic Church went to hell three or four centuries ago. It was homosexual, and it had to be cleaned out. That’s what’s happened to Britain. It happened earlier to France.
Let’s look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn, they root ’em out. They don’t let ’em around at all. I don’t know what they do with them. Look at this country. You think the Russians allow dope? Homosexuality, dope, immorality, are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and left-wingers are clinging to one another. They’re trying to destroy us. I know Moynihan will disagree with this, [Attorney General John] Mitchell will, and Garment will. But, goddamn, we have to stand up to this.
And Burger’s court did.
A decade later, long after Burger left the court, another queer case fell at the Supreme Court’s feet: Romer v. Evans. That case concerned Colorado’s Amendment 2, which we mentioned in the last installment. Despite the court’s make-up – same Republican/Democratic imbalance as the Burger Court – the justices ruled that Colorado’s amendment, which would effectively negate any gays’ discrimination claims, violated the constitution. Thus, the presidential power doesn’t always loom over judicial decisions. Even still, that doesn’t mean the court’s entirely free of political bias. Take, for example, this year’s Parents v. Seattle, which overturned Brown v. Board. Judicial permanence aside, the American president’s powers can still lead to authoritarianism.
President Bush recently signed a bill granting the intelligence service more spying rights. They insist, of course, that the program won’t be used against Americans, but there are no guarantees. Our liberties – and not just gay rights – are all endangered by a power hungry president. None of our “separation of powers” truly protect the nation’s democratic, liberal dreams. What, then, can be done? A complete revolution? Political reform? If we revolt or reform, where do we go? Communism doesn’t work – not without enough capital, at least. Our system of liberal democracy, however, proves to be irreversibly illiberal. Where can we look for answers? The rest of the world, of course.
Today’s installment brings “America’s Queer Liberty” to an end. Never fear, political science lovers, we’ve got another, more international installment waiting in the wings. Keep those peepers peeled for some internationally-flavored answers.