Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thoughts of an ex-bell ringer

    The red kettle beckons outside the store, and a sad tension grips me. Sad, because it used to be that whatever spare change rattled in my pocket would go into that kettle, drawing a cheery thanks and a smile. And who couldn't stand some of that action?
     I forgo it, however. That's sad. Until Salvation Army treats all Americans like the equal people the preamble to the U.S. Constitution prescribes, my spare coin is holstered.
     It's sad because Salvation Army does much good. That's why a decade or so ago I agreed to stand outside a store and ring a bell. That was, however, before Salvation Army's policy of discrimination against hiring homosexuals became common knowledge.
     That's not a policy or philosophy I want to support.
     Salvation Army is extremely up-front about it: "Differentiation of the sexes is a part of the divine image in the human race" says its website. It says that people who have a same-sex orientation deserve love. But, ff if they show their own love in a homosexual fashion, and refuse to renounce said actions, they are "ineligible for Salvation Army soldiership."
      To hear the organization rationalizes this form of discrimination, one can see how bad laws can contribute to the marginalization of people otherwise equal in the eyes of the law. (See Jim Crow.) It's no abomination to be gay, the site says. Just don't act on it. "Those who will not or cannot marry" must observe "celibacy and self-restraint," it says. A couple of generations ago in certain reaches of this land, it was perfectly OK to be a black man as well, just not to escort a white woman.
      I'm reminded of the law in Texas that banned homosexual acts, until it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. It gave Texas lawmakers license to smile upon just about any form of discrimination against homosexuals, for if they were "practicing," they were breaking the law. Yes?
       So, too, with prohibitions on gay couples marrying, a situation in which religious sensitivities supersede equal protection of the law. You know; that's in the 14th Amendment.
        Now the Pentagon, with most servicemen and women in assent, says it's time to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians. Sadly, at least one of the major parties is possessed of the philosophy that someone who is honest about his or her homosexuality must be "ineligible for soldiership," aka the Salvation Army.
       Sorry, folks. John McCain can talk 'til blue in the face and not explain how the current discriminatory military policy can be defended by the law of the land.
       One reason the armed forces are ready to move on with this change is that, ultimately, the courts are going to force the issue — just as the courts said the real crime in Texas was a law that made people criminals for how they acted in the privacy of their homes.
       The bottom line of this discourse is that it's none of anyone's business. How is it that a party built on the principle of less government and less government intrusion could sway so heavily for intrusion and discrimination? OK, that's easy to see. As with ol' Jim Crow, it's always been politically profitable to be a manifestation of prevailing prejudice and a barker of fear and taboo.
       You don't need to tell me that the Salvation Army does good things. I manned a kettle once.
       The segregated diners of the South sold grub that pleased many. They were pillars of their communities. Ultimately they were influenced by reasonable people to practice the notion that all men were created equal — under God.
      I'll ring a bell for that principle.
      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com

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