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Maybe Marquette, Mich., is "God's country," as Detroit Lions Coach Steve Mariucci announced when he introduced George W. Bush there last week. Presumably San Francisco, where Mariucci previously coached the 49ers, is the devil's own playground – given that city's enthusiasm for gay marriage, which Bush blasts obsessively.
Of course, if Michigan is God's country, that reflects poorly on Dubya: He lost the state in 2000 to Al Gore.
In any case, still smarting from the defeat in the Senate of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, the president has returned to playing the God-and-patriotism card heavily – always implying that the GOP is the party for "real" Americans. During his Midwest swing, he promised to protect those homeland values from the latest big threats: gays who marry and Hollywood entertainers who support Democrats. Bush did not quite equate gay marriages with Al Qaeda, as Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum did: "Isn't that the ultimate homeland security – standing up and defending marriage?" Bush just held that gay marriages would destroy "the most fundamental institution of civilization."
Thankfully, most Americans have fonder feelings about that other old fundamental institution, our Declaration of Independence, the one that says we are endowed by our creator with the unalienable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And Sen. John McCain and five other brave Republicans broke with the president long enough to point out that their party supposedly believes in states' rights – including the power to regulate marriage.
Moreover, according to polls, voters sensibly put the issue far down on their list of national priorities.
The main reason for this public calm is that gays have come out of the closet in huge numbers over the last three decades. Two-thirds of Americans say they have gay friends or associates, making them a lot less likely to support the use of gays as political punching bags.
Consider just one example from the heartland. Chad Graham, in a piece called "Coming Out in a U-Haul," written for the national gay magazine the Advocate, described his experience of telling his father he was gay while they drove from the Midwest to Los Angeles.
Having already been warned by an unwitting – and, apparently, witless – minister friend that he should carry a stick to his new job in L.A., the better to "beat away the homos," Graham feared that he might face similar hostility from his own fundamentalist Christian, small-town Illinois family.
After a brief spell of considered silence, however, his father responded with respect, if not enthusiasm. "I don't really understand where this is coming from or agree with this," he said. "But you're my son, and I love you and I support you."
Don't you just love this nation of ours? Deep down, under layers of commercially sustained coarseness, religious fakery and politically inspired meanness, we are, I believe, the most open and charitable people on God's Earth when we manage to get around to it.
But before I get too misty-eyed, let's concede that there is a horrid and persistent counterpoint of intolerance in our nation's history and that the GOP has been particularly effective in framing those retrograde sentiments using wedge issues.
Now, bizarrely, actors – excepting Republicans like Arnold "I Call Them Girlie Men" Schwarzenegger – are the latest group that poses a hazard to decent, "normal" Americans, of whom Bush is the self-appointed protector.
In his Marquette speech, Bush ignored the Sodom of San Francisco and focused instead on the Gomorrah of Hollywood, some of whose prominent performers – particularly comic Whoopi Goldberg – had used ribald humor at a Kerry-Edwards fundraiser.
"The other day my opponent said, when he was with some entertainers from Hollywood, that they were the heart and soul of America. I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places right here, in Marquette, Mich.," Bush said. That's where you find "compassion, reverence and integrity."
However, considering that comic Dennis Miller was warming up the crowd for the president the very next day, it's clear that you can escape the Hollywood stigma if you become a Republican – or a homophobe. Applying Republican ribaldry to disparage the Democratic ticket of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, Miller said, "Those two cannot keep their hands off each other, can they? I think I have an idea for a new campaign slogan . . . 'Hey, Get a Room,'" Now that's compassionate and reverential humor – almost as classy as Dick Cheney's vulgar performance on the floor of the U.S. Senate.