Yesterday in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, far right historian Dominique Venner shot himself dead by the high altar in front of thousands of horrified tourists. Police did not disclose the content of his suicide note. But, he wrote on his blog just hours before his death, condemning France's new marriage equality law and concluded with these ominous words:
New spectacular and symbolic actions are needed to wake up the sleepwalkers and shake the anaesthetised consciousness...
We are entering a time when acts must follow words.
This is the sad final act of a man driven to self-destruction by his fears and hatreds, and perhaps a very bad omen of extremist acts to come. Indeed, Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front is already calling Venner's suicide a "political act."
Dominique Venner was a brilliant award winning historian mostly specializing in military history, with a long record of far right views and actions. He opposed Algerian independence and supported the attempted military coup against the French government by right wing generals in 1961. Venner was involved in a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle in 1962. He saw the biggest threat in immigration from Muslim countries. He embraced the European right wing vision of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. In his final years, he was a ferocious opponent of marriage equality and gay lesbian emancipation.
Opposition to marriage equality and gay rights is losing the political and social war in the West after many years of struggle. Despite massive and violent demonstrations by the far right in the streets of Paris, public support for the marriage bill remains strong in France. In the USA last year, election results in 4 states proved a major seismic shift in public opinion on gay issues that caught most of the professional political class off guard (though those of us paying attention over the past 4 decades could see this coming, just not quite so suddenly). Fifteen countries around the world now have marriage equality laws. Britain may soon make that number 16. In the USA, 12 states now have marriage equality with the District of Columbia and 3 Native American tribes. Illinois and California may soon make the number 14 bringing most of the population of the USA under marriage equality laws. There are similar state laws in Mexico and Brazil. In the USA, in parts of Latin America, the Pacific, and in much of the West, this is the result of years of political struggle, changing public attitudes as gays and lesbians become more visible and familiar, and generational change.
Our opposition is feeling deeply threatened now. As the tide has so suddenly and dramatically turned in our favor over the last few years, expect to see acts of desperation and violence in a gathering backlash. There have been 25 homophobic assaults and one murder already within the last 3 weeks in New York City, historically a refuge for gays and lesbians going back more than a century. Expect more in other parts of the country and around the world.
Homophobia plays the same role at the beginning of the 21st century that antisemitism did a century ago. It is a focus for anger and opposition to modernity and to Western liberalism. Homophobia frequently finds itself linked to antifeminism since both stand for a drastic change in traditional sexual hierarchies. The obsessive terror of feminine sexuality and autonomy shared by all religious fundamentalist movements fits perfectly with their demonization of gays and lesbians.
Hatred of modern cosmopolitanism, secularism, liberal egalitarianism, and the alienation created by global market capitalism drives the ferocity of the enemies of gay lesbian emancipation. They see same-sexuality as the last straw, the final insult to what they always assumed to be a timeless ordering of society and nature.
Those passions are as strong as they are unreasonable. Expect them to manifest themselves violently as we continue to make progress politically and socially.
Homophobia is losing the war, but it is far from dead. We are winning, but we have not yet won. Despite progress in marriage legislation in the USA, there is still no protection in federal law against housing and employment discrimination for gays and lesbians. There is no clear legal declaration anywhere that gays and lesbians are indeed covered by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In 29 states, gays and lesbians are effectively second class citizens who enjoy few to no legal protections. Gays and lesbians remain the most frequent victims of violence and hate crimes. Gay and lesbian teens continue to have a disproportionately high rate of suicide.
While much progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.
IT has further thoughts on our progress and the continuing struggle that are well worth reading.