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Those uppity Latin Americans

30 December 2009

The Foreign Policy Association — founded during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency (1918) seems not to have progressed much since the Professor Wilson’s infamous “We will teach them to elect good men.”  As if the Latin Americans (or, rather, the Mexicans, where were the “them” to which Wilson was referring) were asking for lessons, or if the teacher (replaced by the highly corrupt Warren G. Harding) was qualified to give them.  Wilson’s quote came to mind when I read Sean Goforth’s “Gay Marriage in Mexico City” on the Foreign Policy Association’s Mexico Blog.

It’s a quixotic battle, I know to get people to use the phrase “same-gender marriage” in place of “gay marriage.”   “Gay marriage” implies the whole thing is about sex, when there has been sex without marriage, and marriage without sex forever.  Although marriage laws usually mention “conjugal rights” — making access to sex a part of the deal — but marriage has traditionally been just a way of creating a legal bond between two unrelated persons — often for financial or other reasons having nothing to do with boinking. As a matter of history,  “same-gender marriage” first became a reality in Denmark, where an aging war hero, who’d become quite rich in his dotage had no interest in leaving his fortune to his blood relations, but rather to his business (and life) partner.  It was conservatives — always looking for a way to beat the tax man — who took up the cause.

But, a lot of people, even well-educated, informed ones, write “Gay Marriage”.  It might indicate some hangups discussing sexuality, but I don’t think it shows any particular attitude towards Latin American culture and sensitivities.  However, after mentioning that the passage of a same-gender marriage bill in the Federal District of Mexico was leading to calls for changes elsewhere, Sean writes of Latin Americans:

They should temper their enthusiasm.

If the “they” isn’t offensive — echoing Wilson’s “them“, the rest of the sentence… and the post… stinks to high heaven of Wilsonian paternalism.

Goforth bases his argument on an analogy to abortion. Or rather, the reaction to abortion in other other Mexican jurisdictions.  He claims that that liberalized abortion law in the Federal District have led to calls for restrictions in other parts of the country (and a theoretical call for a constitutional ban on abortions), In some ways that’s true, in that what was a sub-rosa issue has finally been dragged into the open. Mexico has had abortions for years (before the United States liberalized its own laws, women who needed an abortion and could afford to do so, came here as medical tourists). Abortion laws were going to change eventually, anyway, and it just happened that one jurisdiction, where there is a minority party in control of the local legislature, was the first.

As expected, and no different than in the United States (where most people say they are opposed to abortion) another political party is going to try to make it an issue. Ironically, in the “neo-conservative” Foreign Policy Magazine, one of the best foreign journalists in Mexico, Alexis Okeowo dealt with this the week before Christmas:

As in the United States, the conflict is as much about politics as it is about abortion. Mexican political parties here have found that the touchy social topic is a useful polarizer — one that fires up voters on both sides. With the presidential election coming up in 2012, parties are already trying to line up fervent supporters. So recently, the moderate Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has joined the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN) in backing anti-abortion reforms. The PRI’s decision is a major political gamble. A party from the center that was in power for decades before being unseated by PAN presidents Vicente Fox in 2000 and Felipe Calderón in 2006, the PRI is betting that abortion might just be the issue that could attract just enough conservative voters to bulk up its usual moderate core, snag PAN’s base — and repay Calderón the electoral favor.

In other words, politics here is a lot like politics anywhere.   What’s offensive is that Goforth is practicing the “do as I say, not as I do” foreign policy that drives Latin Americans to distraction.  Would he take it kindly if Mexicans were to suggest that Massachusetts should not have legalized same-gender marriage because of possible reaction in Alabama or North Dakota.  Is he suggesting that because politicians might use it to energize the base, U.S. jurisdictions should not not be the first to change their laws to reflect changing times?  Of course not.  And I’m not sure what the changes in the abortion laws had to do with the Federal District marriage law, other than both are reforms  that often make some people squeamish.

I don’t care that the issue makes Sean Goforth squeamish.  I don’t care that it makes Mexican voters squeamish.  Or that, in all probability, politios will try to capitalize on change.  They always have… PAN after all got its start by capitalizing on reaction to Mexican secular educational policies.   So, I guess that means — to use Sean’s logic — that a social or political change that MIGHT cause a backlash is a bad thing — for Latin Americans.

What’s the kicker is that Goforth — after referring to gays as “them” then goes and tells “them” to give up on marriage for their own good:

Mexico City taking a step forward could result in Mexico taking two steps back. The fight for gay marriage may well impede the recognition of civil unions, a meaningful half-step.

What he’s saying is “Listen, you little people down there… I know what’s best for you.”  What’s scary is the guy has a Masters degree from the School of Foreign Policy at Georgetown, and he teaches courses on world politics, without any apparent understanding of his own country, let alone this one.  And, I don’t recall any movement in favor — or against — “civil unions” in Mexico, so have my doubts how “meaningful” something is that doesn’t exist, and there’s no particular support for.

If people weren’t willing to listen to Princeton University and United States President  DR. Woodrow Wilson, why would they listen to some teacher from Carolina Coastal College?

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