March 2004


Passion Two Ways:
3,500 Weddings and a Crucifixion


Struggling to make sense of a welter of emotions about art and politics, I’ve tried to see the truth that lies spread out before me, not always an easy task. In the words of Oscar Wilde, "The pure and simple truth is never pure and rarely simple."

Some observations by BENT contributor Donald Lawrence were helpful. Here is what he wrote:

We have become so accustomed to hypocrisy from our Powers-That-Be that the vilest, most blatant scoundrels publicly proclaim moral judgments without challenge. Where to start?

Governor-and-serial-molester Schwartzeneggar, perhaps? Or maybe the churches. The Catholic Church enjoys the limelight at the moment, for having protected pedophiles while saving face by using its earthly power to justify the unjust and persecute the vulnerable.

When discussing the conservative view of marriage, let’s not forget poster-boy New Gingrich serving his wife and the mother of his children with divorce papers while she was hospitalized with cancer.

But my vote will have to go to the Bush Dynasty, whose generations of family values and one-man/one-woman marital sanctity have yielded a truly rotten crop.

Thank you, Don, for clarifying the political side, but where does art come in? My confused state of mind had to do with that oddest of confluences, same-sex marriage and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” for during the last week it sometimes seemed impossible to read about much else. As prime exhibits in this country’s ongoing culture wars the two seemed to share little in common, but I’ve discovered that appearances are deceiving.

James Carroll, who in “Constantine’s Sword” examines the history of Christian hatred of Jews, had this to say about the Movie of the Moment in The Boston Globe: “Gibson’s violence fantasies, as ingenious as they are perverse, are, at bottom, a fantasy of infinite male toughness.”

Infinite male toughness. Sound familiar? Dubya posturing in a flight suit on that oh-so-photogenic destroyer. Arnold predicting (but sounding more like he was welcoming) riots and death in the streets of San Francisco, while comparing the issuing of marriage licenses to assault weapons and illegal drugs—all this in response to a threat as violent as, well, as violent as a mass wedding celebration.

What’s missing here? Ah, yes, that old-time religion (not trundled out much at the moment) called compassionate conservatism, a fake political platform crafted to make us feel good about every injustice a corrupt government can visit on the least of us. Instead, the Prez and the Gov, with all the fervor of a pair of rabid curs, pursue policies that ought to incite riots, but seem, instead, to pass over the heads of a stupefied body politic, dumbstruck, perhaps, by such blatant manipulation.

In California, what else can one make of a governor, who, in refusing to support necessary taxation, threatens to put at risk the most vulnerable of his fellow citizen. Take one case in point: the California Medical Association predicts that proposed additional reductions in Medical reimbursements will make it impossible for most doctors to accept Medical patients. The result will be already beleaguered hospital emergency rooms swamped by the state’s poorest patients, a group that includes far too many people with disabilities. These PWDs have been impoverished by the absence or failure of state and federal programs that ought to define a just society but that make us, instead, the laughing stock of the Western democracies.

The governor tells us that consequences like these are “regrettable.” You go, Arnold. Strut your infinite male toughness, an attribute that makes me even more concerned about a constitutional amendment that could put you in the White House than I am about the amendment endorsed by its current unduly elected occupant.

A just government, one based on compassion for its least privileged members, is heir to the true meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection—whether you prefer to see that narrative through a literal or metaphoric lens—which is forgiveness, salvation and grace.

To quote James Carroll once more, “The subject of this film, despite it title, is not the Passion of the Christ, but the sick love of physical abuse, engaged in for power.”

What strange bedfellows, this President, this Governor, this movie maker. How best might we counter their violence and abuse without resorting to violence and abuse ourselves? Getting married by the thousands seems as good a method as any. At least for the moment.

© 2004 BENT


Bob Guter has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of multiple birth defects. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Stagebill, and other publications. With John R. Killacky he edited "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and their Stories (Haworth Press, 2003). He lives in San Francisco where he publishes and edits BENT.