In Praise of Partisanship

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For the first time in the more than thirty years that I’ve been engaged in the political fight against homophobia, I am beginning to think that my political career might outlast the legal embodiment of this vicious prejudice. If this turns out to be the case, I’ll look forward to being able to transfer some of my political and intellectual energy from the defense of those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered to the vindication of another class of people who are now being attacked unfairly: political partisans.

While virtually everyone admits that political parties are necessary for the functioning of democracy in any large population, parties themselves are deeply distrusted and the adjective “partisan” is universally used negatively. It is true that there are forms of partisanship which degrade the political system. But it is also true that partisanship, properly understood, is not only a valid approach; it is in our current political climate the most effective way to fight for some very important values.

If your primary commitment in political life is combating racism, promoting economic fairness, improving the environment, defending the right of women to make choices about reproduction, or fighting for legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, then it is of course a betrayal of that commitment to start analyzing things from a partisan premise. But it is equally true, though much less often recognized, that if an objective analysis of our best opportunity to advance any of these goals leads you to a partisan conclusion, it is equally a betrayal of that commitment to forego the most effective action possible on behalf of your cause, lest you be derided as “partisan.”

These two points—about GLBT rights and partisanship—intersect.

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