Home / General / The politics of gay rights isn’t about the definition of marriage or religious liberty. It’s about gay people.

The politics of gay rights isn’t about the definition of marriage or religious liberty. It’s about gay people.


With Jan Brewer deciding she’d rather piss off the Tea Party than the Chamber of Commerce, the current wave of efforts to re-instate Jim Crow remains victory-free. Here in Ohio, it’s beginning to look like HB 376 has hit a rather serious stumbling block, as some its own sponsors have turned against it–If I’m reading this correctly,  I think what happened is a number of people signed on as sponsors thinking this would be a state version of the RFRA, something that currently exists in 1/3 states and whatever one thinks of it on the merits, isn’t shot through with bigotry or tied to a rollback of civil rights. When it was discovered that large chunks of text from the Arizona legislation appeared in the bill, support has vanished and the bill’s prospects look dim. It’s obviously too soon to declare victory–similar bills remain alive at various stages around the country–but it’s safe to say this effort is shaping up to look like something of a divisive failure for the Republican party. Ed Kilgore’s thoughts on the subject are sound:

Perhaps some non-sectarian Americans instinctively identify with “bakers of conscience” or wedding planners who consider themselves in danger of hellfire for booking hotel ballrooms for Sodomites. But like the fight for the freedom to treat IUDs as death machines, the fight to provide the conservative Christian elements of the wedding industry with plenary indulgences from obedience to the law tends to elicit less sympathy than ridicule from the non-aligned.

And that matters a great deal politically. On many fronts in the culture wars, the momentum has usually been possessed by those who can best identify themselves with the ambivalent attitudes of a mushy middle “swing vote”—favorable to contraceptives and early-term abortions but not late-term abortions; increasingly accepting of LGBT folk but indulgent of their parents’ and grandparents’ “ick factor.”

My read on this is that conservatives have, at every step, convinced this stuff is way more complicated than it actually is. They convinced themselves that the decision to end marriage discrimination against same sex couples was about “the meaning of marriage itself.” They inflated their own investment in heteronormativity and complementarian gender theories to match this exaggerated sense of what’s at stake with SSM. They doubled down time and time again on the evidence-free notion that the well-being of children is somehow at stake. Most recently, they invested considerable energy in convincing themselves that inclusion of sexual orientation is anti-discrimination law is somehow a threat to “religious liberty.” But along they only succeeded in convincing themselves (and perhaps Damon Linker)–the baroque arguments they used to that effect never did much of anything to convince what Ed Kilgore calls the mushy middle, although they did occasionally succeed in confusing those people to such a degree that their conversion to the pro-gay side was delayed by an election cycle or two. But such confusion doesn’t stop or reverse momentum, it only slows it down.

When approaching gay rights, whether it’s marriage, civil unions, anti-discrimination law, the politically relevant question is whether you’re on gay people’s side or not. If you are, you vote for whatever the gay people’s side is. If not, not. The sacred allegedly unchanged “definition”  of marriage, religious liberty, and the rest have very little actual political significance. (Think, for example, of all the digital ink spilled by opponents of SSM recognizing the need for civil unions, but demanding that the title ‘marriage’ be reserved for straight couples. Then compare it to election results: SSM bans that also banned civil union recognition didn’t do noticeably worse than those that didn’t; votes to legalize civil unions didn’t do significantly better than votes to legalize SSM. The “civil unions are cool but not if we call it marriage” position effectively didn’t exist in the actual electorate).

The most successful of these stories, by far, was the Helen Lovejoy one. The notion that gay people living openly as full and equal citizens will in some way harm innocent children in some fashion proved to be very powerful confusion tactic for quite some time (And, of course, it never fully goes away; it’s lost power here at the moment, but a look to Russia or Africa shows that it can, under the right circumstances, be reactivated.)  That the movement to deny gay people the status as equal citizens shifted focus to farcical ‘religious liberty’ arguments is very good news indeed. They got the most mileage they could out of their most powerful fear-mongering tactic, but as gay and lesbian people continued to live openly as parents who are demonstrably pretty much just like other parents, the power of this argument has faded. It’s unlikely they’ll find another tactic this successful at confusing otherwise decent people into opposing the rights of gays and lesbians as equal citizens; the current effort is quite feeble in comparison. If “think of the poor innocent children” was the “tragedy”, “religious liberty” is the farce.

….this Anderson Cooper interview with the potato-faced State Senator is a thing of beauty. When Cooper points out that allowing commercial discrimination on the basis of religiously motivated ‘lifestyle’ disapproval could easily authorize discrimination against unwed mothers or divorced people, potato face reacts as if Cooper has made an obviously bizarre and absurd suggestion. Of course, under the some of the religious doctrines this bill presumably protecting, they’re every bit as sinful as gays and lesbians. And understandably so! They were never what this bill was about, nor was it about “religious liberty” expect as cover for discrimination against gay people.

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