More on the Mormon Offer

David Link recently posted a thoughtful response to The Mormon Bargain, regarding the LDS leadership’s offer to support anti-discrimination legislation that protects LGBT people against housing and employment discrimination, as long as it includes religious liberty protection. Now, Jonathan Rauch has weighed in, and his op-ed in the New York Daily News, Gays should welcome this move by Mormons, is also worth reading.

Rauch takes the position:

By coming forward to support new gay-rights protections, the church has publicly and pointedly broken with the confrontational approach of evangelicals, the Catholic Bishops and culture-warrior litigation groups like Alliance Defending Freedom. By doing so, it weakens those groups’ polarizing strategies and their claims to speak for religious conservatives.

If the Mormons’ outreach falls on deaf ears with gay-rights activists, religious hard-liners will gleefully say, “We told you so; gay-rights advocates are interested in fighting, not talking.”

Of course, some negotiations fail. But it would be self-defeating for gay civil-rights advocates not to probe the possibilities for compromise.

There are many gay people for whom allowing religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws—any religious exemptions—has now become anathema. This is a fairly recent development, promoted by those who seem dismissive of any right to religious dissent. It’s another sign of the abject polarization of our times.

Endgame, with Residual Resistance

There’s going to be a certain amount of last-ditch intransigence to marriage equality, especially in the deep South, as personified by Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, among others. As the New York Times reports, “Republican state legislators in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas have introduced bills this year that would prohibit state or local government employees from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, despite federal court rulings declaring bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.”

This smacks of desperation, and a last-gasp effort to incite the base. But marriage equality is not abortion; the freedom to marry does not involve ending the life of an unborn child. Hundreds of thousands will not march on Washington in protest, year after year.

The fact that so many GOP leaders are talking about accepting the appellate rulings (and, by extension, the upcoming Supreme Court decision) and moving on is testament to that. And, as the Huffington Post notes, even Conservatives At Iowa Freedom Summit Would Rather Not Talk About Gay Marriage. Many of them, at any rate. They know it’s over.

Mike Huckabee and and Judge Moore are outliers. It will pass. In the
meantime, this is certainly an interesting response.

Everybody Loves Us

This strikes me as very foolish.  A gay and lesbian crowdsourcing group called All Out has pressured Google Translate to remove any words that “gay” could be translated as which are offensive.  If I’m understanding this correctly, lesbians and gay men who encounter speakers of another language and rely on Google Translate will only receive politically acceptable words and phrases.

There are times, I admit, when it would be nice to live in the bubble of wonderfulness these folks envision.  But if someone from Saudi Arabia, say, is calling me a faggot, I’d like to know that.  It’s possible he would offer up other cues that would make the point, but all the same language matters, and sometimes it matters most when it is offensive.

The Mormon Bargain

I want to be as supportive of the new Mormon position on anti-gay discrimination as possible.  Their leadership has agreed to support legislation that protects against housing and employment discrimination, as long as it includes religious liberty protection as well. This is a major announcement from a major religion that has spent a lot of time and capital fighting against our equality in the civil sector.  I am grateful that they took this bold step.

Unfortunately, I think it’s a bad deal.  Not for the reasons the Human Rights Campaign articulates, though.  They are concerned that the religious freedom protections would serve as a loophole. I can’t argue with that, and I have a lot fewer problems with it than HRC does.

For me, the problem with the deal is what church leadership is willing to fight for. Nearly all of the problems we have had with religious liberty over the last couple of decades have been due to the anti-discrimination laws the church now finds worthwhile. HRC has illustrated exactly why that continues to be the problem.

The one thing the church leaves off the table is support for civil marriage equality. Virtually all of the lawsuits, government actions and agita that religious individuals and businesses have brought to public attention have not been over the legality of same-sex marriage, they have been because of laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation itself.

If I can have anti-discrimination laws or marriage equality, I’ll pick marriage equality every time.

I do not want to diminish the significance of this move.  It will have positive repurcussions both among gay LDS members (not to mention their families) and the broader faith community.  But by choosing to support the kinds of anti-discrimination laws that are most subject to civil abuse, and then carving out only the abuse that they are most subject to, they have done the political thing rather than the right one. There is more wrong with anti-discrimination laws in today’s world than just religious difficulties.

Worse than that is the necessary implication in the whole deal: denying that the civil laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are, themselves, the core discrimination that undermines the liberty this nation guarantees. The church will now be able to say that it opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation, while continuing to support civil laws that demand discrimination.

On balance, this concern may make little difference. I am hoping the Supreme Court will ultimately resolve marriage equality the right way, and call that form of discrimination what it is. That decision will make not a bit of difference to the Mormon church, or any other religious denomination.

But years after that happens, we will still have to deal with the legacy that anti-discrimination laws, long past their sell-by date, have left us. This may give them a bit more legitimacy than I think they deserve.

Potemkin VIle

What are politicians who oppose marriage equality defending any more?

We know what they say they have in mind: the mechanical litany of protecting the right of children to have two biologically related parents; some version of Christian values; the independence of the people’s will against unelected judges; and the right of a state to define family relations. Each of those has some appeal, and some merit.

But Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard revealed a gap in the politics that should ease those who are jittery about the coming Supreme Court case. After a federal court last week struck down Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, Hubbard said, “It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.”

Chris Geidner helpfully pointed out that, far from multiple millions, less than 700,000 Alabamians voted for the amendment. And that’s out of a population of 4.8 million.

This does not mean marriage equality is popular in Alabama. But you can’t deny that 4.1 million Alabamians did not weigh in on the sanctity of marriage. A lot of them weren’t registered to vote, a lot probably had other things to do on voting day, and you have to assume that a lot of them just didn’t really give much of a damn about this particular issue.

It’s not unlikely that, if this decision is upheld, either on appeal or as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling next June, there will be a certain amount of discontent in Alabama, possibly more than there has been in the 36 other states whose marriage equality bans have been overturned.

But think about the magnitude of the yawn that has greeted those other decisions.

So far, the Supreme Court has only overturned one state ban on same-sex marriage, California’s. Seven million Californians passed that ban (against 6.4 million who opposed it), and the court overturned it two years ago in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

While California is a pretty blue state, it is extraordinarily hard to find any of those seven million voters who, after the court’s decision, took to the streets, stormed the courthouse doors, or even wrote letters to the editor. The decision was met by the ban’s many supporters with a shrug. All of the fear and anxiety and emotional manipulation from one of California’s ugliest initiative campaigns had been utterly forgotten. No hard feelings, who’s providing snacks for the kids’ soccer game Saturday?

And that seems to be what’s happening in the other states where bans have been falling on a weekly basis. Most people are just relieved to be getting done with this.

That might be because equality advocates have had it right from the start: this really doesn’t affect most people’s lives negatively, and the ones whose lives it does affect are positively joyous. The bans were a deeply cynical and politically timed moment in American history designed to exploit the last dying gasps of an ages-old prejudice. That spasm forced the constitutional issue, and it turns out the cynics were right in their own way. That particular form of bigotry was dying, and they timed the bans well.

This last generation of politicians still has some long-tail prejudice to cater to. But I’m feeling confident they’re going to find this snake oil doesn’t dazzle the masses the way it used to.

Liberals vs. Progressives?

Allum Bokhari, a British political consultant and Liberal Democrat, has penned an interesting column in which he finds a growing gulf between the views of moderate liberals and radical progressives on a number of key social issues. He writes:

The coalition of moderate liberals, skeptical intellectuals, and radical progressives that once stood together against the conservative “moral majority” is beginning to fracture. … [A] number of serious divisions have emerged on the cultural left. And they are becoming increasingly bitter. …

On Islamism:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a female genital mutilation survivor…was disinvited from a planned speaking engagement at Brandeis University for her criticism of Islam, and was stripped of her honorary degree. Salon.com immediately applauded the decision. … Students at UC Berkeley attempted to do the same to Bill Maher over his alleged islamophobia. … One of their [progressives] core beliefs is that you do not “punch down”—that is, attack vulnerable or marginalized communities. Islam, despite being the dominant religion of dozens of nation-states, is said by progressives to fall into this category. …

On due process:

These days…defenders of due process are more likely to be at loggerheads with radical progressives than Bush-era neocons. Nowadays, it is progressives, not conservatives, who championed the use of campus tribunals to deal with sexual assault on US campuses. These tribunals, conducted by untrained faculty members, with no requirement for defendants to have access to legal representation, have attracted a growing tide of criticism. …

On censorship:

Today…it is progressives who are not just standing up for the right of private censorship, but also actively demand it. It is progressives, not Christian conservatives, who now lead campaigns against sex and violence in the media. And it was progressive students, not middle-aged moral crusaders, who banned a pop song on over 20 university campuses. …

Bokhari concludes:

It increasingly appears that cultural politics, once the great strength of the left-wing movement, is rapidly turning into its Achilles heel. Once a source of unity, it has turned into perhaps the primary source of division. With moderate liberals and radical progressives sharpening their weapons on a number of fronts, a battle for the soul of the left is about to begin.

I fear that’s way too optimistic an outloook, at least when applied to the U.S. From what I can see, there aren’t many “moderate liberals” in this country who are willing to speak out against “radical progressives,” especially regarding due process protections and freedom of expression, although libertarians certainly are doing so.

More. For those who are interested, more from Allum Bokhari, via Britain’s Liberal Democratic Voice website.

Furthermore. Along somewhat similar lines, Jonathan Chait on How the language police are perverting liberalism:

But political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves. …

Liberals believe (or ought to believe) that social progress can continue while we maintain our traditional ideal of a free political marketplace where we can reason together as individuals. Political correctness challenges that bedrock liberal ideal. While politically less threatening than conservatism (the far right still commands far more power in American life), the p.c. left is actually more philosophically threatening. It is an undemocratic creed.

Obama: Good for Gays, Not So Good for America

According to Mark Joseph Stein and J. Bryan Lowder, writing at Slate (LGBT Comes to the SOTU), Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address was historic in that it contained three references to gay rights and “marks the first time a president has used the words transgender and bisexual in a State of the Union address (in addition to the explicit use of the term lesbian rather than the generic gay).”

For many on the left, it seems, keeping count of nomenclature is exceedingly important. But I’ll grant you that inclusive rhetoric can matter. More importantly, however, let’s weigh the administration’s record.

The Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), then backed by many LGBT Democrats, never made it out of committee during the first two years of the Obama presidency when his party enjoyed large majorities in both houses of Congress—a sign of lack of administration interest in pushing it. But last year, the president belatedly fulfilled his 2008 campaign promise to issue an executive order barring government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

His administration sat back and would have allowed Harry Reid to scuttle a Senate vote to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” at the end of 2010, as I’ve written about before (Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman saved the day). Subsequently, however, the Defense Department moved to successfully implement the new policy of letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military.

Obama initially ran for president opposing gay marriage, alluding to marriage’s “religious connotation” and holding that “marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.” But in office his position evolved to support for marriage equality. And while the truly historic advances for the freedom to marry were driven by lawsuits and the courts, the administration did weigh in against the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act. After the majority ruling penned by Justice Kennedy (a Reagan appointee) finding DOMA unconstitutional, federal agencies have moved to ensure equal treatment of same-sex spouses in the areas that they regulate.

As David Boaz sums up on The National Interest website about the speech and, more broadly, Obama’s legacy:

[W]e got a sweeping vision of a federal government that takes care of us from childhood to retirement, a verbal counterpart to the Obama campaign’s internet ad about “Julia,” the cartoon character who has no family, friends, church or community and depends on government help throughout her life. … The spirit of American independence, of free people pursuing their dreams in a free economy, was entirely absent. … The president wants more and better jobs. And yet he wants to raise taxes on the savings and investment that produce economic growth and better jobs. … President Obama’s tax-spend-and-regulate policies have given us the slowest recovery since World War II. You want to help the middle class? Lift those burdens.

But also:

I appreciate the president’s inclusiveness in his rhetoric and his policies. In 2013, he paid tribute to “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” This year he cited gay marriage as “a story of freedom”—indeed, his only mention of freedom—and he touched on the deepest roots of our liberty and our civilization in this passage: “we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen: man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.”

All in all, the Obama administration’s record on gay rights may be its only lasting positive legacy.

Huckabee’s Non Sequitur

“Christians who themselves abandoned the primacy of lifelong marriage to follow the divorce and remarriage customs of a secular society have as much to answer for as do those who militantly push to redefine marriage,” Mike Huckabee reportedly says in his new book. Actually, there’s no contest—divorce, while sometimes necessary in light of domestic violence or unresolvable incompatibility, by its very definition renders families asunder and denies children the presence of one of their parents in the home (and, often, in their lives). Same-sex marriage creates or reinforces families and provides children with the added safety and security of two legal custodial parents.

Huckabee may be inching away from some of his worst rhetoric of the past, but he still can’t bring himself to see that gay families are not anti-family.

More. Social conservatives can always count on Mike.

Going for Broke

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. “The court’s announcement made it likely that it would resolve one of the great civil rights questions of the age before its current term ends in June,” says the New York Times.

I believe it would have been preferable if all the appellate circuits had supported the freedom to marry, and for a while it looked like that might be happening—until a November decision from a divided three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati ruled otherwise. The Supreme Court could have requested that the full Sixth Circuit rehear that case and rule, perhaps signaling displease with the panel decision. But that’s not the route the high court took.

Now it will be all (as most court-watchers expect) or nothing (a devastating reversal of the circuits that found a constitutional right to marry).

On a positive note, Time finds evidence Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage. Well, some of them, at any rate. And some is better than none, with more likely to follow, eventually leaving just a hardcore rump of rejectionists. Not that they should be forced to bake us cakes!

More. I’ve made this point before, but the New York Times now agrees:

The news Friday that the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage brought elation from gays and lesbians…. But another group also saw a possible reason to celebrate if the court does indeed rule that way: Republicans.

If the high court resolves the issue as expected in June, it could deliver a decision that has the benefit of largely neutralizing a debate that a majority of Americans believe Republicans are on the wrong side of—and well ahead of the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.

Domestic Partner Benefits Are (Almost) Passé

The Washington Blade reports that the State Department is considering phasing out domestic partner (DP) benefits for unmarried gay employees now that the government can recognize same-sex marriages. There have been some objections raised, but once gay couples are free to wed throughout the nation, DP benefits will have served their purpose and can be dispensed with. This has already happened at many companies in states with marriage equality.

The Blade notes that one gay State Department employee complained: “While it’s great that we can get married much more easily now, my partner and I are not looking forward to being forced into a shotgun marriage due to a policy change that takes away the benefits we were promised.”

But spousal benefits are intended for family units with a commitment to permanency, and hence marriage—two individuals who by dint of legally binding mutual obligations are treated as a collective singular. They aren’t, or shouldn’t be, freebies for shacking up. If you want the benefits of being a spouse, that requires accepting the legal responsibilities of marriage. And that, in fact, was a theme we’ve sounded here at IGF CultureWatch over the decades. Ten years ago I wrote With Marriage an Option, Who Needs DP Benefits?, as Massachusetts was about to become the first state to recognize same-sex marriages (and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of the state’s largest employers, moved to drop DP benefits for state residents).

That 2004 post noted another post, from 10 years earlier, in which I took a critical view of activists demanding that private employers provide DP benefits to both gay and straight couples alike:

How much more constructive it would be if our movement, while pushing for full marriage rights, stopped making alliances with cultural leftists favoring benefits for unwed heteros. As David Boaz advocates in the January 1994 issue of Liberty, a libertarian journal, workers should be told “if you want the benefits of marriage, get married; but if the state won’t let you get married, we’ll be more progressive.” Benefits, he asserts, should not be seen “as one more goodie to hand out,” but “as a way of remedying an unfairness, not to mention retaining valued employees.”

He’s right. Domestic partnership benefits should be a stopgap measure for gays and lesbians until we achieve full marriage rights (based on legally recognized commitments).

That day, thankfully, will soon be upon us.