Happy Days Are Not Here Again

Congratulations to Billie Jean King and to Harvey Milk (posthumously) for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I figure these medals, though deserved by the recipients, cost the gay-rights movement about $5 million each.

We were told in 2006 that we needed a Democratic Congress to pass gay-rights legislation. We got one and nothing much happened. Two years later, we were told we needed a filibuster-proof Senate majority. It was delivered, but nothing valuable is passing the Senate. We were told we needed a Democratic president. We elected one and nothing's moving. It wasn't enough. It will never be enough. The problem is not that the Democratic Party is useless, at least not completely. (And useless is still better than hostile.) The problem is not that the president has more important things to do, though he does.

The core of the problem is that every "gay rights" measure is still viewed by politicians, political pundits, and the most energized actvists on both sides, as liberal. That's true even where majorities tell pollsters they support the measure, as with passing ENDA and repealing DADT. Liberals are proud gay rights is their cause. Conservatives are delighted it's not. The association of gay rights and liberalism is easy and unquestioned across the political spectrum -- the last bastion of bipartisan consensus.

But as the healthcare debate is reminding us, this is not a left or even center-left country. We may have a Democratic majority in Congress, but we don't have a liberal majority. We haven't had one since 1965. If we didn't get one after the misrule of the past few years, we aren't going to get one. So electing more Democrats is not the answer, or at least not the whole of the answer. Building grand progressive coalitions is not the answer.

We must break the consensus about gay rights. We must challenge the assumption that gays are just the next group with a list of demands. The political culture must come to see military service by gays as patriotic and honorable, which it is, not as a civil right or as a social experiment, which it is not. It must see gay marriage as an embrace of responsibility and tradition, which it is, not as hedonism or as yet more sexual license, which it is not. It must see gay rights not as left, but as right.

5 Comments for “Happy Days Are Not Here Again”

  1. posted by TS on

    This is a very interesting article.

    I am a radical with only a few conservative leanings (personal responsibility, law and order). But you are right to point out that the strongest presentations of our equal rights still-to-be-won are conservative: gay marriage should be allowed to expand the availability of tradition and stability; openly gay service should be allowed to expand the availability of patriotism and honor.

    But your (correct) citation of conventional wisdom that America is a conservative country contains the roots of your idea’s undoing. America is a conservative country. Social programs and extreme human rights measures like those found in Europe are non-starters in American politics. Sometimes alignments and realities in American politics just are, lacking a good reason. LGBT=liberal=democrat is as true as America is a conservative country: not accurate case by case but a good rule of thumb.

    Sometimes Mr. Carpenter and writers like him make the mistake of assuming the LGBT establishment is preventing the LGBT grassroots from deserting the liberal coalition and joining the conservative one. A much more parsimonious explanation is that the conservative coalition wouldn’t have us even if we wanted to be there. That’s just the way they are.

  2. posted by Mark on

    I am an extremely left-leaning liberal who generally finds Professor Carpenter’s viewpoints rational and reasonable. Sadly, this one is no exception. I’m disappointed in the Republicans, I’m disappointed in the Democrats, and I’m disappointed, generally, in society. As a Christian believer, I am ashamed of so many “good Christian people” who have no room in their lives for anyone different than they are. And while you don’t have to be Christian to be narrow-minded, there is an ethic in this country that if you are not a white anglo-saxon heterosexual married person with children, you just don’t fit.

  3. posted by jamesnimmo on

    America is about being adversarial and that’s they way it’s going to be. The GLBT’s need to continue with the resistance that sprouted during June, ’09 when the Obama Dept. of Justice defended DOMA in California. I think this is what lead to the naming of Milk as a Freedom Medal winner.

    We must go beyond window dressing and fight for real coverage under the law for everyone, not just those who have become targets of homo-haters.

  4. posted by Bobby on

    “Social programs and extreme human rights measures like those found in Europe are non-starters in American politics”

    —Those social programs don’t come free, the average American knows that and that is why there is resistance against them. Maybe gays could argue that legalizing same-sex marriage and ending DADT is not going to cost the taxpayers a single dime unlike national health insurance.

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