Why Gays Should Let Catholics Be Silly

Most of my gay friends, including libertarian-leaning ones, have no problem with the Obama Administration’s decision to require Catholic-affiliated employers, such as hospitals and charities, to cover contraception in their health plans. The policy has caused a row, and Obama seems to be looking for a way to back off.

He should, imho. I’m a fan of religious-liberty exceptions even though I’m an atheist who thinks the church’s position on contraception is absurd and harmful—and even though most American Catholics agree with me, not their church. (I’m told, in fact, that many Catholic-affiliated employers quietly provide contraceptive coverage right now, without the church’s making an issue of it.)

And I’m a fan of religious exceptions not despite being gay but because of it.

My gay friends say, “Look, we can’t go around giving exemptions to anyone who objects to some law on religious grounds. If we did, what would happen to antidiscrimination laws protecting gays, among lots of other things?” Yes, up to a point. But where’s that point? These same gay friends tend to favor a default assumption that any religious institution that receives any federal money, or even a tax break, should have to follow every jot and tittle of every federal law.

I accept, as I think all religious-liberty advocates do, that saying “It’s my religion” can’t be a magic wand exempting you from law. But that’s a straw man. I’m guessing we can all agree that the First Amendment gives religious-affiliated institutions some autonomy (quite a lot, actually, if you read the text: “make NO law”), yet in practice today we find ourselves arguing over whether it gives them any meaningful autonomy. Roll over, James Madison.

I think the starting point for discussion should be, “What’s the most—not the least—amount of leeway we can give to religious institutions without undermining important social or governmental ends?” First, because it’s what Madison and the founders intended, and they were smarter than we are. Second, because it’s good social policy to avoid unnecessary conflict. Third, because erring on the side of diversity is a partial brake on the natural but dangerous tendency toward absolutism in the exercise of power.

Years ago, in a Harper’s article, I made the case for pluralism over purism. It’s still the right answer. Society has a positive interest in the preservation of dissent and heterodoxy. People who are so certain they’re right that they’d stamp out alternative practices and beliefs might want to have a second think. Especially if they’re gay.

Gay Marriage Is Anti-Polygamy

For years gay-marriage opponents have said that the same principles that lead to SSM (free love, etc) lead straight to polygamy. For years I’ve pointed out (for example, here) that the core principle of SSM, namely that everyone should have the opportunity to marry and that society is better off when this is the case, leads straight away from polygamy. From a social policy point of view, SSM and polygamy are opposites, not equivalents.

Here’s some new evidence. “Monogamy reduces major social problems of polygamist cultures,” finds a new study. “In cultures that permit men to take multiple wives, the intra-sexual competition that occurs causes greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality than in societies that institutionalize and practice monogamous marriage.”

Why? Monogamy helps ensure there are enough spouses to go around. “By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, institutionalized monogamy increases long-term planning, economic productivity, savings and child investment.”

The case for SSM arises from exactly the same insight. It extends the opportunity to marry to people who lack it and is thus socially stabilizing; polygamy withdraws that opportunity from people who have it and is thus socially destabilizing.

Note to lawyers: this study should be cited in at least one amicus brief in every gay-marriage case in the country.

Antidiscrimination…with a Twist

Something new and interesting in Utah…a bipartisan bill outlawing workplace discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, but with a twist. Salt Lake City outlawed employment discrimination against gays a couple of years ago, with LDS church support, and other Utah cities have followed. But a statewide bill failed last session.

This one is different because (1) it has a Republican co-sponsor and (2) it also outlaws workplace discrimination on grounds of political speech or activity outside the workplace (and unrelated to the job). The idea is that you don’t get fired for being gay, and you don’t get fired for supporting (or opposing) Prop 8.

The bill has support from business (the Chamber of Commerce, no less), and Equality Utah, the main gay group. The LDS church may not actively support it but will almost certainly not oppose it. An interesting question: what will conservatives do? So far, one state conservative group, something called the Sutherland Institute, which looks like a state version of the Family Research Council, has come out against. Other conservative groups/leaders have not yet been heard from, even though the bill would actually do something about complaints that gay-marriage opponents and other advocates of religious-inspired causes are scared for their jobs  because they gave $100 for Prop 8 or whatever.

I’m not naive enough to expect that anti-discrimination coverage for gays will get broad Republican support in Utah, with or without protections for anti-gay activism, religious liberty, or motherhood and apple pie. But this bill might win enough Republican support to pass. Derek Brown, the Republican co-sponsor, is a bright, attractive young guy who looks to me like the future of the party, if the party has the sense to grasp it. Hope springs eternal.

Goodbye, Paul Varnell

On the heels of Frank Kameny’s passing, another gay pioneer is gone. Paul Varnell was a columnist, thinker, and founder of the Independent Gay Forum.

I never met Paul, but we spoke pretty often back when he was editing the IGF website. I always found him exceptionally thoughtful and decent. It seemed as if there was nothing that didn’t interest him, nothing he didn’t know something about. And his columns (most of which first ran in the Chicago Free Press) were an IGF anchor. Here’s one example, one of many, of how his gentle, firm voice could summon moral reflection more effectively than outrage could have done.

Paul never got national attention, and probably wouldn’t have wanted it (in fact, probably would have despised it), but in his quiet way he was a pioneer and leader among those who made the world safe to be non-leftist and gay…partly through the power of his logic, partly through the gentleness of his touch.

Goodbye, Paul. You were a good man and you made a difference.

Goodbye to a Hero

Frank Kameny made my life better. He made countless gay people’s lives better. He showed us the meaning of courage. He showed us the power of standing up for ourselves. He renewed our belief in moral suasion against ignorance and hostility. And he made his country, our country, truer to the better angels of its nature.

I will always feel grateful and fortunate to have lived in his wake. And nothing gives me more joy than knowing that he lived long enough to see himself vindicated and celebrated. The long arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice.

I can’t think of much more to say than I said in this tribute from a few years back:

He exhibits an unshakable and unmistakably American confidence that all the great and mighty, no matter their number or power, must bow to one weak man who has the Founders’ promise on his side. “We are honorable people who deal with others honorably and in good faith,” he insisted to the Un-American Activities Committee. “We expect to be dealt with in the same fashion – especially by our governmental officials.” There you hear the pipsqueak, indomitable voice of equality.

For Kameny’s papers to join Thurgood Marshall’s and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s [in the Library of Congress], and for his signs to join Jefferson’s writing desk and Lincoln’s inkwell [in the Smithsonian], seems fitting. All of those men understood that the words of 1776 set in motion a moral engine unlike any the world had ever seen; and all understood that the logic of equality could be delayed but not denied. Kameny, like them, believed that the Declaration of Independence means exactly what it says, and like them he made its promise his purpose.

Another Conservative Flip-Flop. Yawn.

For about ten minutes, I thought Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, was going to be a surprisingly principled candidate for president, thus upending my impression that, these days, conservative Republicans’ idea of a public philosophy is to say whatever the base wants to hear.

Perry raised my eyebrows by sticking up for New York state’s right to adopt gay marriage, even though he and Texans might not like it. In July, Perry said this in a speech to Republican donors:

Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me.

“Wow,” I thought: “Could it be? A pro-federalism Republican who actually means it?”

Nah. As Mike Riggs nicely points out in Reason.com, the governor did a backflip on July 28, landing himself firmly in the camp of fair-weather federalism. Pressed by Tony Perkins of the anti-gay Family Research Council, he lent his support to a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage—which would, of course, prevent New York or any other state from adopting it.

Reading the transcript brings no clarity. Perry is right to say that a federal constitutional amendment must be approved by three-quarters of the states, and therefore “respects the rights of the states” as a matter of procedure. But there’s no way to square his support for the amendment as a matter of policy with his statement elsewhere in the same interview that states should compete with each other, or with his statement in Aspen that Texas and New York should be allowed to go their separate ways.

Even more bizarrely, he claims in virtually the same breath that “to not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas” by having “marriage forced upon us by these activist judges and special interest groups.” Got that? States should be allowed to compete. Except when they don’t all make the same choices.

It’s impossible to make any sense at all of this hash. But Perry’s point isn’t to be sensible; it’s to sound like a true-blue federalist without actually being one. And that, indeed, has been the strategy of supporters of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment since literally Day One, when they announced that their amendment would strip authority from activist judges, even though, quite obviously, its real effect was to strip power from the states.

It’s quite easy to write an amendment telling federal judges to stay away from gay marriage. (“Nothing in this Constitution requires any state or the federal government to recognize anything but a union of one man and one woman as a marriage.” QED.) But, as Perry’s tail-chasing makes clear, the real goal here is to exploit the label of federalism, not to respect its meaning.

Unhelpful in Canada

Over at Andrew Sullivan’s site, where I’ve been guest-blogging, I look at a case you can expect to hear about from gay marriage opponents: Canadian sportscaster fired, he plausibly claims, for opposing SSM in a personal tweet. Gay activists should help well-intentioned supporters understand that creating martyrs for the other side is not helpful.

David Frum’s Real-World Conservatism

I was as surprised as anyone by David Frum’s declaration that the facts no longer support the claim that gay marriage will damage straight families. David and I have been friends since college, but our friendship was strained when he asserted in the 1990s that sodomy laws—i.e., menacing people like me with arrest and imprisonment—would be a good way to discourage judges from imposing SSM. When he and his wife offered last year to host a reception in honor of my marriage to Michael, I was deeply touched, but I understood his gesture as one of friendship, not as a recantation.

And, in fact, I think David’s statement on gay marriage is not a change of principle. Just the opposite. It represents  fidelity to a principle—a conservative principle—and therein lies its importance.

David, in the past, has expressed philosophical objections to SSM, having to do with marriage’s being founded on distinctive gender roles and so on. You’ll note that in his article he doesn’t embrace SSM. What he does say is that his consequentialist objections—objections based on real-world consequences—have been disproved.

None of that nuance will matter in conservative-land. Right-wingers will cite this as yet another example of his apostasy. But here’s the irony. They are not the real conservatives. He is.

Specifically, he’s a Burkean conservative, one who begins from a presumption that social change is disruptive, but who is also open to real-world evidence that sometimes change is necessary or beneficial. Burke, remember, supported the American revolution as protective of basic rights, even as he bitterly opposed the French one.

There is nothing conservative about never changing your mind, regardless of the facts. Nor is there much that is truly conservative about the strange coalition of anti-government radicals and social reactionaries that dominates the American right. Nor will that coalition do itself any political favors by excommunicating Burke and his pragmatic descendents. A better approach would be to understand why David Frum, far from betraying conservatism’s greatest tradition, exemplifies it.

This Just In: We’ve Won

There’s a tsunami, and it isn’t in Japan.

I’ve been blogging for a few months on a series of polls showing increases in support for gay marriage and gay equality. (Here…and here…and here.) They all point in the same direction, and they show such rapid change that, especially at first, I was cautious about taking them at face value, especially when they found majorities for same-sex marriage.

Now comes yet another. And it is as stunning as the others. This is from Gallup, which has asked for years whether gay and lesbian relations are “morally acceptable” or “morally wrong.” In my opinion, this is the single most important polling question on gay rights, because moral disapproval lies at the heart of anti-gay discrimination and animus. As I argued here, when moral disapproval falls below a certain critical mass, the whole superstructure of discrimination will eventually topple with it.

So…in 2011, 56 percent say gay relations are morally acceptable, up four points since just a year ago, and up seven points from just a year before that. Disapproval is down to 39 percent, just over a third of the public. As Gallup’s chart shows, in the past ten years the approval/disapproval contingents have traded places. In other words, our side is where their side was just a decade ago!

And, no, it’s not a fluke. Pew has 58 percent saying that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

Gallup headlines another result (same survey), which strikes me as less important but still interesting: 64 percent say gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal, the highest in the 30 years since the question was first asked.

Political polls bob up and down, but never in my career of covering politics and society have I seen such rapid movement of public opinion on a core social values. But I think one must bow before the accumulating evidence and say this: we are at a Berlin Wall moment in gay-straight relations. Right now.

We’ve won. It’s all over but the shouting. Now, there will be a lot of shouting, and some of it will matter. But there will be no going back. History has happened.

More: But…an important cautionary note from Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Change in public opinion does not mean the Republicans change their steadfast opposition any time soon. Money quote:

In fact, there is every reason to think that for the foreseeable future, the GOP will continue to reject gay rights — and there are ample grounds, alas, to think it can do so without any real political penalty.

Gallup’s Stunning Finding: SSM Majority

Even to someone fairly jaded about seemingly dramatic poll results, Gallup’s new finding that support for same-sex marriage is now the majority position is breathtaking. The poll finds a huge one-year jump in support, from 44 percent in 2010 to 53 percent this year. If the pollster weren’t Gallup (gold standard), and if The Washington Post/ABC News poll hadn’t come up recently with exactly the same result, I’d suspect this was a fluke. You just don’t normally see attitudes change that much in one year, absent a catalytic event.

Moreover, support for SSM is up among every group: men, women, old, young, etc. Well, every group but one. The only group among which support for SSM hasn’t grown: Republicans. They continue to oppose it by almost three to one.

Though I admire certain aspects of Republicans’ plan to abolish Medicare as we know it, while admiring nothing about Republicans’ posture on homosexuality, on both dimensions what you see is a party increasingly digging itself into isolation, convinced that if if only adheres to the true faith the public will eventually come around.

I’d rather the anti-SSM constitutional amendment didn’t pass in Minnesota; but, if it does, I’ll get some consolation from knowing that the GOP will have shot itself in the foot with a vote that will look very bad, very soon.