The Dichotomy

Milo Yiannopoulos, a young gay conservative Brit and anti-political-correctness provocateur, and the student protesters at Rutgers. NJ.com reports:

“In my view, anybody who asks for a trigger warning or a safe space, should be immediately expelled” [Yiannopoulos said].

The audience loudly applauded his statement.

He said such reactivity merely demonstrates that those students “are incapable of exposing themselves to new ideas.”

“They are demonstrating that they are incapable of engaging in a humble pursuit of knowledge,” he said.

At which point, a woman yells from off camera, “This man represents hatred!” They also started chanting “Black lives matter.”

The video then pans to one side of the auditorium where two students appear to smear fake blood on their faces.

The evocative display was met with loud applause.

Members of the audience in support of Yiannopoulos booed and started chanting, “Trump, Trump, Trump!”

The protesters also splattered their fake blood, Breitbart reports:

the progressives stormed out of the auditorium, leaving a trail of red paint for the janitors to clean up.

Walls, seats, and doors were also vandalised by the protesters. Peaceful attendees who had come to hear a speech instead found themselves splashed with the fake blood. At least one attendee was allegedly assaulted by a protester, who covered him in red paint.

The rise of authoritarian-progressive political correctness, which seeks to stop the expression of ideas its adherents dislike, is met with support for Donald Trump. It’s action/reaction, and represents the sad state of left-dominated academia. It does not bode well for the country.

More. And in Britain, Peter Tatchell: snubbed by students for free speech stance:

The emails from the officer of the National Union of Students were unequivocal. Fran Cowling, the union’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative, said that she would not share a stage with a man whom she regarded as having been racist and “transphobic”.

That the man in question is Peter Tatchell – one of the country’s best-known gay rights campaigners, who next year celebrates his 50th year as an activist – is perhaps a mark of how fractured the debate on free speech and sexual politics has become.

In the emails, sent to the organisers of a talk at Canterbury Christ Church University on Monday on the topic of “re-radicalising queers”, Cowling refuses an invitation to speak unless Tatchell, who has also been invited, does not attend. In the emails she cites Tatchell’s signing of an open letter in the Observer last year in support of free speech and against the growing trend of universities to “no-platform” people, such as Germaine Greer, for holding views with which they disagree.

Cowling claims the letter supports the incitement of violence against transgender people. She also made an allegation against him of racism or of using racist language. Tatchell told the Observer that the incident was yet another example of “a witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere” symptomatic of a decline in “open debate on some university campuses”.

For Schism

The primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion on Jan. 14 suspended the Episcopal Church USA “from full participation in the life and work of the Anglican Communion” for a period of three years, to give the Episcopal Church time to recant its pro-gay ways.

The motion, presented to a gathering of archbishops in Canterbury Cathedral, was backed by the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which consists of conservative Anglican bishops and leaders working “to guard and proclaim the unchanging, transforming Gospel through biblically faithful preaching.”

To translate, the issue was the Episcopal Church’s ordination of gay clergy and its policy of allowing churches to perform and sanction same-sex marriages.

The anti-gay Anglicans include a small number of U.S. and U.K. “high church” or Anglo-Catholic traditionalists who seek to be more reactionary on matters theological than Rome. But the main thrust for disciplining the U.S. church comes from the vast majority of Anglicans who reside outside the West. Specifically, African bishops, representing 60 percent of Anglicans worldwide, resist Western tolerance of homosexuality, to put it mildly.

As David Boaz writes in Newsweek, there was fear that archbishops from six African countries—Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—might have walked out if the archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, didn’t sanction the U.S. Episcopal Church for consecrating gay bishops and allowing Episcopal churches to perform same-sex weddings. Boaz praises the Anglican archbishop of South Africa, who has urged his church to abandon its “practices of discrimination,” which distinguishes South Africa on a continent where virulent homophobia is treated as gospel. (Despite racial oppression, South Africa is a country where Western enlightenment values always had a foothold, Boaz notes, which was significant in defeating Apartheid.)

In contrast, let’s look at some of the churches that demanded the U.S. Episcopal Church be sanctioned. The Anglican church in Uganda has no problem with draconian laws persecuting gay people:

In response to the Anglican Church of Canada’s intervention, Bishop Joseph Abura of the Karamoja Diocese wrote an editorial saying, “Ugandan Parliament, the watch dog of our laws, please go ahead and put the anti-Gay laws in place. It is then that we become truly accountable to our young and to this country, not to Canada or England. We are in charge!” Although the Anglican Church in Uganda opposes the death penalty, its archbishop, Henry Luke Orombi, did not take a position on the bill.

Some prelates of the Rwanda church joined in their country’s tribal genocide:

Tutsis were murdered en masse in Rwanda in part because they flocked to places of worship for refuge…. In fact, both the Catholic and Anglican churches in Rwanda were deeply complicit in the genocide. … Astonishingly, church figures across Rwanda played a leading role in legitimizing and even inflicting genocidal killing.

These are the churches that anti-gay American Anglicans have chosen to affiliate themselves with.

The United Methodist Church—the nation’s largest mainline denomination—faces a similar issue as it remains officially opposed to same-sex marriage and defrocks it’s ministers who perform same-sex weddings. Here, too:

Many observers—both inside and outside of the [Methodist] church—note that the global nature of the church, in particular its growth in Africa, where homosexuality is often still taboo, is a major hurdle for those hoping to change church policy.

Let the churches of the light rise up to the Light; and those that present their hatred as righteousness dwell in the heart of darkness together.

More. I say, vote yes for independency, as Americans did in 1776.

Also, the Pilgrims, who were Separatists and not Puritans (despite the common misperception) had it right. They wanted to separate from the Anglican Church and believed attempting to “purify” it would only corrupt them.

Furthermore. Before the Jan. 14 vote, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry told the primates gathering in Canterbury:

Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome. Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.

I also like this thought. Catherine M Wallace, a cultural historian and literary theologian, writes:

Like Christians of the past, we are to engage the tradition with the best critical tools and broadest moral sensitivity available to us, trusting that God is with us and within us, calling us always to courage and to compassion, calling us to be bread for a starving world. …

For some people, religion must be rigid, absolutist and judgmental in order to count as “religion.” That need for self-righteous absolutes is perhaps the deepest anxiety of all.

Obama’s Canard

At this delicate moment in the fight for the freedom to marry, the revelation that President Obama was not telling the truth while running for office and during his first years in the presidency, when he claimed he personally opposed same-sex marriage because he felt “marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman,” is not helpful.

Yes, many assumed Obama’s position was taken for political expediency, but being cleverly disingenuous doesn’t make the side fighting for marriage equality look good; it makes us look deceitful. The story of Obama having “evolved” on this issue was a better model of how we hoped others would shift their views.

Opponents of marriage equality will present this, with some justification, as an act to manipulate the stupid yokels (who cling to their guns and religion). This is not the way to win hearts and minds of those who view marriage equality with suspicion.

More. Obama has denied lying about his views on gay marriage, saying that Axelrod confused the president’s personal views with his policy position, and that his policy position evolved. That’s pretty good spin, even if it doesn’t quite address Obama’s campaign statements that clearly sounded as if he personally opposed same-sex marriage because of the “sanctity” issue.

The truth is surely that if the polls had shown a majority of Americans continuing to oppose gay marriage, Obama would have remained in opposition as well.

Furthermore. Kerry Eleveld writes in Politico:

But the candidate voters witnessed never seemed particularly tortured by his stance. Between 2004 and 2008, Obama stated his opposition to same-sex marriage and his support for one man-one woman marriage repeatedly, robotically, and without flinching on numerous occasions. Few of those pronouncements were quite as spectacular as the one he made in 2008 on Rick Warren’s stage at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” he told Warren’s flock of Evangelicals. “Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

The implication was that, in his view, same-sex unions were not holy enough to count as marriages. It wasn’t the statement of a candidate who was squeamish about the consequences of his comments. Rather, it revealed a candidate who was perfectly willing to leverage religious homophobia in his quest for the presidency. In fact, the only hesitation Obama experienced in that moment came from an interruption of excited applause from the crowd.

The president’s loyal LGBT base seems split between two responses: (1) Obama was struggling with the issue for many years and eventually thought it through to the correct conclusion, and (2) Obama, being a smart politician, had to say he opposed same-sex marriage in order to get elected and (eventually) support marriage equality. And the correct answer is (3) Obama followed the polling.

Final word? Via Reason:

It’s not difficult to imagine a pro-choice candidate winning the presidency. But imagine, if you can, a president whose position on abortion “evolves” after the election. Imagine this president advocating that all innocent human life is worth protecting. Imagine that she appoints judges to solidify her new pro-life attitude. And then imagine that the president’s top adviser informs us that the president was a pro-lifer all along. I imagine that would be a pretty big story.

I’m glad Obama has appointed pro-gay-marriage judges. But I can also see why his being duplicitous is so unsettling. It’s reflected in other campaign deceits aimed at wooing the center, including his promises to bridge the partisan divide and to cut the budget deficit by half (a pretense with immense consequences).

The New Puritans

Cultural historian Camille Paglia, a very un-politically correct lesbian, to be sure, on why the modern campus cannot comprehend evil:

Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

When evil (as in sexual assault) is defined as that which makes you feel bad, in retrospect, then there is no language left to describe, or help defend against, true evil.

In a similar vein, Margaret Wente on the new campus sex puritans:

Sixty years ago, sexual behaviour among the young caused deep alarm among the puritanical religious right. Today, it causes deep alarm among the puritanical progressive left. Like their forebears, they are doing their best to restrict and regulate it.

This weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes universities redefine consensual sex. From now on, students must effectively obtain the “affirmative consent” of their partners, which must be “ongoing” every step of the way. Those accused of violating the consent rule will be judged on the preponderance of the evidence. Perpetrators face suspension or expulsion, and universities face heavy penalties for failure to enforce.

The new measure is designed to stem a tidal wave of rape on campus that, in fact, does not exist. (Violent crime, including sexual assault, has been in decline for 20 years.) Even so, universities across North America have set up vast new administrative apparatuses to deal with the crisis. Many of them have also expanded the meaning of “sexual violence” to include anything that makes you feel bad.

Not dissimilar from the way the campus free speech movement of the sixties has morphed into the rule of progressive speech codes that stifle debate which veers away from progressive orthodoxy.

(As I posted recently, gay relationships among students also become embroiled in these star-chamber proceedings—On Campus, Absence of Due Process Extended to Gays.)

On Campus, Absence of Due Process Extended to Gays

Rape and lesser incidents of sexual misconduct on college campus must not be tolerated, but false accusations without due process for the accused, often leading to sanctions or being expelled and a public record that can’t be challenged, are not justice. That’s been true of male-female student relationships on campus (where charges often follow sex that occurred while both individuals were inebriated or stoned), and now it’s been extended to gays, as the Washington Post reports about a case at Brandeis.

The charges here, however, involve a couple that dated for two years and, after the breakup, one accused the other of violations such as staring too much at him while he was undressed in the bathroom, and kissing him while he was asleep and thus unable to consent (did I mention this was a two-year relationship)?

The accused, who was not entitled to legal counsel, was sanctioned by university officials but not expelled. But “he is incensed that his life was turned upside down with what he believes was flagrant disregard for his due-process rights. And he worries about how the sanctions might affect his future.” The accuser “is outraged that the university did not expel his ex-boyfriend.”

The Post reports:

The current and former college students describe themselves as victims of false accusations amid a national campaign — led by the White House — to stamp out sexual violence on campuses. While the federal push to increase awareness of sexual assault is aimed at keeping students safe and holding the nation’s colleges and universities accountable, some of the accused say the pressure on their schools has led to an unfair tipping of the scales against them.

Maybe these incidents should be left to the judicial system when there is evidence of an actual crime. Otherwise, students should learn they are expected to take responsibility for their actions, including bad relationship decisions and morning-after regrets.

More. “Wink” comments:

So many microaggressions! This article should have had a trigger warning. I feel violated and plan to sue.

Furthermore. From Philadelphia Magazine: “The battle over what constitutes sexual assault on college campuses is reaching new levels of absurdity.” You think? But don’t try to tell that to Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Back to Basics

Same-sex marriage came and went in the US Supreme Court, and the the most reactionary Republican dominated state legislatures responded by — passing new laws restriction abortion.  While the high court was deliberating a case challenging the power of Congress to prohibit or punish same-sex marriage under state law, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota and Indiana were all exploring creative ways to provoke the high court to revisit Roe v Wade.

The lack of an outcry about U.S. Windsor is partly due to the fact that the opinion left those states’ anti-marriage laws intact.  But the renewed focus on abortion and Roe, at a time when the highest court in the land was setting down a marker about marriage equality suggests something else is at work.

That something else can be seen in the non-reaction in California to the opinion overturning the notorious Prop. 8. In 2000, California voters passed Prop. 22, an initiative statute prohibiting same-sex marriage, with 61% of the vote.  The state Supreme Court overturned Prop. 22 as a violation of the state constitution in 2008, which prompted Prop. 8, an initiative that amended the state constitution itself to prohibit same-sex marriage.  Prop. 8 got a little over 52% of the vote, but a win is a win.

So California’s voters must be furious about the decision in Hollingsworth v Perry, right?

If so, it’s hard to see.  Less than two days after the ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the final step to permit same-sex marriages again in California, and while a very few of the usual suspects showed their faces to television cameras at the subsequent marriages throughout the state, there are no signs of outrage among the voters whose will was thwarted.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is different from opposition to abortion.  There is a real and substantial moral question with abortion: At what point does human life begin?  In the 40 years since Roe, that moral question has remained alive and vibrant, and the constitutional argument about abortion has seldom flagged.  Moral feelings about abortion start strong and tend to stay strong.

Not so for same-sex marriage, where moral feelings may have started strong, but have weakened substantially over time.  The moral consensus around same-sex marriage was collapsing even before the Supreme Court weighed in.  With each new iteration of the issue, voters see less reason for opposition, more reason in the arguments made for equality.  The moral argument against same-sex marriage is no more than the moral argument against non-procreative sexual activity; once heterosexuals can see their own procreative sexual desires in the broader context of a world in which procreation is controllable, the idea of sex for other reasons — pleasure, relational intimacy, emotional bonding or just for the hell of it — moves homosexuals from their historical outsider status to a proper role as fellow members of the human family.  Procreation is a good thing, but it is not all that sex is for.

The shift back to abortion for the old guard of the GOP is some evidence that this cultural shift on same-sex marriage is taking hold.  It is harder and harder to argue against the images of joyous couples getting married, and now joyous heterosexual friends and family are joining in the celebrations.  Connection and inclusion are moral instincts, family imperatives, that it takes an effort to deny.

There is still a strong sense that abortion is worth the effort.  For a small minority, the fight against same-sex marriage will continue to be a priority.  But the continent on which they once stood is becoming more of an island every day.

 

The Sin

I am unqualified to criticize the theology in Robert Gagnon’s hefty essay on the biblical errors in Alan Chambers’ leadership of Exodus International.  But what’s at stake here is pretty considerable, and more than just theological.  Chambers is president of Exodus, the group that assists Evangelical Christians with “same-sex attraction.”  Exodus had famously supported the notion that gays could change their sexual orientation, but Chambers – a gay man who is satisfactorily married to a woman, though he does not deny he continues to be sexually attracted to men – says now that he doubts such change in orientation is possible.

His change about change is important, as the sheer length of Gagnon’s critique (35 pages, with appendices) suggests, because it lets us see what Maggie Gallagher and the NOM Choir try so furiously to obscure: all that is left of the debate over homosexuality is the vestigial tail of a religious question about sin.

Gagnon starts out with religion (the entire first three pages are devoted to the writings of the Apostle Paul), but it’s soon clear he is quite exercised about the fact that Chambers may be removing Exodus from the political playing field.  Chambers’ comments have made “homosexualist” groups “smell blood in the water.”  They will take advantage of Chambers’ naïve attempt to be apolitical.

Religion vs. Politics is now the gold standard for discussing gay equality, and Gagnon’s invocations of that framework show how closely he has been listening to his brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t wear their theology on their sleeve.  Gagnon explicitly adopts Maggie Gallagher’s “they’re out to get us” mentality (perfected by Frank Schubert), charging that Chambers’ abdication threatens “foisting on us laws that will attenuate our own civil rights and coerce acceptance of homosexual unions in the civil sphere.”

That kind of talk, in an essay that purports to be almost exclusively about what proper theology has to say about the sin of homosexuality (and sin, in general) is telling.  Chambers’ comments about sexual orientation and change would not be all that consequential but for the fact that they undermine the entire religious foundation of the remaining phantoms about homosexuality.  Gagnon frets about “serial-unrepentant homosexual practice,” and sees acceptance of that as sending us all down the slippery slope to committed homosexual unions.  To Gagnon, this is a moral disaster in the making because it erodes the moral superiority that religious believers so love to lord over ignorant or vicious homosexualists:

. . . my main concern is that Alan’s comments to those living a homosexual life are ultimately unloving and ungracious. I don’t doubt that Alan intended his comments to “gay Christians” to be otherwise. Yet the actual result is to leave such persons deceived by giving them a message of “peace and security” when instead danger hangs over them (1 Thess 5:1-11). Who is gracious and loving? The parent that assures a child that crossing a busy intersection without looking both ways will produce no harm or the parent that does everything in his or her power to warn the child about the potential harm? Obviously the latter, for the warning is part of the makeup of a loving parent. In fact, state social services agencies count the former as abuse.

The arrogance of such christianity is what drives many truer Christians mad.  Lesbians and gay men are not the only ones who have been so lovingly parented by christians who claimed to have only the best interest of fully adult “children” at heart.  This is the same brand of tender love that christian men were expected to exercise over their wives (and all women), and that christian whites had toward blacks.

But the toxic paternalism is not just for christians.  That reference to “state social services agencies” is another slip where Gagnon reveals that while his concern is religious in concept, he intends it to be civil in application.  His religious critique shows that his real interest is secular politics.

It’s certainly fair for religious people to participate fully in American politics.  But there is a disconnect between arguments believers find religiously persuasive and those that will change the minds of non adherents.  Sin, in particular, has always been a tricky notion in interfaith contests, and leaves nonbelievers cold.

But it’s not just in the political realm where Gagnon overestimates his own brand of expertise.  He acknowledges Chambers may be right that homosexual orientation might not be entirely changeable, but says even incremental changes could still be valuable:

It is not necessary that reparative therapy achieve complete transformation from “gay” to straight in order to be helpful. One or two shifts along the Kinsey spectrum or a change in intensity of homosexual impulses can be beneficial.

I don’t know what is known about how or whether sexual orientation can be changed, but I’m pretty confident that no one yet has studied whether something as inherently subjective as sexual attraction can be moved – or measured – fractionally.  In any case, I’m not persuaded that theological scholars are the ones best suited to be pronouncing on the prospect.

Gagnon’s primary point is that social acceptance of homosexuality “regularizes the sin.”  I can’t judge the merits of his theological case, but this is, in the end, only a theological case, and only one of those.  Other theologians obviously disagree, as do other non-theologically inclined Christians.

But that divide within Christianity itself, endangers the monopoly that the fundamentalist brands of christianity demand, and in their worst moments have tried to foist on the general public.  While Christian thinking has been all over the map on so many other issues, the more fundamentalist tribes have generally been able to hold the line on homosexual sin.  But for them, too, that line is fading, and Chambers exacerbates the problem.  If sexual attraction can’t be changed, and if homosexual attraction in particular can’t be stamped out or ignored, then the case for just accepting gay people within the civil law is not just strong, its opposite is inhumane.

This is the turning point for religion today.  The possibility that lifelong heterosexual marriage may not be exactly at the center of the moral universe is as threatening to Gagnon as the location of the earth itself was to Pope Urban VIII when Galileo was sentenced to prison.  Gagnon is fighting every bit as hard (with more limited resources) for the status quo.

Galileo and Copernicus did not eliminate the earth, they just noticed – and said — that it was located somewhere other than where the Vatican had always placed it. That’s a religious problem only if you are under the impression that earthly religious leaders are as inevitably correct in their scientific thinking as they are in their theology.  But the Bible isn’t an authority on everything, and sometimes people use the Bible’s words to make moral issues out of things that aren’t properly moral.  The earth is no less important because it circles a larger body, and heterosexual marriage is no less important because it is not in every human’s nature to be attracted to the opposite sex.  There is plenty of room in the universe for God, still, and morality — even sexual morality.  And maybe God approves when humans acknowledge their errors.

Chambers isn’t Galileo, just as Gagnon isn’t Pope Urban; but today’s evangelical Inquisition is every bit as vainglorious as its Catholic predecessor, every bit as contemptuous of unbelievers, and every bit as likely to expose the sin of its own excess of hubris.

Privacy, Silence, Neutrality and Anderson Cooper

I am as glad – and grateful – as anyone for Anderson Cooper’s non-coming-out coming out.  There are some lessons in this story worth talking about.

People who know Cooper seem to agree with him that he was not really in the closet except with respect to the general public.  That is a telling fact.  As the walls of the closet have come down on the private side of people’s lives, there is still that remaining door that can be opened or closed to the public.  The people we know on our side of the door – the private side – are far more likely today to know we are homosexual than they ever have been.  Cooper enjoyed that private side of the closet with his family and friends.

But Cooper is not like the rest of us (and not just in what he does for a black t-shirt).  For those of us without a public face, the need to come out or not to others – to decide whether to open that door — is a recurring issue; we are always meeting new people, and regularly face the problem of how much to reveal to whom, and in what circumstances.

People like Cooper who have a large public reputation have to deal with this a little differently.  Word spreads about the famous, particularly about something as personal and controversial (or at least pretty interesting) as homosexuality.  News of my homosexuality never hit Twitter; it never really achieved a threshold of being news.  For Cooper, opening that door once to a world that knows him as a personality pretty much brings him out in toto.  There will still be pockets of cluelessness, but for the most part, this is a one-time deal for someone of Cooper’s stature.

The Entertainment Weekly story that got this story moving makes the point that it’s possible for even celebrities today to come out without its being a big deal, and Cooper’s example contradicts that (in the short term, since it was kind of newsish) but reaffirms the larger point, having such a short shelf-life.  Writing this post all of two days after Andrew Sullivan broke the story already feels like I’m stretching it out.

But that’s where the political aspect of sexual orientation comes in.  For me, when it comes to sexual orientation and politics, I was born this way.  It has taken me a long time to accept that some people – a lot of people – are not born political, or at least don’t take to politics naturally.  I see a need for lesbians and gay men to take political action, but as people who are more activist than me can tell you, it’s always been an uphill battle.

Cooper reports on political stories, but as a journalist he should not be an activist.  As a gay man, that puts him in a difficult spot.

A lot of politically active lesbians and gay men resent celebrities who are privately lesbian or gay, but have not opened the public door.  We have an enormous public relations job to do, and need all the help we can get.  That is one of the things that animated the movement to out politicians and celebrities – the idea that they had an obligation to use their public face to help us all gain equality.  The worst of the worst were the ones who worked against legal equality, but the desire for even neutral or supportive public figures to come out – or be dragged out – came from the mathematical problem of being a minority in the first place.  We start out with numbers that are staggeringly against us in a democracy, and then have the additional problem of members of our group who won’t even admit they belong.

Cooper seems to have struggled with that.  He mentions “the unintended outcomes” of maintaining his privacy, and says he may have given the impression that he is trying to hide something that makes him uncomfortable, ashamed or afraid.  His coming out was intended to – and does — clarify any misimpressions.

But those misimpressions are, and always have been, a perfectly natural consequence of silence.  If about 95% of the population is heterosexual, and someone doesn’t positively identify as homosexual, is it unreasonable for people to assume that individual is straight?  The open discussion of homosexuality over the last quarter century or so changes the bet somewhat, since silence now looks more telling, when it isn’t downright implausible.  Yet many people still cling to the fig leaf of privacy as if it were without consequence.

In this impressive compilation of Cooper in the field, one quote stood out: “Journalists don’t like to become part of the story, but unfortunately they have been made part of the story. . . . “  That, I am afraid, is true of sexual orientation as well.  Our inequality is embedded in the status quo that recognizes only heterosexual relationships, and if we say or do nothing, we are part of a story that tolerates and accepts our second-class status.  We cannot get out of that story, or create a more appropriate status quo unless we act, unless we speak, unless we stand up as lesbians and gay men.

The false neutrality of silence is clear in this story about Jitters and Bliss Coffee.  The company claims to be neutral when it comes to marriage.  They say they don’t have a public position on the matter, and “respect the views of all their customers.”  To demonstrate that neutrality, they joined up with the National Organization for Marriage to offer NOM members a non-Starbuck’s coffee option, since Starbuck’s has taken a position supporting marriage equality.

That is the neutrality of the status quo, being nakedly manipulated to preserve itself.  Our silence, their silence, anyone’s silence is a vote for NOM, is a vote for the bias and prejudice that are woven into the fabric of current law.

In this politicized environment, privacy equals silence, and silence equals — well, not death anymore, but certainly some spiritual damage.  That was the unholy balance that Cooper upset.  Neutrality is a primary virtue of the journalistic profession, but when “neutrality” means “the status quo,” and if the status quo is, itself, biased, then neutrality is not neutral.  Anderson Cooper’s coming out helps expose that truth.

The Conformist

This doesn’t surprise me at all.  Catholic voters seem to view Rick Santorum the same way they view the Catholic hierarchy in general – with indifference.  Romney trounces Santorum among Catholic Republicans.  Less than half of Catholic Republicans even knew Santorum shared their faith.

That’s probably because their faith teaches them such different things than Santorum’s.  The Catholic Church’s leadership is more interested in its crusade against sexuality than in its members.  But Catholics are willing to forgive their leaders such peccadilloes.  Sexual frustration doesn’t come without some consequences, and American Catholics are nothing if not patient with their hobbled priests and bishops.

The church is not a democracy, as it repeats endlessly.  And that is an important point to keep in mind.  The church leadership can take even the most extreme stands, and not have to worry much about consequences.  It is easy for Catholics to ignore church teachings, and live their lives according to a more reasoned, personal morality, and the dictates of conscience.  Church teachings are ultimately advisory.

But civil laws are not.  When Catholics back away from Santorum, it is because they seem to understand the separation of church and state in a far more sophisticated way than Santorum and their church leaders do.  The government really can ban abortion and contraception, and crack down on same-sex relationships and many other things.  The only checks on government power are found in the constitution, and if a candidate is promising to change even that, political ambition can exceed the authority of any church in the modern world.

I say “ambition” because some constitutional changes are simply beyond the reason of the American people – such as a ban on contraception.  Even Santorum seems to realize that political reality.

But Americans in general, and American Catholics in particular, demonstrate a moral generosity that exceeds that of their leaders on issues like same-sex marriage and even a secular right to abortion.  And lay Catholics seem to recognize that other Americans don’t always have that same compassion and respect for the opinions of others.  That is why they cannot back Santorum.  He takes the bishops too seriously, and is appealing to people whose views are aligned with the worst, not the best of their church’s morality.

The rejection of Santorum by Catholics is the mark of the vitality of American Catholics.  They demonstrate the cardinal (you should pardon the pun) virtue of a democracy, respectful dissent.  By prohibiting that dissent among its leaders, the Vatican ultimately inspires, and even encourages individual moral reasoning and sometimes resistance among its members.

Santorum’s Vatican-approved anti-sexual crusade has little appeal among his fellow worshippers, but there will always be some zealots somewhere fervent to light a torch.  What are a few doctrinal differences among voters?

Santorum’s only headache — and ours — -is that he’s not running a church, he’s running a campaign.