Winning in Iowa Means Losing America

The GOP presidential wannabes who pledged to fight to keep marriage between one man and one woman at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition forum may have boxed themselves in a corner, should the Supreme Court find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Campaigning for a constitutional amendment will seem extreme to those outside the hardcore religious right.

But Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum and Jindal seemed to promise to lead an ongoing fight against marriage equality, come hell or high water.

Gov. Scott Walker said: “I still hold out hope that the Supreme Court will rule, as has been the tradition in the past, that the states are the places that get to define what marriage is. If for some reason they don’t … I believe it’s reasonable for the people of America to consider a constitutional amendment that would affirm the ability of states to do just that.”

Marco Rubio reiterated his opposition to same sex marriage, saying: “Marriage as an institution existed before even government itself,” and that “The institution of marriage as between one man and one woman existed even before our laws existed.” But he stopped short of saying how he’d respond if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality.

And Rand Paul, who has previously tried to appeal to the pastors by stressing his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, didn’t mention the issue at all in his 15-minute presentation, during which he made a powerful appeal to protect constitutional liberties. His libertarian supporters—who are distinct from many (not all) of the tea party people and often at odds with the religious right—didn’t like his unlibertarian marriage comments, and this could be a welcomed recalibration. (Paul also was one of 10 GOP senators who last week supported an LGBT-inclusive measure to protect homeless youth.)

Jeb Bush chose not to attend. That might not play well in the Iowa GOP caucuses, but could serve him best in a general election, should he win the nomination.

Gaining Iowa and Losing the (Real) Libertarians

The Republican dilemma: pandering to social conservatives to win primaries in Iowa and the South means alienating younger voters and centrists who are fiscally conservative, socially tolerant, especially on marriage equality. Those voters could be won over by the GOP in a general election, if not permanently offended by pandering to religious rightists.

Rand Paul has pushed himself over that cliff, to his detriment, by saying that same-sex marriage “offends myself and a lot of people,” and suggesting (if, I think, not quite stating) that gay people be denied an equal right to marry under the law, while in some future libertarian age—when the government has no role in marriage whatsoever—everyone could enter into relationship contracts as they desire, to be sanctified by religious ceremony (by willing clergy) if they wish. But until then…

We’ll see if the more moderate positions on marriage taken by Jeb Bush and Scott Walker hold. Obviously, they too have been against marriage equality. However, noting that people have strong feelings on both sides but “it’s the law now, let’s move on” might navigate that thicket, if they can stick to it.

More. Ted Cruz’s animus in Iowa makes Rand Paul seem positively gay friendly.

Furthermore. At reason.com, Scott Shackford argues that Paul is getting a raw deal and was actually offering a nuanced position. “He said the idea of gay marriage ‘offends’ him and some others, so you can guess which part of his response ended up in headlines.” Well, yes.

In fairness, an Oklahoma bill that would take the state out of the marriage licensing business but (if the Supreme Court does the right thing) still recognize same-sex marriages may give a clearer idea of what Paul is suggesting. Shackford writes:

While it is true that the legislation is a direct response to the federal courts striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage recognition and the likelihood that the Supreme Court will uphold those rulings this summer, [state Rep. Todd Russ] said his legislation is intended to take the state out of the fight, not to perpetuate the conflict. He said Oklahomans likely wouldn’t even notice a difference in the legal status of their relationships under his bill.

“I’m not picking a fight with them,” Russ said in reference to opposition to the legislation. “I’m not their judge. I didn’t go there.”

Update. via Scott Shackford at reason.com: Rand Paul Reaches Out to Evangelicals over ‘Moral Crisis’ Connected to Gay Marriage. Sadly, he’s shifting to the right, ever to the right, on the freedom to marry and other issues. Some see a panic response to low poll numbers and to Ted Cruz’s hyperactive lobbying of evangelicals. Others argue that Paul is still telling the pastors that while he shares their views about the “moral crisis” that includes same-sex marriage, they shouldn’t look to Washington for solutions (and instead, they should hold tent revivals, etc., as part of a new religious Great Awakening).

A ‘Lifestyle Choice’ Brouhaha

At first this seemed too silly to bother with, but it’s getting attention from both LGBT and religious right media, so it warrants some acknowledgment.

In an interview with YouTube personality (if that’s the right word) GloZell Green (pictured here), Obama said he hopes the Supreme Court makes the “right decision” on marriage rights for same-sex couples, adding: “I think people know that treating folks unfairly—even if you disagree with their lifestyle choice, the fact of the matter is they’re not bothering you.”

As reported by the Washington Blade:

President Obama deviated this week from the language considered acceptable for talking about gay people when he described the lives of same-sex couples as a “lifestyle choice”—but virtually no one cares.

The Washington Blade reached out to various LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force and GLAAD, to ask whether they objected to Obama’s use of the phrase. None of those groups responded to a request to comment on that language, which is widely considered unacceptable and offensive because it suggests that sexual orientation is a choice.

Well, apparently the religious right cares. The religious conservative website WND reported (if that’s the right word):

His answer, which seemed to undermine the foundation for claims across America that homosexuals are a class of people with defined characteristics and deserve minority protections, came recently during a recorded interview with GloZell Green, a green-lipstick-wearing, milk and cereal bath-taking YouTube personality who was picked by the White House to visit with the president after his recent 2015 State of the Union address. She begins her videos asking, “Hello this is Glozell! Is you OK? Is you? Good, ’cause I wanted to know!’”

As to treating people fairly because “even if you disagree with their lifestyle choices, the fact of the matter is they’re not bothering you,” one commenter on the WND site wondered if Obama was “finally telling the homosexual lobby to stop suing Christians?”

A few days later, the Blade reported that the White House responds to Obama ‘lifestyle choice’ remark. But it was actually a nonresponse:

In a news conference that marked the first time an openly gay person conducted an on-camera White House news conference, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz addressed questions Wednesday over President Obama’s remark that being gay is a “lifestyle choice.” In response to a question…on whether Obama regrets using the phrase, which he used in a YouTube interview with GloZell Green last week, Schultz replied he hasn’t talked to Obama about the matter.

So, a linguistic tempest in a teabag? Obama probably was revealing, off the cuff, his personal view, and it doesn’t help. That’s what happens when he doesn’t have a teleprompter. But it essentially is inconsequential. The only point worth remarking on is how even inconsequential minutia becomes fodder for media buzz these days.

On the other hand, if a prominent GOP politician made such a remark, there would have been a firestorm of criticism, while the Blade couldn’t get any of the big LGBT activist organizations to call Obama out on this.

Saving the GOP from Itself

Back in January, Virginia’s GOP Senate candidate Ed Gillespie told the Washington Times why he opposes same-sex marriage:

“My faith also teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman. In fact in the Catholic church it’s not just a teaching, it’s a holy sacrament just like communion. I believe that as well.”

On the day that the Supreme Court let stand the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning Virginia’s ban on gay marriage and clerks began issuing marriage licenses in the Old Dominion, Gillespie told an interviewer he has “always felt that this is a matter for the states to determine. I don’t believe that the federal government should set policy relative to marriage. I think the states should. And, obviously, given the court’s ruling, it is the law of the land today.”

I realize he’s not saying he supports marriage equality, but the shift in tone is significant. He’s making it clear it is now, for him, a non-issue, Whereas before he felt compelled to run on his opposition to marriage equality citing his religious faith, he is now indicating it has become a done deal.

As I’ve said before on this blog, the best thing that could happen to Republicans would be for the Supreme Court to take marriage off the table, as it’s now done in 11 more states (albeit by ruling not to review appellate decisions that upended state marriage bans).

Opposition to marriage equality only pays off with the GOP’s base of older social conservatives; in general elections, support for the freedom to marry now favors the Democrats. Most GOP candidates and would-be candidates know this and must be relieved that the Supreme Court (as the appeals reach their end) is giving them a pass.

More. Our friend Dale Carpenter (who once blogged here but abandoned us for The Volokh Conspiracy just because they have exponentially more readers) explains why marriage equality will not provoke the unending resistance that abortion has engendered:

I remain convinced that even Americans who fervently oppose same-sex marriage now will see a profound difference between allowing someone to marry another person and allowing someone to abort an unborn child. We aren’t likely to see protests blocking access to marriage-license bureaus or sidewalk counselors trying to talk gay couples out of marrying. Even if you oppose same-sex marriage as a matter of religious belief, you can get along in a nation that allows it in a way that you can’t really ever make peace with what you believe is killing innocent children.

Which is also why Republican politicians (no, not all, but including legitimate conservatives like Ed Gillespie) are going to be willing to let it go.

Furthermore. I just caught up with Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post column from Oct. 7. She quotes an AP report about the reaction by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative, public union fighting Republican who is seeking re-election in November and could run for president in 2016 if he prevails:

“For us, it’s over in Wisconsin,” said [Walker], whose state’s appeal was among those the court declined with a two-word order, “certiorari denied” — meaning the lower court’s ruling stands. … “To me, I’d rather be talking in the future now more about our jobs plan and our plan for the future of the state,” Walker said. “I think that’s what matters to the kids. It’s not this issue.”

The column notes that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), “the favorite of religious conservatives,” responded with a vow to introduce a constitutional amendment designed to prevent “the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.” But Cruz and his sort are becoming outliers who pander to a narrowing base. If you’ve lost Scott Walker, it’s over.

Trans Accommodations Require Reasonableness

Regarding the Washington Post story A question for schools: Which sports teams should transgender students play on?, one could be blithe and say that social conservatives claim sexual orientation is a choice but gender isn’t (the anti-LGBT Minnesota Child Protection League stated that in terms of school policies there are no “accommodations made for those who believe that gender is a biological and genetic reality, not a social choice”).

Of course the social conservatives have got this wrong: transgender youth and their advocates are not claiming that gender is a choice; the issue is whether to be true to one’s inherent gender when it does not correspond to the body’s physical reality.

But this doesn’t mean there aren’t real issues of what constitutes reasonable accommodation in locker rooms and showers, especially in schools—and the case isn’t helped by incidents such as this one, in which a transwoman who is biologically male asserted a right to change in the women’s locker room at Evergreen State College in Washington and “Angry parents contacted the police after a young girl saw the transgender student naked inside the locker room,” according to local news reports. Reasonableness goes both ways.

Which reminds me of how New York City decided a few years back not to proceed with allowing a private firm to install individual self-cleaning restroom kiosks (popular in European cities) because they would not be large enough to accommodate wheelchairs, with the result that no New Yorker gained the benefit of this service. Or, for that matter, the argument that better no anti-discrimination law for LBGT people than one that would provide an exemption for religious organizations. I could go on, but you get the point.

On Joseph Bottum, “A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage”

A formidable, subtle, and wide-ranging exponent of orthodox Catholicism, Joseph Bottum has long held a high place on my (not all that lengthy) list of writers I really wish we could convince. So I join Steve Miller in thinking it’s a pretty big deal to see him write a piece for Commonweal entitled, “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” (More from the reliably interesting Mark Oppenheimer in the New York Times.)

Unlike some readers, I admired the essay’s meandering and discursive quality. To fall back on metaphor: if you’re feeling extremely conflicted on a topic, take a long walk for some fresh air. Those who don’t have patience for the entire thing and want more of a political statement might want to skip to the remarkable section where Bottum writes about how he regrets signing and helping draft the Manhattan Declaration (Robby George, Charles Colson, etc.), a manifesto of resistance to the modern liberal polity which attempts to link and in the process deeply confounds the three causes of abortion, religious liberty and same-sex marriage. As critics have already noted, Bottum makes no attempt to take down George’s position on the basis of logic, but then it’s not as if logic was the basis of that position in the first place.

The obloquy from former allies has landed like the ton of boulders I would have anticipated, including (in ascending order of charity and interest) Mark Shea at Patheos, Matthew Franck at First Things (where Bottum served long as editor), Rod Dreher at Patheos, and Sam Rocha at Patheos. Then there are the online commenters, proffering every turncoat trope one might expect. He’s just trying to curry favor with the NY Times? Check. He’s just trying to sell copies of his next book? Check. No matter how many times one has seen this process in action — from Norman Podhoretz’s Breaking Ranks to what happened to David Blankenhorn last year — it’s hard to imagine being the one it happens to. And Podhoretz’s and Blankenhorn’s are essentially secular examples: imagine the pressure when religious orthodoxy itself is perceived as being at stake.

Those looking for a more syllogistic as opposed to literary attempt to square same-sex marriage with Catholic orthodoxy may want to check out Paul Griffiths’ essay in Commonweal nine years back. But not to subtract from the respect owing to Griffiths, it is Bottum’s essay I expect to revisit again and again.

Whelan: I’ll use scare quotes around “marry” whenever I feel like it

The other day on Twitter I criticized Ed Whelan, who writes at National Review “Bench Memos” and runs the religious-right Ethics and Public Policy Center, for using scare quotes around the word “marry.” More specifically, Whelan wrote of a hypothetical “Adam and Steve” (no, he still hasn’t tired of that trope) “who ‘marry’ in New York but reside (or later move to) Virginia.”

Now, responding to my criticism, Whelan has written a whole blog post on the topic. He expresses the view that it is “unfair and misguided” to take offense at the usage, and says my criticism has moved him to reflect that perhaps when referring to legalized same-sex marriage he should use scare quotes more often around the words “marry” and “marriage.” Following through on this, he proceeds in a second post to use scare quotes around the particular marriage of two actual people in California following the lifting of the Prop 8 ban.

Whelan claims that his difference with me arises solely from our difference on the substantive merits.* Yet a quick inspection of the dissents by Justice Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito in U.S. v. Windsor shows that neither of them used ironic or scare quotes around “marriage” or “marry” when describing same-sex unions, with Scalia passing up at least 13 chances to do so and Alito passing up at least 16. Likewise, I believe many prominent critics of gay marriage, such as author Maggie Gallagher, generally avoid the scare-quote usage. I see no reason to suspect that these figures take a substantively different view of the marriage issue than does Whelan. I think the more likely explanation is that they are more concerned not to give offense.

National Review editor Rich Lowry recently complained that it’s terribly unfair to tar his colleagues with “animus” on this topic — they just oppose gay marriage on principle, that’s all. No doubt Whelan would also find it unfair too. He’s merely unwilling “to conform to a politically correct usage” just to avoid giving offense. So don’t go around getting him mixed up with those media-whipped wusses who hold back their true opinions — you know, the ones like Scalia and Alito and Gallagher.

* * *

*As has been pointed out, a large body of traditionalist Catholics dispute the spiritual validity of remarriages by persons who have not had a church-approved annulment, yet a scare-quote formulation like “re-‘marry'” is seldom seen, outside perhaps an explicitly sectarian context.

More: welcome readers from Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) and Eric Zorn (Chicago Tribune).

Bad Religion

The GOP is in a pickle.  You can only finesse extremists for so long.

Republicans are furiously trying to downplay the social issues that are so deeply important to their Christianist base; first because Romney has so firmly come down on so many sides of them, and it’s hard to keep the true believers focused on the right answers he’s given; but even more because the party leaders know that this whole religious thing is ready to collapse.

There are plenty of religious moderates in both parties, and they’re not the problem.  The problem is that the GOP has been actively courting the know-nothings, the ignorant, the crackpots and screwballs who take pride in their shallow thinking and insensitivity.  And now that they have these folks as a critical part of their voting base, they are stuck with loser candidates like Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and others.

The Democrats clearly have their shallow and insensitive interest groups that need hothouse political care, but there is a very big difference.  Labor, environmentalists, women’s groups, etc., are all motivated by narrow self-interest – exactly the kind of self-interest this nation’s founders anticipated and even expected.  No nation or system of government known to them was without factions, and their sensible response was to provide as many checks and balances on those factions as they could reasonably imagine.

They saw religion, though, as a special case.  The founders not only provided for the free exercise of religion, but also the prohibition on government establishment of religion.  That is because of the special factionalism and intensity that religion inspires.  The establishment clause not only protects government, itself, from religious fanaticism, it protects religions from one another, as well.  Any religion that could take hold of the levers of political power could far too easily use it against unbelievers or heretics.  The Puritans fled to this country for exactly that reason.

But there is no establishment clause for political parties, and the GOP has unwisely cultivated conservative religion, in particular, without understanding its inherent political pandemonium.

It is one thing to oppose abortion as a moral matter.  But in the 21st Century, it is something else entirely to take the position that contraception is the same moral issue.  The fine theological gradations necessary are not just inconsistent with American values, they are antithetical to them.  And just as a matter of raw politics, the use of contraception by American women at some point in their life is within the margin of error of being 100%.  The Vatican can get away with taking a position that only a fraction of its followers take seriously; it’s much harder for an American political party to pull that off.

It is that sophistry of the unsophisticated that got Todd Akin where he wound up.  The debate over “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape is bad enough.  But let’s not forget that he really did say he thinks women’s bodies can make a moral judgment along those lines, and “shut down” the bad pregnancies.  This from a man who represents Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

There is a good, even a respectable debate to be had over abortion, but these folks prevent Republicans from engaging in it.  Party leaders were virtually unanimous in trying to get Akin to leave the race precisely because they do not want to have the debate on these terms.

And that’s also true of same-sex marriage.  The crude, hollow stereotypes that drive the GOP’s anti-gay voters short-circuit any responsible debate over equality, so the GOP prefers to ignore the issue, and cut it off as quickly as possible when it comes up.  Silence isn’t just golden, it’s an imperative.

But as with the relationship between abortion and contraception, there is a growing sense among even voters who instinctually believe that full marriage is wrong that the moral argument is nuanced.  But that sentiment is shut down to cater to the least common denominator thinking of the religious extremists.

As the party censors itself, it simultaneously alienates socially and morally reasonable voices, and makes itself look ridiculous.  That is what Log Cabin exploited with the party’s platform. Yes, they got rolled.  The paper-thin, entirely non-specific language about  how “all Americans” have the right to be treated with “dignity and respect,” is hard to square with the platform’s proposed language calling for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, unless you can respectfully and with dignity deny people equality.

But being in the room makes a difference.  The anti-gay forces had to directly face the people they want to discriminate against, and Log Cabin looked back.

Moreover, the contrast with the Democrats for reasonable Americans is now that much starker.  The GOP was right, strategically if not morally, to want to avoid the social issues in this campaign.  They’re not a winner for the party any more.  But the party fought hard for those conservative religious voters, and got what they wished for.

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.

Chess

The sound you hear is Jay Carney breathing the world’s deepest sigh of relief.

For him, the squirming and hedging and sweating are over.  The President is on record supporting same-sex marriage.  There is an answer now to the question.

Yes, it’s Obama’s personal view, and yes, he’s said he supported same-sex marriage before, and then wandered afield.  But when you’re in any other political office, you can take positions that might play out differently when you’re being asked about the question in the presidential arena.  Ask Mitt Romney about health care.  Or anything.

Of course I think Obama did the right thing morally.  But for those of us who enjoy the chess of politics, I also think it was exquisite strategy.  First, after the loss in North Carolina, Obama’s campaign had a convention to worry about.  In that place and with that political context, any fudging on the bottom line would have been unacceptable to a lot of conventioneers at best, and could have led to some very ugly protests inside and/or outside the convention hall.

That’s taken care of now.  The only possible protests left will come from the motley, disgruntled religious types, who aren’t part of Obama’s base, and don’t figure into a winning electoral strategy for him.  Those protests, if they happen, now come under the heading of So What?

And that leads to the bigger point.  This is fine politics because it boxes Romney in with the worst part of his party.  Karl Rove poisoned the well on this issue, and now Obama is making Romney drink, and drink deeply.

Which Romney promptly did, and from a bigger cup than Obama could have hoped for.  Romney said he is not only opposed to same-sex marriage, but to any legal recognition of same-sex couples that approaches marriage equality — just what the worst part of North Carolina gave a big thumbs-up to.

How can Romney now appeal to the 2/3 of Americans who can no longer abide the complete exclusion of same-sex couples and their families from the law?  What he is stuck with are the politically tone-deaf, like the American Family Association and the Catholic League, who are so blinded by full marriage equality that they can’t see. . . um, straight.  Their hysteria increases in direct proportion to the growing support for full marriage equality, and for the middle ground of civil unions.  They are now 2/3 of the way to Spinal Tap’s famous eleven.

There are, of course, a lot of other issues, and an eternity until the election; lots of things are possible.  But on this issue, Obama just made his life a whole lot easier, and Romney’s a lot more difficult.  Obama has made it clear that he wants no part of the religious right’s intolerance on sexual orientation.  That’s a political strategy, and it’s a defensible moral stance.  But most of all, it’s got to be nice not to have to pretend you need the kind of votes that Bryan Fischer and the sadly devolved offspring of Billy Graham have to offer.