When the Political Party Goes Unmentioned…

John Corvino makes good points about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who has been refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that doing so would violate her religious beliefs.

However, like most of the mainstream media coverage, the party on whose ticket Davis ran goes unremarked, which should have been a dead give-away. If someone is held in disdain, the mainstream media always lets you know if they’re a Republican. When it’s a guessing game, you can bet it’s otherwise.

More. To clarify, the original NY Times piece did not mention her party, but did so in subsequent, more recent reports.

And then there’s this: From the New York Times:

Correction: September 3, 2015
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated Kim Davis’s political affiliation. She is a Democrat, not a Republican.

And this from the Washington Post (via Instapundit).

Furthermore. Lesson learned? The Washington Post now reports:

Davis narrowly won a three-way Democratic primary in 2014. She cruised to victory in the general election, before same-sex marriage was on the radar, and many supporters of LGBT rights voted for her in November because she was the Democratic candidate.

(continued in next post)

Update: Many weeks into the controversy, Kim Davis switched her political affiliation from Republican to Democrat, following the support she received from GOP social conservatives. Despite the chortling from the peanut gallery, this in no way mitigates the point that when she was a Democrat, the press downplayed her party identification. Now that she’s in the GOP, that won’t be the case.

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.