The Repentant Gingrich?

So Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife says that he asked for an open marriage while he carried on an affair with his mistress (now wife) Callista. Meanwhile, candidate Gingrich speaks with a straight face about the sanctity of “one man, one woman” marriage:

“I will support sending a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the states for ratification. I will also oppose any judicial, bureaucratic, or legislative effort to define marriage in any manner other than as between one man and one woman.”

His defenders from the religious right—including Rick Perry—claim that Jesus offers forgiveness and redemption to repentant sinners. Presumably, in their minds, anyone in a committed same-sex relationship counts as unrepentant.

But the distinction they’re trying to make between divorce and homosexuality doesn’t hold up, even on their own principles.

Yes, the Bible speaks of forgiveness and redemption. But if marriage really is “until death do us part,” then Gingrich is still committing adultery with Callista. Don’t take my word for it, however–take Jesus’:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 11-12)

This double standard is worth pointing out, frequently, publicly and forcefully.

Where I’ve Been

I’ve been quiet on this site for a while, in large part because I’ve retired my weekly column at, which has since announced that it’s going to shut down.  (I’ll resist the temptation to commit the post hoc fallacy.) Meanwhile I have been working on the book Debating Same-Sex Marriage for Oxford University Press, in which I argue against Maggie Gallagher; we’ve made progress and expect it to appear in Spring/Summer 2012. And I’ll be doing my usual Fall Speaking Tour, so if you’re near one of the venues, come listen, ask questions, applaud, cheer, heckle, or whatever.

Real Political Action at CPAC

‘We’re not trying to … sneak the left’s agenda into the conservative movement.”

Those are the words of GOProud’s Christopher Barron in explaining why the very, very conservative Andrew Breitbart, as well as Grover Norquist, Ann Coulter and others have given genuine support to a group of openly gay Republicans.  Chris Geidner’s first rate and exquisitely fair reporting for Metro Weekly gives both the left and the right — and the really far right — room to make their points.  GOProud obviously isn’t everyone’s cup of Darjeeling, but they are not the enemy of the gay movement.  The only ones who need to worry about them are those Republicans who want to purge the party of any open homosexuals.

The heart of GOProud’s position is this:

“The problem is that the gay left has decided what qualifies as pro-gay and what qualifies as anti-gay, and a whole bunch of the stuff that they think qualifies as pro-gay, I don’t think has anything to do with being pro-gay,” says Barron. ”And, a whole bunch of stuff that they think is anti-gay, I don’t think is anti-gay at all.”

This is clearly anathema to the gay left, which has too frequently tarred anyone who questions any proposal they put forth as acting in bad faith.  But it also teases out the problem Log Cabin has had among Republicans.  In order to get along with the leadership of the gay left — which is pretty much the leadership of the gay rights movement thus far — LCR has supported laws that purport to help lesbians and gay men, from ENDA to hate crimes laws to anti-bullying bills.  These proposals run counter to the genuinely conservative impulses of a strong (and I think the best) conservative philosophy espoused by Republicans.  Government power necessarily relies on politics, and in a culture war, those politics can get corrosive when they’re not outright dangerous.  In a vibrant democracy political power is dynamic; as its contours shift, the changes can intensify cultural divisions rather than resolving them.

Democrats tend to believe government has an extraordinary ability to solve, or at least ease, problems, and we Dems can minimize the consequences those power shifts cause, usually by pretending they will not occur.  LCR was no liberal bastion, but they developed decent working relationships with the Democratic problem solvers.

That coalition had some success in enacting hate crimes laws, AIDS programs and other accomplishments.  DADT would not have been repealed without LCR’s help, particularly in the form of their lawsuit against the federal government.  But DADT, like DOMA, is different in kind from ENDA and its legislative brethren.  ENDA asks the government to help ease discrimination; DADT and DOMA are, themselves, discrimination by the government that purports to be neutral with respect to all citizens.

GOProud can be disingenuous, and that’s clear when it comes to marriage.  Barron says his group opposes DOMA, but on grounds of federalism, not equality.  The implication is that the constitution’s guarantee of equality does not apply to homosexuality. That’s something I certainly don’t agree with, but it would be a good question to put to GOProud.

In any event, the tawdry accusations that GOProud is anti-gay or even self-hating are hard to make stick to Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia, his partner in crime.  No one can accuse them of being closeted or lacking in political interest.  They have a vision of what is and is not a proper role for government that is respectable and (at least what we’ve been able to see of it) fairly consistent.   It is not the Democrats’ vision of government, but why should it be?  Their opposition to hate crimes laws and ENDA and other social tinkering by the federal government is not an attempt to disguise some other political motives, nor are they giving cover to people whose revulsion derives from a fundamental opposition to homosexuals.

GOProud proves that there is no necessary connection between conservatism and homophobia, an assumption that has been the foundation of the religious right’s incursion into the Republican party.  GOProud is short-circuiting it, and the sparks are flying.

How could that not be a good thing?

Brothers and Sisters

Alabama and Florida have new Governors who are actively catering to the Christians in their states.  Alabama’s Robert Bentley explicitly appealed to his fellow “brothers and sisters” in Christ, unaware that this could be taken badly by anyone who is not in the family.  He was subsequently informed that Alabama does, in fact, have a smattering of non Southern Baptists, and did his best to apologize for any hurt feelings.

Governor Rick Scott in Florida is using his government position to further Christianity in the more traditional way – behind the scenes.  His new Secretary of the Department of Children and Families is David Wilkins, who also serves as Finance Chairman for Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, which describes itself as an “organization dedicated to providing Christ-centered services to children and families. . .” That’s hardly surprising for a Baptist organization.  Wilkins test will come when he has to deal with citizens who are not seeking Christ-centered services.

This certainly doesn’t bode well for same-sex couples in Florida.  Gov. Scott has said that adoption should be limited to married couples, using the traditional formulation to exclude homosexuals without saying so.  This goes against a state appellate court ruling, which overturned Florida’s unique-in-the-nation rule prohibiting adoption (but not foster parenting) by anyone who is homosexual, and against simple arithmetic, with the number of children needing adoption, on one side of the equation, and the number of married couples willing to adopt, on the other.

These new governors will be pushing the limits of the distinction between Christians and “Christianists,” the term Andrew Sullivan coined to describe Christians who go beyond believing in and acting on their faith, and attempt to impose it on believers and nonbelievers alike through civil law.

They may want to exercise some caution.  The First Amendment to the Constitution protects religion from state coercion, but it does something else as well: it protects religions from one another.  That’s not necessarily a constitutional matter, but it’s at least as important.  You don’t have to search very hard to come up with examples of religions that hold government power in various nations and leverage their power to disadvantage people of other religions.

But that’s nothing compared to the leverage religious believers have over different sects of their own religion.  Just because Shiites and Sunnis are both Islamic doesn’t mean they have the same view of religion, or of the state.  In fact, divisions within religions may be more intractable and emotionally held than broader religious differences.  Henry VIII didn’t fight Rome in order to start a Jewish sect; he felt he was every bit as much a Christian as the corrupt boys on the continent, possibly more so.

Religion can be a special case of epistemic closure.  Belief is so personal and interior that it’s easy to lose perspective, or fail to appreciate that others believe very, very different things at their very core, not only about obvious politicized issues, but about God’s grace, itself, and God’s own identity.

And that’s not just true across religions, but within individual sects.  Governor Bentley’s Southern Baptist brothers and sisters belong to one of many dozens of Baptist denominations that aren’t always in complete harmony. There are enough Presbyterian denominations that Wikipedia has to alphabetize them.

And individual believers are even more varied.  It’s easy to forget that Al Sharpton is a Baptist minister, and that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Warren Beatty are all Baptists as well. Catholics are fairly unique in having a single, institutional voice to guide them – one which is widely ignored by actual, practicing Catholics in so many particulars, high among them gay marriage.

The First Amendment is a reminder that a government which can not command religious belief has to be cautious of religious reasoning, itself, which inevitably leads to so many different, but firmly held conclusions.  Gov. Bentley’s religious belief is clearly not something he holds lightly, but even in Alabama, it shouldn’t be surprising that in the civil arena, its assertion by the state’s leading political figure is viewed in political terms.  Gov. Scott can certainly rely on a large cohort of religious believers who oppose any legal recognition of same-sex couples, but he is not the Minister of Florida, he is its governor.

And homosexual citizens are among his constituents.  Religions have the power to deny membership to anyone they wish, but states are different.  Christianist governors (and other powerful religious politicians) can’t ignore or exclude lesbians and gay men from the society; they can only use power to rig their rights.  And as the non-religious reasons for doing so collapse under ordinary scrutiny, the religious motivations are exposed not only to secular review, but examination by other competing religions and religious thinkers as well.

Those religious debates have both enlightened and inflamed centuries of human progress.  But they have not combined well with secular government.  The First Amendment has stood as an excellent guardrail between our nation and a noxious religious nihilism.  Its wisdom is still evident.

Just A Fact

One of the reasons antigay opinion has been eroding in this country is that the (primarily) religious opponents of equality have become so melodramatic and quixotic in their rhetoric, driven by what looks like a maniacal sense of persecution that reasonable observers can’t possibly take seriously.  The distance between observable reality and the comic overcharacterization of that reality is leaving decent people who might not otherwise have made up their mind giving us the benefit of the doubt.  Lesbians and gay men may not all be models of rectitude and moderation, but at least we have some respectable arguments to make that seem to reflect a recognizable real world.

A good example of the self-dramatized hyperbole comes from Tony Perkins.  He has been peddling this line recently, about the danger of the Prop. 8 ruling:  “If this case stands, we’ll have gone, in one generation, from 1962, when the Bible was banned in public schools to religious beliefs being banned in America.”  I heard him make this case at TheCall in Sacramento last weekend, and he is now selling it on religious broadcasts as well.

His grievance is with Judge Walker’s 77th Finding of Fact, which Perkins correctly quotes:  “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”  Perkins doesn’t add that the finding is accompanied (as any proper trial court finding of fact would have to be) by citations to the record at trial – 18 of them – supporting the conclusion.  Perkins does complain that Judge Walker ignored all the facts presented by his side, but his real argument is with the lawyers and witnesses who defended Prop. 8, who didn’t exactly offer up a buffet of evidence for the judge to pick from.

Fact #77 doesn’t stand alone (there are 79 other findings of fact, every one also supported by numerous citations to the evidence at trial), nor would its absence make any difference in the conclusions of law the judge reaches.  Perkins cherry-picks that one fact only because it is the one that can be massaged to fit into his persecution.

Even if you believed that civil marriage equality would somehow affect religious believers (because some of them might see the conflict more clearly between what their religion professes and what the civil law accepts), or would even undermine some religions (to the extent that opposing homosexuality is part of the infrastructure of their morality), it is hard to see how this would lead to “religious beliefs being banned in America.”  The same first amendment that prohibits the teaching of particular religions in public schools (without “banning” Bibles, by the way — yet more of the melodrama) also protects religious believers in the exercise of their religion, however much those beliefs differ with civic policy.  Just because Perkins would not be able to prohibit same-sex marriage laws does not mean he is not allowed to believe, preach, or even ban within his congregation same-sex marriage or divorce or abortion or eating meat on Fridays.

It is, I’m sure, a disappointment for these religious believers to hear that their beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality are viewed differently by others.  But how insular would your worldview have to be to be surprised by that?  Certainly, they believe they are loving us by trying to steer us to an inner heterosexuality (or celibacy) that will better serve our long-term spiritual needs.  But is it such a shock to learn that non-believers could find that presumptuous and condescending, and even a little bit injurious?

Harm alone doesn’t amount to a constitutional violation, and people who think they’re helping me are as free to hurt me in this way as I suppose I hurt them by saying that I think they hold wrong and harmful positions.  The only reason they’re losing support is because they have so successfully blinded themselves to the idea that differences of opinion – even, and maybe especially religious opinion – is OK.  That’s just a fact.