The Religious Right isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Since the Prop 8 and DOMA decisions, right wing commentators have gone in two distinct directions – some commentators have doubled down on their anti-gay rhetoric, while other commentators have plead for “tolerance” for their views about marriage. That second group is essentially asking for detente – “you won so be nice to us.”
Is detente between the gay community and the religious right even possible?
Right Wing Watch has a generous supply of anti-gay statements from people on the religious right, as well as a collection of hysterical responses to the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions. GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project is a rich store of anti-gay rantings and ravings by a variety of religious conservatives, mostly national figures but a few state level figures. The folks at Truth Wins Out have spent countless hours debunking the lie of organizations like the now defunct Exodus International that you can pray away the gay. Alvin McEwan’s e-book How They See Us documents a variety of anti-gay lies told by people on the right (mostly built around the idea that gay folk are a threat to children). Just this week, Pat Robertson declared that the land was going vomit out gay people, he said that he wished there were a “vomit” button on Facebook so he could push it for every picture of a gay couple. Robertson may not have Tony Perkins’ smooth delivery and poll-testedm anodyne talking points, but the two men are saying the same things.
In light of the right’s history on the issue of gay rights, it seems absurd to even suggest that detente between the two communities is possible. In addition, people on the right are rapidly creating a narrative in which they are the victims of oppression at the hands of the gay community and the government. People on the right fear that opposition to marriage equality is going to be a toxic in a few years as racism. Gabriel Arana described this as “the religious right’s terms of surrender”:
Maggie Gallagher, founder and former president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)—the country’s most powerful traditional-marriage group—expressed a similar sentiment in a conversation with the Prospect’s E.J. Graff after the 2012 election. After passing constitutional amendments in 30 states banning same-sex marriage, in November voters in four states rejected similar amendments. Gallagher conceded that it was a turning point, and said wistfully that she hoped same-sex marriage would become, in the future, something reasonable people could disagree on—that opponents of gay unions would not be branded as bigots and shunned from public discourse. Think abortion—where you can be an upstanding member of society and still hold the minority view—not racial segregation, where a firm public consensus exists.
Arana argued that’s not going to happen:
For one, you can’t go to war with one idea and concede another. The argument from religious conservatives—both the activists and the intellectuals—was never that they should be free to perform and celebrate marriage in accordance with deeply held beliefs about human nature, gender, and divinity. Nor was it that the traditional view of marriage is entitled to cultural respect. It was an absolutist one: Either civil marriage excludes same-sex couples, or it is meaningless for everyone.
Key to understanding this view is the Orwellian term “religious liberty,” a watchword whose meaning is a far cry from the “freedom of religion” guaranteed by the Constitution. Among Christian conservatives, “religious liberty” means having one’s views codified as those of the state.
The controversy around the film Ender’s Game, based on Orson Scott Card’s novel, provides an instructive example of what the right is trying to do right now. Card has a history of saying nasty, bigoted things about gays and lesbians. Geeks Out called fora boycott of the movie. Card published a whiny plea for tolerance of his bigoted views:
Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.
With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.
Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.
Orson Scott Card
IOW, “Sure I said gay people would destroy civilization, that gay people should be denied equal rights and protections, that I’d work to violently overthrow any government that granted marriage equality, but come on now guys, be nice now cause there’s money to be made . . . by me.” Geeks Out wrote a blistering response (the whole thing is worth a read):
Orson Scott Card, we can tolerate your anti-gay activism, your right-wing extremism, your campaign of fear-mongering and insults, but we’re not going to pay you for it. You’ve got the right to express your opinions and beliefs any way you choose—but you don’t have a right to our money.
Card’s long history of anti-gay bigotry is well documented. He’s spent years saying nasty things and now he’s suddenly pleading for “tolerance.” David Gerrold, and out gay scifi author, had some choice words for Orson Scott Card:
This is just another detestable characterization of LGBT people — that we are intolerant.
Intolerant? Of people who want to lock us up, put us in concentration camps, deny us our civil rights? Intolerant? Are you fucking kidding me?
You want me to be tolerant, Scott? First be one of those people who understands. Or to put it bluntly — get your fucking foot off my neck, then we’ll talk tolerance.
See, Scott — I don’t dislike you. I honestly don’t. I think you’re a very interesting author and you’ve turned out some works I admire. But you’ve made PR Mistake Number One. You’ve sided with hate-mongers. You’ve targeted a minority and you’ve characterized yourself as the righteous warrior. That gives you a short-term gain and a long-term loss. Look up Father Coughlin and Anita Bryant and Kirk Cameron.
[Snip]Until you recognize that your public utterances have been at the service of bigotry and prejudice, there can be no redemption for you in the eyes of the LGBT community. Or anyone else, for that matter.
No matter how the controversy over Ender’s Game turns out, Card and other people on the right are busily casting themselves as victims, very often while stepping up their anti-gay rhetoric.
A recent article Religion Dispatches rather baldly stated that the damage done by anti-gay, anti-marriage equality activism is going to be long lasting:
I would suggest that a more important damage to Christian witness in American culture has already been done, not by the Supreme Court but by the Christian activists; and not just today but for a generation or more. And that damage will intensify in proportion to the Christian outcry in days to come . . . In other words, the “Gospel” has been identified with the cause of self-benefiting social discrimination against a minority group, a losing hand if ever there was one.
And, more interestingly:
Christians have alienated gays and lesbians and their families, friends, and sympathetic allies, driving many away from the love of Jesus Christ and contributing to the secularization of American culture. They have done a great deal to create hostility to the church and closed ears to the Gospel. The saddest cases are the church’s own rejected gay and lesbian adolescents and twentysomethings. They are legion.
Right now, gays and lesbians are probaby the least religious group of people in the US – almost half report have no religious affiliation whatsoever. If the goal of the religious right was to drive gay folk from their churches, they’ve done a good job. I think most glbt folk would have no problem taking a live and let live approach toward the religious right.
At the end of the day, I’m not optimistic. The right’s anti-gay rhetoric has been too strident, too damaging for many folks in the glbt community to be willing to forgive and forget unless and until they see evidence that people on the right recognize the damage they’ve done and actually want to atone.
And yet . . . well, stranger things have happened.
The dire predictions about legalizing same sex marriage were based on fundamental misunderstandings about sexual orientation and false notions about who gays and lesbians are as people. As more same-sex couples marry, as more states embrace marriage equality, the lived reality will persuade people that it wasn’t such a threat.
And, if they’re serious in their pleas for “tolerance” of their views, people on the right are going to have to change their rhetoric. (FWIW, I’m putting tolerance in quotes here because people the right have attacked the basic concept of tolerance for years now.)
As gay couples become more mainstream, the right’s favorite talking points against gay rights will seem increasingly untenable. The tactic of painting glbt persons as a threat to children will become increasingly difficult to sustain. Calls for “tolerance” on behalf of rightwing activists will lack credibility so long as those acrtivists use the kind of rhetoric tracked at the Commentator Accountability Project.
Can people on the right give up gay bashing? If people on the right are willing to dedicate themselves to advocacy for healthy, heterosexual families in ways that don’t demean or devalue glbt persons, I can see an opening for comity. It will also mean that people on the right will have to stop using many of the arguments they’ve employed in the past, especially because so many of those arguments are pernicious, false and misleading. And, perhaps most crucially, people on the right will have to stop spreading the ex-gay lie.
That may seem like a call for one side in a debate to change their views and tactics, but it’s also necessary if people on the right are serious about wanting to live and let live. You can’t say nasty, bigoted things and expect people to be nice back.