Yesterday was a good day. It was a day to celebrate gay marriage overcoming it’s most significant legal hurdle – DOMA. It was a day when we could finally just say, “Who cares?” as Nancy Pelosi did, when faced with the ignorant rants of Michelle Bachman. At least on a federal level, LGBT people don’t have to be accountable to their intolerant whims anymore.
For example, Russel Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, offered a fairly positive response that first seemed to offer an olive branch to gays and lesbians, but then took something of a dark turn in the next to last paragraph,
Those with same-sex attractions, who follow Christ, will be walking away from what their families and friends want for them: wedding cake and married life and the American Dream. Following Jesus will mean taking up a cross and following a hard narrow way. It always does.
In other words: we accept and love gays or lesbians, as long as they’re not, you know, being gay or lesbian. I would like to note that this is the only time in his long post that Moore mentions this caveat, and he avoids saying it directly. Moore’s sort of rhetoric, which frequently purports to accept homosexuals and infrequently mentions the tiny caveat that this acceptance is conditional on them not being homosexuals, is all too common amongst evangelicals. And this way of talking about homosexuality is sneaky, duplicitous, and downright gross.
Moore isn’t alone in redefining his homophobia. Opponents of LGBT rights may have suffered a pretty bad four years, and they’re reacting by trying to redefine the debate on new terms. Religion News Service’s David Gibson summarized four ways in which gay marriage opponents are already attempting to redefine themselves after the SCOTUS ruling. In brief, they are trying to,
1. Redefine the debate in terms of religious freedom (that is, religious freedom to discriminate).
2. Argue that homosexuality is one of many sins, equating it with divorce and arguing for a broader change to culture, but really just focusing on homosexuality anyway, because sometimes evangelicals do like to get divorces.
3. Use the supreme court decision as a spring-board to galvanize the base.
4. Argue that the ruling wasn’t so bad for gay marriage opponents.
The transformation of homophobic rhetoric didn’t begin with the SCOTUS decision. Followers of this blog will note that the shift to talking about “religious freedom” was largely a product of the last sixth months.
Arguments like the “religious freedom” argument are products of suit-wearing-think-tank-intellectual Christians like Eric Teestel, Ryan Anderson, and Brian Brown are trying to make homophobia intellectually fashionable. They purport to like homosexuals as people and to simply oppose their “lifestyle” on the basis of some vague narrative of “society” which is apparently based on heterosexual monogamy. Brown, for example, said that he has gay friends, and that “We can disagree about all sorts of things and still care about each other.” This from a man who literally moved to California to fight Prop 8.
Effectively, these guys spend their days trying to make “reasonable” arguments against homosexuality that are totally baffling and nitpicky. Anderson, for example, insisted before the SCOTUS case that gay marriage isn’t “illegal” anywhere (i.e. that gay couples can still claim to be “married” without being arrested, even though their marriages hold no legal recognition) and thus that the SCOTUS case on DOMA was pointless and a waste of time. Anderson’s argument, of course, ignored that obvious fact that the argument over gay marriage is really more about the 1,138 federal benefits that gay couples did not have access to before yesterday than the word “marriage”.
So far, these intellectual homophobes are largely failing to create a discourse that persuades a great number of people to oppose gay marriage. And yet, there is definite potential for a backlash against Americas sudden movement towards tolerance of homosexuals, in the same way that Roe vs Wade spurred the anti-abortion movement. And people like Teestel and Anderson are trying their hardest to create this backlash. Even if such arguments never catch on in the mainstream, they will continue to make the lives of gay people in places like churches and schools just as difficult as ever.
This may seem like a pretty pessimistic post for such a good moment in gay rights. But I’m not pessimistic about the future of gay rights. Americans, both gay and straight, have fought long and hard for rights against what often seemed insurmountable opposition. Now, full rights for LBGT Americans seem inevitable – which is crazy, given the culture thirty years ago, or even the culture nine years ago. But we still have to be wary that a small yet significant minority of Americans are doing everything in their power to turn things around.