Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Sunshine & Rainbows: Marco Rubio & LGBT Issues

“I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I have had occasion in my life to defend marriage, to stand up for marriage, to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I [am] committed to the sanctity of marriage, [to] the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.” –Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

“I do not support anti-discrimination laws for Bushes and Clintons.”

We all stand, whether conscientiously or insouciantly, at the delirious crossroads of competing obligations, values, and desires. For politicians, in particular, the road threading the needles of the constituent elements of a broader electoral coalition can be a herculean task at the best of times. When volatile issues like marriage policy, protected status for elucidated groups, and religious freedom concerns are the issues of the day, finding a simulacrum of compromise that can please—or displease—enough people in the right ways to win at the ballot box and in the legislative chambers becomes a Sisyphean ordeal that would perhaps evoke more sympathy were the people involved not, as politicians are, powerful and duplicitous.

Somewhere along the Sisyphean route, my home-state Senator and declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio has gained a cascade of (mostly favorable) attention for his encouraging approach to issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of gay Americans. Since announcing his campaign for the Republican nomination, the Floridian made headlines for affirming his willingness to attend a same-sex wedding and his understanding that being gay is not a choice. While these are certainly small steps, they are nonetheless welcome.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Marco Rubio remains as personally opposed to same-sex marriage as Hillary Clinton passionately was until she changed her mind in 2013—a process most Americans have experienced and millions are still undergoing. On a policy level, Rubio retains the states-rights view of marriage that Hillary Clinton championed right up until a week ago. If that is a single-issue deal-breaker—or if you’re an unrepentant liberal—there is little more to say, though I appreciate your reading these words anyway.

However, for genuinely independent, persuadable voters and right-leaning folks who support gay rights, Sen. Rubio is demonstrably among the most appealing candidates in the field of 2016. This development is probably not too surprising for those who have been paying attention to the Miami-native’s approach to LGBT issues, as Rubio has been working to understand and include gay Americans and their political allies for some time now.

According to Gregory Angelo, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, Rubio’s Senate staff has held regular quarterly meetings with the pro-gay conservative group. (Though I am a member of Log Cabin, I haven’t met with Rubio staffers in that capacity.) Back in January, the junior Senator from Florida stated that he would not contest a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage rights. He’s made true on those remarks by declining to endorse Ted Cruz’s proposal to restrict marriage rights currently available through court order to same-sex couples, as well as refusing to sign—to the enduring umbrage of Maggie Gallagher—a recent amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to enact a ruling to that effect. (Full disclosure: my boyfriend, several friends, colleagues, and I are signatories to the opposing brief in the same case.)

While Rubio’s position is by no means an endorsement of the Supreme Court recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—which new position Hillary discovered, through a spokesman and with appreciably less brio than her original opposition, three days after her second presidential announcement—there is no daylight between how the executive branch would engage such a ruling under a President Rubio vs. a President Clinton.

Of course, gay rights concerns extend beyond marriage policy, and so does Rubio’s record of public remarks. In summer 2014, the devout Catholic gave a speech on marriage policy and judicial rulings at Catholic University where he acknowledged that multiple levels and institutions of government have discriminated horrifically against gay Americans.

I’ll let Sen. Rubio speak for himself:

“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.

Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination.

I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.”

It would have been easy enough for a Republican presidential hopeful to elide or gloss over our country’s sordid history of anti-gay persecution. After all, most Americans are unaware of terrors like the McCarthy-era Lavender Scare—in which the federal government systemically hunted and purged gay civil servants and proscribed their employment until the 1990s—or not-that-long-ago prohibitions on serving gay customers in public bars, as was the law in places like New York City. Likewise, many people believe, erroneously, that national anti-discrimination laws already protect people from being fired for being gay. (In fact, 29 states lack such protections.) Yet, without prodding, Sen. Rubio spoke a difficult truth that showed, among other things, that he listens to and cares about the diverse array of voters he represents and aspires to serve.

When he revisited the issue in the wake of the RFRA battle in Indiana, Rubio reaffirmed his commitment to religious liberty (though he did not, as some parties lazily suggested, endorse either version of the Indiana law) and declared unequivocally that the laws of this country should not sanction anti-gay discrimination—putting him squarely in sync with most Americans. To quote him again:

“No one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone services at a hotel or at a restaurant because of their sexual orientation. I think that is a consensus view in America.”

People can disagree about whether conservative Muslims and Christians should be forced to violate their religious beliefs by participating in same-sex weddings. But I would ask those who would dismiss Rubio’s sympathies for business owners’ rights of conscience regarding same-sex weddings to elucidate the coherent principle by which they would allow gays, Jews, African Americans, or anybody decent from compulsory service to events of the Westboro Baptist Church or KKK (both of which, it’s worth noting, purport to be religious organizations). To paraphrase a friend: our rights and freedoms are defined by the edge cases that make us uncomfortable, not the easy-seeming ones that require sacrifice only from our sociopolitical opponents.

While he’s not a perfect candidate, the growing sentiment of tolerance and inclusiveness underlying Rubio’s campaign suggest a realistic foundation for how the Republican Party can move beyond the divisive decades of the matrimonial culture wars. Perhaps his broader aura of constructive, forward-looking optimism will help Rubio sublimate his post-announcement bounce in the polls into an indomitable campaign for the nomination and the White House. Who knows? We’re still several seasons away from the primaries, and politics is a fickle game.

But if you’re one of those many almost-Republicans who have long been alienated by the GOP’s mean-spirited past on gay issues, candidates like Marco Rubio might have a whole new world of political opportunity to offer. Either way, at least we can all agree that same-sex marriages probably aren’t killing babies, whether or not Rick Perry ever figures out if he would attend a wedding.

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When God Passed Over

“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope…” –Romans 8:20-24

“And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” –John 19:30

One reason I choose to commemorate Passover is the enlightenment that comes with grasping at a key tradition in which Christ was raised. The ritual itself bequeaths a certain continuity of revelation and understanding that stretches back to the wisdom of Eden. Namely, there is no such thing as a free lunch—neither for God, whom men murdered, nor the murderous creatures he created. Everything we have gained—from the structures of civil society to the recognition of civil rights to the comfortable peace of Americana—was bought at a price. And that price for evolution is owed, whether or not we understand the reason for the cost or nature of the value.

By celestial design, Good Friday and the start of Passover concur on this first weekend of April. Among other things, this presents a perhaps edifying opportunity for modern Christians to reconnect with the Jewish roots of Christianity (and for Jews to explore familiar Passover themes in Easter) by participating in the ritual that was the last supper in which Christ gave us Communion. In attending such a ceremony with a mix of Jewish and Christian friends last year, I found a new appreciation for the transcendental history that ties people of faith to the Eternal through the progression of miracles that saved the faithful who came before us.

Christ’s last supper with his disciples occurred, of course, on Holy Thursday. On Friday night, he succumbed, with eleemosynary grace, to the torture of the unyielding government of men and died in the contemptuous bovarism of those trapped in vainglorious laws.

In taking that innocent life as a sacrifice bartered for those who would otherwise die in darkness, God the Father passed over the debt of the sinners of his fallen Creation while cursing the wickedness that tugs at every soul. On Golgotha, as in Egypt, the firstborn son of the powerful died that the wretched people around him might find new life with a new Law.

That was the gift and cost of love—and of pain.

Once upon a time in Egypt, innumerable sons died as casualties of a dispute of which many were not even conscious. Whether or not you believe the historicity of that account and whatever you think of the innocence of the slain Egyptians, you can appreciate the lesson of God extracting deliverance and eventual renaissance from a confounding level of suffering. Adam and Eve suffered to know morality. Cain suffered to found the first city mentioned in Scripture. The Egyptians suffered to be rid of an institution of slavery. The Israelites suffered to found a kingdom. Christ suffered to establish the foundation of an eternal kingdom in the souls and works of mortal men.

Nearly every great miracle mentioned in Scripture, from the burning bush to the parted sea to the birth of Isaac to the strength of Samson to the Scriptural wisdom of David and Solomon to the virgin birth to the conversion of Saul to the Resurrection of Christ and the redeemed fallen, brought with it a tale of suffering—that virtue might effloresce from the toils of winnowing away or overcoming the flaws in our hearts and understanding.

I know many of you readers are not (yet?) believers, but there are Truths in the Word that are accessible to anyone. When you break bread tonight—whether in Seder, Holy Communion, or simply in nourishing your body to keep it running—reflect on what has been sacrificed and that which was lost that you might enjoy what joys you have, even as you doubtlessly yearn for more. And you should yearn for more, as there is always more we could do to embody the transcendent love of God in this world for the brothers and sisters we keep.

For those who do believe:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” –Matthew 16:24-27

May you all have a blessed Good Friday. Happy Easter and Pesach Sameach.


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A Faith in Rainbows

“There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.” –Homer

Said Hector to Achilles—& a lot of Greeks and Trojans to a lot of other Greeks and Trojans (c.f. The Oresteia).

In a way, the culture war (or what’s left of it) over recent state permutations of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) is the latest instantiation of America’s ever rising sociopolitical polarization. A cursory look at the divergent media coverage shows the predictable degree to which some partisans of either side dismiss the rhetoric of their opponents as symptoms of debilitating paramnesia. Liberals think the most recent incarnation of RFRA in several red states is carefully tailored to allow discrimination. RFRA’s defenders counter that the altered provisions in Indiana would not trump anti-discrimination laws, as such a thing has never happened.

As in many things, it seems people of different views are increasingly living in different worlds.

Yet it seems we are crashing upon the last shores of the tide of gay rights in America. After all, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited his son’s opposition in deciding to renounce support for an Indiana-style RFRA bill in Mike Huckabee’s old stomping grounds—and the red-state Republican even went so far as to openly ponder signing an anti-discrimination order for state workers.

Among Republican presidential hopefuls’ varying levels of support for the new RFRA’s stated intentions, I was most encouraged to see my home-state Senator Marco Rubio explicitly affirming the mainstream view in favor of anti-discrimination laws for gay people while supporting religious liberty. Refreshingly, Rubio’s statement follows naturally from his prior acknowledgement, in a speech at Catholic University, that federal and local governments once required anti-gay discrimination under color of law of. In this way, his statements are probably the closest to the truth of things of any candidate on either side of the aisle.

As the Indianapolis Star (which endorsed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s 2012 election) prominently argued, our laws can protect both LGBT and religious people (an overlapping set) with versions of RFRA that explicitly complement anti-discrimination laws. Such harmony exists already in several states, including the bastion of cultural conservatism that is Utah—a state so dominated by Mormonism that it mandates beer be watered down and cocktails be prepared behind “curtains” of modesty lest righteous teetotalers be tempted through sinful spirits.

Like many gay rights proponents from left to far right, my friend Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans (and a Christian), expressed skepticism that Pence and the Indiana legislature will avoid substantive gay rights measures and aggravate all sides with half-measures. Other friends, like guest poster Lyman Stone, share an opposite concern with several other religious conservatives and sympathetic voices: that the Left’s abnegation of the original federal RFRA indicates gay rights activists will never allow, as Ross Douthat puts it, religious opponents of same-sex marriage to negotiate amicable terms of surrender in the late unpleasantness.

Said Achilles before vengeance: There can be no covenants between men and lions.

So let’s be blunt: the culture war is, on some level, about sociopolitical annihilation—that is, there are views that some folks earnestly believe ought to be expelled from the aegis of civil society.

For those familiar with the history of anti-gay discrimination, including the government-mandated homophobia of the 1950s Lavender Scare and the later ballot-box malignance of Anita Bryant and the Family Research Council, modern protests aimed at the cultural extirpation of the old adversary—homophobia—that was intolerable when it was powerful and is now deemed pitiful—but not pitiable—when it is weak, may seem just, perhaps divinely so.

But today’s religious dissidents to same-sex marriage are not the crusading bigots of yesteryear—as exemplified by the contemplative nuance of Rubio—and it seems unlikely that such entrenched bigotry will ever reign again.

Whatever one thinks of neo-RFRA proponents’ true intentions, Gov. Pence is manifestly on point in arguing that religious freedom laws have provided substantial legal protections to people, often of religious minorities, facing impositions on their faith that have nothing to do with gay rights. Repealing federal and state versions of RFRA outright, as many liberals have advocated since Hobby Lobby, would undercut those laws’ substantive protections for imprisoned Muslims, Amerindian kindergarteners in Texas, Indiana’s newly state-approved Church of Cannabis (because politics makes strange bong-fellows), and so many others.

RFRA opponents content to dismiss, while high on schadenfreude, religious freedom concerns in order to ruin perceived bigots should reckon with the collateral damage of that Shermanesque march to the fiery shores of “progress.” This may not be the intention—funny how word keeps coming up—of most anti-RFRA activists, but it is the reality all the same. As even Matt Yglesias of Vox, of all people in all media, pointedly acknowledged (backhandedly, of course), there is more validity than many liberals would rather admit to social conservative fears of a slippery slope beyond their disintegrating trenches in the culture wars. This is especially true when one considers the breathless hypocrisy of “pro-gay” liberals who, say, boycott Indiana and then jet off to Cuba.

None of this is to say that conservatives shouldn’t perhaps be more empathetic to RFRA skeptics who are unwilling to trust the rhetoric and legislative priorities of people they believe to harbor what could be most charitably described as sanguine indifference (and less charitably as outright hostility) to LGBT rights, especially given the aforementioned history of anti-gay vitriol from the government to the pulpit. After all, this sort of skepticism—which extrapolates likely consequences of ambiguous laws from perceived motivations of the most zealous supporters—inclines RFRA skeptics to infer anti-gay maneuvering from people opposed to gay rights for the same genre of reasons that gun rights advocates recognize (correctly) a Trojan horse in many a liberal proposal for “common sense” gun control.

In such cases, opponents of controversial reform (gun control, RFRA, etc.) do not trust that the reformers are dealing honestly when claiming a new law would not do (erode gun rights, allow/foment discrimination against gay couples, etc.) what opponents strongly suspect the reformers wish to do (ban guns, undercut gay rights, etc.).

To some extent in some quarters, this divide will not be bridged. For other situations, pairing robust RFRA protections with LGBT anti-discrimination provisions will be a vital way to convey good will where none is currently inferred. Such a harmony will not satisfy everybody. If that means gay rights opponents will have to withstand liberal opprobrium or religious freedom advocates will have to overcome some religious hostility to gays, so be it. An enduring union of those who seek tolerance and comity it should rally the better angels of the majority of Americans who want to do right by their neighbors.

Or so we can hope.


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Guest Post: How Will Life Go On After RFRA?

The following is guest post from my friend Lyman Stone. The views expressed are solely Lyman’s own, and do not reflect his employer, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. If you, dear reader, are interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.” –Ross Douthat

By Lyman Stone

But can the "straight" fountain donate blood to the Red Cross if it's been used in the last year?

The “gay” fountain loves show tunes and can’t donate water to the Red Cross.

As I know Rek’s usual readership keeps up with the news, I’ll skip the summary of events surrounding Indiana’s RFRA (and now potentially Arkansas’ as well) as well as any argument as to what the RFRA actually implies for life in Indiana. These may be interesting questions, but the reader is doubtless as well equipped to answer those questions as I. Rather, Rek asked me to write a guest post in response to a line of speculation I advanced: What happens next? So we’ve got some RFRAs with allegedly new, unique, and uncertain provisions that LGBT activists believe are intended to enable discriminatory treatment. There’s a boycott movement against Indiana with, apparently, some real teeth to it. Governor Pence of Indiana has promised to offer “clarification,” while Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has suggested he wants the bill before him revised to look more like the Federal RFRA. On face value, it looks like LGBT activists may be able to chalk up a win. But there are some unresolved questions here.

Let’s say that the Indiana RFRA is clarified in such a way as to offer protections of LGBT individuals. Indiana does not currently afford such protections, thus such a change would be momentous. Would LGBT activists then go on to other “red” states, crusading for the passage of gay-friendly RFRAs?

The key argument against Indiana’s RFRA is not that it will actually create discrimination, or even legalize discrimination: it’s already legal in Indiana to discriminate against gay people. The argument is that Indiana’s RFRA shows bad intentions; that Hoosier legislators are haters, and haters should be punished by society on the whole. The argument isn’t about policy details, which is why all the explanations about past RFRA usage and compelling interests, etc, aren’t going to change any minds. If you press those most vocally for or against Indiana’s RFRA, it becomes clear that neither side even knows what effect the RFRA will have. Those shouting loudest on this issue tend to support or oppose RFRA primarily as a way of showing solidarity as allies and striking a blow for, respectively, religious liberty or gay rights.

I say striking a blow for a reason: the fight isn’t about what either side is for, but about what, and especially who, they are against. Or, at least, from the perspective of a liberty-minded social conservative like myself, that’s what it looks like.

It does not have to be this way. Either side could outflank the other handily enough. If RFRA advocates paired Indiana-style RFRA bills with non-discrimination provisions and beefed-up free speech and expression rules, they might not win the LGBT activist base, but they could neuter the most effective criticisms, address the areas that create the biggest concern for conservatives, and provide enough “wins” for supporters of civil liberties to credibly show that “No Gays Allowed” signs are neither the goal or consequence of religious freedom advocacy. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates get non-discrimination laws making LGBT-identifying individuals a protected class attached to a similarly robust RFRA (perhaps in a blue or purple state), they could capture much of the base of support for RFRAs among moderate social conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, worry about religious liberty issues.

If neither side tries such tactics (yes, LGBT advocates have tried to attach non-discrimination laws to RFRAs in red states, but mainly by using language that amounted to poison pills, because the goal was to kill RFRA—discrimination protections or not), then, paradoxically, both sides will probably prove their worst impressions of each other. If conservatives won’t introduce any kind of “clarification” or “fix” aimed at preventing a future of segregation by sexuality, the LGBT community will have ample cause to view conservative-backed RFRAs as Trojan horses, within which lies the promise of entrenched discrimination. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates persistently degrade and demean efforts to protect religious liberty—and respond to such proposals with concerted efforts to drive up unemployment with boycotts that broadly hurt even those with no connection to the laws in question—then conservatives will be entirely justified in calling for more, and more robust, RFRAs. Spitefulness begets spitefulness.

The RFRA in Arkansas did not move through the legislature despite the Indiana boycott, but because of it. LGBT advocates should not be shocked if other states respond to “boycott Indiana” by adopting new RFRAs as well. Watching Indiana be pilloried, punished, and shamed for providing what, to many conservatives, seem like pretty anodyne protections for religious liberty might dissuade other conservatives from taking up the cause, as LGBT advocates hope. Or, and I find this rather more likely, it may lead to religious folk having a deepened sense of isolation and a heightened concern for their own apparently-besieged liberty, and thus pressing harder for RFRAs.

I see this even in my own experience: when the Arizona RFRA was debated, I was extremely skeptical of the idea, and argued against many of my fellow conservatives who believed it was a necessary and good law. But watching the treatment of religiously motivated conservatives in Indiana has altered my frame of reference. The LGBT community seems far more vindictive and far less open to compromise on this issue than I would have expected. Innocent Hoosiers, whose state has languished through Rust Belt decline for decades, are going to suffer so that activists nationwide can make a statement about a law that nobody actually understands and will probably have very little effect anyway.

My goal here is not to try to convince others to adopt a given policy position. Rather, I hope to offer an insight, however speculative, into the worsening future that social conservative activists and gay activists are creating together with alarming speed.

So for me, a pretty deep-red and quite religious social conservative with far too many gay friends and loved ones to write off their experiences, the question is: will either side actually show an interest in governing a diverse society?

I hope so.