Token Dissonance

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

Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

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.