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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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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The Silence of the Elephants

“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” – Job 38:11

Is it still a majority if most folks disagree?

“I value your votes and vote your values. What more is there to say?”

Sometime last month, I was at a party full of energetic young conservatives from various parts of the country. The topic of the recent government shutdown arose. Everybody agreed that Obamacare is a nightmare and that the general public would soon come to see that liberal pipe-dream-big-government reforms are dark and full of terrors. But as the government was, at the moment, shut down, we all felt obliged to comment on that particular tactic.

In order to avoid a tedious dispute over the merits (or lack thereof) of either side—and to resist the enduring conflation of anecdotes with data—I will elide the conclusions we reached in favor of a simpler observation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke for nigh a full day to make his grand stand against the Democrats’ not-so-affordable-or-caring reform. In the process, he was joined or supported by many Republicans eager to signal their willingness to die on the hill of opposition to a bad law before God and man.

I point this out not because I mean to argue whether Cruz and his supporters accomplished anything substantial in all those 21 hours. I point it out only to compare it to Ted Cruz’s words on the Senate floor on Monday defending his opposition to a bill that would outlaw discrimination against LGBT Americans.

He said nothing.

It is remarkable to think that not even a decade ago, a bipartisan coalition opposed gay rights loudly and often in an era where prohibitions on gay unions were passed from Oregon to Virginia. Today, however, Ken Cuccinelli seems poised to lose a winnable election in a swing state with a marriage ban primarily because of his extremist reputation on “social issues” (including an inconveniently relevant attempt to eliminate LGBT employment protections at Virginia universities). And yesterday, not one of 30 Republicans who voted against cloture used floor time to speak against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate.

Ted Cruz said nothing. Mike Lee said nothing. Marco Rubio said nothing. Jeff Sessions said nothing.

This isn’t to say that no Republicans spoke on the matter. To the contrary, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois gave his first floor speech in the two years since his stroke to urge support for the bill. He was joined in his affirmation by other Republicans including moderate Susan Collins, staunch red-state conservative Orrin Hatch, and Tea Party favorites Kelly Ayotte and Pat Toomey (former president of the notoriously primary-challenging Club for Growth)—none of whom, for what it’s worth, have expressed support for gay marriage.

Contrast this to the House, where Speaker Boehner joined his peculiarly silent Senate colleagues by announcing his opposition to ENDA through a spokesman. While the Ohioan did not step in front of a camera to explain why the law doesn’t deserve a vote, he did take pains to lie about whether current federal law already protects an American worker from being fired for being gay, as many people think it does. (It does not.)

If one weren’t careful, one might think there was no argument to be made as to why LGBT Americans should be subject to unjust discrimination.

Of course, there are plenty of actors willing to say a great deal about why ENDA is supposedly bad law. Some are sensible. Others, less so. And I suspect at least a few Senate opponents will find their tongues, if only for a moment, before the final votes are cast. The duo from Kentucky is even offering an amendment to attach right-to-work protections to the bill. Imagine that: with the passage of a single law, American workers could be free from unjust discrimination for being who they are or for refusing union coercion. (While I do dare to dream, I won’t hold my breath on that one.) But whether or not Boehner eventually yields to a position favored by a majority of voters in every state, it is time to take stock of how the tides have broadly shifted on social politics.

If any prominent elected official is willing to make a fiery denunciation of anti-discrimination protections for our neighbors and loved ones, let them do so openly and proudly. If there are sound objections to be heard, let us hear them in both chambers, and allow the American people to reach their conclusions. Opponents of gay rights will certainly find some wizened applause in certain quarters. Those understandably leery of anti-discrimination laws more broadly will have to weigh the options and effects. But whatever happens, allies of gay Americans may at least take some solace in watching how the remnant of anti-gay politics whimpers into a resentful and weakening crouch as a new generation of conservatives moves on to modern challenges worthy of our energy and effort.

The era of anti-gay political dominance—or even parity—in the national scene is over. The silence on the floor of the ENDA opposition merely shows that, finally, everybody knows it.


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Dispatches from Dixie: La Vota Diversa

On the eve of the Olympics and conventions there is rampant speculation about the tight-lipped Republican veepstakes. Like most people outside the Romney High Command, I haven’t the foggiest. But there’s one point I must stress to the Marco Rubio camp: he won’t win over the Latino vote.

What do you mean I can’t speak for all Hispanic voters in America?

First, many people happily vote across ethnic lines. Michael Steele lost the black vote in his Senate race in Maryland, as Alan Keyes did before him. In Tennessee, Rep. Steve Cohen—white and Jewish—easily overcame well-financed and well-connected black, Christian opponents three times to date in a Democratic district that is overwhelmingly black and Christian. Moreover, Gene Green (white), Maxine Waters (black), and Jody Chu (Asian) are immensely successful in predominantly Hispanic districts.

In 2008, I opposed then-Sen. Obama precisely because I thought him an inferior candidate. (And he has done a remarkable job governing down to my expectations.) While a lot of folks (mostly Democrats) were openly baffled by this, I knew many black people who felt the same and campaigned accordingly. Indeed, Obama was losing black voters to Hillary Clinton until he started getting national traction after his Iowa victory.

Put simply, most voters care about much more than race or ethnicity.

Secondly, Hispanics are not monolithic. Distinct from the Southwest, many Florida Latinos are Cuban (like Rubio) or Puerto Rican, and both groups are, by definition, in the U.S. legally. Not coincidentally, only in Florida—where political concerns branch far beyond immigration—do Hispanics tend to vote Republican.

If Mitt Romney wants to win over Hispanic voters nationally, he needs more than a young, charismatic freshman Senator on the ticket. (The electorate is probably leery enough of those by now.) Without pandering—nobody likes condescension—he must persuade Hispanic businessmen, teachers, blue-collar workers, professionals, and young people that his governing agenda will work for them. This will be difficult to do without addressing the issue in which many Hispanics—even in Florida—are disproportionately invested: immigration reform.

Rep. David Rivera, another Florida Republican, was well aware of this reality when he proposed his conservative alternative to the Dream Act ahead of Rubio’s version. Previously, George W. Bush likewise made resolving immigration issues central to his Hispanic outreach. Governor Bush won 40% of Hispanic voters in Texas in 1998; President Bush won a comparable proportion across America in 2004.

For now, President Obama has a staggering lead among Hispanics and a popular new immigration policy to boot. But the race is still the Republicans’ to lose. It’ll be up to Governor Romney to change the narrative.