Christian Agonistes

By Ann Rostow

Last week, as you no doubt witnessed, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the law that would have allowed business owners to refuse gay clients based on religious freedom. Jan Brewer is not exactly liberal. But from the moment the bill passed the legislature and landed on her desk, she found herself in the middle of a firestorm of near universal condemnation. I’m guessing the scariest moment was when the NFL indicated they might pull the Super Bowl rather than do business in a state that protects overt discrimination by statute.

Quite frankly, I was surprised. The week before the Arizona veto, we saw the conservative head of the Kansas senate kill a similar measure, explaining it went too far even for her GOP majority. That was nice, but I still assumed that these bills were going to run through the rest of Red America’s state legislatures like sharp knives through rare filet mignon. I assumed that the antigay right had settled on an official counterattack to our marriage victories in federal court: cast themselves as the victims of religious oppression and pass a succession of antigay state laws in response.

Now it seems as if the tactic has been defeated before it can get underway. Yes, some of these bills are still pending. Mississippi has something going. And maybe Missouri. But other legislatures dropped their efforts once they saw the threat to Arizona’s image and economy. And, like me,
the antigay right has been caught off guard.

Commentators like George Will, Rich Lowry and Ross Douthat are now urging the gay community to show a little fair play. It’s not neighborly to insist on service from a well-meaning Christian, Will suggested.

If a gay couple is turned away at the door, wrote Lowry, the market has a ready solution: There are other bakers, photographers and florists. The wedding business is not exactly bristling with hostility to gay people. If one baker won’t make a cake for gay weddings, the baker across town can hang a shingle welcoming all couples for all types of weddings.

“This is how a pluralistic society would handle such disputes. Instead, in the cases mentioned above, the gay couples reported the businesses to the authorities for punishment.”

As for Douthat, his recent New York Times op-ed acknowledged that marriage equality was a fait accompli. And when it happens, then what, he wondered? Will gay activists settle down, enjoy their victory and learn to respect those with different opinions? Or will they push their success to the limit and rudely force the whole country to, um, sell them cakes and flowers? (I paraphrase.)

Sadly for Douthat, it looks as if the mean gays don’t know when to stop. The “religious freedom” bill in Arizona and others like them, he explains, are actually a “way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender—to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent.

“But now,” he continues with patronizing dismay, “apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.”

In fact, the official line is that discrimination against gay men and women is wrong. It’s wrong in marriage, in business, in employment, in housing, wherever. It’s never been negotiable. To oppose a measure
that deliberately authorizes antigay bias is not unsportsmanlike or un-neighborly.

As for the marketplace in our pluralistic society, it will self-select for bias all by itself, without any help from state legislatures. It’s likely that most gay couples will seek out friendly businesses for their wedding services, through advertising or referrals or just through instinct. I suppose there can never be a statute against giving grudging or rude service to a customer you don’t like. So Christians will always have that option, and I assume most gay clients would respond by turning to a welcoming shingle as Lowry suggests. But they’ll do it by choice rather than force of law.

My question is this? What will the far right do now? Are they out of strategies? Can they do nothing more than whine about “fairness” and accuse us of running up the score when we’re up seven with three minutes left? We will see.

And finally, we’re not just talking about bakers and dress shops. Last year, two Oregon lesbians were kicked out of their cab at night on the side of the interstate by a driver who disapproved of them on religious grounds. A state agency has just determined that the driver violated state law in the process, and a civil rights case will go forward against him. So, Mr. Lowry? It’s one thing to move on to the bakery down the street with the rainbow sticker in the window. It’s quite another to find a taxi at one in the morning on IH-84.

By the way, the women had been out carousing at a “vegan strip club.” Only in Portland.

Marry Go Round

Most of the news this week, as usual, revolves around our many marriage cases. We had another federal marriage victory, this time in Texas of all places. Friend of the court briefs were filed by some of our GOP allies in the Tenth Circuit. The Attorney General of Kentucky declined to defend the anti-marriage law in the Bourbon State, although the governor will find some other legal team to represent the defense. Various counties in Illinois are allowing marriages even though the state marriage equality law doesn’t go into effect until this summer.

Lambda and the ACLU are trying to join the appeal of our marriage victory in Virginia, since they have a parallel case on track in the Lover’s State. David Boies and Ted Olson are urging the Fourth Circuit to deny this request. Sound familiar? Yes, Olson and Boies are the same advocates who are trying to join the appeal in the Tenth Circuit.

And the beat goes on. If you think marriage dominates the news right now, just wait for this summer and fall when the federal appellate rulings start to drop.

Are The Kids OK?

In Michigan, our fight for marriage looks a little different. Earlier, the federal judge in this case ordered a Prop 8-style trial in lieu of ruling as a matter of law and I think we’re on Day Six as I write. One of the witnesses is Mark Regenerus, author of the discredited paper on the children of gay parents. The University of Texas sociologist studied families in which one parent came out of the closet and determined that the kids from these broken homes fared poorly in comparison to intact families of heterosexual couples.

I can’t remember exactly how the Regenerus research was structured, but it was something like that. But what bugs me is not the bad science; it’s the very idea that marriage rights should stand or fall based on society’s view of who makes a good parent. I know I’ve hashed over this topic in the past, but it annoys me that people on both sides continue to fight over a red herring.

You know, two of the Supreme Court’s major rulings on marriage involved demonstrably bad parents. In one, the justices ruled that a state could not deny the right to marry to men who were delinquent on child support from a previous union. In another, they ruled that incarcerated felons had the right to marry, even
if the marriage could not be consummated.

I don’t need a sociology study to tell me that children of deadbeat dads and convicts are worse off than most. And indeed, as I’ve written before, we could argue that millionaire parents or highly educated parents have better outcomes than their poorer or less schooled peers. But just what does this have to do with the right to marry? Why are we putting gay parents to a test that does not apply to any other couple? And why are we, the gay community, trying to pass the test rather than challenge its premise?

Just sayin’. For the twentieth time. You readers are very patient.

Jack’s Wild

I’m certain I have skipped over a number of other marriage news bits, but enough is enough, do you not agree? Let’s just ramble.

It was nice to see Jason Collins get a contract, albeit a short term one, the other day. Too bad he signed with the Nets a few hours after I submitted a column observing that pro teams have little interest in the thirty-something gay journeyman hoopster. I hate that. And yes, it’s all about me.

I guess Disney has decided to sever its ties with the Boy Scouts, since the Scouts refuse to lift their ban on gay scoutmasters. Gay scouts are now okay, but adult men remain barred. Two questions: Why do the scouts keep hanging onto the notion that a gay troop leader is likely a pedophile? And second, if they really believe gay men are sexual predators, why did they go ahead and lift the ban on scouts? They don’t trust a gay man in his 20s or 30s, but a 15 or 16-year-old gay kid is just fine? It doesn’t compute.

And did you read about the Washington lobbyist, Jack Burkman, who said he would draft legislation to ban gay players from the NFL? Burkman, who also used to work for nasty New York pol Rick Lazio, later said he meant only to ban gay men from the communal showers, and later still, he said the whole thing was a joke. Meanwhile, quite a few of his clients are distancing themselves from this K Street creep, and his gay brother, Dr. James Burkman of Seattle, said something ironic about how gay it is for Jack to “stick his head up his ass.”

I was trying to find the exact quote (see more info on the National News Map, page 2) but my computer is having a meltdown that would put a fussy toddler to shame. In the course of my frustrating excursion through cyber-chaos, I stumbled upon an ad for burial insurance, which reminds me of something. Have you seen the TV commercial where Dad has fallen off the ladder and all the kids have rushed to meet Mom in the hospital waiting room? Dad comes out looking goofy and apologetic with his arm in a sling, and the next thing you know, all the kids are convincing Mom to buy end-of-life insurance to cover funeral costs. They even volunteer to make the call together and fill out the paperwork. Cheap little bastards!

Seriously. It would be one thing if the kids recommended more medical insurance in case crazy old Dad takes on another one of his dangerous home improvement projects. But burial insurance isn’t something you suggest to your parents. It doesn’t benefit them. It benefits you.

Majority Rule!

Finally, let’s talk about polls. You know, of course, that approval of same-sex marriage has steadily increased over the last ten years or so. But did you realize that our poll numbers have surged in the last two years? Did you realize that the most recent survey shows almost 60 percent of Americans now support marriage equality?

I guess I hadn’t realized that we gained maybe ten or fifteen points in a relatively short time. But the interesting thing is that conservatives still don’t seem to know that they are now in the minority.  According to study by the Public Religion Research Institute, roughly 80 percent of marriage opponents believe that most Americans oppose marriage right along with them. No wonder they’re so surprised by the legal and political developments in the world around them.

Granted, things have changed quickly. Indeed, only 57 percent of strong gay marriage supporters know their views are widely shared, and only 34 percent of all Americans correctly state that a majority favors marriage equality. But I don’t think it will be a secret much longer. That is, unless you’re the sort of person who watches nothing but Fox News and reads nothing but George Will and Rich Lowry.

arostow@aol.com