People don’t even say Culture War anymore; they just say gay marriage. Progressives immediately tune out the discussion, while a whole other segment of the population feel their ears prick up. These are the people who followed the Terri Schiavo case for years, long before you or I knew there was such a person.
But the truth is, the Culture War is not about gay marriage. Marriage movement leader Bryce Christensen of Southern Utah University, as quoted in The Nation, July 18-25:
If those [anti-gay-marriage] initiatives are part of a broader effort to reaffirm lifetime fidelity in marriage, they’re worthwhile. If they’re isolated—if we don’t address cohabitation and casual divorce and deliberate childlessness -- then I think they’re futile and will be brushed aside.
Notice that Christensen is talking about lifetime marital fidelity, cohabitation, and “deliberate childlessness” in the context of legislative initiatives. These initiatives, part of a coherent rightwing “marriage movement,” are not far off in the future; they’re happening here and now.
Lifetime fidelity in marriage: Social conservatives in Georgia and other southern states with high divorce rates are working right now to repeal no-fault divorce. With the repeal of no-fault, questions of adultery will once again be set before judges to decide, with all the familial anguish attendant on that. That’s one way to bring the divorce rate down. Just clamp a lid on it. This foments exactly the feelings of impotent anger, fear, and distress that the rightwing has been so very adept at channeling and manipulating.
Cohabitation: this is actually part of the anti-gay-marriage amendments that passed so easily and overwhelmingly during the last election. These amendments, while they were almost universally presented as purely symbolic, are now being used to “revoke out-of-state and second-parent adoptions for gays and straights alike; invalidate next-of-kin arrangements, including those involving life-and-death decisions; and imperil joint home-ownership arrangements between unmarried people.” In other words, all forms of unwed cohabitation arrangements are being subjected to a scorched earth policy. In the United States today, that’s an awful lot of people, both gay and straight. This could conceivably hit a lot of people right in the mortgage, where it’s hard to ignore, in doubled and tripled health insurance bills, in their ability to keep their kids.
Deliberate childlessness: The House Small Business Committee recently took up the pressing issue of pharmacists’ right to refuse to dispense birth control pills, as a matter of conscience. Marilyn Mugrave, Republican, CO, dismissed the notion that anyone has a “right” to have their birth control prescription automatically filled. Steve King (R-IA) weighed in the balance the needs of a woman who needs EC within a certain number of hours in order to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, on the one hand, and the deep pangs of conscience of the pro-life pharmacist, on the other, and found that it’s just a “minor inconvenience” for her, but it’s a REALLY big deal for him.
As with Terri Schiavo, your personal life decisions are of intensely religious value to these people, the ones who voted for “moral values.”
This type of “conscience” legislation is spreading from state to state. Michigan, for example, recently passed a so-called “conscientious objector” bill that would allow health care providers to refuse to treat anyone they find morally objectionable. While this is obviously directed at gay people and HIV/AIDS, its broad wording could well include dispensing birth control to unmarried people -- or even married people.
Gay marriage is merely the Trojan Horse for this radical rightwing attempt to turn back the clock on a hundred years of increasing social equality. The Culture War is nothing less than an attempt at coercive social engineering on a grand scale.
The coercive aspect cannot be overstated. Take for example, the problem of high divorce rates. Many blue states, including Massachusetts, have low divorce rates, while many red states, including Texas, have high rates. The main statistical predictor of divorce is lack of education among females. Female high school dropouts are over three times more likely to be divorced after ten years than women with graduate degrees.
If we understand that these high school dropouts are probably, for the most part, teenage girls who’ve gotten pregnant and quit school, we see that Bible-based policies restricting sex education and access to contraception lead directly to increased female inequality, in the form of higher drop-out rates for girls. This leads to higher relative divorce rates in red states, which are then used to justify even more repressive social legislation, such as efforts to repeal no-fault divorce. A beautiful Rove feedback loop. A self-licking ice cream cone.
Although this radical rightwing agenda has its roots in one narrow interpretation of religion, it has broad popular appeal for those who favor “traditional” -- i.e., unequal -- power relationships between the sexes and within families. This inequality is justified by references to nature and the natural order, as well as to the Bible. The implicit argument that anatomy is destiny also just happens to justify the indefinite continuation of entrenched male privilege. And not only within the family.
The economic dimension of the inequality enshrined in Culture War social policies creates a double-barreled action that keeps the GOP from fragmenting and their attack machine functioning through thick and thin. What doesn’t appeal on moral grounds, appeals on monetary grounds.
Duggan and Kim on the larger economic usefulness of inequality:
The net effect of the neoliberal economic policies imposed in recent decades has been to push economic and social responsibility away from employers and government and onto private households. The stress on households is intensifying, as people try to do more with less. Care for children and the elderly, for the ill and disabled, has been shifted toward unpaid women at home or to low-paid, privately employed female domestic workers....[emphasis mine]
Bible-based inequality within families extends to children, as well. Here we can see, in its purest form, the fundamentalists’ absolute indifference to the facts of nature when they conflict with articles of faith, as with the insistence on abstinence as the only proper form of sex education. Fundamentalist parents’ expectations with respect to their children, especially gay children, can be brutal.
Last week some tormented soul in Tampa, Florida beat his three-year-old son to death, because he believed the boy might grow up to be gay and so needed to be “toughened up.” In all fairness, James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, says that there is no excuse for corporal punishment on children under eighteen months of age, because they can’t tell the difference from right and wrong at that point. Once they can, however, a great deal of responsibility is transferred onto the child.
Then there’s the case of Zach, 16, from Tennessee. He’s been chronicling the process of coming out to his parents on his web page. When he told them he was gay, he noted, with the dryness that is so characteristic of my people, “This didn’t go over very well.” Mention was made of “rais[ing] him wrong.” Uh oh. The next thing Zach knows he’s at a re-programming camp. Therapies to change sexual orientation were discredited many years ago by the mental health profession, but if the Bush administration can deny that fossil fuels are contributing to global warming, gay re-programming is small potatoes.
More importantly, to fundamentalists everything is a matter of will and faith. Facts, the way things are, simply do not matter. If you’re gay, you don’t measure up and you’ll just have to try harder, like it or not.
Zach: “If I do come out straight, I’ll be so mentally unstable and depressed it won’t matter.” Obviously it already doesn’t matter to Zach’s parents. Happiness is not a big priority with religious fundamentalists.
In the rightwing view, obedience is the cardinal virtue for a child to have.Take an interesting case that involved John Roberts, Bush’s pick for the Supreme Court. As one of three judges on an appellate court bench, Roberts wrote a ruling supporting police who arrested, handcuffed, and briefly jailed a twelve-year-old girl in a Washington, D.C. subway station for eating a single French fry. The case revolved around the question of whether it is constitutional to treat children more harshly than adults. Roberts held that unequal treatment was justified because the state has an interest in promoting the behavior of children.
I’d be very interested to know exactly what behavior Roberts thought was being “promoted” in this little girl -- beyond a (hopefully paralyzing) fear of authority.
The one thing that both halves of the Republican attack machine possess in common is an unshakeable belief in inequality. For the religious, that means God’s hierarchy, rigidly enforced. For the moneyed, call it concentration of wealth and power in the hands of those who are entitled to take control. This is a powerful link, and our lack of such a powerfully held connective belief is what makes us weak compared to them. When the Democratic Party became the party of pragmatism, we lost the depth of commitment that is necessary to win a war.
Let me just quote from the speech given by the Socialist Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero:
Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty. . . .
Today we demonstrate with this bill that societies can better themselves and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the unhappiness and humiliation of some of our citizens. Today for many of our countrymen, comes the day predicted by Kavafis the great Greek gay poet, one century ago: “Later ‘twas said of the most perfect society/someone else, made like me/certainly will come out and act freely.”
It is certainly true that marriage has an iconic significance in this society. The rightwing is very good at manipulating symbols like marriage and the flag, confining and colonizing the popular imagination. But gay people have a deep cultural identity as well: we represent a little thing called freedom.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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