Jonathan Rauch, who’s a smart guy, wrote something decidedly un-smart about gay marriage the other day. (My title is a play on his title.)
Rauch was writing about the (apparently ongoing for some people) brouhaha surrounding Mozilla’s then-new CEO, Brendan Eich, who had donated $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign in California in 2008.
Prop 8 was the successful state constitutional amendment that repealed the civil right to marriage for gay couples in California, and Prop 8 was intended to dissolve 18,000 already-performed legal marriages of gay couples. Prop 8 was a uniquely vicious beast.
Gay conservatives joined other Republicans in expressing their outrage over the fact that Eich resigned after open rebellion from Mozilla’s own staff, and board of directors (half the board resigned in protest). It was a violation of Eich’s “freedom of speech,” we were told to judge his workplace performance by his private speech or actions.
No such outrage spewed forth from conservatives, gay or otherwise, when rancher/squatter Cliven Bundy was attacked for his “free speech” about “the negro,” when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly told his girlfriend he didn’t want her bringing African-American guests to his basketball games, or when RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal was fired following a domestic violence conviction (and while domestic violence isn’t free speech, it is private action that has little to do with running a high-tech company).
Now don’t get me wrong, I think in all of the above cases, employees, potential customers, and the public at large should be concerned. By Brendan Eich’s defenders don’t. They think that what you do in private has nothing to do with your job running a company. Yet their ire was muted when the victims of the CEOs were other than gay.
But what’s really troubling about Rauch’s latest piece is how most of the arguments could have been written by a religious right bigot. Rauch’s overriding tenet is that it’s wrong to compare the battle for marriage equality (gay marriage) to the fight to strike down miscegenation laws that banned blacks and whites from intermarrying. Here’s why you shouldn’t compare the two, according to Rauch:
1. Marriage has always been gendered.
Rauch argues that gays are pushing the envelope further than inter-racial marriage advocates ever did, because at least marriage was already opposite sex, whereas gays want to make it same-sex:
Assuredly, racist norms have been imposed upon marriage in many times and places, but as an extraneous limitation. Everyone understood that people of different races could intermarry, in principle. Indeed, that was exactly why racists wanted to stop it, much as they wanted to stop the mixing of races in schools. In both intent and application, the anti-miscegenation laws were about race, not marriage.
An extraneous limitation? Everyone understood that people of different races “could intermarry”? Where did he grow up? When I grew up in Chicago in the 1960s, society at large made it pretty clear to me that I absolutely should not grow up to marry someone black (or Jewish for that matter), and the admonition wasn’t a simple cultural asterisk. For many, racism was (is) based on the notion that black people are genetically inferior, they are sub- human beings. In the same way Jews have historically been slurred as long-nosed, horned, and blood-sucking. And gays were slammed as diseased pedophiles.
So, no, you couldn’t racially intermarry in many parts of America any more than you could marry your dog. And I think you’d have been hard pressed to find a white racist who felt better about his daughter marrying a black guy than a white woman. You’d have been disowned either way.
2. Religion, unlike racism, is constitutionally protected, and opposition to gay marriage has deep religious roots.
Rauch argues that racism doesn’t have deeply religious roots, but opposition to gays does:
The anti-gay “clobber texts” in the Bible, though overemphasized by homophobes, are really there.
Yes, and racism has deep religious roots as well. In fact, the story of Noah was used to justify racism against Africans.
Oh, but there’s more. Via Pastor Henry Brinton writing at USA Today we learn of a few whopper clobber-texts in the Bible regarding slavery:
In the 1860s, Southern preachers defending slavery also took the Bible literally. They asked who could question the Word of God when it said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). Christians who wanted to preserve slavery had the words of the Bible to back them up.
The preachers of the North had to be more creative, but they, too, argued God was on their side. Some emphasized that the Union had to be preserved so that the advance of liberty around the world would not be slowed or even stopped. One Boston preacher, Gilbert Haven, sermonized, ” If America is lost, the world is lost.”
The argument that racism doesn’t have deeply religious roots, in America at least, is historically wrong.
So how does Rauch distinguish America’s strong religious objection to blacks versus its strong religious objection to gays?
Here again, racism is a different story. The defenders of anti-miscegenation laws in the 1960s claimed to have God on their side, but it was evident that they were distorting and abusing the tenets of their faith, not exercising them.
Evident to whom exactly? It wasn’t evident to some rather devoutly religious people who held slaves for hundreds of years and justified the oppression of their fellow-man using the good book. It’s only “evident” in 2014, and even then you’d probably get some disagreement from some in the south.
Rauch’s final point is a doozy
3. There is no political emergency.
Rauch’s third reason why it’s a different (read: lesser) civil right to be gay:
By the early 1960s, black Americans had experienced two centuries of slavery, another century of Jim Crow, and a Southern campaign of “massive resistance” to all ordinary political steps toward integration. It was painfully clear that ordinary politics was blocked by a regime of systematic violence, intimidation, and corruption. The racists who loosed dogs and fire hoses on children were capable of anything; nothing short of a full-scale national assault on racism could work. We would put troops on the streets if we had to.
Today gay Americans’ situation could not be more different.
Sure, things are different if you’re white, a man, living in NY, SF, LA or DC, have money, aren’t transgender, and a few other “buts” that might change the equation entirely.
And even then, suggesting that even gay white males have (had) it easy is a lie. I’d decided by age 15 or so that I’d kill myself by the time I was 30, as it would by then become obvious that I wasn’t going to marry a woman, and thus must be gay. “Knowing” that family would disown me, and I’d never be able to keep a job once my employer knew the truth, I’d come to the logical conclusion that I’d simply kill myself.
Call me crazy, but that kind of logic sounds like an emergency to me.
Then there’s our government, which was willing to let gay people die not 30 years ago. That was kind of an emergency too.
So while I’m gratified at the progress we’ve had recently, that progress is not universal, it is not enjoyed by every man and woman in our community wherever they live. Not to mention, tell me how easy it is to be openly-gay in the black community, or openly-transgender in America at large.
And putting that aside, what was the “political emergency” necessitating the striking down of miscegenation laws in 1967? If civil rights are simply about stopping violence, then inter-racial marriage wasn’t any more an “emergency” than gay marriage — nor were civil rights dealing with employment or public accommodations.
I’m not writing this as a “Brutus was an honorable man” kind of back-stab to Rauch– he is a good writer and a sharp thinker. But this piece reads like it was written to justify something he simply doesn’t really believe.
Rauch’s final point: Things are going well for us, so don’t compare racism to homophobia.
As was true for women’s rights advocates two generations ago, politics and persuasion are working, and working well.
Yeah, well talk to women’s right advocates today and ask them how well things are going in non-emergency land.
Gay-rights advocates thus do not need or want emergency measures. We need time and voice to finish making our case. There are no dogs or fire hoses in our way. In that respect, the race analogy is not only misleading, it is counterproductive.
Well, there are no dogs or fire hoses standing in the way of African-Americans today either, so are they no longer permitted to invoke the civil rights movement, because “obviously,” without the dogs and hoses, they must have things pretty good now? (And, for the record, we gays might not have had dogs and hoses, but forced lobotomies come to mind, as does a thing we like to call the Holocaust.)
I really bristle at people who pull the race card against us when talking about civil rights. While it’s a fair point to argue that perhaps in some communities comparing racism and homophobia might not be as effective a message point as it would be in other communities. Maybe. And I’m the first to argue that we should use whatever message works best, and ditch whatever doesn’t. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.
I don’t think people are simply saying that this argument doesn’t work as well as others. I fear that some gay people simply think less of us as gay people, and that’s why they think we shouldn’t compare gays and blacks, because they think African-Americans are worthy of the civil rights moniker and we simply are not.
But you know who did like to compare racism and homophobia? Coretta Scott King.