Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gay Rights and Black Rights as Essentially Different: New Neocon Meme

Ali Frick reports today on Alternet re: the “newly popular conservative trope” echoed by Rev. Mike Huckabee, Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, on “The View” (ABC) earlier this week ( As Frick notes, when asked about gay rights, Huckabee stated that gay rights are a different set of rights—that is, a different set from the bona fide civil rights of African Americans.

Huckabee goes on (astonishing move on his part, about which more in a moment) to endorse some civil rights for gay Americans, while setting those rights aside as special rights essentially different from the rights enjoyed by African Americans. Gay rights are different, he argues, because they involve a request to redefine a social institution, the institution of marriage:

People who are homosexuals should have every right in terms of their civil rights, to be employed, to do anything they want. But that’s not really the issue. I know you talked about it and I think you got into it a little bit early on. But when we’re talking about a redefinition of an institution, that’s different than individual civil rights.

When Pat Behar responds that segregation was, after all, also a social institution, one that had to be redefined by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Huckabee responds that there is still an essential difference between gay civil rights and the rights of African Americans. He locates that difference in a violence test: gay Americans have not endured the same levels of violence that African Americans have withstood:

But here is the difference. Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma bridge.

As Frick notes (and as I’ve been predicting on this blog), this hateful gay-vs.-blacks argument is in line to become the new neoconservative meme following the recent elections. Republicans are working fast and furious to reposition themselves as the party advocating for people of color vs. gay Americans, hoping to drive a wedge between the two minority groups and recapture the loyalty of American swing voters in the process.

Frick notes (as I have done) how quickly right-wing Christian Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has jumped on the blacks-vs.-gays bandwagon, maintaining that the rights of the two groups are “totally different.” As has African-American journalist Tara Wall, who maintains in an op-ed piece in the Washington Times on 18 Nov. that “[t]here is no comparison” between the struggle of the two communities for rights, because gay Americans have not endured stoning and lynching, and have always had a seat at the table if they are white (

As Brent Hartinger notes today on, gay bashing is essentially all the Republican party has left, following the recent elections ( Hartinger identifies compelling parallels between the GOP’s rapidly developing cynical strategy of targeting gay citizens to regain heartland voter loyalty, and the Southern Strategy by which the Republican party captured white Southerners from Nixon forward.

As he points out, the Southern Strategy deliberately capitalized on seething discontent among white Southerners as African Americans claimed rights in the 1950s and 1960s. South Carolina political activist Lee Atwater, the primary architect of the Southern Strategy, explicitly notes this as he describes the ongoing strategy used to gain white Southern GOP loyalty:

You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.’ By 1968 you can't say ‘n*gger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff (as cited by Hartinger).

As Hartinger notes, “Just as with the Southern Strategy, the Republicans will be completely disingenuous on the issue.” Completely disingenuous: Hartinger is absolutely correct.

Rev. Huckabee’s argument could not be more disingenuous. It incorporates layer after layer of duplicity. It is designed to mislead. It is designed to distort the real situation in which gay Americans live today. It is cynically fashioned to capitalize on resentment of people of color against their gay brothers and sisters—to manipulate African-American voters by using social resentment in precisely the way the Southern Strategy exploited white resentment of black people.

Astonishingly, people who a half century ago flocked en masse to the Republican party because of their resentment against African Americans now wish to paint themselves as the allies of African Americans, as they play people of color against gay people. And as they do so, using duplicitous arguments such as the following:

§ Huckabee states: People who are homosexuals should have every right in terms of their civil rights, to be employed, to do anything they want.

The truth is: gay citizens of Arkansas have no legal protection against discrimination in areas such as housing, unemployment, healthcare, estate benefits, hospital visitation rights, etc. In this respect, they are like millions of other gay Americans in similar places throughout the land.

As governor of Arkansas, Rev. Huckabee did nothing to promote or protect the civil rights of gay Arkansans. To the extent that he could, he combated those civil rights in every way possible. And he did so in collaboration with his political party, which has followed a path of resistance to gay rights consistently for decades now.

It is disingenuous in the extreme for Rev. Huckabee to claim now, when he and his allies want to remove the right of marriage from gay Americans, that he suddenly supports “every right” of gay Americans “in terms of their civil rights.” Those resisting gay marriage also oppose every other civil right for gay citizens, when it is possible for them to do so. Their strategy is to continue using gay marriage as the focal point of a movement of resistance to every right possible for gay citizens, and to use gay human beings in cynical battles to consolidate their political power.

§ Huckabee states: But when we’re talking about a redefinition of an institution, that’s different than individual civil rights.

The truth is: the civil rights of African Americans were gained only at the cost of redefining numerous social institutions, including slavery itself. The extension of civil rights in our nation has demanded the redefinition of institutions that actively thwarted the extension of rights to various marginalized groups.

Opponents of gay marriage like to maintain (falsely) that marriage is a social institution from time immemorial, which has always involved marriage of one man to one woman, and which has never changed. Slavery itself was, until its abolition, a social institution from time immemorial.

It had biblical sanction. Apologists for slavery in the South consistently argued that those trying to abolish slavery were undermining the authority of the bible, attacking biblical institutions and biblical morality. The bible (and religion) were used as long as possible to bolster the enslavement of people of color in the United States. A war had to be fought to redefine our institutions in order to prevent this malicious misuse of longstanding social tradition and of religion to support the denial of human rights to a whole group of citizens.

What is different—essentially different, as Rev. Huckabee maintains—about the situation of gay human beings today? About the use of religion and the bible? About illicit use of “venerable” tradition? About the application of misleading slippery-slope arguments which declare that if you depart from the bible and tradition in this area, all hell will break loose in other areas?

§ Huckabee states: But here is the difference. Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma bridge.

The truth is: As Ali Frick notes, “To suggest that a civil rights movement must meet some sort of violence threshold is an incredibly dangerous argument — not to mention blind to the serious violence gay people have already suffered” (my emphases). Frick notes that FBI reports for last year indicate 16.6% of hate crimes in the U.S. were due to sexual orientation, and a study by University of California (Davis) in the same year found that 4 of 10 LGB Americans reported violence or crimes against their property due to their sexual orientation.

John Lewis got his skull cracked: has Rev. Huckabee really never seen a documentary about the murder of Matthew Shepard a decade ago? Has he read no news reports about this murder? If he had, surely he would have thought twice about using the skull-cracking argument, when Matthew Shepard’s skull was so badly crushed from repeated blows that doctors were unable to operate on him, as he died from injuries to his brain and brain stem from the smashing of his skull.

As I’ve noted before on this blog, there’s plenty of suffering to go around. Tragically, enough LGBT Americans are assaulted every year—solely because they are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered—that one could easily mail Rev. Huckabee a picture a week of these battered and murdered citizens and still have plenty to dispense, if he wanted to educate himself about violence to gay citizens.

As someone who grew up in Arkansas at the same time I did, he should know that the mainstream media always underreported—and, often, covered up—acts of violence against black citizens. This has been a longstanding practice of the media throughout the South, and in much of the rest of the nation, as well. There is still a troubling inequity in how the media cover, say, the disappearance of a little girl from a white family of means, and the disappearance of an African-American girl from a family without means.

And it is no different with gay citizens. Our situation is exactly like that of people of color, in this regard. Citizens like Rev. Huckabee can profess ignorance of the numerous acts of violence perpetrated against LGBT Americans only because they do not trouble to educate themselves by going beyond mainstream media reports to sources that care to report these crimes.

In the final analysis, what Rev. Huckabee is doing is so draconian—so anti-Christian—because it seeks to elicit anger on the part of people of color by playing horrendous violence done to one group of citizens against horrendous violence done to another group of citizens—in both cases, due to inborn characteristics that ought not to set the groups apart as stigmatized others. Violence is violence, whether it is done to people of color or to gay Americans.

There is violence aplenty in our society to go around. The authentic response of people of faith to unmerited violence imposed on a stigmatized social group is to challenge and seek to halt such violence. Not to play the violence of a “moral and deserving" group against an “immoral and undeserving" one. Not to stir ugly social resentments based on unfounded stereotypes.

Mildred Loving had it right when she noted, not long before her death:

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about (my emphases).

One would expect Rev. Huckabee as a minister of the gospel to be preoccupied with loving. And to listen to Mildred Loving, an African-American who, out of the crucible of her own struggle for civil rights—for the human right to marry—intuitively recognized the equivalence of her struggle for human and civil rights, and that of gay Americans.