Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Harbingers of the Attack on Attempt to End DADT: A Sign of What's to Come?


I blogged yesterday about the threat that extremist views of theocratic groups like The Family continue to pose to our vulnerable democratic institutions.  The heartening statement of Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, re: DADT to the Senate Armed Forces Committee yesterday, is definitely a step in the right direction, for those of us who think that democracy matters and that the rights of gay citizens have something to do with democracy.

I’m particularly encouraged that Admiral Mullen frames the debate about don’t ask, don’t tell, in terms of integrity and of doing the right thing.  It should be framed that way.  It’s a debate about the core values that define our civic life and that norm our democracy.

Despite the clear ethical fault lines now emerging in the discussion of DADT—right vs. wrong, honesty vs. mendacity, integrity vs. dissimulation—there is going to be fierce reaction to the attempt to abolish this grossly unjust policy.  That opposition is already mobilizing.   The attempt of some groups to slow-walk the abolition of DADT through more studies (studies on top of studies on top of studies) is merely an attempt to buy time in the hope that the elections of 2010 and 2012 will return the Republican party to power, and that we can then forget about doing the right thing for another generation or so.

I recognize this process very well, because I saw it at work in the 1950s and 1960s in the American South, as the moral conscience of the nation was gradually galvanized by the ugly injustices we white Southerners continued to dish out to our black brothers and sisters—in the name of law and order and of Christian values and teachings.  We kicked and screamed and demanded one study after another before we relinquished legal segregation—in the hope that a new political power structure in D.C. would roll back Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, the Civil Rights bill of 1964, and public opinion that was increasingly moving against our racist worldview.

When such fierce opposition develops among a powerful minority of citizens, and when that powerful minority has access to money and influence, and when liberal leaders presumably committed to democracy are either spineless or in the pocket of powerful interest groups resisting change, necessary progressive changes can be stopped in their tracks—or held at bay for years, while gross injustice continues.  Even worse, a society can take a hard turn backwards, and can institute even more savage treatment of a demeaned minority whose rights have been hanging in the balance.  Such a hard move backwards is surprisingly easy to accomplish when liberal leaders who give lip-service to equality do not act boldly, unambiguously, and courageously to enact the equality to which they pay lip-service.

There are murmurings right now on the theocratic fringes of American society that should, in my view, concern all of us who are committed to preserving our now badly faltering democracy.  As a number of websites are reporting today, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council was on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” program last night to discuss DADT.

In the context of that discussion, Sprigg stated that he opposes the Supreme Court’s decriminalization of homosexuality and is in favor of seeing homosexuality outlawed again.  Jim Burroway has a link to video coverage of these statements, along with a transcript of the salient remarks of Sprigg.

Because there has been almost no mainstream media coverage of the following recent statements (and there’s yet to be any mainstream media coverage of Sprigg’s remarks), many folks may not know that Sprigg’s call for the recriminalization of homosexuality comes on the heels of a similar appeal by another member of an anti-gay theocratic “family” organization.  At the end of January, Brian Fischer of the American Family Association posted a statement on the AFA blog entitled “Legal Sanctions for Homosexual Behavior.”

The statement explains remarks Fischer had just made on his AFA radio program, in which he called for forced “conversion therapy” for gays and imprisonment for those who engage in gay behavior.  As Fischer’s blog posting about legal sanctions for homosexual behavior notes, he believes these sanctions are biblically warranted.

Sound familiar?  It should, because it’s precisely the same argument being pushed in Uganda with the kill-the-gays bill.  Which has had the strong, active encouragement of right-wing anti-gay theocratic groups . . . .  Which originated among right-wing evangelical groups in the U.S. . . .

Here’s what’s going on with Sprigg and Fischer’s call for the (biblically-based, in their view) recriminalization of homosexuality: these are, I suspect, trial balloons as same-sex marriage continues to be debated in the prop 8 litigation in California and as DADT comes under fire.  They’re trial balloons designed to see just how far a Uganda-like agenda (which, after all, originated among these American groups) might go in American society—to see what kind of response might be generated with calls to abolish SCOTUS’s Lawrence v. Texas decision decriminalizing homosexuality and return to a theocratic social order in which homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment.

Many American citizens might be tempted to regard such trial balloons as fanatical embellishments on a mainstream narrative moving inexorably in the direction of gay rights.  For many Americans, the views of Sprigg and Fischer might appear to be the easily dismissed views of a fringe minority of right-wing Christians whose theocratic ideas are now being resoundingly defeated by the mainstream.

But in my opinion, it would be a mistake to dismiss Sprigg and Fischer in this way.  I suspect that, with these two gentlemen, we are seeing the first harbingers of a reaction to the proposal to the ending of DADT that may have surprisingly strong influence on our culture—if we don’t watch this reaction carefully and push back against it very hard.

Unfortunately, our elected Democratic officials have not shown themselves to be conspicuously courageous or conscientious—particularly when it comes to human rights issues.  And as Daily Kos’s recent poll of Republicans about gay rights issues (and other issues) demonstrates, the Republican party is overwhelmingly committed, at present, to turning the clock back on the movement to grant rights to gay citizens.

If Democrats cave while Republicans and their allies mount a fierce attack on the attempt to end DADT, we may see decisive steps in a direction very different from the one to which Admiral Mullen’s remarks yesterday seems to point us.  As I’ve stated over and over on this blog, everything depends here—and in many other respects—on the quality of leadership our president is committed to providing our nation.