Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gene Lyons on Mark Pryor and DADT: Determined To Be on the Wrong Side of History

At Salon today, Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons talks about the obstinate determination of many Southern church folks to be on the wrong side of history.  Again.  As we were about the question of slavery.  And then women's rights.  And then the end of segregation.

Lyons is focusing on Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor.  As I noted in a posting a few days ago, it appears Pryor will not support the ending of don't ask, don't tell, even though the military itself has now issued results of a study indicating that the large majority of service personnel see no problem at all in permitting openly gay service members to serve in the armed forces.  Lyons notes that Pryor continues equivocating on the issue, and his sister blue-dog Democrat serving Arkansas in the Senate, Blanche Lincoln, continues crawfishing.

And as Lyons points out, the reason is obvious: Arkansas is a heavily churched, heavily evangelical state in which you're as likely to encounter Leviticus in church as you are to encounter Jesus, when the question of gay human beings comes up.  And Pryor himself, who belongs to a right-leaning evangelicalish mega-church, has stated publicly that he believes homosexuality is a sin.

And so he's willing to continue to defend religiously-based discrimination enshrined in the legal codes and institutions of American society.  Just because.  Because the views of a religious minority have a right, it seems, to be imposed on the will of the majority.

As Lyons points out, the case of an Arkansas soldier who was hounded out of service after the open secret of his homosexuality became a problem illustrates just how radically unjust and downright stupid DADT is.  Brian Muller was a member of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and served parts of two years in Afghanistan.  His work was among the most dangerous any soldier can undertake, a job requiring delicate skills many people lack: he was a bomb technician who disabled booby traps and IEDs.

And then one of his officers decided to use Muller's sexual orientation against him, and he was drummed out of the military.  And we lost that all-important skill in our army, due to sheer prejudice.

Lyons maintains that Pryor has, at least, the moxie to recognize that he's fighting a losing battle against the moral arc of the universe, in defending discrimination in American institutions.  And he has the grace to admit that this defense of discrimination may be just a tad bit on the wrong side of Jesus himself, who challenges his followers not to judge and to refrain from throwing stones at other sinners when we ourselves may well harbor sin in our own hearts.

But, just as his (and my) churched Southern ancestors were adamantly determined to move against the moral arc of the universe when it came to slavery, women's rights, and segregation--quoting scripture at every turn to justify our obstinance--Senator Pryor is determined to go down in the rolls of history as a bigot who opposed the turning moral arc of the universe at this important point in American history, when draconian legal impediments to full rights for gay human beings begin to fall one by one.  We seem to excel at that, we Southerners: the proud, defiant gesture on behalf of the lost cause.

And we seem constitutionally unable to learn from our history that the defiance, and the pseudo-religious gloss we seek to give to it, is not always as honorable as we imagine.  Far from it.

The illustration is a photo of the Arkansas-born American hero, Brian Muller.

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