Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.
The recent federal-court decision invalidating California’s ban on gay marriages was of course welcome and long overdue. And there’s a lot of commentary from across the political spectrum predicting that it will be upheld at the Supreme Court level, given Justice Kennedy’s authorship of both major recent groundbreaking decisions favoring equality for gays (Romer, invalidating an exception to equal-rights statutes in the case of gays, and Lawrence, invalidating the criminalization of gay sex), and his status as inevitable swing vote on discrimination issues. So – while nothing is yet assured – this is a watershed, and very hopeful, moment for the cause of equality.
The question it raises, however, is what kind of backlash this will trigger. One likely possibility is an attempt to push through a Constitutional amendment imposing discrimination nationwide. Although that possibility concerned me greatly, I am – with fingers crossed – hopeful that such a movement would be unavailing. By the time any such plan could gain traction, there will have been several years’ worth of experience with gay marriage, and increasing experience of life under a national-level Supreme Court decision for equality, tending to reduce the panic over the supposed consequences of gay marriages. The political winds have shifted, also; it’s true that the GOP is somewhat resurgent, but the grounds for debate are now dominated by economic issues, and the religious-right/teabag movement is proving more and more of a liability for the GOP. I suspect the homophobic firestorm the GOP deliberately stoked in 1996, which created gay marriage as a political issue for their base, will not be possible in 2012. And, too, Constitutional amendments over controversial issues are hard to pass, and this one is unlikely to have enough momentum to overcome the inevitable decline of the homophobic movement as the reality of gay marriage proves their crazy ranting is just pointless. So I suspect there will be an attempt to pass the first-ever Constitutional amendment creating a new form of discrimination, but it will fizzle out.
However, I just read speculation elsewhere that gay marriage will become “another Roe v. Wade” – that is, a cultural flashpoint issue that will polarize society and give the right wing something to agitate about forever. That is no reason to oppose equality, of course, but it is a daunting prospect nonetheless. And that commenter was surely right that the (presumptive) institution of equality by the Supreme Court, and the failure of legislative or Constitutional processes to maintain discrimination, will energize the right wing and serve as a focus of grievance for them for the forseeable future. And yet, as I think about it, it occurs to me that this outcome may not be as destructive as it would seem, and could even have an upside. I suspect that the wingnuts will indeed agitate interminably over gay equality, and this will have two consequences: (1) it will further marginalize the religious right, and (2) it could conceivably bolster support for abortion rights as well.
The argument for the first possibility above is obvious. As gay marriages become more and more commonplace, and as disinformation about priests being forced to perform gay marriages, or children being “indoctrinated” in schools, are disproven by everyday experience, the disingenuous fearmongering that drives the hate movement will be undermined. The haters will simply serve to highlight the unhinged and bigoted streak that infects the Republican party and, as Sarah Palin is quickly becoming, and Sharron Angle already has become, will be an albatross around the neck that the GOP will eventually be glad to be rid of.
The argument toward a pro-autonomy rebound is less intuitive, but not implausible, I think. The idea that gay marriage will galvanize conservatives like abortion did is likely true. The parallels between the issues are strong: each is a cause celebre’ for the religious right, grounded on religious visions of morality, driven by a deep-seated revulsion to sex, and centering on a despised group whose claims to equality and autonomy the religious right hates and resents. And the campaigns waged by the right against autonomy and self-determination in both cases are again similar: bizarre predictions of the consequences of allowing people to make their own decisions, Biblical injunctions against equality and non-patriarchal sex, deliberate lies and disinformation about the implications of freedom in each case, hateful moralistic judgmentalism, simply deluded scientific disinformation, and a manipulative pretended concern “for the children”, all of it as grossly distorted and dishonest as it is possible to be. As wingnut hot-button issues, they do have much in common.
It is that close parallel that, I think, spells (indirect, and uncertain) good news for the pro-choice position. The campaign against equality for gays is very similar to the campaign against self-determination for women. The basic idea at the bottom of both campaigns – that one particularly backward and restrictive religious view of how people should live their lives should be made mandatory for everyone, by law – is the same, and the attempt to regulate sexual behavior that they disapprove of is likewise a common central element in both campaigns. The gay-marriage controversy brings this to the fore because that issue is clearly solely driven by sex-based animus, but the same elements are at work in the abortion issue. And so, as the gay marriage controversy is exposed as the panicky, lunatic hatefest that it is, all other attempts to restrict the rights of autonomous adults to make their own decisions in areas reflecting on their sex lives will be simultaneously undercut. To the extent it becomes obvious that “gay marriage” is a wholly invented controversy based on ludicrous and bizarre apprehensions about other people’s sex lives, and the characterizations of its proponents and participants were absurdly false and fantastical, and its presence in the community is not a threat or a curse, and the claims and predictions made about it were false and invented, it will become that much easier to see how those same distortions have driven the anti-choice campaign in the same ways. And, most of all, the more it becomes obvious that the anti-gay-marriage people are simply hateful and barely sane, and that their movement is a product of their religiously-inspired reactionism, and that they are the same people who are driving the anti-choice campaign, the true nature of that project will become more obvious as well.
The bottom line is, letting the wingnuts discredit themselves over gay marriage can only work to the advantage of the pro-choice community (and related progressive movements). It will be an ugly and hateful process, but a necessary cleansing, and possibly a road to a better day in the future.
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