For years, conservative media figures have attacked marriage equality by citing "religious liberty" concerns, baselessly warning that churches might be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will. But a new lawsuit in North Carolina challenges the right-wing media's commitment to religious freedom when it's not being used as an excuse for anti-gay discrimination.
On April 28, the United Church of Christ (UCC), a progressive Protestant denomination that supports marriage equality, filed suit in Federal District Court challenging North Carolina's ban on clergy blessings of same-sex unions. Under the state's 2012 same-sex marriage ban, it's a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 45 days in jail, to perform a ceremony for any couple lacking a valid marriage license. The UCC argues that the ban infringes on clergy members' First Amendment right to free exercise of religion:
"We didn't bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices," said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.
The lawsuit represents the inverse of a long-standing (and entirely baseless) conservative horror story about marriage equality - that churches will be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will.
This myth has been perpetuated by conservative media personalities like Fox's Todd Starnes, who in 2012 warned that a Kansas non-discrimination ordinance "would force churches to host gay weddings":
When the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Breitbart News' Ben Shapiro claimed that churches would lose their tax exempt status if they failed to perform same-sex weddings. Fox contributor Erick Erickson has gone so far as to claim "gay marriage and religious freedom are incompatible." And Fox News' longstanding campaign to depict marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws as burdens on religious liberty inspired a rash of so-called "religious freedom" bills across the country earlier this year.
Given social conservatives' self-appointed role as guardians of religious freedom, the North Carolina case would seem ripe for their attention.
But now that religious liberty is being invoked to oppose a gay marriage ban, will right-wing media rush to tout the cause of a pro-equality church?
Conservatives who rushed to defend "religious liberty" legislation like Arizona SB 1062 have so far been silent on the case. The New York Times' Ross Douthat, who penned a column supporting Arizona's bill on religious liberty grounds, has yet to comment on the UCC case on his blog. A TV Eyes search shows that Fox News - which regularly features segments titled "The Fight for Faith" - hasn't taken up the UCC's mantle. The same goes for anti-gay conservatives like Starnes, Shapiro, and Erickson.
While civil marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples would have no bearing on churches' doctrines and practices, laws like North Carolina's actively restrict religious denominations' right to freely exercise their faith. If serving a cake to a same-sex couple constitutes an unconscionable violation of religious liberty, then surely a law telling churches which unions they can and can't bless does. But the right's crusade against LGBT equality has almost nothing to do with genuine, intellectually consistent support for religious liberty, and everything to do with keeping discrimination enshrined in law.
Too often in conservative media, religious liberty becomes a shield to deflect accusations of bigotry, even while justifying blatant anti-LGBT discrimination. UCC's lawsuit, and conservative media's interest in taking it up as a cause célèbre, will test whether the right's interest in religious liberty is anything more than a shallow excuse for homophobia.
Equality Matters searched TV Eyes for the terms "gay," "United Church of Christ," and "North Carolina" for Fox's programming on April 28 and the morning of April 29, 2014.
Photo via Flickr.com user Sarah Cartwright
Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat depicted business owners who wish to discriminate against gay customers as the real victims in the debate over whether it should be permissible, as a recently vetoed Arizona bill would have authorized, for businesses to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.
In his March 2 column, Douthat conceded the inevitability of marriage equality, contending that once that debate is finished, the question will be whether marriage equality opponents will be able to express their "dissent" by, say, turning gay couples away from their businesses. Even as he urged his fellow Christian conservatives not to "call it persecution" if they're required to treat LGBT people equally, Douthat's entire column attempted to frame the fight for equal treatment as a matter of conservative victimization, rather than fundamental human dignity (emphasis added):
But there's another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business -- which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.
Meanwhile, pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power. Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.) Organizations and businesses that promoted the older definition of marriage would face constant procedural harassment, along the lines suggested by the mayors who battled with Chick-fil-A. And, eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.
I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities -- thousands of years' worth -- to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status -- this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
But it's still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we're not having a negotiation. Instead, all that's left is the timing of the final victory -- and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.
If current projections hold, for the first time modern American history more people will die in 2015 from gun violence than will be killed in automobile accidents.
Meanwhile, nearly 20,000 Americans kill themselves each year using firearms, amidst an escalating suicide rate. And as Bloomberg News recently reported, the financial cost of U.S. gun violence in terms of lost work, medical care, insurance, court costs, and pain and suffering amounted to nearly $175 billion in 2010.
It's against that dire backdrop that The New York Times' Ross Douthat insisted in his most recent column that gun violence doesn't represent a pressing issue for the country. Instead, it's part of an elitist, "political class" agenda cynically embraced by President Obama.
The columnist's effort continues a misguided trend by media conservatives to dismiss the issue of gun violence as a "red herring" and a "distraction" from what really matters in America, which is job creation. Douthat scolds the president for allegedly not keeping his focus on the economy. But how did Republicans respond to Obama's effort last year to pass a jobs bill? They blocked it. Just as they did in 2011.
Pointing to a Pew Research Center survey from January, Douthat also includes immigration and climate change as examples of how Obama's second-term agenda is out of sync with what Americans truly care about, and how the three issues are actually "non-priorities."
But there's something callous an almost tasteless about casually dismissing as a "pet cause" the 32,000 Americans who die each year from gunfire, and the 70,000 more who are injured by firearms. And to claim, as Douthat did, that only politicians aboard the "Acela Corridor ideology" consider gun violence to be a national priority.
Wrote Douthat [emphasis added]:
After all, gun control, immigration reform and climate change aren't just random targets of opportunity. They're pillars of Acela Corridor ideology, core elements of Bloombergism, places where Obama-era liberalism overlaps with the views of Davos-goers and the Wall Street 1 percent. If you move in those circles, the political circumstances don't necessarily matter: these ideas always look like uncontroversial common sense.
Step outside those circles, though, and the timing of their elevation looks at best peculiar, at worst perverse. The president decided to make gun control legislation a major second-term priority ... with firearm homicides at a 30-year low.
This is an amazingly dishonest argument for a New York Times columnist to make about such a pressing public policy issue. Douthat claims the "timing" of Obama's push for a background check bill in Congress this year was "at best peculiar" and "at worst perverse." The only thing peculiar and perverse is Douthat's refusal to acknowledge the shooting at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut last December when a madman massacred 26 kids and teachers with a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle.
By inferring that Obama recently selected the issue of gun laws only because it's one of the "pillars of the Acela Corridor ideology," Douthat pretends it wasn't a shocking national tragedy that placed the issue at the top of the White House's second-term agenda this year.
Conservative media have continued to accuse the imam leading the initiative to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan of being a "secret radical," pointing to his remark that "the United States' policies were an accessory" to the 9-11 attacks. In fact, Rauf has condemned terrorism and has been widely described as "moderate," and his comments on 9-11 are not outside the mainstream.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tries to explain his opposition to the legal marriage of two loving adults:
If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.
But if we just accept this shift, we're giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.
Let's say you think, as I suspect Ross Douthat might, that Christianity is "one of the great ideas of Western civilization." Are we "giving up on" Christianity by allowing people to practice Judaism and Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam and Atheism? Repeal the First Amendment! Or let's say that you think democratic elections are "one of the great ideas of Western civilization." Does it follow that it should be illegal to decide not to vote? Teachers are pretty important to Western civilization, too -- so perhaps we should make it illegal to be a police officer, bank teller, florist or ditch-digger?
Douthat is essentially arguing that if X is important, Y should not be allowed. For some values of X and Y (say, "Life" and "Murder") that makes sense. For others ("Teachers" and "Firefighters"; "Christianity" and "Judaism") it does not. Douthat makes no effort to explain why the marriage of two gay people belongs in the former category rather than the latter. And it seems not to have occurred to Douthat that his effort to preserve the "sexual ideal" of "lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings" actually demeans that which he seeks to protect, by suggesting that heterosexual marriage is so tenuous a concept that it cannot survive the extension of marriage rights to gay couples.
The American Prospect's Adam Serwer writes: "Ross Douthat's column this morning reads like a column from someone whose religious and cultural views lead them to oppose marriage equality but can't think of a very good reason for the state to prevent recognition of same-sex marriages." That sounds just about right.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat plays the tired "the left and right are equally crazy" card:
Paranoia is a bipartisan temptation. Amid last August's town hall frenzy, there was a stir over a poll showing that roughly a third of Republicans believed that Barack Obama had been born outside the United States. Liberals trumpeted the finding as proof of the Republican base's slide into madness. But conservatives had a rebuttal: As recently as 2007, they pointed out, polls showed that a third of Democrats believed George W. Bush knew about 9/11 in advance.
The Clinton-era conservatives who insisted that Vince Foster's suicide was really murder ceded the stage, in the Bush era, to left-wing cranks convinced that the British scientist David Kelly was bumped off by Iraq war hawks desperate to cover up their deception about weapons of mass destruction.
And the ideological fringes are forever blurring into one another: Pat Buchanan can sound a lot like Gore Vidal, "truthers" and "birthers" often share common fixations, and both the far left and far right seem equally inclined to circle around, eventually, to pointing fingers at the Jews.
Vince Foster conspiracists enjoyed widespread acceptance and promotion by leaders of the conservative movement, including Republican members of congress -- and by the news media. That's why there were half a dozen investigations into Foster's death, despite the fact that each unambiguously concluded he had killed himself -- you had Republican congressional leaders playing amateur detective, shooting up pumpkin patches in order to "prove" that Foster was murdered. And the Birthers' lunacy was taken quite seriously last year by, among others, members of congress and a CNN host who promoted their theories on a regular basis.
The Truthers have never enjoyed that level of respect and influence among progressive leaders, or among the media. So while it's true that you can find liberals who believe far-fetched things, they don't enjoy nearly as much influence as their conservative counterparts. That's a good thing. It would be even better if the media consistently made clear that one side is much more prone to taking their fringiest element seriously.
In their analyses of President Obama's December 1 speech outlining his Afghanistan strategy at the U.S. Military Academy, conservative pundits complained that the speech didn't sound like speeches previously delivered by political figures including George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Henry V.
Ross Douthat's New York Times column has already drawn some criticism for giving President Bush credit for acting to fix catastrophes he created and for its concluding suggestion that Bush was a good president. But there's another problem: in his desire to defend Bush, Douthat offers a strawman version of one of the central criticisms of Bush:
And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it's worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency - that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.
In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war's cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody - right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street - was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.
I don't really think one of the major critiques of Bush's presidency is that it was "fatally insulated" from "the wisdom of the Washington elite." When is the last time you heard someone say "If only George W. Bush had listened to Tom "Suck on This" Friedman?" Or "Why, oh, why, didn't Bush listen to Richard Cohen's and Jonathan Alter's pleas for torture?"
No: One of the major critiques is that Bush was insulated from opposing viewpoints. And, of course, those opposing viewpoints generally turned out to be correct.
The Washington elite, as Douthat notes, generally went along with Bush administration schemes like unnecessary and unpaid-for tax cuts and wars. Douthat seems to think that undermines the criticism that Bush was insulated from those who disagreed with him and deaf to opposing (and better-considered) views. It doesn't; it merely demonstrates that Bush was not alone in that flaw -- he was joined by, among others, many of the journalists who make up the Washington elite.
Given that Bush is gone and that Washington elite is still here, Douthat would have done far better to examine why the Tom Friedmans and Richard Cohens of the world were in such agreement with Bush than to use their agreement to absolve Bush. Or why the Washington elite is so quick to bless right-wing policies. Or why, despite that, the Washington elite persists in thinking they are insufficiently solicitous of conservative viewpoints.
And yet, here Douthat is, arguing that Rudy Giuliani (!) might be just the candidate to capitalize on the Democrats "tendency toward political corruption." Right. Maybe he can get Bernie Kerik to be his running mate.
More Douthat: "The president is pushing a California-style climate-change bill at a time when businesses (and people) are fleeing the Golden State in droves."
Really? The Census Bureau estimates that California's population grew by 8.5 percent from 2000 to 2008 -- a faster rate of growth than the nation as a whole. Douthat didn't just make up his assertion that people "are fleeing the Golden State in droves," did he?
MSNBC's Hardball has featured two journalists talking about Sarah Palin, followed by two conservatives talking about Sarah Palin. Not involved: Progressives.
And New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, fresh off an awfully generous assessment of Palin, took advantage of the fact that there wasn't a liberal guest opposite him, making the absurd comparison of criticism of Palin to the way the Clintons were "hunted" by political opponents in the 1990s.
You'll let me know when a member of Congress shoots up his vegetable garden in an effort to prove Palin killed a close friend, won't you, Ross?
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat seems to think that if only Sarah Palin had declined the opportunity to run for Vice President last year, she'd be a widely popular and problem-free governor:
Had she refused John McCain, Palin would still be a popular female governor in a Republican Party starved for future stars. Her scandals would be the stuff of local politics, her daughter's pregnancy a minor story in the Lower 48, her son Trig's parentage a nonissue even for conspiracy theorists. There would still be plenty of time to ease into the national spotlight, to bone up on the issues, and to craft a persona more appealing than the Mrs. Spiro Agnew role the McCain campaign assigned to her.
This is absurdly generous.
It seems quite clear that Sarah Palin's problem isn't that she didn't have time to "bone up on the issues," it's that she has a shocking disregard for the truth. Surely she didn't need to "bone up on" whether she had actually rejected funding for the "Bridge to Nowhere"? That isn't some obscure federal program no governor could be expected to be familiar with; that's her own action. And what Sarah Palin repeatedly said about it was very, very false. That wasn't the result of insufficient time to study, that was a result of insufficient appreciation for the truth, and it extends to many of the other comments that got her in trouble.
Her inability to name a newspaper that she read wasn't a result of a lack of cramming time, either. And by now, it is quite clear that Palin's problem was less that she lacked the time to prepare than that she has a George W. Bush-esque overly simplistic approach to policy.
As for the Mrs. Spiro Agnew role, Ross Douthat appears to be the last person in America who doesn't realize that Palin embraces that role.
And now, seemingly, it's over. Oh, maybe not forever: she's only 45, young enough (and, yes, talented enough) to have a second act. But last Friday's bizarre, rambling resignation speech should take her off the political map for the duration of the Obama era.
What, exactly, does it mean to say that Palin is "talented enough," particularly coming so soon after her bizarre, rambling, shaky, incoherent, internally inconsistent speech in which she quit the governorship with 18 months to go for unspecified reasons? Is that what a "talented" politician does?
Palin's popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. ... Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal - that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.
This ideal has had a tough 10 months. It's been tarnished by Palin herself, obviously. With her missteps, scandals, dreadful interviews and self-pitying monologues, she's botched an essential democratic role - the ordinary citizen who takes on the elites, the up-by-your-bootstraps role embodied by politicians from Andrew Jackson down to Harry Truman.
Let's keep in mind that the way Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal and takes on the elites is by offering the elites massive tax cuts at the expense of those trying to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, shall we?
Douthat then offers up a selective appraisal of Palin's record for the purposes of portraying it as more moderate than it is. Douthat denies that she "inject[ed] creationism into public schools," but omits that she supports doing so (actual Palin quote: "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.") Douthat writes, "Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education," but forgets to mention that she initially supported such programs. Maybe her ability to take both sides of issues like creationism and abstinence-only education is what Douthat meant by "talented enough"?
Left unmentioned: Palin's belief that the Iraq war is a "task from God."