Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gay Rights vs. Civil Rights: Same Thing?

What?? Most of My Friends are Happy.
The Federalist actually delivers on what The Daily Signal tries to be: conservative, smart, and not humiliating. Let's mark the distinction with: not-boring. The Daily Signal is a Hermitage-funded news operation that is supposed to kind of compete with Vox and FiveThirtyEight as a 'news explainer' that does not have embarrassing apocalyptic pop-up ads or hysterical OpEd'ing. Where The Daily Signal falls down is that it's a dry exercise in meeting the minimum bar.

Where The Federalist excels is that it's actually interesting. It's more personalized, more spirited, and, well, often smarter. Definitely 'hipper' (if The Omnivore has any credibility in that assessment). It's also very conservative: if you are looking for something you'll agree with--and you're a moderate or a liberal--you'll be out of luck.

Today, and topically, what caught The Omnivore's eye is an article saying that Gay Marriage Isn't About Justice, It's About Selma Envy:
Why do so many young adults paint absurd caricatures of Christians who request government protection of their religious freedoms, arguing their true goal is to ban gay men from sitting at the local lunch counter? Why do they spread falsehoods about legislation, insisting that bills like the one recently signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will unleash a Republican-led Jim Crow revival aimed at the LGBT community? Why do so many people, Gen Xers and younger, invent a monster of anti-gay bigotry and keep screaming the monster is real despite a mountain of contrary facts standing before them?
Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene's answer is: "social studies." His formulation is that the younger generation (and including Gen-X) were taught about the heroes of the Civil Rights movement and, having nothing similar to emulate in modern life, have co-opted the LGBT rights movement as a source of self-righteousness.

This mode of #Hashtag advocacy is both cost-free (young people don't need to give up any of their pleasures) and fact-free: it doesn't require any actual examination of the arguments. Think that a marriage that is biologically incapable of producing children doesn't qualify as a 'marriage'? Instead of talking--or even thinking--about it: all you have to do is, like, tweet or something.

In a darker vein, it also requires painting conservatives as absolute monsters:
We knew the vast majority of you [ Christian conservatives ] would never have assaulted a gay classmate or kicked your lesbian daughter out on the street. We knew that you have gay friends, gay siblings, gay uncles that you love, cherish, laugh with, and have over for Thanksgiving Dinner while still not approving of that one particular aspect oftheir lives. We knew that you look at your gay children with the same ratio of love and disapproval as a devout Catholic mother who would give her life for her atheist son yet weeps that his children aren’t baptized. We objectively know you’re not hateful bigots. But we called you that anyway because, in order to keep our righteousness shiny, someone had to play the role of Bull Connor, and you were the best fit we could find.
This is where The Omnivore gets interested. The idea that Social Justice is appealing, for reasons of self-righteousness (and other ego or in-group driven motivations that are, shall we say, less than pristine), to [ a lot of people--but not you, dear reader ] fits with The Omnivore's world view. It's also true that, certainly, people--especially young people (who don't read The Omnivore, so no disclaimer) --tend to have, let's call them, unconsidered opinions.

So is Hans on to something here? Are young people shifting in a massive demographic wave (that even includes Young Republicans) in the direction of Gay Rights because of Selma-Envy? Because of the siren-song of a cause so righteous (and so easy to join!) that it's irresistible? Maybe.

It's certainly worth taking a look at.

And in doing so, have these people totally demonized good, upright, compassionate Christians? The Omnivore is certain there are at least cases where that has happened. Let's take a closer look.

Short Hands
There are several different things under the umbrella of this discussion and The Omnivore is already TL;DR as is. Still, it is worthy to note that Gay Rights are really part of a larger LGBT umbrella (which is part of even longer acronyms)--and while not all these rights are identical (such as allowing transgendered people to use the bathrooms they identify with) they are still within a similar category.

It's also true the the civil rights movement was mostly about black voting rights--but Native Americans were also part of that collation and the story of discrimination and civil rights in America belongs to a lot of people and groups (such as Jewish immigrants). The Omnivore is using the shorthand of Gay Rights and Civil Rights for purposes of streamlining and clarity--but also because that's how a lot of the people in the fray see them.

The Plight Of Civil Rights Eras Blacks and Modern Western LGBT People
When you look at the literature on "Why Gay-Rights Aren't Civil Rights" there are some recurrent patterns. These are:
  1. Gay rights, today, are way, way more advanced that civil rights so the comparison is bad on the face of it. Black people had no major voices in the early days and no cultural cachet. They were also being, you know, enslaved, Jim Crow'd, and later hosed down with water cannons, beset by dogs, and killed by law enforcement. Nothing like today!
  2. Being gay is a choice (or, with slightly alternate spin) a behavior--being Black was something you couldn't hide and didn't have a choice in. Not. The. Same.
  3. Gay rights are about forcing social acceptance of a life-style. Civil rights were about the right to vote, to use public facilities, and so on. Gay people are asking for special privileges--not 'equal rights.' Not. The. Same.
Magnitude and Current State
While the magnitude of discrimination against gay people in the US today is, in fact, nothing like either the history of slavery nor even the more recent history of segregation (and we can also leave out large-scale institutionalized policies that have impacted racial progression) there can be little question that gay people by-and-large are discriminated against over large parts of American geography.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (yeah, yeah, conservatives, The Omnivore can hear the sigh from here) finds that LGBT people are far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by violent hate crime. The majority of states have no special protections for gay people's employment and, while that will not prevent a fired person from bringing a law-suit, the odds of success are probably not high (and, in America, anyone can bring a lawsuit).

Finally, while it's true that the drivers for the civil rights movement were more extreme than we see today (for example, Gay Pride parades are not met with dogs and fire hoses) that is no reason not to try to advocate for any other change. The logical chain there is broken. Well after the primary struggles of the civil rights era, interracial marriage was still illegal in many places across America. Would it have been right to say "Since Black people got the vote, there is no reason to allow the pollution mixing of our races!?" C'mon.

Would we, today, argue that since now races can marry as they want, the entire issue of minority rights is settled? Complete? That everything that could be done has been done? Well, some of us would--but not very many--and that argument probably wouldn't go far.

Analysis: The argument that the magnitude is different is true in light of the facts--but the conclusions drawn from it--that therefore there is no reason to advocate for new laws or changes in policy, does not follow.

Is Being Gay A Choice?
The Omnivore has touched on this already in several other places: That ship sailed. While we can talk about brain chemistry and sliding scales and whatever else all day long, the fact is that most people, today, see sexuality as pretty innate ("When did you decide to be heterosexual, Dr. Carson?"). Trying to litigate this is a dead end rhetorically, policy-wise, and philosophically.

It's also toxic: the homosexuality-choice has to do with fairly non-mainstream, not-polite constructions ("gay-for-pay," "gay-until-graduation", and, erm, prison-sex). While there is probably a careful nuanced case to be made that people closer to the center of the sexuality scale might evidence more same-sex behavior were it socially de-stigmatized, the effects of this on any scale and the discussion of it with any sort of dignity is going to be difficult.

Notably about prison-sex and doing anything that seems desperate for money: 'choice' is a pretty strong word to use there as well.

Analysis: This is a dead-end discussion . . . or worse.

Gays Want To Legislate Social Acceptance
The crux of this argument is that gays want not acceptance, exactly, but forced normalization of their lifestyle and/or existence. If a normal person can adopt children? Gay people want to. If a normal person can serve in the military? Gay people want to do that too. Getting married? Gay people want a special right just for that. One writer compares this to "left-handed people asking for special parking places . . . just because."

Underlying this formulation is the tacit assumption that the natural state of gay people is not to be accepted and the natural state of gay people is to be excluded from things like adopting children. In this form of argumentation the burden, at least in modern society, has to be on the speaker declaring someone not-normal in a way that would preclude the target's performance of the activity.

We can ask Israel about the impact of gays on force-readiness, for example: they seem to be doing okay.

When the assumptions are hidden behind the argument rather than placed front-and-center it's more a cultural blind-spot (or deception!) than an actual convincing position.

Analysis: The speaker has to work around declaring gays not just "not normal" (i.e. a large percentage of the population) but actually abnormal in a way that implicitly denigrates them. Failure to do this upfront damages the integrity of the argument.

This brings us to point two: Demonizing Christian social conservatives.

Demonizing Christian So-Cons
The passage that got The Omnivore's attention in the originally referenced article was the one about how young people had declared Christian conservatives to be horrible, hateful bigots. Is that actually happening? Are a majority of kind, compassionate Christians being unfairly smeared despite their tolerance? That seems to be what he's saying--with the added kicker that Youths clearly know better--because it's obvious that the people Fienes is speaking for accept gays as people. That's, like, double unfair!

Is His Case Based On Probability?
 He suggests that most young people know that a Christian So-Con would never assault a gay person--that they would not kick a gay person out on the street, and that they have gay friends and family members they love (even if they disapprove of the life-style, or fret for their soul). The Omnivore is certain that there are many Christian conservatives for which this is true.

But we also know there are many for which it is not. There are plenty of stories about gay children being disowned, abused, and, literally, kicked out to the streets. Pastor Fiene knows this is true as well--for some people. He undoubtedly would not approve of this behavior and would council against it. The question, however, is does he feel certain about where most social conservatives fall?

To be sure: most would not literally assault a gay person--but that is a very low bar to clear. Conversely, with gays as around 3% of the population (depending on whose statistics you believe) it is unlikely that most Social conservatives have gay relatives--even if they were inclined to invite them to the Thanksgiving dinner table. To be fair, today many people say they know a gay friend or relative--but while The Omnivore doesn't have current stats, the breakdown from 2007 says the more religious and conservative you are, the less likely you are to know one with conservative republicans scoring at the very bottom.

So the question for pastor Fienes is this: if you believe you are demonized by the younger generation are you certain it's because they think you'd turn water cannons and dogs on gays if you knew any? Literally beat them up? Or is the negative perception of So-Cons something else?

The Omnivore thinks it's something else. Well, specifically, three something elses.
  1. The allegation that christian conservatives have many gay friends and acquaintances is questionable on the face of it--and if that is questionable then perhaps it is a stretch to say that the Youth of Today would see christian conservatives in every-day life treating gay people well. In other words, the counter-example he poses may not be as extant as he would have us believe.
  2. The iconography of gay rights--which is a fancy way of saying that the push for gay rights looks a lot like the struggle for civil rights.
  3. That, uhm, disapproving of gay marriage and the gay life-style may be enough to make you kind of a villain to gay people even if you aren't beating them up or turning the dogs on them. Unfair? Just hold on to that thought.
Lots of Gay Friends
We're going to compare Gay Marriage and Interracial Marriage closely in a second--but let's get something out of the way for now: Today everyone agrees that Interracial Marriage is okay, right? Conservatives and liberals alike don't have any issue with the "mixing of the races"--that was all settled a while back.

Wait. Hold on a second there: That's not actually true. Society has changed its mind on interracial marriage--but a bunch of individuals sure haven't. For conservatives, almost 40%--the highest number--don't approve of it. We also know that the older groups  (for 65+, only 38% find it acceptable) and where are interracial marriages least common--the South.
Considering that Republicans--and more to the point conservative, religious Republicans, tend to be older, whiter, and are solidly winning the south (although there are some pretty pale northern states and Texas is deep-red so let's not get too carried away)--it isn't a stretch to hypothesize that most of the people, today, who object to interracial marriage are, statistically speaking, Republicans--and, even if they aren't, they are likely counted in pastor Fiene's cohort--even if not his personally.

So if interracial marriage isn't quite accepted (and what's the reasoning for that?) then it isn't a stretch to think that maybe gay people are not as kindly thought of as he's saying. The connection is that while interracial marriage isn't exactly the same issue as either gay marriage or how gay people are treated, if there are significant demographics in the Republican and, maybe, religious communities that don't approve of interracial marriage what reason do we have to think they are being that enlightened with gay people?

Is it credible that anyone is going "I don't approve of my daughter marrying a black man . . . and I don't approve of gay's life-styles--but, hey, I'm really, we're all sinners so whatever!"? Even if there were, the guy who doesn't approve of their daughter marrying a black man (or whatever) doesn't deserve a pat on the back.

Secondly, when we look at the numbers, as noted above, in 2007, at least, conservative republicans were the least likely to have a bunch of gay friends or family (33% vs. almost double that for liberal democrats). So is it really true that social conservatives are welcoming tons of gay family members to the dinner table each year?

When you question that pillar of Fiene's argument the rest of it doesn't look so good. If Republicans and conservative Christians are not actually all that welcoming to gay people then while they might not be "Doing The Selma" they certainly could legitimately earn the ire of The Youth of Today, right?

The Iconography of Gay Rights
As noted above, Gay Rights do look a lot like Civil Rights--just updated to modern day. After all, there's the marriage issue. There's the serving-in-the-military thing . . . seems familiar, maybe? Then there's the "lunch counter" issue. Oh, sure, today it's a wedding cake--and not a coke and a burger--but before you explain to The Omnivore how that's totally different, understand that The Omnivore knows (it's the creative interaction that makes them distinct). The Omnivore is talking about how it looks.

Specifically, it looks like that law could be used as a shield by someone who turned away a gay couple from a lunch counter. Would they win because of it? Probably not, no. But just as the language in the bill doesn't talk about gays, specifically, it also doesn't talk about weddings, specifically.

The fact is that absent nuance, gays, until recently, were excluded from a lot of the same activities that blacks were back in the day. The mechanisms, social pressures, and reasons--oh, sure--they're different--but from ten-thousand feet? They look pretty darn close.

This goes a long, long way to convincing people that the exclusionary stance is wrong. You can argue about dumb people all you like--but if you are arguing that the view of things isn't like that, you're kidding yourself.

The Real Problem: It's Mutual
Of course the real problem is seen in the inverse of Pastor Fiene's writing. What he says of the Youth of Today is this: they are a bunch of self-righteous pricks who have demonized peaceful, loving people for their own egos. In his formulation, while the Christians may disagree with the life-style of gay people, they have zero personal animus towards them. They never compare them to pedophiles, to people who practice bestiality, and have no problem associating with them in polite society.

The problem is that we know that isn't universally--or even largely true. Half of all evangelical protestants and about 40% of conservative republicans have a negative view of gay men in general. Fifty-nine percent--the highest score--of white evangelicals think homosexuality should be discouraged. Twenty-two percent of Republicans (the highest) would be very upset if their child turned out to be gay.

In other words, a lot of social conservatives not only think homosexuality is a sin--but believe society should discourage it--actively act against it. Ben Carson, a much loved presidential hopeful, has said that homosexual marriage could destroy America. He's not the only one. Rand Paul doesn't just nicely disapprove of gay marriage; he's offended by it.

How do we square this with Hans Fiene's assertion that Christians are, by a large or at least significant majority, just lovingly disapproving of gay people? Well, if you think that your neighbor might destroy America, it's kinda hard to imagining you inviting them to a 4th of July barbecue--but when you look at the statistics about what people think about why people are gay, it becomes even more stark: most republicans and most white evangelicals--by a wide margin--think being gay is a choice.

When you think it's a choice, says The Omnivore, you are far more likely to actively disapprove than passively disapprove of the item in question. After all, people are responsible for their choices--they're not responsible for what they are.

So if Young People have decided to brand guys like Fiene as horrible civil-rights-oppressing trolls (despite 'knowing' it isn't so), it looks like a pretty substantial number of guys kinda like Fiene have decided that gay people are America-destroying, home-wrecking jerks too--and not because of the Gaystapo--or the Big Gay agenda--but just by, you know, being gay . . . which is their choice.

That's what the numbers say, anyway.

Where Do We Go From Here?
The Omnivore googled Hans Fienes and--you might be surprised to learn--The Omnivore likes him. He disobeyed his church directive to attend an inter-faith memorial for Sandy Hook victims: something that his church prohibits.  That's cool of him. He's got some kinda-funny YouTube videos that preach Lutheran tenants without being too obnoxious. The Omnivore thinks he's got his heart in the right place.

He might well have actual gay friends (thankfully, he hasn't told us--at least anywhere The Omnivore has seen it) and if he does, he probably treats them well.

But statistically, The Omnivore thinks he's an exception. As a pastor--and a kind of young one--he very likely (hopefully?) holds himself to a higher standard of compassion than the average guy. And The Omnivore is sorry to say it--but even the average religious guy. The Omnivore is pretty sure that's a fact--even if we can't poll it.

So he, himself, is the dude that Young People (in his formulation) have unfairly demonized even though they can look at him and see he's not interested in oppressing anyone. Okay--but to extend his personal aegis of righteousness to all conservatives? To all evangelicals? That's not supported.

Young people get to think that gay rights quacks like a civil rights duck even without fire hoses and police dogs--because it does. The difference is in the details (evangelicals will ascribe a name to that difference, right?)--and there are details--but just because there are does not force you to care about them. The data shows that a lot of people in Feine's victim group see homosexuality as a choice and therefore not like race. That's before you get to nuance about 'child-bearing-unions' or 'forced creative interaction.' Yes: forced-creative-interaction in something you believe is a sin is an argument that does have merit--The Omnivore agrees: Being forced to really, erm, pour your soul into something you feel is bad is a wrong.

But those details don't have to matter to everyone--or don't have to matter in the same way. And if they don't? It doesn't take Selma-Envy for a young person to think you're oppressing people.

All they have to do is think you're kind of a jerk for actively and passionately disapproving of what they see is an innate part of some people's being.

Ockham's Razor says that's a lot more likely than 'social studies.'

1 comment:

  1. Well, I wouldn't expect an evangelical to be entirely happy about this strategy, but we didn't invent Fred Phelps. We just used him -- as the pretty much the greatest advocate for LGBT rights ever. Should we not do this?

    A guy like this seems to be arguing about a fair game of pool, like with a rulebook, but this is about our lives, and the idea that evangelicals do not demonize LGBT people is not even laughable. After all, they *literally* demonize us.

    So to this guy, a big whatever. Yeah, I wish this fight wasn't so dirty, but hate is a dirty business, and calling hate "love" don't make it so. Sorry. We see through you.

    I know a few people disowned by their evangelical families. I mean, I can think about four off the top of my head. If I started asking around my broader social circles, I bet I'd hear about a lot more. Plus there are the people who are not exactly disowned, but are pretty much invalidated and abused every time they speak to their parents. Like, you can see the psychological damage it does. It's literally visible in their faces.

    Plus, read any comments section.


    Should we force people to bake cakes?

    Well, I think we should maybe divide commercial activity into "rather impersonal" and "rather personal", where lunch counters are in the first and cakes are in the second. Yeah, this is ugly, but *categorizing stuff* is something governments do. Anyway, then let the "rather personal" businesses get their hate on all they want. Fine.

    But make them advertise it. Let us know. If I'm shopping for a cake, make them put it on their website, so I can avoid the humiliating nonsense of calling a terrible human being on the phone.

    Oh, and my straight-or-cis allies can make similar decisions. Wanna take a principled stand for your faith -- go for it!

    -- veronica