For the Left progressive sexual politics plays the role anti-communism used to do for the Right. Back in the day rousing people to defend freedom against the threat of socialism was an applause line that kept the social conservatives from Main Street and the laissez-faire proponents from Wall Street focused on what they had in common. It was a unifying commitment that helped hide deep differences.
Gay rights and the politics of sex (“war on women”) works pretty much the same way for Democrats. Prosecuting a culture war that powerful business interests either agree with or think irrelevant provides a point of unity and feel-good commitment that helps party leaders avoid divisive issues. That’s why same-sex marriage and all it represents has become so important in domestic politics today, or at least a significant part of the reason why.
Or, as Dahlia Lithwick rhapsodizes about a progressive coalition’s protest in North Carolina:
The other exciting component of Moral Mondays is that its leadership has worked to forge “fusion” politics that strive to undo the atomized nature of liberal activism, where climate change issues have no bearing on reproductive rights and reinstating voting rights must come at the expense of immigration reform. Barber and the Moral Mondays protests have broken down single-issue-based divisions on the left by focusing each Monday protest on one issue while enabling protesters to understand that they are all ultimately connected. Instead of fighting dozens of separate battles, Moral Mondays have made those battles everyone’s battles. As a result, at Saturday’s protest, teachers spoke of budget cuts and of women’s health; doctors spoke of insuring the poor and of the right to vote. People who arrived angry about LGBT rights in the state left angry about organized labor. Working across constituencies means that injustice for any one group becomes injustice for all.
I don’t know anything about what’s going on in NC, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be wishful thinking on Lithwick’s part. But if she’s right, then the liberal activists there must be congratulated, however grudgingly, for practicing smart politics. If you can make people believe that what unites them is more important than what divides them, you can do a lot with the coalition that forms.
But boy, do I ever agree with Reno about how absurd it is for AG Eric Holder and other gay-rights activists to pretend that they’re the heirs to Dr. King and the civil rights leaders who faced down the firehoses, and worse:
There are reasons to favor gay rights. I think they’re misguided and that movement pressing them forward is waging a war on the weak by dismantling the moral wisdom of the ages. But I can understand and even empathize with the reasons why some of my friends support same-sex marriage. It’s a nice dream that envisions everyone able to live and love as their hearts desire. Moreover, I’m forgiving of their insensitivity to the destructive consequences. Misguided, blinding moral certitude is part of the human condition, sadly.
But what I can’t endure is the Selma Analogy. Gay rights is the single easiest and most convenient commitment for today’s Left. There is no George Wallace, no Klux Klux Klan, no seething resentment ready to punish Democrats who posture as courageous crusaders. In today’s political environment, gay rights carry no liabilities, involve no dangers, and require no sacrifices.
In my parish, during the Civil Rights struggle, the Klan tried to blow up a black Masonic lodge that had been used for voting rights organizing. That’s just one thing they did, in one small, rural corner of the South. It was much worse elsewhere. To fight for civil rights in the 1960s in the South was to put your life on the line, facing down terrorism. There’s just nothing like it in American political life today.
Thank God social change — even social change I don’t believe in — doesn’t require that kind of sacrifice. But we should not diminish the extreme, tenacious, and enduring courage it took to achieve what the black civil rights movement achieved in the 1950s and 1960s by laying cheap claim to its mantle today. When gay rights activists have to deal with the equivalent of the KKK, and have to come before judges who are Klansmen, and have to live in fear of night riders, some of whom are in local law enforcement, coming to their front doors at night to beat, shoot, or kill them — then they’ll have a legitimate analogy.
There is no cause in America today — not gay rights, not right to life, not immigration reform, not pot legalization — whose activists face remotely the dangers that the civil rights protesters did back then. Again, let us be thankful that Americans today can protest and work for social change without having to fear for one’s life, or be subject to the kind of terrorism that was routine in the South once upon a time. But let’s not flatter ourselves that any of us are fit to stand in the shoes of the men and women of the Civil Rights movement.
UPDATE: Of course if the gay rights movement = the civil rights movement, that must mean that opponents of the gay rights movement = Bull Connor and George Wallace. Do gay rights supporters really wish to portray half the country as the equivalent of Bull Connor and George Wallace? I know they believe their opponents are wrong, but do they believe their opponents are also evil? Do they believe Pope Francis is tragically mistaken about gay rights, or do they believe he is evil? This is why the iconography of the American civil rights movement is so potent.