Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Pushing The Pink Police State

The Human Rights Campaign, the gay rights lobby, is denouncing Gene Schaerr, the Utah attorney defending Utah’s stand on traditional marriage because of his religious convictions. The idea is that his religious beliefs have no place in this discussion. The HRC is trying to drive religious people out of the public square. Law prof Eugene Volokh […]

The Human Rights Campaign, the gay rights lobby, is denouncing Gene Schaerr, the Utah attorney defending Utah’s stand on traditional marriage because of his religious convictions. The idea is that his religious beliefs have no place in this discussion. The HRC is trying to drive religious people out of the public square. Law prof Eugene Volokh pushes back:

This strikes me as badly wrong, and indeed deeply unfair to religious believers. Lawyers decide to take cases based on their personal moral values all the time. Lawyers decide to take government cases based on their personal moral values, and indeed seek out certain government jobs based on their personal moral values. Pro-gay-rights lawyers might choose to take pro-gay-rights cases based on their personal moral values — including ones that seek to impose a certain moral viewpoint, such as that embodied in various antidiscrimination statutes, on all citizens.

Nor are lawyers whose moral values are based on secular philosophical principles (e.g., a humanist commitment to equal treatment, including legally coerced equal treatment) somehow have special moral or legal rights on this score. Lawyers whose moral values are based on religious principles, or whose commitment to a case is inspired by their religious principles, have precisely the same rights.

Say someone wanted to defended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in court because he has deep religious beliefs in favor of racial equality — the civil rights movement, of course, had a heavily religious dimension to it. Or say someone wants to defend environmental legislation because of his religious beliefs about human obligation to protect God’s creation. Or say someone wanted to defend state opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act because of his deep anti-slavery religious principles. These lawyers stand on precisely the same moral and legal footing, I think, as lawyers who took the same views out of secular moral conviction.

Amen. Prof. Volokh should visit Ireland, where gay rights fundamentalists have been working hard to push a newspaper columnist who happens to be Catholic to the margins. It all started when Irish Times writer Breda O’Brien wrote a fairly irenic column speaking out against people on both sides of the debate who dehumanize their opponents. Excerpt:

For people who are genuinely homophobic, gay people are the “Other”. For a certain type of liberal, anyone who supports traditional marriage is the Other. In both cases, people fail to understand or relate to the Other as people.

That’s why I was so disappointed in Mary McAleese’s comments as reported in the Glasgow Herald. McAleese is an erudite, intelligent woman and a committed Catholic. It is hard to believe that she really thinks the church’s teaching on sexuality, and in particular, on gay sex, stems from the fact that there are allegedly so many gay churchmen frantically trying to repress their sexuality. As someone with a qualification in canon law, she must know the church teaches that sexuality is ordered towards a certain goal, that of loving and mutual support that binds men and women together so they can best care for their children.

She might profoundly disagree with that teaching, as is her right, but why does she believe the alleged fact that so many priests are gay constitutes a “herd of elephants” in the room? I am not aware of any research that indicates real numbers, but even if 95 per cent of priests were gay, does that mean they are all repressed, stifling their sexuality, and self-hating homophobes as a result?

O’Brien goes on to talk about Spiritual Friendship, a group of and for gay Christians who support the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality and who seek to live by it. These people exist, and ought to be treated with respect, O’Brien says, not demonized as the Other. She concludes:

I don’t know how gay Christians who do not support gay marriage have the courage to appear on the media. Most of the names they get called couldn’t be printed here, but just check out Twitter any time a gay person who supports traditional marriage is on. Descriptions such as “self-loathing gay religious fundamentalist” are typical of the attacks.

Ironically, in that particular case the epithet was directed at a gay who has also been beaten up on the street for being gay. Sincere disagreement on the nature of marriage is not the problem. Homophobia and intolerance are. Let’s unite to eliminate them.

Anybody have a problem with this? Yes. Rory O’Neill, a Dublin drag queen who performs under the name Pandora Panti Bliss, went on live national TV to denounce O’Brien and others. Excerpt from the RTE interview (since removed from the network’s website) with host Brendan O’Connor:

RO’N: “So much has changed. And I think em a small country like Ireland sometimes we get a bad rap because people think “oh small conservative country blah blah blah”. But actually I think a small country like Ireland changes much faster than a big country because absolutely…I’m..think about it every single person in this audience has a cousin or a neighbour or the guy that you work with who is a flaming queen. I mean you all know one. And it’s very hard to hold prejudices against people when you actually know those people. And Ireland because it’s such small communities grouped together, everybody knows the local gay and you know maybe twenty years ago it was okay to be really mean about him but nowadays it’s just not okay to be really mean about him. The only place that you see it’s okay to be really horrible and mean about gays is you know on the internet in the comments and you know people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers. You know there’s a couple of them that really cheese..”

BO’C: “Who are they?”

RO’N: “Oh well the obvious ones. You know Breda O’Brien [Irish Times Columnist] today, oh my God you know banging on about gay priests and all. The usual suspects, the John Waters and all of those people, the Iona Institute crowd. I mean I just..you know just…Feck Off! Get the hell out of my life. Get out of my life. I mean..[applause from audience] why…it astounds me…astounds me that there are people out there in the world who devote quite a large amount of their time and energies to trying to stop people you know, achieving happiness because that is what the people like the Iona Institute are at.”

BO’C: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I know one of the people that you mentioned there which is John Waters. I wouldn’t have thought that John Waters is homophobic?”

RO’N: “Oh listen, the problem is with the word ‘homophobic’, people imagine that if you say “Oh he’s a homophobe” that he’s a horrible monster who goes around beating up gays you know that’s not the way it is. Homophobia can be very subtle. I mean it’s like the way you know racism is very subtle. I would say that every single person in the world is racist to some extent because that’s how we order the world in our minds. We group people. You know it’s just how our minds work so that’s okay but you need to be aware of your tendency towards racism and work against it. And I don’t mind, I don’t care how you dress it up if you are arguing for whatever good reasons or you know whatever your impulses…”

BO’C: “Because it is what you believe, it’s your faith or that, yeah?”

RO’N: “…it could be good impulses..and you might believe that these impulses are good because you’re worried about society as a whole and all this rubbish. What it boils down to is if you’re going to argue that gay people need to be treated in any way differently than everybody else or should be in anyway less, or their relationships should be in anyway less then I’m sorry, yes you are a homophobe and the good thing to do is to sit, step back, recognise that you have some homophobic tendencies and work on that. You know stop spending so much of your life you know devoting energies to writing things, arguing things, coming on TV to do anything to try and stop people achieving what they think they need for happiness.”

In other words, shut up, Catholic, you have nothing to say. Writing in the Irish Times, columnist Una Mullaly calls for an “independent homophobia watchdog group” to police the speech of people like Breda O’Brien:

Depictions of LGBT people in the media that in any way infer that their relationships or parenting skills are inferior to those of heterosexuals should be condemned. Unlike in some countries, Irish law does not permit the execution of gay people, but that doesn’t mean homophobia doesn’t exist.

Anti-equality rhetoric both in the media and enshrined in legislation is, in my opinion, directly responsible for physical and verbal attacks on gay people. It creates an invisible atmosphere that gives homophobic people a sense of entitlement. It can be subtle or blatant; it can be words or knives.

“Free speech” is not a free pass to inflict psychological trauma just because you don’t want lesbians or gay people to get married. Opponents of marriage equality are not the victims in this debate.

We know this argument well: speech = violence, therefore to stop violence, we must gag our opponents. That an actual professional journalist, Una Mullaly, a woman who makes her living in a medium that should, by its nature, celebrate free and robust debate, believes this — well, it is shocking.

The Irish reader who sent me these stories says that the Irish Twittersphere has been burning up with people denouncing Breda O’Brien as History’s Greatest Monster. He adds that:

“[I]n the referendum it’s going to be increasingly hard to talk about these things without facing legal sanction: the Law of Merited Impossibility (except that many social liberals here aren’t even bothering with the ‘impossibility’ part – it’s more like “you’ll get what’s coming to you”).

In case you missed it, the Law Of Merited Impossibility is a paradox I discerned from following the debate over gay rights. It says, basically, Christians have nothing to fear from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

The Pink Police State is a brilliant concept coined by James Poulos. He explains it like this:

So citizens of a Pink Police State (I should say subjects) are apt to surrender more and more political liberty in exchange for more and more cultural or ‘personal’ license.

In other words, Pinks like O’Neill and Mulally are perfectly willing to support a curtailment of speech rights in service of expanding gay rights — as if the two were in necessary conflict. We have a First Amendment in the US, so there is no chance that the Pinks at the HRC could bring about legislative restriction on the rights of opponents to criticize them. But they can bring tremendous cultural pressure to bear on religious opponents, by insisting that they have no legitimate place in the public square on this debate. The thing is, Pinks, if you will not have Gene Schaerr, then you may not have the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A cultural and political climate in which someone like Breda O’Brien is not free to defend her faith and to call for tolerance for gay Christians who don’t follow the Homintern line is a culture and a polity that’s well on its way to a Pink Police State. Again, we Americans have the First Amendment, but that only means we cannot be legally sanctioned for stating our views. It means only that; it is perfectly possible to push dissenters to the margins without breaking a single law. And they will do it in the name of Tolerance.