Like flowers in spring, the culture war is in full bloom. The most explosive flashpoint this past week was President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. She is under fire for saying, “I would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Her comments caused the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, to become apoplectic and accuse her of reverse racism. The battle over her nomination seems like a flashback to the old battles in the 1970s and 80s over identity politics.
In Kansas, George Tiller, a brave and fearless abortion provider, was gunned down in his church. Of course, the anti-abortion fanatics deny any wrongdoing. But, this movement knows full well that when they single out and accuse individuals of killing babies, they are inviting extremists to take vigilante action.
“Who me?” they ask, as they disingenuously feign innocence.
Strangely, the one place a national consensus is building (albeit in its budding stages) is marriage equality. A landmark federal lawsuit by conservative lawyer Ted Olsen and his liberal counterpart David Boies has crystallized this phenomenon. They are charging that denying marriage licenses to gay couples is a violation equal protection and due process under the United States Constitution.
“This is not a liberal or conservative issue,” said Olsen on CNN’s Larry King Live. “This has to do with human decency, human rights, and equality under the law.” On the same show, Boies deftly dispatched the argument that civil unions are acceptable, because they are marriage by another name.
“You’re from Japan,” Boies said on the show. “You can vote. You can do all the things that other individuals can do who are citizens. But, we are not going to allow you to use the word ‘citizen’ because you are from another country. That would be discrimination on an unacceptable basis. That is what we have here.”
Gay and lesbian legal organizations are incensed by the lawsuit and say it could lead to a huge setback, if it results in a Supreme Court loss. A memorandum sponsored by every major gay rights group titled, “Make Change, Not Lawsuits,” essentially tells the interlopers to get lost.
“The history is pretty clear: the U.S. Supreme Court typically does not get too far ahead of either public opinion or the law in the majority of states,” says the memo. “The fastest way to win the freedom to marry throughout America is by getting marriage through state courts (to show that fairness requires it) and state legislatures (to show that people support it).”
The conservative columnist George Will echoed their position on ABC’s This Week when he warned, “The consensus is moving toward gay marriage if they just let it alone and just let democracy work.” He said that if the Supreme Court now ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, it would cause ongoing cultural division, much as the Roe v. Wade decision did with the abortion issue.
Of course, the GLBT organizations are correct in concluding that Olsen and Boies are engaging in a risky strategy that could easily backfire. The one wildcard, in my view, is Chief Justice John Roberts. He is a product of the Federalist Society, the conservative movement’s powerful legal association. Olsen’s involvement in the Federalist Society may help persuade Roberts to support equality. Or, at least, give him the cover he needs to vote his conscience without accusations of betrayal by conservative colleagues.
The legal issues aside, this case is a boon in the realm of public relations. We now have two of the brightest legal minds winning over the jury of public opinion in the media each day. Dick Cheney and Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager, are two more conservatives who reinforce marriage equality as a nonpartisan issue.
Even as I write this column, the drumbeat of small victories keep mounting. The Nevada legislature overrode the governor’s veto by approving a domestic partnership registry by a two-thirds majority. This week, President Barack Obama signed a gay Pride Month proclamation. The organization Faith in America persuaded a key Baptist writer, David P. Gushee, to call on Christians to offer an apology for the way they have treated LGBT people.
This steroidal push for equality has been supercharged by a group of democratic gay leaders who recently met in Texas to draft, “The Dallas Principles.” Much like the Olsen/Boies lawsuit, their goal is to put gay rights on the fast track by pressuring Congress and the Obama administration to take immediate action. Their mantra seems right for this electric moment: “Now is the time for full civil rights for the LGBT Community. No delay. No excuses.”
There is still no shortage of culture war vultures like the National Organization for Marriage’s dour Maggie Gallagher. But, as more fellow conservatives defect, these zealots are finding their biggest threat is “friendly” fire.