Mr. Marshall and the Gay Agenda

Thank you, Mr. Marshall, for openly admitting that your amendment is not really about marriage, but in fact is intended to discourage GLBT people from living lives of honesty and integrity. It’s actually very clever. It also ultimately will fail.

Delegate Bob Marshall, chief patron of Ballot Question #1, seems to think he is doing the campaign for his amendment some good by participating in debates about it. This belief is erroneous in so many ways, but one statement he has been making recently merits some special attention. The talking points of the pro-amendment campaign are supposed to be limited to a soothing drone about “protecting marriage from activist judges,” but Marshall has trouble staying on message. He can’t seem to stop himself from making admissions about why he finds it so urgent to write his prejudices into our Bill of Rights. As he admits to Leesburg Today, his objective has little to do with marriage.

While many pro-amendment advocates argue that the amendment works to protect the sanctity of marriage, Marshall took a different tack.

“It stops the gay agenda,” he said. “This is a springboard. If they get this, they are getting other things.”

Given that same sex couples in Virginia have no legal right to recognition of our partnerships now, and we have no protection from employment and housing discrimination now, what could Marshall possibly mean by “this”? Are we “getting” something by defeating this amendment? If the amendment “doesn’t change anything,” and “doesn’t take away any rights,” as we keep hearing, then what could the gay community be “getting” if it doesn’t pass? This sounds like something that needs to be explored.

A little background is in order. Yes, “The Gay Agenda” has been the source of endless entertainment on long rainy nights as we speculate about what it might contain. And I hate to end all the fun, but in fact Justice Antonin Scalia revealed the truth back in 2003 in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas. He informs us that the gay agenda is simply “directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”

Nothing gets by Justice Scalia, does it? Note that this outcome is not exactly something that can be legislated or litigated. It is strictly a matter of subjective public opinion. That precious “moral opprobrium” has been steadily melting away, soon to be a cultural anachronism that our grandchildren will find difficult to believe. Chai Feldblum, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center who filed an amicus brief in Lawrence, explains where this shift is coming from (hint: it’s not being planned in an undisclosed location by the Gay Central Committee).

Rather, it is simply because most people in America have gotten to know gay people and gay couples. When your child is in the same kindergarten class as the child with two moms or two dads, it is hard to maintain the belief that the sex between those moms and dads has more in common with prostitution or bestiality than it does with the sex you and most other couples are having.

Ultimately, as Bill Garnett points out in this excellent post, there is no more basis for moral opprobrium and coercive behavior toward GLBT people than there is for moral opprobrium and coercive behavior toward left-handed people. Based on selective readings of scripture, left-handedness was not that long ago interpreted to be “a sign of Satanic influence.” Left-handed children were routinely subjected to corporal punishment and forced to pretend to be right-handed. Today, the existence of Biblical passages about the wicked sitting at the left hand of God notwithstanding, we understand that left-handedness is a normal human variation, hardwired in the brain. Likewise, science and medicine now recognize that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality. Quite simply, it is immoral to discriminate on the basis of such characteristics (which is why the Anti-Gay Industry relies on science dating from the Victorian era, but that is another topic). I think we can all see where this is going. Feldblum continues:

Thankfully, Justice Scalia has pointed the way to this outcome by clearly articulating the gay agenda. And, unlike many agendas, this one requires no meetings or central coordination. All it requires is that those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered continue to live lives of honesty, openness and integrity.

Well, there’s the problem. We’re just so inconveniently visible.

Luckily for us, these public forums and debates give Mr. Marshall plenty of opportunity to expound on his fears of what all this gay agenda business could lead to. In this case, he chose to talk about a perceived threat to religious freedom, and he gave us all a little history lesson. As he explained it, churches now lose their tax-exempt status if they discriminate on the basis of race. This was not always true, of course. There was a time when overt racism was the cultural norm, and there was no conflict between the civil law that reflected that norm and a religious doctrine that found justification for it in scripture.

This is a remarkable argument for Marshall to make, and can mean only one of two things. Either he is arguing that religious freedom is absolute, and churches receiving public funds should be free to practice racial discrimination, or he is arguing that a special exception should be made for one particular form of discrimination. Which is it?

Either way, he needs to explain himself and the troubling implications of his words. The people who fought tooth and nail for segregation and for the right of churches to discriminate on the basis of race surely had deeply rooted beliefs based on their interpretation of scripture, and surely felt that their religious liberty was threatened by changing social norms. For those who still cling to these beliefs, is it not a violation of their religious liberty to have values of racial equality imposed upon them in order to receive public funds? If not, why not?

Although we have virtually unlimited freedom of religious practice and speech, no matter how offensive to others (observe for example, the freedom of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to offend the memory of fallen soldiers, or the freedom of the KKK to assemble, rights that are regularly defended by the ACLU), complaints of religious intolerance are raised each time shifting public opinion causes those who hold religious views that condemn homosexuality to feel marginalized.

What anti-gay ideologues object to is not a violation of their right to freedom of expression or of religion. Those rights are not threatened in any way. What they object to is the loss of their status as members of the majority view. It was when racists lost the imprimatur of the dominant culture that they lost special rights such as tax exemptions.

Marshall did not come up with this argument about religious liberty on his own, of course. It was articulated initially by Maggie Gallagher and has been explored in depth already on this blog.

What Marshall, Gallagher, and other architects of current constitutional mischief are well aware of is that anti-gay bias will in the future become as socially unacceptable as racism. As Gallagher puts it, “..we don’t arrest people for being racists, but the law does intervene in powerful ways to punish and discourage racial discrimination, not only by government but also by private entities.”

They also are well aware that what will drive these shifts in public opinion is the ability of the public to observe for themselves the humanity of their GLBT neighbors and our families. That is, in a nutshell, the “gay agenda”: To be seen as who we are.

The carefully crafted language of the Marshall/Newman amendment is designed to discourage this visibility as much as possible, by making it too risky to be honest about our committed life partnerships. The very thing that demonstrates our humanity and family values is also the thing that demonstrates our “intent to approximate” the rights, obligations and significance of marriage: Making the statement before friends, family, the community, and the universe that this is my beloved, this is my family.

Thank you, Mr. Marshall, for openly admitting that your amendment is not really about marriage, but in fact is intended to discourage GLBT people from living lives of honesty and integrity. It’s actually very clever. It also ultimately will fail.

What is true of Gallagher is also true of you. Your belief is that your desire to avert the inevitable shift in public opinion that will marginalize your anti-gay viewpoint trumps any other interest. Your belief is that the right to have your viewpoint protected from marginalization is more important than the right of another group of people to equal treatment under the law and an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You are wrong. You are not entitled to special rights, only a place at the table with everyone else.

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