Gay hiking

Why does the law bring up anti-gay talking points?

Photo: Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The heavily Christian Republican base has never really been enthusiastic about the rise of gay rights, but lately it seems to be regressing from a certain tolerance towards a more overt form of bigotry. I spoke with lead writer Sarah Jones and political columnist Ed Kilgore about this disturbing trend.

Well: Yesterday you were both discussing how some of the old culture war fights that drove (mostly) Christian conservatives never really went away. After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, for example, it may have seemed to godless elites like me that the battle for gay rights had all but been won. But as writers like Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern have observed, the past few months have seen a revival of old, ugly talking points. Panic over critical race theory in schools has expanded to encompass sexuality, sometimes leading to book bans. The trend is most apparent in how right-wingers frame Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill: as an effort to stop teachers from instilling deviant ideas in their children. It’s a dangerous idea with deep roots, and it has quickly spread among the Republican base mainstream. Why return now?

Ed: It is important to understand that for many conservative Christians, the fight against LGBTQ+ rights may have setbacks, but will never end. They view things like same-sex marriage not as social/cultural trends, but as demonic advances that must be fought until final victory.

Sarah: I will elaborate on this in a later article, but I think it is fair to say that for them it is a battle with supernatural stakes; a fight between ultimate good and ultimate evil. As to why now, after a relatively calm period, I think it’s because they smell blood in the water. Biden’s approval ratings are low; most pundits are predicting a midterm blowout for Republicans. It is a way of disciplining and energizing the base before the big elections.

Ed: It’s true. I would add that there is a mutually reinforcing dynamic here: conservative Christian culture warriors are excited that the GOP is focusing so heavily on “their” issues right now, and Republican politicians feel that ‘they enjoy an unusual level of grassroots enthusiasm, which is always important halfway through. To the extent Republicans are talking about economic issues right now, they’re hovering around something they can blame on big government (inflation) and larger trends they can blame on corporations seen as cultural enemies of the GOP base (e.g., big global corporations with ties to China; “woke” corporations like Disney).

Sarah: Yeah, and I don’t think it matters that the last evangelical Disney boycott accomplished next to nothing – they just need an enemy, and Disney will serve well enough.

Ed: And Disney’s growing ubiquity in so many areas of media and entertainment helps fuel the idea that the mouse is demonic. Satan is powerful, you see. As Luther wrote, “On earth he has no equal.”

Well: I knew you would bring Luther in there. It’s true that few if any elected Republicans talk openly about going after same-sex marriage or other popular provisions with the public. When it comes to the actual legislation, Republicans are more focused on trans rights issues, which lack the popular support of gay rights. But there’s certainly a chutzpah in labeling anyone who mentions their sexuality a “healer,” while simultaneously attacking one of the biggest and most beloved businesses on the planet. Isn’t there a risk of political backlash?

Sarah: That’s eliminationist rhetoric, and I fear that QAnon’s slide into mainstream respectability will reduce the likelihood that there will be a significant backlash, at least in the right-wing bubble. They will certainly anger liberals and alienate young voters, but I think that’s why we’re seeing this fixation on LGBT rights happening alongside an attack on suffrage and a gradual shift toward anti-democratic beliefs. If they can’t win fairly, they’ll find a way to cheat.

Ed: And this is something that many secular observers do not understand. We are talking about a totalitarian mindset with the most aggressive conservative Christians engaged in what they call “spiritual warfare”. There is no recognition of the separation of church and state (which was once a fundamental gospel principle). “Democracy” is only a means to an end. The Constitution is a divinely inspired document that enshrines fetal rights, property rights, “family rights” (eg, patriarchal rights), and religious rights as absolute.

There is an eternally established way of living life and organizing society. It does not change or “evolve”. As a Christian right-wing politician (Paul Broun Jr.) once said, “[The Bible is] the manufacturer’s manual for… how at Course all our public policies and everything in society.

Well: I knew you would bring Broun Jr. in there.

The share of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped dramatically in recent years, though it may still rise slightly. Do you see this kind of raw culture war stuff as some kind of rage against the death of light, as a more secular population takes the reins? Or is it just a desired thought? (It’s not like you have to be a Christian to be a conservative, of course…)

Sarah: Well, it’s important to note first that the Evangelical decline is not as pronounced as the mainstream Protestant decline. He faces future challenges, as the nation’s youngest adults are far more likely than previous generations to identify as LGBT or support LGBT causes, but that doesn’t mean evangelism is going away. or even that it will necessarily moderate over time. I suspect – and this is just a personal theory, although based on some data and my own reporting over the years – that evangelicalism, and white evangelicalism in particular, will become a haven for social extremists. I think that’s already happening, actually. And if the GOP is able to successfully restrict voting rights, we have a long-term problem on our hands that literally threatens democracy.

Ed: A radicalized minority can have quite an impact, as we saw on January 6, 2021.

Well: The Time the article that kicked off this whole discussion yesterday made Sarah’s point clear.

Ed: And this play, by two well-known religious writers, had the tone of a loud wake-up call aimed at the Time‘ predominantly secular readership. If Trump or Trumpism returns to power in the coming years, it will be on the basis of a religious base consciously singing “songs of praise” and calling on the Holy Spirit in a political call to arms.

Well: Do you think we could actually see a rollback of gay marriage or other national laws and rules that extended equality to LGBTQ people? Or is all of this more likely to manifest itself in state-by-state regulations, like Florida’s, that might target LGBTQ people without explicitly saying so?

Sarah: More likely the latter, and as we have seen with abortion rights; this strategy of death by a thousand cuts can eliminate a right in all but name.

Ed: It is worth remembering that the Oberefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage was a 5-4 decision. Three of the dissenters still sit on the court, and three Trump appointees have since joined. I agree with Sarah that while a direct attack on marriage equality is unlikely at this time, there is more than one way to take away people’s rights.

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