Usually in politics, you win some and you lose some. But last week was one unremitting string of defeats for the homophobic right wing. In fact, in the annals of the antigay right, the last week in February 2014 could well go down as the worst week ever.
Now, it’s not like the right hasn’t had some bad days before. The Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality last June sent the homophobes into a tailspin. But they didn’t see the defeat as final. The Court left the final decision on marriage up to the states, so there was still hope to stop the momentum in the states where the religious right has its strongest roots.
Last week, however, saw the complete failure of three major strategies that the right wing was counting on. And they have nothing to replace those strategies with. Here’s the rundown:
Using the state legislatures to carve out exceptions to marriage equality. The biggest defeat came in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed individuals to ignore nondiscrimination laws on the grounds of “religious liberty.” Her decision came after business, the state’s two (Republican) U.S. senators, and just about anyone with a brain cell in the state urged her to kill the bill on the grounds that it would be a PR disaster for the state.
But Arizona was only the highest-profile defeat. Mississippi’s right-wingers pulled that state’s version of a “religious liberty” bill, as did the legislator promoting a right-to-discriminate bill in Oklahoma A bill similar to those suddenly stalled in committee in Georgia. These failures were only the latest in a long line of failures for “religious liberty” bills.
Putting aside the fact that the religious right just tanked in states that it otherwise controls – which is hard to put aside – the losses are a strategic debacle. Faced with a Supreme Court setback with abortion, the right wing took to the state legislatures to pass laws that limited the effect of Roe v. Wade. This strategy has been so successful that in some states abortions are so restricted that few abortion services are available.
But that clawback type of thinking doesn’t work with marriage equality. It’s an all-or-nothing issue. What the right found out last week is that they have opted for the nothing side.
Relying on the courts to muddy the issue. Last week, a federal judge in Texas (!) ruled the state’s marriage ban is unconstitutional, while another federal judge ordered Kentucky to recognize out-of-state marriages. Those rulings are just nails in the coffin of the right’s hope that other courts would form a firebreak against the Supreme Court. In fact, the right is 0 for 6 in federal court, and in states like Utah and Virginia that are particularly painful losses. State courts haven’t been any more sympathetic.
Add the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder told state attorneys general last week that they are under no obligation to defend marriage bans, and you have to conclude that the homophobes are watching the legal ground disappear from underneath their feet.
Counting on their pal Vladimir Putin as an example to the U.S. Okay, so things are looking bad for the antigay right in the U.S. How about overseas? The homophobes’ biggest success has been in Russia, where they tout antigay laws and proclaim Vladimir Putin to be the “defender of Christian civilization.”
Then came the crisis in the Ukraine at the end of last week.
Right now, being Vladimir Putin’s best friend is like being Josef Stalin’s best friend in 1952. Western nations have uniformly condemned Putin, and conservative politicians in the U.S. are frothing at the mouth for Obama to DO SOMETHING (without ever quite specifying what he could do). Putin has revealed himself (yet again) to be a bully happy to violate national sovereignty if it suits his purposes.
Aligning yourself with Putin calls your commitment to Western ideals into question. It’s no longer just about LGBT rights. No one is going to be looking at Putin as an example worth emulating, and anyone who does, such as Scott Lively, now looks a little — dare we say it? — un-American.
The last week exposed all the flaws of the right. They persist on thinking that it’s 2004, not 2014, and that they can pass the type of restrictive legislation they did then. They choose to believe that marriage equality is like abortion, where restrictions can be used to diminish the Supreme Court decision. They think that exporting homophobia is the answer to shrinking opportunities in the U.S., without recognizing the perils of allying themselves with tyrants.
Can the right-wing recover from these losses? To some extent, of course. They can still throw sand in the gears of LGBT equality. But what they learned last week, if they were paying attention, is that it’s a new era. Old strategies no longer work. And young conservatives aren’t all that interested in taking up the cause. It’s too soon to say that we’re hearing the last gasp of the antigay right, but it’s quickly running out of breath.