Writers at National Review have whipped themselves into such an anti-gay fervor recently that they're oblivious to the plainly contradictory points they're trying to make as news of prominent gay athletes and discriminatory anti-gay laws continue to generate headlines this month.
The confused commentary resembles something of a last-ditch effort to salvage a small victory in the right wing's losing culture war over gay rights and marriage equality. Just ten years ago the Republican Party successfully used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue against Democrats in the 2004 campaign. Now, conservatives remain in retreat as public sentiment continues to shift (For the first time, a majority of Ohioans support marriage equality.)
"On this particular issue, the cultural wheel has spun so quickly," noted ESPN's Tony Kornheiser, while discussing the breaking news last week that Jason Collins was signing a contract with the Brooklyn Nets to become the first openly gay player in the NBA.
It was Collins' historic coming out story that helped set off a nasty National Review Online screed by contributing editor Quin Hilyer, who condemned "homosexual chic" and "gay mania" in his February 24 essay. Hilyer complained bitterly about how the "professional Left" is "going bonkers" hyping "active homosexuality (or any one of several exotic variants thereof) as an absolute virtue."
"Enough already with the in-our-faceness from the homosexual activists and their aggressively enthusiastic cheerleaders," Hillyer complained. He was especially angry by the recent press attention University of Missouri star football play Michael Sam received as he stands poised to become the first openly gay NFL player. Hillyer was also upset about "attention-grabbing" Johnny Weir who made headlines and won praise for his astute commentary of Olympic ice-skating for NBC this year.
"The problem isn't homosexuality," Hillyer insisted. "But public sexuality. There was a time, a better time, when the sex lives of strangers were nobody's business," he wrote. "Most Americans assuredly don't much care what other people do."
The message to public gays like Sam and Weir: Tone it down!
But here's the contradiction: While claiming nobody really cares what gays do, Hillyer in the same column, and National Review editors the following day in an unsigned editorial, simultaneously applauded right-wing efforts to pass state-wide laws that discriminate against gays.
A National Review writer lectures gays to just tone it down and keep their private lives private and everyone will get along fine. Then National Review editors enthusiastically support "necessary" laws that protect business owners who discriminate against gays based on their private lives. I'm guessing gay activists would be more willing to tone things down if conservative outlets like National Review weren't moving so aggressively to curb important rights and protections.
Indeed, rather than keep quiet, in the face of these coordinated legislative anti-gay attacks, it's arguably more important than ever for there to be proud and successful LBGT public role models, and for their professional cultural milestones to be noted by the press. That is, in part, how social change works and how progress is made: More and more people over time identify with a group and come to understand that discriminating against them is unwarranted and unjust. And certainly in American society, professional athletes and sports broadcasters play in outsized role in shaping public opinions.
As some in the conservative media champion efforts to establish Jim Crow-style laws of discrimination, they shouldn't also instruct gays that going along quietly is the preferred path for acceptance and change. The truth is the conservative press, after having lost the public battle over same-sex marriage, has been a powerful ally in the new push to discriminate. Under the banner of "religious liberties protection," several states have recently considered laws to protect business owners who refuse to provide services to gay customers.
In Kansas, the legislature introduced a bill focused on protecting business owners such as photographers, bakers, and restaurateurs who wanted to refuse working on same-sex marriage ceremonies, on the basis that the business owners shouldn't be forced to participate in events they find to be religiously intolerable. Essentially, the bill looked to protect anti-gay merchants from being sued for discrimination. After a wave of negative publicity, the Kansas State Senate shelved the bill.
Similar legislation has recently been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Arizona's legislature recently passed SB 1062, which will soon be signed into law or be vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. The bill exceeds the Kansas initiative by going far beyond the issue of gay weddings. As Media Matters has noted, "the measure is written broadly enough that any individual or business owner would be allowed to refuse service to any gay person on the grounds that doing business with a gay person imposed a substantial burden on his or her religious beliefs."
Editors at The National Review think this is all fine. They think there's nothing wrong with laws that allow for codified discrimination against gays and lesbians. (That position is strikingly similar to the magazine's anti-civil rights stance in the 1950s and `60s.) National Review editors insist they hope Arizonans would simply respect each other. But if some shops refuse to serve gays, then the aggrieved parties should just take their business elsewhere. (The magazine's editors didn't weigh in whether store owners could refuse veterans, or gun owners, or unwed mothers without legal reprisal or social concern.)
While both of Arizona's Republican U.S. senators oppose SB 1062, the initiative appears to have widespread support within the far-right press. That's not surprising since Fox News has spent months toasting business owners who deny services to gay customers under the guise of religious liberty. (It's part of Fox's long-running campaign to conflate homophobia and Christianity.)
Under that kind of organized assault, gay activists are unlikely to keep quiet.
Image via sushiesque under a Creative Commons license