Doing the right thing is not the same as being on the right side of history
During the fourth season finale of Downton Abbey, Mrs. Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), the American mother of Lady Grantham, having endured the snipes of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) for days, finally snaps. In a measured voice, Mrs. Levinson turns to the countess in a hallway and explains how she has no desire to become a British aristocrat.
“My world is coming nearer, and your world is slipping further and further away,” she says plainly, as the countess stands gobsmacked, her face pale and stunted. There’s nothing worse than being told you’re on the wrong side of history … and knowing that it’s true.
That must be what it’s like to be a Republican nowadays.
Within 24 hours, both in Texas and Arizona, gay rights scored major victories, much to the disdain of the entrenched right wing, who must feel their way of life slipping through their fingers like sand.
They can see the writing on the wall — how can they not? For decades they’ve beaten the drum that gay marriage equals The End Times, that churches will be “forced” to marry same-sex couples and society will erode. But in Spain, a Catholic nation where gay marriage has been legal since 2005, heteros live peacefully alongside their gay counterparts with nary a shower of fire descending from the heavens. The scare tactics haven’t worked, but the haters continue to be propelled by their bigotry and calculated divisiveness.
That’s what spurred the Arizona Legislature to reactively pass its sweeping “religious right to institutionalize bigotry” law last week. But let’s be clear about something: When Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it Wednesday, she wasn’t doing so for the right reason. Brewer is a craven political hack whose career has been a circus of partisanship and cronyism. Her record has been a stark reminder of her disdain for human beings who are not already in her camp, whether Democrats (wagging your finger at President Obama), illegal aliens (implementation of the “proof of citizenship” law) or now gays.
It was slightly horrific to see so many of my gay brethren on social media following the veto “praising” Brewer for “standing up against hatred” or “helping us in our battle for rights.” Brewer did not become our ally just because she did the right thing; she does not warrant our sympathy for any political price she pays. There’s no doubt in my mind she was motivated purely by economic considerations and not based on any humanity or compassion she feels for gay people.
Arizona faced the loss of the Super Bowl, and of low-level employes being able to wreak havoc on huge companies with a vested interest in appeasing the gay community (hotels, airlines, all manner of service industry types) by exercising their own uninformed opinions contrary to corporate policy. Religious freedom is one thing; costing a company money (and state tax dollars) is quite another.
Republicans have long touted themselves as the party of laissez-faire, anti-Big Government policies, and it’s been a lie most of the time. “Everyone should be allowed to choose his own doctor!” they shout, then whisper, “Unless it’s at an abortion clinic, then no dice.” “Let the states alone decide how they want to interpret marriage!” followed, after many states permitting same-sex weddings, with, “We need a constitutional amendment banning queers from marrying.” Even they can see the inherent hypocrisy in what they’re promoting. But they’re frightened and weak, and they’re bereft of ideas.
All such laws (including one just brought up for debate in Mississippi) are boondoggles, embarrassments to their states and their sponsors. They are reminiscent of Jim Crow and the Nuremberg race laws of 1930s Nazi Germany — hardly the company anyone should seek to be in.
We can expect more such laws (and oppositions to judicial rulings) to pop up as true marriage equality becomes more commonplace, as additional states and jurisdictions and countries make solemnized gay relationships seem normative. But do not mistake our victories for winning over the hearts and minds of our opponents. As the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We mustn’t see every action that supports the cause of equality as a moral position, but often decisions of expediency. The true allies have been with us all along.
Arnold Wayne Jones is Life+Style Editor of Dallas Voice.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 28, 2014.