Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RELIGIOUS WARS....Robert Reich has an article this month in The American Prospect that is maddening. How can one person say so much that's right and so much that's wrong all in the same few paragraphs?

The subject is gay marriage, and here's the part that's right:

Public opinion sides with the Democrats. Even though a slim majority continues to oppose gay marriage, polls show that most Americans believe that homosexual relationships between consenting adults should be legal, that the choice of whether to have an abortion should be up to a woman and her doctor, that stem-cell research should be legal, and that religion should stay out of the public schools.

....Democrats should make clear that this is an issue about state power, not religion -- and call for gay civil rights. Not "marriage," but "domestic partnership" or "civil union" or whatever words will convey the same legal rights accorded heterosexuals. Most Americans think the law shouldn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. It follows that gays should have the same legal rights.

That's exactly right. To the extent possible, Democrats should frame this not as a culture war issue, but as one of basic fairness. It doesn't have to be about marriage per se, it needs to be about legal rights that most Americans agree should be available to anyone.

But then, mixed into the very same paragraphs, is this:

For more than three hundred years, the liberal tradition has sought to free people from the tyranny of religious doctrines that would otherwise be imposed on them. Today's evangelical right detests that tradition and seeks nothing short of a state-sponsored religion....Gay marriage doesn't have to be a wedge issue for the evangelicals -- not if Democrats can put it where it belongs, as another front in the religious wars.

....Democrats should be clear that the issues of abortion and stem-cell research are about religious liberty. Tar the Republicans and the evangelicals with William Pryor and other nominees who want to overrule Roe. Show that the Senate Democrats' filibuster of these nominees is another front in the same religious war.

....The religious wars aren't pretty. Religious wars never are. But Democrats should mount a firm and clear counter-assault. In the months leading up to Election Day, when Republicans are screaming about God and accusing the Democrats of siding with sexual deviants and baby killers, Democrats should remind Americans that however important religion is to our spiritual lives, there is no room for liberty in a theocracy.

This is unbelievably destructive advice. Of course we should stand up for issues and policies we believe in, but the worst possible way to do it is to allow our positions to be framed as part of a religious war with Democrats necessarily cast in the anti-God role. This is exactly the stereotype of the party that the religious right wants people to believe, and the last thing we should be doing is helping them along.

Amy Sullivan and Allan Brill have written about this subject, and I think they have the right take on it. We don't need to compromise on civil liberties issues one iota, but we shouldn't make our positions sound like attacks on religion itself. It's wrong, it's self-defeating, and it's exactly what Republicans are trying to sucker us into doing.

So let's not.

Kevin Drum 11:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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