I must confess that, in my capacity as a ranking member of the gay community, I did not expect to be called a “bully” by a member of the U.S. Congress at this early date.
Yet there was Michele Bachmann, the fourth-term representative from Minnesota, categorizing last month’s veto of Arizona Senate Bill 1062 as the result of coercion by a gay cabal against those with “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
“The gay community thinks that they’ve so bullied the American people and they’ve so intimidated politicians that politicians fear them,” said Bachmann during a conservative talk radio program last week. “And so they think that they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.”
The bill in question, you will recall, would have empowered any Arizona business owner to withhold services from anyone, if providing such a service would violate the dictates of the business owner’s faith.
Following a national uproar, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, who concluded, “Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”
Nonetheless, as Bachmann and company would have it, the death of Senate Bill 1062 came at the hands of some nefarious gay mafia that cares not one whit about the freedom of expression and seeks to suppress the right to practice one’s religion untrammeled, and to further the proverbial “gay agenda” in the process.
Never mind that Senate Bill 1062 was conceived and written specifically with same-sex relationships in mind—and along with them, the desire by some Christians to act as if such relationships don’t exist, or at least don’t deserve to be treated as legitimate.
Never mind that the final, fatal blows to the Arizona bill came almost exclusively from Republicans—John McCain, Mitt Romney and a handful of the bill’s original supporters in the State Senate, to name a few.
And never mind that, even without this bill, gay people in Arizona are subject to no legal protections whatever regarding employment.
Nope. The true “victims” in this drama are not the gays being denied the right to be treated as equals. Rather, it is the Christians being denied the right to treat others as inferiors.
This is not to say that the right to regard others as morally reprehensible is not real and not worth defending. To the contrary, the First Amendment’s guarantee to free expression means exactly that.
The blogger Andrew Sullivan—himself a devout Catholic who is also gay—has written to great effect about the need to respect those who object to homosexuality on theological grounds, even while decrying the tendency by some to play the victim, as if the present-day acceptance of homosexuality is, itself, a form of persecution against those who think differently.
What I find most intriguing is the cultural role reversal implied by Bachmann’s and others’ use of the word “bully” with regards to gay rights activists.
Surely it cannot be lost on them—or perhaps it can?—that no single issue has been of more pressing concern to gay young people in recent years than being bullied—be it the outright physical abuse that has robbed innumerable high school students of life and limb, or the psychological torture that has led its targets to take their own lives or simply spend the balance of their adolescent years in abject misery and fear. See the “It Gets Better Project” for examples.
With this reality in mind, for the gay community to then have the word “bully” deflected back at it strikes as just the slightest bit insensitive and strange, and not a little ironic as well.
To be sure, gays are the not the first minority group to face a charge that had long defined its tormentors. To wit, the State of Israel is regularly accused of employing Nazi-like tactics against its Palestinian inhabitants, while African Americans are sometimes tarred as “reverse racists” for their support of affirmative action and like programs.
The real question, then, is whether these labels are deserved, and what it means for our culture if they are.
It is undeniably true that the gay rights movement has so successfully executed its “agenda” of achieving legal equality in America that it has become a real political and culture force—a lobby as powerful as most others.
But do this group’s tactics constitute bullying or simple, good old political pressure? I would argue the gay community has agitated no more aggressively or unfairly for its interests than the NRA or anti-abortion groups have for theirs. That’s what lobbying is all about.
In the absence of any strong evidence to the contrary, I would suggest that any long-repressed group that so metamorphoses into a social success story not sweat the “oppressor” label too severely, and instead take it as the backhanded compliment that it is.