Sunday, January 6, 2008

Obama using religion like a Republican

Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s dangerous cocktail mixing religion and politics has finally got him so punch drunk that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Obama’s latest – and high profile – mistake was inviting Donnie McClurkin to headline a gospel tour throughout the early primary state of South Carolina to shore up the African-American Christian vote. The problem is that McClurkin is a so-called “ex gay” who has campaigned hard against gay and lesbian civil rights.

How bad is McClurkin? This is what it says about him on Wikipedia: “In his book, ‘Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor,’ he writes that homosexuality is a spiritual issue, from which one can be delivered by the power and grace of God stating, ‘The abnormal use of my sexuality continued until I came to realize that I was broken and that homosexuality was not God’s intention... for my masculinity.’ He then describes himself as going through a process by which he became ‘a saved and sanctified man.’ McClurkin has also stated that homosexuality is a curse and that gays ‘are trying to kill our children.’”

When gay groups, led by the Human Rights Campaign, asked the Obama campaign to pull McClurkin from its gospel roster, it did not, opting instead to continue giving McClurkin a platform.

To deal with the fallout from gay activists and organizations, Obama gave an interview to, under the headline, “Obama explains why he’s the best candidate for LGBT Americans.” Hardly.

Obama tries to explain away the McClurkin mess by saying that the campaign was not aware of his “attitudes.” That’s completely disingenuous since a simple Google search brings up a plethora of information about McClurkin and his “attitudes.”

To make matters worse, Obama tries again by saying that McClurkin was simply singing at a gospel concert, “as opposed to [acting as] a spokesperson for us, [so] it probably didn’t undergo the same kind of vet that someone who was serving as a surrogate for me might have.”

In the interview, Obama goes on to say that he’s trying to build a bridge between two disparate constituencies – gays on one side and African-American Christians on the other. That’s an admirable goal, so it’s too bad he’s doing such a horrible job at it. He is never going to build a bridge to gays and lesbians by giving a platform to someone like McClurkin, who uses religion as a foundation for his hateful homophobic bigotry.

In fact, Obama isn’t building bridges at all; he’s using religion as an excuse to keep certain civil rights away from gay Americans. At a campaign stop in the first-caucus-in-the-nation state of Iowa, he told questioners that he did not support marriage equality for same-sex couples because of religion.

“You want the word marriage and I believe that the issue of marriage has become so entangled – the word marriage has become so entangled with religion – that it makes more sense for me as president, with that authority, to talk about civil rights that are conferred” with civil unions, he told a group in Cedar Rapids, as reported by the Des Moines Register.

This, again, is disingenuous since Obama’s religion, the United Church of Christ, became the first mainline Christian denomination to back marriage equality over two years ago. On top of that, Obama has said he understands the issue since he is biracial and his own parents’ marriage was affected by miscegenation laws.
But if he genuinely felt our pain so intimately, he wouldn’t be using religion to justify the same kind of discrimination felt by his own parents.

Obama’s campaign, however, has never really wanted to use religion as a theme to bring people together. Instead, he uses it as a political weapon for political gain, the same tactic used by Republicans for decades.

In last week’s Democratic debate, Obama was one of the candidates hammering frontrunner Hillary Clinton for acting too much like a Republican. But it is Obama who is using the most cynical weapon in the GOP arsenal – religion – to drive a wedge between voting blocs.

If that’s Obama’s idea of doing politics differently, thanks, but no thanks.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The splintered GOP sideshow

Evangelical voters just can’t decide which candidate to support among the menagerie of Republican presidential wannabes. And that news couldn’t be better for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The most recent example of this took place last weekend at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. Mainstream headlines coming out of the gathering basically said the same thing. As the New York Times put it, “Religious Right Divides Its Vote.” And the more divided the anti-gay right is, the less power they have to control the political agenda.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani leads among Republicans in national polls, but so-called “Values Voters” don’t trust him. In fact, he placed next to last in the summit’s straw poll – the only candidate to do worse was Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Christian conservatives say Giuliani has hijacked the GOP. And many are still threatening an independent third-party candidate – a move that would certainly divide the right-wing vote.

Along the way, Giuliani has angered moderates and left-leaning supporters for backing away from his support of issues like civil unions for same-sex couples and gun control.

So it seems unlikely that right-wing voters believe him when he says, as he did at the summit, “Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the political wind?” Well, yes, if he actually didn’t change his positions.

How little do Christian conservatives trust Giuliani? In response to his promise to appoint “strict constructionist” judges to the Supreme Court – a not-so-veiled reference to anti-Roe v. Wade judges – Southern Baptist Convention president Richard Land told the media, “He also promised two previous wives that he would love, honor and cherish them, until death do us part.” Ouch!

Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and “Law & Order” actor, was supposed to be the savior of the right. But he’s been a dud. James Dobson, the powerful head of anti-gay Focus on the Family, wrote of Thompson in an email that was leaked to the media: “He won’t talk at all about what he believes, can’t speak his way out of a paper bag. He has no passion, no zeal, no apparent ‘want to,’ yet he is apparently the great hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers, not for me.”

Then there’s former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has flip-flopped on issues ranging from abortion to gay civil rights to health care. As Log Cabin Republicans points out in a recent television ad, Romney had very different positions when he ran for office in the Bay State than he does now that he is kowtowing to the anti-gay right.

Between Romney’s changing positions and his Mormon faith, many evangelicals question his commitment to their so-called values.

Many social conservatives seem impressed with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is also a Baptist minister. He even placed second in the summit’s straw poll, bested only by Romney whose supporters basically bought enough votes to place first.

But many evangelicals don’t think Huckabee can win either the Republican nomination or the general election, so support for him is tentative. To Huckabee’s credit, despite a conservative agenda, he speaks in a respectful way that is reminiscent of the McCain of the 2000 campaign (as opposed to the McCain of the current campaign, who sold out his principles to ingratiate himself with the Bushes and the radical right).

Compare Huckabee to, say, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. He won praise during his speech at the summit when he said the Republican Party “needs a leader who is opposed to abortion not because Iowa caucus-goers are opposed to abortion but because the Lord said, ‘I knew you before you were in the womb.’” These voters may like what they hear from candidates like Tancredo, but pragmatic evangelicals know that such heated rhetoric will not win the White House.

So let the fractured anti-gay movement deal with its own indecision. In the meantime, the GLBT community must make the most of this moment when the enemy is most divided.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Larry Craig teaches conservatives a lesson on entrapment

Of all the elements of the story surrounding Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and his supposed restroom escapades, no one could have foreseen this latest development. Conservatives are now leading the charge against police gay-sex stings in public spaces.
Case in point: Long-time Republican operative Mary Matalin told NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet The Press” last week: “The people that I talked to, who are not particularly Craig fans, said, ‘That sounds like entrapment. Don’t the cops have better things to do than tap dance in bathrooms in the airport?’”
Yes, it sounds like entrapment. Yes, you’d think cops would have better things to do with their time, especially at an airport in this so-called Age of Terror. Gay rights activists have been saying this for decades. So it’s about time Matalin and her conservative friends noticed that such sting operations are a poor use of tax-payer dollars and a much better tool for ruining people’s lives than stopping men from cruising.
As Matt Coles, director of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Huffington Post, “The fundamental problem is that a sting isn’t calculated to stop the activity. Are you trying to stop people from cruising, or are you trying to arrest a lot of people?”
Obviously, the goal is to arrest a lot of people. In fact, according to the New York Times, Craig wasn’t the only one arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Over the sting’s three months, 39 others were also swept up in the police sting. That’s about one arrest every three days.
Craig is certainly no hero. In fact, his voting record is anathema to the gay civil rights movement. And he certainly proved himself to be not very bright – who pleads guilty to a crime you say you didn’t commit? In the end, however, it’s hard to argue that Craig actually broke the law.
His explanations are ridiculous – most notably, his claims he has a wide stance and he was merely picking up a piece of toilet paper. But even the arresting officer admits there was no sex and no indecent exposure. Sgt. Dave Karsnia of the Minneapolis Airport Police says he made the arrest based upon what he interpreted as signals Craig was allegedly trying to send. Even if they were signals, and they likely were, if the guy in the adjacent stall didn’t pick up on them, nothing tawdry would have taken place.
To make matters worse, Craig was one of 20 men in the Minneapolis sting charged with “interference of privacy.” But that law, only two years old, was passed to halt the use of hidden cameras in women’s bathrooms. It has never been used in connection with a sting in a men’s room.
And as Jeffrey Dean, a lawyer for four of the arrested men, told the Times, “There can be no invasion of privacy of a person who is inviting the conduct. The undercover officer, by his own account, sits there in an adjacent stall and signals the person that he wants the contact.”
Such letter-of-the-law language should be well understood by conservatives. But what is frustrating is that they were not willing or able to see the humanity of those who in the past have been caught up by such sting operations. These bottom-feeders, as far as they were concerned, got whatever they deserved for their forays into public sex. After all, would people like Matalin stand up against such entrapment if Craig were not involved?
It took one of their own – a red-meat conservative from red-state Idaho who swears up and down that is he is not gay and has “never been gay” – to be entrapped for them to realize how silly this all is.
But there is still one piece of this that conservatives – Craig included – still don’t get. Their anti-gay policies – everything from trying to ban same-sex marriage to refusing to include sexual orientation in federal hate crimes law – help to create a national environment that drives people like Craig underground, into the closet, and inside men’s room stalls.