Has Being Anti-Gay Become Uncool: Dr. Laura, Rick Warren & Many Others Now Think So

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday April 20, 2009

Has anti-gay rhetoric become so unfashionable that even those on the right eschew it? It appears that way from some dramatic announcements lately--and perhaps even more telling, from prominent conservatives and what they're not saying.

Several major media personalities have either renounced their past homophobia or have attempted to distance themselves from it, as evidenced by the recent statements by Dr. Laura Schlessinger and the Rev. Rick Warren.

Many in the LGBT community were stunned when Schlessinger, a conservative talk show host and author, told CNN that while she's no supporter of gay marriage, she supports same-sex relationships as a "very healthy and very positive thing." Schlessinger's statement was a dramatic turnaround from her demeanor toward gays in 2000, when she called homosexuality a "biological error."

Another enemy of gays and lesbians has been California mega-church pastor Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life". Warren appeared on CNN and apologized to his gay friends for making comments in support of California's Proposition 8, which reversed a court decision allowing gay marriage there, and now claims he "never once even gave an endorsement" of the marriage amendment."

The facts, however, prove otherwise.

Two weeks before the November 4 Prop. 8 vote, Warren addressed his church members and endorsed the marriage amendment, saying "We support Proposition 8--and, if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8." Warren's position was well known enough to cause a media firestorm when gay activists, organizations, Democratic donors and everyone else reacted with outrage and horror when President-elect Barack Obama named him to give the convocation at his inauguration in January.

So, as shocking as Warren's about-face on Proposition 8 was, it was even more astounding when Warren declined to comment on or criticize the Iowa Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage because it was "not his agenda."

Warren's reticence--if not outright embrace--of gay marriage comes at a time when there has been a noticeable lack of outrage among politicians and commentators in the wake of Iowa and Vermont clearing the way for same-sex couples to be married in those states. Has the culture changed? Is America a more tolerant, welcoming place for GLBTs?

Joe Sudbay, a gay blogger at political web site Americablog.com, says yes. "Our society is changing quickly," said Sudbay. "That freaks out the right wing. They know we're heading towards full acceptance of gay relationships."

Sudbay believes the passage of Proposition 8 had a major impact on the way society views the GLBT community and GLBT civil rights. "I think Prop. 8 changed everything," Sudbay noted. "It radicalized gay people, but also our straight allies. I think most of my straight friends were more upset than I was--and I was pretty upset. I think gay Americans are ready to fight, really fight, for our rights."

Having a President who is more welcoming of gays and lesbians is a step in the right direction as far as winning equal rights, according to Cathy Renna, a former GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) spokesperson who now runs her own communications firm that specializes in gay organizations, in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Renna was at the White House last week for the annual Easter Egg Roll, where same-sex couples and their children were welcomed to participate in the event. "Change is happening at all these different levels," Renna said, noting the granting of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Iowa and Vermont was a "tremendous victory" for the GLBT community.

Politicians also seem hesitant to want to be perceived as homophobic. A case in point is Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, who appeared at a press conference recently to lend his support for a new ad campaign by the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage.

A marriage equality bill has been introduced by the state legislature but has not yet been put to a vote. Carcieri believes the issue should be put on a ballot so the voters of the state can decide it for themselves. "I have lots of friends, family, business associates, associates within state government who are gay or lesbian, whatever. That's not the issue. This is not an issue for me of gay rights," Carcieri said.

What's unusual about Carcieri's statement is his acknowledgment that he knows gays and lesbians on a personal level, something he has rarely mentioned at all in the past. Carcieri also made sure to point out that he is not anti-gay, just a "traditionalist" when it comes to keeping marriage between one man and one woman.

Even more dramatic is Jon Huntsman Jr., the governor of Utah, which, as Frank Rich points out in an opinion column in the April 19 Sunday New York Times, is the "reddest state in the country." That didn't stop him from endorsing civil unions.

"We must embrace all citizens as equals," Huntsman told Rich. "I've always stood tall on this." He said he's gotten nothing but praise for his position. As Rich points out, his poll numbers are astronomically high, in the mid-80s. And this in a state dominated by Mormons--the group so integral to the success of Proposition 8.

Huntsman, a Republican, may be the future of his party. Meghan McCain, the daughter of the recent GOP candidate for president, has made gay rights and gay marriage a cornerstone of her attempts to modernize the party.

McCain spoke to the Log Cabin national gathering in Washington this weekend, as did Steve Schmidt, McCain's campaign strategist. He also advocated for same-sex marriage. Both pointed out that the issue is not so much a wedge between Democrat and Republican, or blue-collar and white-collar, or rural and urban, but between young and old.

Increasingly, Schmidt and others maintain, going against gay rights paints a politician as out of touch, behind the times, uncool. Although some on the right may still advocate being "uncool" is, well, pretty cool, in the YouTube-Facebook society we're in now, the GOP risks being painted as your grandparents' party.

"I think that politically, being seen as discriminatory is bad politics," said Toronto-based blogger Fred Kuhr. Although the majority of the population may still feel uncomfortable with the concept of same-sex couples getting married, there is support for allowing gays and lesbians to have equal treatment under the law, he added.

"Do we have full rights? No. In most states we don't. But we are moving in the direction culturally of treating gays and gay couples with basic decency and human respect," Kuhr noted.

"We're getting to the point where it's far less acceptable to be openly homophobic," Renna said, adding opponents of marriage equality are trying to reframe their messages to come across as late hateful, a "kinder, gentler homophobia" if you will.

Another explanation for why homophobia has abated is the economic recession and high unemployment rates, which are diverting attention away from hot-button cultural issues such as gay marriage, according to Sudbay.

As a partial proof of his argument, the right-wing radio talkshow hosts with the largest audiences, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, seldom if ever talk about gay issues. Instead, they spend most of their time talking about defense and taxes. When the Obama Administration comes in for criticism (which it does, of course) on those shows, it's for fiscal and military policy. If they mention social issues at all, it's in general terms of "social engineering" or "creeping socialism."

"Most people are extremely worried about the economy and their own financial situations right now. They're worried about keeping their jobs and their homes and are less worried about same-sex marriage," Sudbay said. "Politicians who focus on gay-bashing now just really look out of touch and ridiculous."

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

Comments on Facebook