Monday, May 25, 2009

So how will the California Supremes decide Prop H8?

If I were to bet, I'd bet the Supremes, when they rule tomorrow, will attempt to weasel their way out by 1) upholding Prop 8 (which took away the right for same-sex couples to marry in California) but 2) throwing a bone to that proposition's opponents by maintaining the legality of those same-sex marriages that occurred prior to the proposition's passage. I've had a thing or two to say about the proposition before; no real need to repeat them.

Sara Robinson offers up an interesting perspective over at Orcinus. Her general conclusion seems to be reasonable enough - this is a battle that is hardly over, and time does appear to be on the side of those of us in favor of recognizing same-sex marriages as legal. A proposition to overturn Prop H8 has a decent shot at winning a majority next year or 2012.

What is striking is what Robinson offers up in terms of how the nation's right-wing extremists will react should the California Supremes actually overturn Proposition H8 tomorrow:
... if Prop 8 is overturned by the courts, the backlash from the right is likely to be far more ferocious and intense than anybody on the left reckons right now.

[snip]

Yes, the right wing is losing on gay rights issues. That is, very precisely, why they’re more dangerous now than they have been in the past. Their impending irrelevance is not a reason to worry less; it’s a reason to worry more. And getting Prop 8 overturned in the courts would ignite the situation, because it will hit absolutely every angry-making right-wing button there is:

1. The biggest state in the country, comprising fully 1/8 of the nation's population, will have legal gay marriage. That, right there, will be pretty much the end of the war, and they know it. The five states currently on board are worrisome, but they're small and not considered the kind of cultural juggernaut California is.

2. Overturning Prop 8 would push every button the right wing has about Godless liberals on the coasts imposing their moral values on them. “Pushing their immorality down our throats" has always been one of rural America’s major recurring complaints, particularly among evangelicals who seriously believe that God will withdraw his special blessing from America – and possibly destroy the country -- if gays can get married. (I know, I know. But they are what they are.) While the feelings about this have always run strong and deep, they’ve become much more intense since their political power began slipping away from them in 2006, and particularly since Obama took office and they lost Congress.

In this brave new world, the perverts don't even have the basic decency to feel shame about it anymore. They don't even know where to start with that. It makes them absolutely desperate with rage.

3. The fact that the deed was done by a bunch of California liberal activist judges who had to reverse the outcome of a statewide election -- an election that every conservative church in the country had at least an emotional stake in, and often a financial stake as well -- is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. They hate judges. They really hate liberal judges. They really, really hate California liberal judges, and have since Earl Warren. Having judges undo what they considered to be a major moral victory for their side could push their fury from merely seething to absolutely explosive.

So we’re left with a scenario in which their entire moral fight for the soul of the nation was lost because of nine liberal judges in California. I can't think of a narrative more guaranteed to push every hot button on the right, unless maybe one of the judges was Perez Hilton. Naw, maybe not even then.

And you can bet that right-wing True Believers across the country are going to be looking for targets to take out their frustration on. As I’ve written recently, they already think this government is not their own, and are moving into opposition to it. They really believe that the continued greatness of America is at stake, and they are the last line of defense against complete moral chaos. If this happens, God will withdraw his blessing from the US, and America will lose everything. They will not let that happen. Passing a gay marriage law in California -- the biggest and most influential state of all -- will be their Harper's Ferry, their Pearl Harbor. After that -- the deluge.

That's why a positive decision for California’s gay community could create considerable negative -- and potentially violent -- blowback throughout the nation. Since they can't get at California’s judges, they may decide to strike out at local gays, gay-owned businesses, gay bars, and their own local judiciary, wherever they happen to be. If I were associated with any of these things in a conservative patch of the country, I'd be spending today thinking through some serious security precautions.

In the worst case, this decision could become the catalyst for a new round of large-scale domestic terrorism from the right. As I've noted, everything I'm seeing points to a subculture that is gearing up for this kind of heroic last stand in defense of a lost cause. And this time, it's not going to be just a few white supremacist/militia/patriot/anti-choice wackos. The new crop of right wing militants is better connected, better trained, better armed, and absolutely determined to go down fighting. And, as the SPLC keeps telling us, there may considerably more people motivated to support them than there have been in the past. It’s not unthinkable that between 15 and 20% of the country could be inclined to start -- or at least support -- a civil war over this.

One thing that Robinson mentions that I wanted to highlight is the notion of displaced aggression (in this case displaced violent aggression) as a possible outcome. Let's just say that there is a ton of psychological research in both lab and field settings that demonstrate that when it is unfeasible to aggress against one potential target (for whatever reason) that often a more immediately available (and typically less formidable) target will suffice (think of the disgruntled office worker who can't punch his boss for fear of getting fired, so goes home and kicks the dog instead). Not being able to simply load up the old F-150 and pick of a few Supreme Court justices in another state, the local jugheads most likely to be upset about the legalization of same-sex marriage in California will be tempted to lash out against whoever appears to be gay or pro-gay (so expect an uptick in gay bashing incidents across the country, attempts to bomb or open fire on gay bars or "liberal" churches, etc.) in the next few days or weeks, much along the lines of the uptick in racial violence that has occurred in the aftermath of Obama's election as President. I'd also expect to see quite an uptick of hate-filled wingnut blogging chatter on those wonderful Internet Tubes if Prop 8 is overturned tomorrow.

Personally, I'm not particularly concerned about this being the event that sends the nation into civil war - the wackos who are spoiling for such may be better armed and organized than in recent years, but let's face it, they're not capable of anything quite that dramatic. That said, I'd keep an eye on some of our own homegrown terrorists, as they are quite capable of doing some serious damage (especially when their favored authority figures have been egging them on). It also bears repeating that by homegrown terrorists, we're describing a relatively small group of folks who are white, "Christian", prone to conspiracy theories, and whose political beliefs can be charitably characterized as paranoid. I say paranoid since any effort to remove some of the structural violence that has been perpetrated against minorities of one stripe or another is viewed as an attack on their values, their way of life, their idealized and delusional vision of what the US is and should be. The world is a very scary place to this particular demographic, and its members are bound and determined to spread some of that hatred and fear around. Personally, I wish they wouldn't share.

I've probably mentioned this before, but the Southern Poverty Law Center has a handy map of hate groups in the US. Never hurts to know if one or more of these groups is operating in your vicinity.

Update: As predicted, the Supremes weaseled. The haters will likely remain on simmer for now.

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