Daily Beast Writer: Why Can’t Religious Conservatives Be As Flexible As the Gay-Rights Movement?

The faltering religious right would be well served to borrow a strategy from gay activists, but it almost certainly won’t, contended The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky in a Friday column.

In Tomasky’s telling, the gay-rights movement in the 1980s alienated many because it could be self-righteous to the point of belligerence, but eventually “the leaders of the movement saw that it was more important to persuade public opinion than to shock it. And so the public-relations strategy around the movement for same-sex marriage became ‘we’re just like you.’ And it worked.”

The religious right, Tomasky argued, “can’t change. When you believe the Big Guy Himself handed you down your positions, you’re not going to alter them or indeed even the way you talk about them. What is the religious right’s version of ‘we’re just like you’? I don’t think there is one. Because they are not like the rest of us, at least when it comes to politics.”

From Tomasky’s column, headlined “LGBT Is the Real Moral Majority” (bolding added):

[O]utside the realm of the Republican presidential primary process—and maybe soon within it—the religious right is losing wattage fast, and I can report to you happily that the movement has only itself to blame.

…A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows that more Americans say they feel enthusiastic about or comfortable with an openly gay or lesbian presidential candidate than an openly evangelical Christian one…

…[T]he LGBT movement is winning…religious conservatives are losing…[and] evangelicals, the foot soldiers of the religious right, probably can’t do anything about it without in effect ceasing to be evangelicals (at least of the stripe they’ve been for 30-plus years).

When I was a young journalist in New York, I witnessed and to some extent covered the rise of the post-AIDS gay and lesbian movement…ACT UP got in people’s faces, and certainly to some extent understandably so. But there were the occasional militant actions that lost potential supporters—the kiss-ins at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, notably, and even on one occasion I recall the desecration of the Host by one protestor within the Cathedral itself on a Sunday morning…

…[I]n essence, over time, the leaders of the movement saw that it was more important to persuade public opinion than to shock it. And so the public-relations strategy around the movement for same-sex marriage became “we’re just like you.” And it worked, in all the ways you already know about…

In other words, the LGBT movement figured out that it had to find a way to get people who didn’t agree to agree.

Now let’s look at the Christian right. Has it done anything over the years to change its approach, try to widen its reach? Basically, no…There have in fairness been occasional attempts to broaden the reach, but they’ve mostly blown up. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) tried to get the movement interested in climate change, and it blew up in his face. Then he expressed mere ambivalence about same-sex marriage…and got thrown out of NAE (resigned, officially)

Americans are against the religious right…on state laws like the one Governor Mike Pence originally tried to pass in Indiana…[Y]ou saw what happened to Pence—he backed down, his ratings went in the toilet, and if you mention him today as a presidential contender, it’s only as a punch line.

Americans were once that opposed to equal rights for gay people, too. But the movement changed, and public opinion changed. The religious right, however, can’t change. When you believe the Big Guy Himself handed you down your positions, you’re not going to alter them or indeed even the way you talk about them.

What is the religious right’s version of “we’re just like you”? I don’t think there is one. Because they are not like the rest of us, at least when it comes to politics…And those among this larger “we” who are religious think religion demands chiefly that we behave compassionately toward the less fortunate, not that we refuse to bake cakes for matrimonially minded lesbians.

Campaigns & Elections Culture/Society Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Religious Right Religion Sexuality Homosexuality Same-sex marriage The Daily Beast Michael Tomasky


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