HORIST: Pete Buttigieg and the demise of the gay issue
Gayness as a political issue is dead. While it had been on its deathbed for decades, the final gasp of life was the decision by the Supreme Court to approve of gay marriages as a legitimate institution in America. While there have been efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to declare that marriage in America is only between a man and a woman, those efforts have gained no gravitas on the left or the right.
Being gay is no longer a barrier to public office. We have a large number of openly gay officeholders across the nation – including in Congress. Chicago recently elected a gay female mayor and in Pete Buttigieg, we have the first credible openly gay candidate for President of the United States. His candidacy did not nullify the issue. Rather, it was the result of the issue having been nullified by the American public in the past.
We have to keep in mind that all those elected gay officials have been put in office by mostly straight voters. By general demographic statistics, the newly elected mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, was elected in a city where 95 percent of the voters are straight and religious. Despite being an obscure mayor of a small city in Indiana, Buttigieg has major support in virtually every poll and has financial contributions from millions of voters – the vast majority of whom are straight and people of faith. America may not be ready for a gay President, but the fact that Buttigieg is in the running says something about the change in our culture.
Within less than 60 years, gay people have gone from the pariahs of society whose sexual orientation – if made public — would have ended their careers in almost any field of endeavor – even in libertine Hollywood. If gays were portrayed in the entertainment industry, it was sick and pathetic characters or as the butt of mocking humor. In the latter case, stereotypical gay mannerisms were standard comedic fare for generations, but it was without publicly revealing that the person was gay. That included such personalities as Liberace, Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Simmons.
It was at least 15 years ago when I began advising candidates for public office to avoid the issue of homosexuality. My advice was based on pure pragmatism. It was a losing issue. Open gayness was already normalized in the hearts and minds of most of the American public. The old fears and stereotypes had faded as a decisive – or even important – issue for most voters.
This is not to suggest that there are not controversial issues within the gay political agenda that need to be debated — issues such as whether the owners of a mom and pop bakery have a religious right to not participate – even as a merchant – in a gay wedding. It is not necessarily an assault on civil rights to believe it is wrong to boycott Chick fil A – which serves the straight and gay community equally — because of the religious views of the owner. And there is certainly a debate to be had over the use of bathrooms.
But what about the religious objection?
Most certainly the harshest religious response to homosexuality is found in Muslim-majority nations, where Shira Law calls for death sentences – and even so-called “honor killings” by family members. Those are not the practices of ancient times. In 2016, the Sultan of Brunei incorporated Sharia Law into the nation’s penal code that now calls for the stoning death of Muslim homosexuals and adulterers.
Christianity , for the most part, expresses moral objection to homosexuality, but with a more charitable approach – hate the sin, but love the sinner. Within the Christian population, however, there can be a discomforting tolerance of violence against gays. On the other hand, there are Christian denominations that accept homosexuality and will perform gay marriages. The Episcopal Church has elevated gay clergy to its hierarchy. Pope Francis has hinted at a more tolerant policy regarding homosexuality. Religion, itself, is a crumbling obstacle to gay acceptance.
The acceptance of homosexuality is evident even on the political right –with the exception of a portion of the fundamentalist religious right. This is reflected in the rise of such gay conservative activists as Milo Yiannopoulos, who brings a conservative message to college campuses, Brandon Straka, founder of the Walk-A-Way Movement that encourages Democrats to switch parties, and the increasing numbers in the Log Cabin Republicans – a GOP organization that serves the interests of gay Republicans and was only recently allowed to participate in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It is noteworthy that it was largely unnoticed that President Trump appointed a gay man, Richard Grenell, as ambassador to Germany.
Looking at America in general, it is irrefutable that homosexuality has been normalized as a part of the national fabric – as it has in most of the Western World. This cultural trend is likely to continue throughout the world as more tolerant generations rise to leadership. One only need look at the opinions of the senior generation on this subject and those of the Millennials.
The moral objections to homosexuality that were once dominant in the American culture are now largely reserved to portions of the religious community. Like it or not, normalization of the gay community is a pragmatic reality in terms of America’s socio-political life – and the proof is in the existence and election of so many openly gay candidates for high office by majorities of straight voters.
So, there ‘tis.