Patricia Nell Warren

"Obedience" -- Bigotry at Work in Maine

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | November 05, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: ballot measures, California Proposition 8, civil rights, Maine Marriage Equality, obedience to God, religious bigotry, same-sex marriage

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. When we go head to head at the polls with an ideological enemy who is more numerous than we are -- who has more money than we do to spend on lobbying and campaigning -- we are risking defeat. We can lose the way we did over marriage in Maine just now -- and in California over Prop 8 in 2008, and everywhere else that we've gotten clobbered on ballot measures, including Maine in 1998.

So -- in spite of that state's tradition of grassroots liberalism, in spite of all our best efforts, the bigots were able to get the winning numbers by herding their sheep to the polls. Why? Because sheep do what they're told...and so do religious righters. They read the Bible and note that the faithful are described as sheep. So they put their heads down and OBEY.

Righters believe in obeying God and Jesus, so they obey the self-styled "voices of God," whoever the sheepherders are. Pastors and bishops, even politicians and media demagogues (Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck come to mind), all qualify as sheepherders, because they all claim to talk to God. When "the sheepherder" tells believer/voters to get in their cars and go vote against gay marriage, they vote.

It is shocking to me that the American political process now allows for "obedience to God" to go to the state polls and cripple the civil rights of any protected group. And LGBT people are now a federally protected group. Supposedly ballot measures are "more democratic"...a legitimate way for the "will of the people" to express itself on issues state elections. And it's true that they started out in California with a legitimate, democratic, non-ideological issue, namely property taxes.

But today the use of ballot measures has veered off into attempts at imposing religious ideology. And "the will of the people" can be stampeded by bigotry, hysteria and disinformation.

Imagine the uproar if the anti-black Teabaggers (the ones who hate Obama and call him the anti-Christ) got enough signatures for a ballot measure limiting the rights of black people in a key state. Imagine if the civil rights of Jews, or Muslims, or Mormons, or women, could be thrown into the referendum raffle. So far, nobody has dared to go that far. But the barn door is open now, and sooner or later we will see broader, more blatant attacks on people's civil rights at the state polls. The bigots have figured out how to operate that machine, and they have it humming with eerie efficiency.

Meanwhile, state and local referendums on LGBT issues -- marriage, benefits, etc. -- are the order of the day, and we often lose.

Analyzing the Obedience Factor

Why did we manage to win out over "obedience" in Washington State and Kalamazoo, but lose for a second time in Maine?

The religious right focused their efforts on Maine because of the state's huge symbolic value in national elections. Their attack was fueled by outrage not only at same-sex marriage -- but also by outrage at the Democratic Party and the Obama administration. In a very real sense, we took some blows meant for the President. Even though Obama refused to support our effort in Maine, he did sign the Matthew Shepard hate-crimes bill just days before the Maine election, and this act of his may have tipped some angry votes to the "yes on 1" side. The opposition are also outraged at Obama over healthcare reform, the economy and the two wars.

OBEDIENCE is the key to how the bigots think and operate politically. Local religious organizations like Christian Coalition of Maine and Eagle Forum Maine churned out hundreds of thousands of voter guides in Maine. A voter guide tells you how to vote, so it's a cue to obedience. Many deliberately and despicably misleading ads about gays and Maine schools, also laden with "obedience" cues, were run in the media.

The joint efforts by both sides spurred a record voter turnout. But "obedience to God" won the day, giving the bigots a 6-point lead. Not a landslide, for sure. But good enough for them to proclaim that God is in their side. (I'm sure there will be a recount.)

Some of the pre-election polling had noted a possible victory for us. The Pan Atlantic survey had us ahead by 11 points, while the Daily Kos poll suggested a dead heat, and the Democratic Party automated poll showed us losing by 4 points. At Pollster.com, there is an interesting analysis of Maine and how voter referendum polls are notoriously prone to error.

But clearly there was a swing vote lurking out there, like a rogue wave coming at a ship through the darkness and mists of a storm, that showed itself only hazily in the polls. It probably consisted of people who were still resisting the call to "obey" till the past minute, plus some who were confused by what the yes/no thing meant...and already-committed "yes" people who hadn't talked to pollsters. Turned out that the Dem survey got it right.

It's clear to me that we need to be shifting our strategies. Among other things, we should:

(1) Put more effort and fundraising towards federal legislation. At the very least, we will have to defend the Matthew Shepard Act, because now the bigots will battle to get it struck down.

(2) Work harder towards enlightened court decisions, where we are less at the mercy of "the tyranny of the majority" and the "obedience" numbers. Yes, the bigots have put out a lot of deadly propaganda against "activist judges." But last time I checked, the judicial branch is still a key component of the American democratic process.

(3) Join with non-LGBT groups who are concerned at the growing use of ballot measures to establish a religious bias in state policy. In my opinion, this is a direct violence of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. All of us ought to work towards federal legislation and/or a U.S. Supreme court decision that prohibits the use of ballot measures in situations involving religion and civil rights.

In short -- we should look for every avenue to gain more rights where we can avoid going head to head with the OBEDIENCE factor -- unless we can find ways to cripple the bigots on the numbers front.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 6, 2009 8:42 AM

Gott mit uns!

Just like the inquisition, blind hysteria from people who believe that they need to be told what to do.

As always, find allies, don't create enemies. Perfect.

One of the things often overlooked is that when it comes to rights for someone else versus following the marching orders of your personal deity, the God is going to win every time. Without changing the conversation - and allowing them to use God as a weapon against us - we'll always be doomed to failure.

Great post, Patricia. I was waiting for your take on the matter and once again you've hit the nail on the head.

We get defeated by the Right wing Christians (Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons) time and time again. No costly media can match the access and one sidedness of a sermon on Sunday.

I am sooooo tired of the Christian Right. And I understand what a french politician friend of my aunt's laboured to explain to a young girl years ago...French anti-clericalism.....

As a footnote -- our ballot-measure stats stand at 102 losses and only 23 wins over the years.

I am still disturbed to this day at how little regard for the Constitution (or perhaps, knowledge of how it works?) that these referendums show.

You are not only correct that they CLEARLY violate the Establishment Clause, in that they establish a specific religion's idea of what a relationship and contract should be; I would go further and argue that ANY spiritual person whose religion does NOT prohibit same-sex marriage contracts, is also having their Free Exercise rights taken away as well!

Infuriating, galling, and surely at least some of the Founding Fathers would have been a little flabbergasted and outraged at how willfully these people are ignoring the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson for one, I'm almost positive would have sided with us; I doubt he was any more comfortable with homosexuality than most men of his time would have been, but he was also no fan of religious groups forcing their worldviews on others (one of my favorite quotes by him, though I may have the wording slightly off, is roughly this: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to believe in no God, or 20 Gods; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.")

One of the most frustrating things to me nowadays is to see so few groups actually bothering to try and argue the OBVIOUS - that these referendums violate the Constitution, and not even just the oft-cited 14th Amendment, but the star of the Constitution itself, the oft-quoted, much-touted, all-important First Amendment!

Further (disconcerting) proof that what's needed here is lawyers, not "votes". I would think that even non-"activist" judges would see the unconstitutionality of these laws.