Newsweek Poll Shows Increased Tolerance for Gay Rights

I have little doubt that sooner or later same-sex marriage will be legal in most of the country–and western civilization will not collapse as a result. A Newsweek poll shows that support is increasing, even if lagging behind support for civil unions:

Americans continue to find civil unions for gays and lesbians more palatable than full-fledged marriage. Fifty-five percent of respondents favored legally sanctioned unions or partnerships, while only 39 percent supported marriage rights. Both figures are notably higher than in 2004, when 40 percent backed the former and 33 percent approved of the latter. When it comes to according legal rights in specific areas to gays, the public is even more supportive. Seventy-four percent back inheritance rights for gay domestic partners (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 73 percent approve of extending health insurance and other employee benefits to them (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 67 percent favor granting them Social Security benefits (compared to 55 percent in 2004) and 86 percent support hospital visitation rights (a question that wasn’t asked four years ago). In other areas, too, respondents appeared increasingly tolerant. Fifty-three percent favor gay adoption rights (8 points more than in 2004), and 66 percent believe gays should be able to serve openly in the military (6 points more than in 2004).

But is the glass 86 percent full or 10 percent empty? While 86 percent do support hospital visitation rights, ten percent are opposed. As Steve Benen writes:

I have to wonder just how hateful and callous a person would have to be to hold this position. It’s one thing far-right folks to hesitate when it comes to gay people getting married, but if they’re not even comfortable letting gay people visit their partners in the hospital, their hatred has blinded them to any sense of morality.

Fortunately such hatred is expressed by a declining minority.

Update: Here is an example of how some on the right see the issue from American Power:

The most striking finding, however, is that a majority of 62 percent of Americans say religious beliefs are central to defining marriage, with a plurality of 41 percent of Americans seeing marriage as exclusively a religious matter.

This is why radical leftists attack Americans who are religious traditionalists as “Christianists.”

For gay rights activists to achieve their goal of full marriage equality under the law, they must marginalize Americans of faith who reject a redefinition of culture away from traditional or scriptural foundations.

Marginalizing such people does sound like a worthy goal as long as they believe they have the right to impose their views upon others. This is not out of any opposition to people practicing Christianity or any other religion. The point is that I don’t care if people are straight or gay. I don’t care if people are Christian, members of any other religion, or no have religion at all. What I do care about is when any of these groups believes they have the right to impose their views upon others.

The founding fathers wisely decided to form a secular government characterized by separation of church and state. Any individual has the right to live their life based upon the rules of a religion but not the right to force others to live under their religious laws. Under our system of government religious rules should not be the sole justification for civil law. That is a tradition worth respecting. Even ignoring the fact that the meaning of scriptural foundations is open to a wide variety of interpretations, scriptural foundations are not a justification for continuing discrimination.

Our traditional foundations sometimes must also change over time. Our country has a strong tradition of discrimination against other groups besides homosexuals. We broke with those traditions, and it is long past time to break with the tradition of discrimination based upon sexual preference.

Is It Possible To Be A Secularist on the Right?

Supporters of the Secular Right have a blog up but are faced with the fundamental challenge of first convincing people that this view even exists to a meaningful degree. In a post which questions Do We Exist this argument is made:

There are many people like us: people who cherish limited government, fiscal restraint, personal liberty, free enterprise, self-support, patriotic defense of the homeland and its borders, love of the Constitution, respect for established ways of doing things, pride in Western Civilization, etc., and yet who cannot swallow stories about the Sky Father and the Afterlife, miraculous births and revivifications. What does the one set of things have to do with the other? We are secular conservatives. What else are we? Figments of our own imaginations?

They might not be figments of their own imaginations, but are they really on the right as left and right are now defined? The old battles between capitalism and socialism are over. Despite attempts by the McCain campaign to twist Obama’s words to portray him as a supporter of redistribution of the wealth in a Marxist sense, and despite some remaining socialists on the far left, for the most part the left is firmly behind free enterprise.

Republicans have hardly offered either fiscal restraint or limited government. It is Democrats who in recent years have balanced the budget and have been more likely to support the principle of pay as you go.

Patriotic defense of the homeland? The right wing would be more likely to word it this way. The left wouldn’t use such verbiage but it is the left which is reality-based on foreign policy and which would provide more rational national security. It is the right which has undermined our national security by the policies they have pursued in recent years.

Love of the Constitution? It is the objection to violations of the Constitution and views of the Founding Fathers by the right which most strongly identifies the left. The primary difference between the left and right is the support for liberty by the left and opposition to the infringements upon individual liberty emanating from the right.

The realignment of left and right over issues of freedom and support for the Constitutional limitations on government is directly related to the dominance of the religious right in the Republican Party. With the possible exception of the abuse of the “war on terror,” it is the religious right which presents the greatest threat to individual freedom in this country. A political party cannot simultaneously be a supporter of freedom and support the agenda of the religious right. The Founding Fathers realized, when they promoted a secular government, that this was essential to preserving freedom.

Barry Goldwater realized this inconsistency years ago when he opposed the influence of the religious right in the GOP and considered himself to be a liberal in his later years. Andrew Sullivan also sees the incompatibility between secularism and the current Republican Party (and hopefully he understands the difference between secularism and atheism). In commenting on this discussion, Sullivan writes:

I don’t see how Republicanism, as it is now constructed, can tolerate atheists in its midst. The principles of today’s Christianist GOP are theological before they are political. And when you’re dealing with believers like these people, there is no arguing with revealed truths. Your job is to bow down or get out of the way.

Some day we might once again have a Republican Party more in line with historical conservative views, such as those held by Barry Goldwater. At present it appears that the religious right has firm control over the GOP. Meanings of labels such as left and right tend to vary over time and carry considerable ambiguity. At present a supporter of individual liberty, the Constitution, the free market, fiscal responsibility, a sound reality-based defense policy, and a secular government would more likely be classified as being on the left as opposed to the right. Of course these are the basic principles promoted here at Liberal Values.

This might still leave room for a combination of secular views and other views which might conceivably place someone on the right. We might still classify someone as being on the right for supporting the failed foreign policy beliefs of the neoconservatives. Apologists for the restrictions on civil liberties and growth of government under the Republicans could also fall on the right. This type of conservative wouldn’t fit in well with either party but, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out above, they will have difficulty being accepted in the Republican Party.

Update: A difference in the world view between liberals (and perhaps the secular right) and non-secular conservatives can be seen in this comment on this topic at  The American Conservative:

If secular conservatives have “pride in Western Civilization,” as Derbyshire puts it, they cannot very well ignore or deride as nonsense the central religious inspiration of that entire civilization, which is Christianity. Are they obliged to accept revealed truths? No, but they can and should pay due respect to the revelation that animated Western societies for most of their history and the traditions of our ancestors that have been tested over time and which have endured to become established customs. If all they are asking for is to “play in the band,” as Derbyshire says, no one is telling them that they cannot.

I would disagree that “pride in Western Civilization” necessitates giving such a dominant role to Christianity. The roots of our Western Civilization pre-date Christianity, and include the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the religious heritage of Judaism. In having pride in Western Civilization I look back to these traditions. I also look back to the Age of Enlightenment when the influence of religion was minimized and the west looked to ideas of individual freedom and to science and reason, as opposed to religion, to explain the universe. Using the subtitle of Defending Liberty and Enlightened Thought in this blog displays pride in these important ideas which come from Western Civilization and which have become more prominent over religious conservatism since the Age of Enlightenment.

Does Size Matter (When Considering Freedom)?

Veronique de Rugy considers the correlation between freedom and size of government, arguing that we are freer today than we were forty years ago despite the increase in the size of government. While the size of government has clearly increased, it is more difficult to answer the question of whether we are more free. What is significant is that an article in the libertarian magazine Reason is even considering this question.

While de Ruby believes we are more free there are clearly counter arguments that we are less free, including the civil liberties consequences of the “war on terror,” the growth in influence of the religious right, and a hell of a lot of new regulations on the books. At least the election of Obama and the repudiation of the authoritarian right in the last election should improve conditions with regards to the first two. The consequences with regards to the third remain to be seen.

The significance of this discussion in a libertarian publication is that many libertarians would argue, without a moment of thought, that there is a direct and absolute negative correlation between size of government and freedom. This is also seen in many Republican voters who blindly vote for the outright authoritarian policies of the GOP thinking they will provide more freedom because they promise to cut or eliminate this or that government agency. There is nothing to prevent a small government from being more tyrannical than a larger one.

In judging whether the policies of a party will make us more or less free, considerations of the size of government only play a small role. It is far more important to consider the role of government in the lives of individuals, as well as the underlying principles they hold. A political party which denies important principles such as separation of church and state, and which ignores the limitations upon the Executive Branch devised by the Founding Fathers, is an enemy of freedom regardless of their rhetoric about cutting the size of government. Of course Republicans haven’t done too well with regards to cutting government spending either.

Now that the Democrats have control of both the Executive and Legislative Branches we can evaluate them based upon how they respond to issues crucial to freedom. Some libertarians and Republicans will continue to have a knee jerk reaction to any measure which increases the size of government and claim that they are reducing our freedom. This would be a poor way to evaluate government under the Democratic Party.

Instead of thinking exclusively of size of government we should evaluate the Democrats based upon whether they act to restore the civil liberties which have been restricted under the Bush administration or continue to allow such polices to continue. The Democrats should be judged based upon whether they restore the checks and balances on Executive Power which were eliminated under the Republicans or whether they allow increased Executive power to continue when it is in their hands. Democrats should be judged on whether they act to restore the wall of separation of church and state as advocated by our Founding Fathers. Democrats should be judged upon whether they act to end the war in Iraq, and ideally to also end the drug war (although I am far less optimistic on this one).

Ronald Reagan was elected with promises to get government off our backs. The Republicans failed to live up to this rhetoric, except in areas where some government regulation is necessary. Reagan’s promise, applied to the lives of individuals as opposed to the financial sector alone, is now one which hopefully the Democrats can fulfill. If they can go this, then we can live with what will inevitably be a larger government.

Kentucky Enlists God in War on Terror

Many conservative politicians fail to respect our heritage of separation of church and state. In Kentucky the state government has even tried to enlist God in fighting terrorism, or at least credit God for keeping us safe. This violation of separation of church and state has now wound up in the courts, as reported by The Lexington News:

An atheists-rights group is suing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security because state law requires the agency to stress “dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.”

American Atheists of Parsippany, N.J., and 10 non-religious Kentuckians are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, set to be filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.

Edwin Kagin, a Boone County lawyer and the national legal director of American Atheists, said he was appalled to read in the Herald-Leader last week that state law establishes praising God — and installing a plaque in God’s honor — as the first duty of the Homeland Security Office.

The state and federal constitutions both prohibit government from getting involved in religion, Kagin said Monday.

“This is one of the most outrageous things I’ve seen in 35 years of practicing law. It’s breathtakingly unconstitutional,” Kagin said.

Gov. Steve Beshear’s office had not seen the suit and therefore had no comment, spokesman Jay Blanton said.

The requirement to credit God for Kentucky’s protection was tucked into 2006 homeland security legislation by state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister.

“This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky,” Riner said last week.

Riner said he expects Homeland Security to include language recognizing God’s benevolent protection in its official reports and other materials — sometimes the agency does, and sometimes it doesn’t — and to maintain a plaque with that message at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort.

In the suit, American Atheists argues that Homeland Security should focus on public-safety threats rather than promote religion. The suit notes that the federal and state homeland security agencies were created as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Muslim fundamentalists, and it refers to those attacks as “a faith-based initiative.”

The plaintiffs ask for the homeland security law to be stripped of its references to God. They also ask for monetary damages, claiming to have suffered sleeping disorders and “mental pain and anguish.”

“Plaintiffs also suffer anxiety from the belief that the existence of these unconstitutional laws suggest that their very safety as residents of Kentucky may be in the hands of fanatics, traitors or fools,” according to the suit.

I agree with removing this provision from the law, but when they claim to deserve monetary damages for pain and suffering I fear they risk making a mockery of their argument. On the other hand, if they should win such damages, the world is full of similar injustices for which we could claim mental pain and anguish.