Next Gen Evangelicals

Jonathan of a new breed of evangelicals

Jonathan of a new breed of evangelicals

A surprisingly detailed and measured look at the changes in the evangelical landscape from gay magazine The Advocate raises some of the same points covered in the Newsweek article I wrote about a few days ago. It notes that young evangelicals are more likely to be concerned about the environment and more likely to believe in some form of relationship recognition for gays. Jonathan Merritt a young evangelical leader puts it this way:

“My generation will not fight to preserve the platform for traditional marriage that our predecessors have fought for,” the 26-year-old says. “Older evangelicals are so stubborn and unable to compromise or reach out a hand. And they’re in danger of losing their legacy.”

Whatever his personal beliefs on marriage equality are, you’re not likely to hear him rail against a gay rights agenda in the vitriolic vein of Pat Robertson or James Dobson. On his blog Merritt criticizes a Starbucks-addled American culture that ignores the atrocities in Darfur. He renounces the use of torture. Most notably, Merritt recognizes the burden of 6.7 billion people on the world’s ecosystems and chastises Christians who don’t view conservation and carbon footprint reduction as godly mandates. “Environmental stewardship has been integrated into Christian thought since the beginning of time,” he says. “Unfortunately, when modern evangelicals began associating themselves with a particular political faction, they were skittish about issues seen as leftist or liberal policy.”

Matthew Fox the former Dominican who was hounded out of the Catholic church for his exploration of creation centered spirituality makes a great point about the individualist drive of traditional religious right positions:

“So much of the [evangelical] agenda has come from the modern consciousness of the individual,” says Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and theologian in Oakland, Calif. “Am I saved? Am I a sinner? Am I going to hell? But I think this generation has grown up with the realization that the planet is dying and that its survival is a little more important than whom people sleep with.”

For more from Fox check out this interview

A Christmas gift for Ted..

All I want for christmas...Mike Jones poses on his website

All I want for christmas...Mike Jones poses on his website

This is what Ted Haggard wanted for Christmas… It’s just one of the poses from Mike Jones massage web site. Rev Haggard is obviously not the only local Jones was keeping happy, his site says:

“Voted best massage and personal trainer for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 by readers of the community newspaper Out Front Colorado. Former state bodybuilding and powerlifting champion.”

Now you know why Ted was tempted.

It is interesting that some of the media are being quite coy about Jones describing him as a “former prostitute” yet he is quite happy to say that he was with Haggard as recently as August.

As the photo indicates Jones is anything but coy: “If you like a strong muscle man to bring pleasure to you then please call me. I am a muscle stud with a friendly personality and a caring heart.

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Evangelical male order

Rev Ted Haggard down on his knees

Rev Ted Haggard down on his knees

It’s fascinating to watch yet another Evangelical/Republican homo-sex scandal erupt. After Rep Mark Foley was introduced to the world by a White House page, Rev Ted Haggard hits the media courtesy of a Denver prostitute called Mike Jones. Not only did the (now former) president of the National Association of Evangelicals pay Jones for sex he also bought crystal from him.

As delicious as it is as a scandal, it is also a fascinating media story and an even more fascinating religion story.

As Colorado Springs gay news site Gazette reports, the story has been brewing for some time and is a great example of the new press rules on how and when a scandal becomes public. NBC Denver affiliate KUSA had been investigating Jones’ claims for two months but say they couldn’t find corroborating evidence. But when Jones went on talkback radio and claimed to have been paid for sex by “one of the biggest religious guys in the country” KUSA decided that they could do an accusation/rebutal story if Haggard agreed to speak to them.

“It became public and we decided we would do the story if Pastor Haggard responded to it, and he did. We presented it as such: There’s an allegation, and there’s a response,” KUSA’s assistant news director told Gazette.

Interesting example of how the journalistic rules suddenly change when a media organisation suddenly thinks it might be scooped, on what is obviously going to become a pretty dynamic story. It’s a classic example of “strategic objectivity” being abandoned because it was no longer strategic. It’s also a story about elections. Jones says he wanted it out before next weeks elections because Haggard had been playing such a key role in the Colorado marriage amendment.

The rules of the PR game are also in effect. At first Haggard denied the claims. Then he stood down from his church position while an independent investigation took place. But after that an incremental series of admissions have leaked from the pastor himself, culminating in the strange: I only contacted Jones to buy drugs and a massage not to have sex, yeh I did buy the drugs but I didn’t use them and ah the massage no, there were no happy endings – sorry we are all tempted. Positively Clintonesque: I did not have sexual intercourse with that man nor did I inhale. As Josh Holland on Alternet sarcastically comments:

The sad thing is that Haggard’s followers will probably buy all that. After all, they throw millions of dollars at these “spiritual leaders” who are transparent con-men of the worst sort. They support Republicans who pay them lip service but ignore them until the next election rolls around. ‘It’s all political,’ they’re saying to themselves now — part of the Grand Liberal Conspiracy® to tear down people of faith.

Probably the most interesting reflection on the whole saga comes from Jeff Sharlet who did a long profile on Haggard for Harpers last year. He writes: “The downfall of Ted Haggard is not just another tale of hypocrisy, it’s a parable of the paradoxes at the heart of American fundamentalism.” He also admits to missing that the first time around:

I wrote about the role of sex in Ted’s theology, but removed it from the final edit of the story (some of it I refashioned into a short essay on Christian Right’s men’s sex books for Nerve). I made the mistake of viewing Ted’s sex and his religion of free market economics as separate spheres. The truth, I suspect, is that they’re intimately bound in a worldview of “order,” one to which it turns out even Ted cannot conform.

In the Nerve article Sharlet notes how “the gay man” as archetype fills the role of the “harlot” of old as the new seductress:

It is no longer acceptable to speak of loose women and harlots, since sexual promiscuity in a woman is the fault of the man who has failed to exercise his “headship” over her. It is his effeminacy, not hers, that is to blame. And who lures him into this spiritual castration? The gay man.

Christian conservatives loathe all forms of homo- and bisexuality, of course, but it is the gay man (singular; he’s an archetype) who looms largest in their books and sermons and blogs and cell group meetings. Not, for the most part, as a figure of evil, but one to be almost envied. “The gay man” is the new seductress sent by Satan to tempt the men of Christendom. He takes what he wants and loves whom he will and his life, in the imagination of Christian men’s groups, is an endless succession of orgasms, interrupted only by jocular episodes of male bonhomie. The gay man promises a guilt-free existence, the garden before Eve. He is thought to exist in the purest state of “manhood,” which is boyhood, before there were girls.

And it is this state of unordered – uncoded – manhood that is such a threat, and so seductive. A seduction it appears Haggard could not resist.

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The long hual effect

From the Week in Review > Maybe Same-Sex Marriage Didn’t Make the Difference”>The New York Times yet another analysis about what the values vote means. They won the battle we’ll win the war!

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a coalition based in New York, said the poll results show remarkable progress made by gay-marriage advocates.

"Civil unions didn’t exist five years ago," he said. "If the center of the country has moved to a place of civil union or gay marriage, that suggests that the idea that there’s a massive public rejection of gay people is ridiculous."

Mr. Wolfson, author of "Why Marriage Matters," likened the status of gay marriage to the status of racial equality after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which, he said, led to years of upheaval and backlash before legislation was passed that supported racial equality. "This is the classic American pattern of civil rights advance," he said. "It’s patchwork. Some states move toward equality faster, while others resist and even regress."

Yet gay rights’ advocates will need to grapple with the surge in voting by evangelical Christians and those who ranked "moral values" first among their concerns. "When the right wing attacks us it hurts, but it can help," Ms. Bonauto [civil rights project director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders] said. "This is going to be an enormous unifying force for us. They had a good day, so to speak. But not as good a day as they think they had."

More Values data

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank does the values math and gets some slightly different figures:

Many religious conservatives have asserted that Bush owes his victory to values voters. That is partially true; more voters (22 percent) said their top issue was moral values than any other single issue, and an anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative in Ohio helped Bush win that crucial state. But, according to exit polls, moral issues ranked below national security issues (34 percent when terrorism and Iraq were taken together) and economic issues (25 percent when combined with taxes).

Washington Blade Blog on the values effect

Lots of interesting election analysis from Washington Blade Blog about the ‘moral values’ effect. Although various politicians, such as
California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, is crediting the mass gay weddings as a factor – "It  gave [conservatives] a position to rally around. The whole issue has been too much, too  fast, too soon” – as Blade news editor Ken Sain points out other’s aren’t convinced:

Gay leaders — like Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — disagree, pointing out that while 2,796,147 Ohioans voted for President Bush, many more (3,249,157) voted in favor of the constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions. So obviously not all those who oppose equal rights for gay couples voted for President Bush.

But Sain’s colleague Steve Koval points to a perceptive critique of the Foreman argument by James Dao in the NYT:

Indeed, in Ohio, 221,000 more people voted for president than for
the constitutional amendment. But an analysis of several counties also
indicated that the drop-off in voting for the amendment was
significantly larger in Democratic counties than in Republican ones,
suggesting a higher sense of intensity about the measure among

In rural Shelby County in western Ohio, for
instance, the number of people who cast ballots for the amendment was
just 1.5 percent lower than those who voted for president. By
comparison, there was a 6 percent drop-off in heavily Democratic
Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland.

Shelby County was
significant because it registered the largest increase in support for
Mr. Bush among Ohio’s 88 counties this year, a jump of eight percentage
points from 2000, to 71 percent, according to a Republican analysis.

Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron who has studied
religion in politics, said such figures indicated that fervent support
for the amendment in conservative areas might have caused turnout to
rise by as much as 3 or 4 percent. And that might have helped tip the
election to Mr. Bush in this most vital of states.

Staff writer Lou Chibbaro provides some additional detail on the exit poll data which puts the stats on gay marriage in a much more interesting light:

The exit poll also revealed that 26 percent of the respondents favor
allowing same-sex couples to "legally marry," 35 percent favor civil
unions for same-sex couples, and 36 percent favor "no legal
recognition" for same-sex couples.

Among those who said they
favor allowing gays to legally marry, 22 percent voted for Bush, 77
percent voted for Kerry and 1 percent voted for Nader, the exit poll
showed — that’s very close to the same candidate preference breakdown
for gay voters themselves.

Among those who favor allowing gays to
obtain civil unions, 51 percent said they voted for Bush, 48 percent
said they voted for Kerry, and 0 percent reported voting for Nader.
That candidate percentage breakdown is very close to the general split
in the U.S. popular vote between the candidates.

Among the voters
stating in the exit poll that they favor “no legal recognition” for
same-sex couples, 69 percent said they voted for Bush, 30 percent said
they voted for Kerry, and 1 percent reported voting for Nader, the exit
poll found.

On those figures a convincing 61% favour some kind of recognition for gay partnerships.

Steve Kovol points to the surprisingly insightful comments from conservative NYT columnist David Brooks writing on the ‘Values Vote Myth’:

Here are the facts. As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center points out,
there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year.
Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in
2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life.
Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances.
There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.

It’s true that Bush did get a few more evangelicals to vote Republican, but
Kohut, whose final poll nailed the election result dead-on, reminds us that
public opinion on gay issues over all has been moving leftward over the years.
Majorities oppose gay marriage, but in the exit polls Tuesday, 25 percent of the
voters supported gay marriage and 35 percent of voters supported civil unions.
There is a big middle on gay rights issues, as there is on most social

Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded
question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced
their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But that
phrase can mean anything — or nothing. Who doesn’t vote on moral values? If you
ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.

I think one of the really interesting things that doesn’t come out in this kind of polling data is the connections that exist for many people between "moral values" and national security. A standard trope in Bush’s war on terror rhetoric is: "they attack us because of our commitment to the values of liberty, freedom and democracy". His other trope is that these values of freedom and liberty are god given and thus the war on terror is divinely mandated. Thus "moral values" are at the heart of the war on terror and many Bush supporters would see the "attack on marriage" as a parallel "attack on America". The culture war and the terror war are parallel wars in the minds of many Americans. Remember Pat Robinson’s response to 9/11 and his blaming of gays feminists and abortionists for the attacks.

Gays vote for Bush

Chris Bull’s Campaign Notebook at has a fascinating set of statistics from exit polls indicating that 20% of self identified lesbian and gay voters voted for Bush, only a 5% decrease on his LGB vote in 2000.

"In 1984, when the Republican candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the nation’s leading academic survey of voting behavior did not find a single African American who voted for Goldwater in their national sample. Why, after running a campaign that repeatedly attacked our right to marry did one in five LGB voters vote for Bush?"

One possibility: Even though he has a stellar gay rights record in the senate, Kerry spent little time courting gays and lesbians, fearing it would drive away anti-gay voters and associate the campaign with unpopular same-sex marriage. While one can’t really criticize Kerry’s strategy, one that the gay rights groups signed off on, it meant that he failed to capitalize fully on anti-Bush sentiment in this voting bloc.

The other explanation is the way in which security concerns dominated the campaign. In PlanetOut’s unscientific survey of our members, we found similar support for Bush. These voters argued that they were overlooking Bush’s anti-gay stance because they believed he was better equipped to fight the war on terrorism, a cause that affects everyone. Like it or not, that was the rationale.


Everyone’s reporting on the values issue and Karl Rove’s masterly strategy. No one yet seems to know quite what it means. The NYT sums up the numbers succinctly:

It was not a landslide, or a re-alignment, or even a seismic shock. But it was decisive, and it is impossible to read President Bush’s re-election with larger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as anything other than the clearest confirmation yet that this is a center-right country – divided yes, but with an undisputed majority united behind his leadership.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls found that a majority believed the national economy was not so good, that tax cuts had done nothing to help it and that the war in Iraq had jeopardized national security. But fully one-fifth of voters said they cared most about “moral values” – as many as cared about terrorism and the economy – and 8 in 10 of them chose Mr. Bush.

In other words, while Mr. Bush remains a polarizing figure on both coasts and in big cities, he has proved himself a galvanizing one in the broad geographic and political center of the country. He increased his share of the vote among women, Hispanics, older voters and even city dwellers significantly from 2000, made slight gains among Catholics and Jews and turned what was then a 500,000-popular-vote defeat into a 3.6 million-popular-vote victory on Tuesday.

On Rove Andrew Sullivan admits that Bush’s strategist read the American electorate – or at least an important part of it – better than anyone else:

A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified. We have seen, and not for the first time, how using fear of a minority can be so effective a tool in building a political movement. The single most important issue for Republican voters, according to exit polls, was not the war on terror or Iraq or the economy. It was ‘moral values.’ Karl Rove understood the American psyche better than I did. By demonizing gay couples, the Republicans were able to bring in whole swathes of new anti-gay believers into their party. With new senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, two of the most anti-gay politicians in America, we can only brace ourselves for what is now coming.

Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post goes to the nub of the “values” rhetoric:

The term wasn’t defined, and Democrats spent much of yesterday protesting that they have morals and values, too. The term is basically a code phrase for abortion and gays. For some people, particularly religious evangelicals, these issues are even more important than Iraq, terrorism, the economy, health care, the environment and education. Moral issues gnaw at the guts of people who think they know right from wrong and normal from sick. The reelection of George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the United States appears to be at least in part because of a fear that liberals favor marital unions among sodomites.

Greg Grieve, a Fellow at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, makes a very perceptive comment on The Revealer website:

[a colleague] and I have been talking about ‘moral values’ all morning. And it seems to us that it is working as an empty signifier, similar to Barthes’ notion of ‘myth,’ onto which people are projecting their conceptions. As Barthes writes in ‘Myth Today’: ‘The signifier presents itself in an ambiguous way: it is at the same time meaning and form, full on one side and empty on the other.’ (117) As the Russian saying goes: ‘A sacred space is never empty.’ There seems to be a need for two steps: (1) to debunk the Myth of moral values, and then (2) to craft a new ‘myth’ that democrats can control for progressive ends.

Was it about the gays?

In the wake of President George Bush’s decisive victory in the US presidential elections, and a clean sweep by Republicans in the senate and house elections, many commentators are pointing to “values” and gay marriage as the clincher in these victories.

In a round up of press reports the BBC highlighted the following comments:

In the Washington Post, John Harris wrote: “George W Bush’s presidency – its governance and its politics – was organised from the outset with an unwavering eye on keeping the conservative base of the Republican Party intact, energised and loyal.”

And exit polls showed that morality and values were the issues motivating President Bush’s core conservative supporters.

“This was not about a difference of policies but a difference over values,” said David Gergen on CNN.

And he said that disagreement on social issues such as gay marriage might lead to division in the country and a sense of alienation for John Kerry’s supporters.

For Democrats, “there will be a sense of isolation from the majority. A feeling of ‘is this the country that we thought it was’?” Mr Gergen said.

Lisa Keen on points to interesting poll data (unsourced):

In a result that surprised many, more voters identified “moral issues” as their “most important issue” than any other issue. Twenty-two percent of voters said moral issues were their most important issue, compared to 20 percent for the “economy/jobs,” 19 percent for “terrorism,” 15 percent for “Iraq,” 8 percent for “health care,” 5 percent “taxes,” and 4 percent “education.”

However I also remember reading another comment (somewhere now lost in the blur of election web surfing) that exit poll data was markedly different in different parts of the country, indicating a divide between those voting on moral issues and those voting on Iraq.

Keen also points to the comments of Gergen and other talking heads:

Political commentator David Gergen, who worked for both President Reagan and President Clinton, suggested that sentiment against gay marriage was “underneath” the numbers. Political talk show host Larry King said he thought gay marriage was illustrative of a “large cultural division” among voters.

“God, guns and gays,” said CNN “Crossfire” co-host Paul Begala, in summing up voter sentiment. Begala and the program’s other liberal representative, James Carville, both seemed to concede that the Democratic Party’s open support for equal rights for gay people cost it a significant number of votes.

Michael Tackett of the Chicago Tribune also sees moral values as key and points to the unique commbination that he thinks got Bush back:

President Bush put together his winning coalition by tapping into the emerging strength of moral issues as political decision points, the surprising electoral potency of rural America and just enough women who put a premium on security.

That combination was so strong that it overrode deep dismay over the war in Iraq and the direction of the economy. And it put the president in office for another four years.

US Blogger Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) is even more blunt in his Guardian column

So how did Bush even get this far? By demonising an entire group of people — gays and lesbians. By cynical appeals to religion. By slandering a true war hero. And, most importantly, by scaring people. You see, terrorists would detonate a nuclear bomb in a major city if Kerry were elected. Only Bush can protect us.

And those efforts, as I have written before, were all aided and abetted by a well-oiled message machine the likes of which the American left is still unable to match.

But Moulitsas sees a ray hope in the darkness. He believes the Bush victory will galvanise a new era of progressive activism:

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one that should hopefully lead to a brighter future. Bush owns his messes, and now he’ll be forced to clean them up. He won’t be able to hide behind 9/11 seven years into his term. Unless the Republicans can engineer a recovery of epic proportions, they will have a great deal to answer to in the 2006 midterms and 2008. And God help Bush if this nation suffers another terrorist attack.

But best of all, we’ll continue to see this great resurgence in progressive activism – the kind not seen in American politics in over a generation. None of these new activists heeded the call to arms only to abandon the fight today. We are energised, and will continue to fight for a better future for our country.

The big money donors on the left have woken up to their responsibilities, and are working to match the $500m the right pumps into their machine each year. The blogs will continue to grow, as will our new radio personalities. The seeds of a genuinely liberal media have been planted and will continue to bear fruit. Our newly minted thinktanks will work to match the right’s successful efforts in defining the political lexicon – death tax, tax relief, compassionate conservatism. And activists will be better trained to carry the fight into the field.

Obviously the passing of constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in 11 states is indicative of this cultural divide in the US. However this needs to be seen in a broader context. Mark Foreman from the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force points to some positive elements of the voting pattern.

First the campaign in Oregon – the state which had the most well funded and co-ordinated anti-amendment education campaign managed to close the gap significantly:

Oregon – the only state that had anything close to the amount of money needed to run a competitive race – came closest to defeating its amendment. When the Oregon campaign started, polls said the amendment would carry by 27 points, meaning that the effort to defeat the amendment moved the electorate by 17 points in less than three months. It was the only campaign to show a significant movement in the electorate during the course of the campaign….

“The Oregon results clearly show that we can move hearts and votes when we have the resources to reach voters and speak to them directly about marriage and why it matters to gay people,” said Foreman.

Second the comparative figures between the presidential vote and the amendment vote in some states don’t bear out the contention that gay issues were necessarily uppermost in voters minds:

Karl Rove, the President’s chief political adviser, hoped to use same sex marriage to energize and turn out evangelicals to vote for the President’s re-election. He believed that at least 4 million evangelicals sat out the 2000 race. Returns do not indicate this strategy worked in the three battleground states where anti-gay marriage amendments were on the ballot. For example, Sen. Kerry carried Oregon by a wider margin than Vice President Gore in 2000. In Michigan, Sen. Kerry received the same percent of the vote (51%) as Vice President Gore and increased the number of votes in the Democratic column by 227, 422. Finally, in Ohio, Sen. Kerry won at least 49% of the vote (Gore won 46%) and 199,435 more voters cast a vote in the presidential race than on the marriage amendment, indicating that the presidential race – not the marriage amendment – was the pull to the polls.

One of the clearest analyses of the values issue and the role of homophobia in the election comes from Jeff Sharlett at The Revealer a website devoted to religion and the media. He points out that the amendments were more a political strategy “designed by GOP strategists to drive otherwise lazy, Republican-leaning voters to the polls.” He goes onto suggest, from his own experience as well as sociological data, that an abstract homophobia might be an underlying core value driving American belief. His piece is worth quoting at length:

In 2002 and 2003, my friend Peter Manseau and I spent about a year traveling the United States, reporting a book called Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible, a sort of spiritual geography of the nation. When we published the book earlier this year, interviewers asked us time and again: What’s the common denominator of American faith? What is it that most of us share?

We lied every time. We offered up sincere but misleading tributes to freedom of speech as the American devotion. We avoided the answer that had made itself as plain as the two-lane roads we drove on: The greatest common denominator of American belief is anti-homosexuality.

In Alan Wolfe’s sociological survey, One Nation, After All, he writes that he discovered that most middle-class Americans are free of overt bigotries — except homophobia. The exception to the rule of tolerance in American life, he argues, is the widespread belief that homosexuality is just not ok. Really not ok; whereas most Americans practice a nonjudgmental pragmatism with regard to others, homosexuality comes in for special condemnation.

Wolfe found this common thread through careful sociological analysis. My co-author and I tripped over it without even looking. In the strong majority of hundreds of interviews we conducted, believers of nearly every variety volunteered their opposition to homosexuality. I’m talking not only about Christian conservatives, although it’s worth remembering that that designation applies to the majority of Americans. We also heard about how wrong homosexuality is from Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, New Agers, Santeria practitioners, even Wiccans.

Most of these people are surprisingly abstract in their thinking. There may be a certain disingenuousness to the popular anti-homosexuality mantra, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but nearly everyone we met really did distinguish their hatred of homosexuality from their dealings with homosexuals….

It’s neither simple nor shallow. My travels — and this election — suggest to me that it is deep, profound, and made up of many meanings, spiritual, physiological, political, metaphorical.

And it’s crucial to understanding the passion for “morality” that become this election’s X-factor…There must be more to it than can be explained, or justified, by the vast, empty term “values.”

Young and gay in Tulsa

An extraordinary piece of long narrative journalism in the Washington Post: In the Bible Belt, Acceptance Is Hard-Won.

Michael Shackelford slides under his 1988 Chevy Cheyenne. Ratchet in hand, he peers into the truck’s dark cavern, tapping his boot to Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” drifting from the garage.

Flat on his back, staring into the cylinders and bearings, Michael fixes his truck like he wishes he could fix himself.

“I wake up and I try so hard to look at a girl,” he says. “I tell myself I’m gonna be different. It doesn’t work.”

Michael is 17 and gay, though his mother still cries and asks, “Are you sure?” He’s pretty sure. It’s just that he doesn’t exactly know how to be gay in rural Oklahoma.

It has its fair share of clichés but it is a beautifully crafted piece of journalism that allows us into Michael’s life as well as the life of his less than accepting mother. It reminds us that “while the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael’s America is still dealing with the basics”.

There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home? What if the preachers and the country music songs are right?

Well worth a look.

Star Trek Star and Republican senate candidate in Paris sex club

It’s a Republican sex scandal with a twist. Deliciously, it involves not only public sex at Paris and New York sex clubs but Star Trek star Jerri Ryan whose character Seven-of-Nine achieved a certain gay cult status.

Ryan’s former husband Jack Ryan has been forced to abandon his run for the US Senate after embarrassing details of their divorce have been revealed. Ryan had been running as the Republican candidate for an Illinois senate seat. The conservative catholic, who has opposed gay marriage and abortion rights, was running on a “family values” ticket.

A judge this week ordered that sealed testimony from the divorce be opened. The bombshell was Jerri Ryan’s testimony that her husband had forced her to go to sex clubs with him on a number of occasions. She says that on three trips, to New York, Paris and New Orleans, which were supposed to be “romantic getaways,” her husband (whom she refers to formally as “the respondent”) forced her to go to sex clubs.

The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to. … It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset. We left the club, and Respondent apologized, said that I was right and that he would never insist I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system.

Then during a trip to Paris, he took me to a sex club in Paris, without telling me where we were going. I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried, I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me, and said it was not a ‘turn on’ for me to cry.

In the same testimony Jack Ryan calls these claims “ridiculous allegations” although he admits that in Paris they did go to one “avant garde nightclub…which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return.”

Jerri Ryan who shot to cult fame in the series Star Trek Voyager has also more recently been a regular in Boston Public.

When, Seven-of-Nine, her Star Trek character was introduced into the series there was speculation on many gay Trekkie sites that she would be a lesbian character. In fact one group, The Voyager Visibility Project, who had been lobbying Paramount to include a gay character in the series, launched an outing campaign around Seven.

Prior to her role in Star Trek, Ryan had made a brief appearance in another gay cult TV show, Melrose Place, as a lesbian actress who marries a gay man to keep up appearances.

Jack Ryan, on the other hand, has never shown any sign of friendship to the gay and lesbian community. His web site makes clear that he believes “marriage can only be defined as that union between one man and one woman” and that he is opposed to “same-sex marriages, civil unions, and registries”.

Not only that, but he waxes lyrical about the “traditional” family unit.

The breakdown of the family over the past 35 years is one of the root causes of some of our society’s most intractable social problems-criminal activity, illegitimacy, and the cyclical nature of poverty.

As an elected leader, my interest will be in promoting laws and educating people about the fundamental importance of the traditional family unit as the nucleus of our society.

In the wake of the recent Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruling that has spawned similar lawsuits in other states, it seems likely that defending traditional marriage and codifying that defense will be required at the federal level. As such, as a United States Senator, I would support legislation such as Senator Bill Frist’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), provided the language remains clear in the defining of traditional marriage and protecting the traditional family unit.

This was originally posted on my other blog


Following the decision of two Californian judges not to injunct the San Francisco granting of marriage licenses to same sex couples President Bush has again said that he is troubled by “activist judges, who are defining marriage”

“I’m watching very carefully, but I’m troubled by what I’ve seen. People need to be involved with this decision. Marriage ought to be defined by the people, not by the courts, and I’m watching carefully,” he said according to the LA Times.

Bush’s performance, like so many others in this debate, is fascinating.

The judges in the Massachusetts case which started it all, and which the City of San Francisco is following, based their decision on the state’s constitution. Just as the national Supreme court judges, in the recent Texas sodomy case, based their decision on the most sacred document of US democracy, the Constitution which begins: “We the people….”

Bush’s contrast between activist judges and the people is a furphy. In classic democratic theory, judges are just as much a representative of the will of the people as elected officials because they are the guardians of the constitution which supposedly embodies the essence of American identity. The judicial arm provides a balance in the system of checks and balances that ensures that the will of the people rather than the will of cliques are enacted.

Of course when it suits him Bush has no problem with activist judges. He has appointed more activist judges than anyone else Vanity Fair (December 2003, can’t provide a link because incredibly VF doesn’t have a site!) recently reported that Bush had nominated 164 judges to Federal courts, all of them extreme right wing activists with perfect Federalist Society credentials. Janice Rogers Brown, who has already been nominated to the Federal circuit and who Bush is tipped to nominate to the Supreme Court, is described by one Vanity Fair source as the dream conservative candidate, “the love child of Ayn Rand and Lyndon LaRouche”

These Bush nominees are not only activist judges on traditional conservative push button issues like abortion, they are waging a much larger ideological war. Legal scholar Cass Sunstein outlined the potential threat of this agenda in an American Prosepct article last year.

If the judiciary’s current tendencies are not monitored and exposed for what they are, they may go beyond the Rehnquist Court’s relatively incremental decisions to far larger changes in American law. We could easily imagine a situation in which federal judges not only eliminate affirmative-action programs entirely but also:

- strike down almost all campaign-finance reform;

- invalidate parts of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act;

- interpret the Second Amendment so as to reduce the power of Congress and the states to enact gun-control legislation;

- elevate commercial advertising to the same status as political speech, thus preventing controls on commercials by tobacco companies (among others);

- further reduce congressional power under the commerce clause and the 14th Amendment;

- generally limit democratic efforts to prevent disabled people, women and the elderly from various forms of discrimination;

- significantly extend the reach of the “takings” clause, thus limiting environmental and other regulatory legislation; and much more.

The gay marriage debate because it is so volitile has a way of drawing out the fissures in both society and ideological thinking, it catches people saying things that on closer inspection don’t add up.

Andrew Sullivan’s analysis of John Kerry’s flip-flopping on gay marriage is a perfect example and shows how same sex marriage confuses those on both sides of the ideological divide:

HOLT: You say you oppose gay marriage. As you know, the highest court in the state of Massachusetts has ruled against civil unions, which you support. If it were to come before you today for a vote, the issue of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as that between a man and a woman, would you vote yes or would you vote no?

KERRY: Well, it depends on the terminology, because it depends on what it does with respect to civil unions and partnership rights. About the rights, I believe that it is important in America not to discriminate with respect to rights. I, personally, believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

In two sentences, Kerry says two things that, in the view of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, are contradictory. The court was asked whether partitioning gay couples into an institution called “civil unions” was discriminatory or not. The judges said it was–because civil unions reinforce stigma and exclusion for no rational reason. If Kerry believes that civil unions do not do such a thing, he should explain why. Instead he just repeats the contradiction.

The basic question is: Why should the government grant a marriage license to two people who do not have biological children of their own, while denying such a license to two equally qualified people who also have no biological children of their own? Kerry’s civil marriage to Teresa Heinz falls into the childless category. It also falls into a category condemned by the Catholic Church–a second marriage after a divorce. Kerry needs to explain why what’s good enough for him isn’t good enough for a gay couple. He hasn’t. He won’t. He wants to pander to prejudice while maintaining he is in favor of equality.


This is a copy of an article I recently published on the John Marsden defamation tiral and mythological images mobalised in the media coverage of the trial.

Recent scholarship has explored the mythical function of news reporting. A diverse set of studies has shown that when news takes mythic shape it can perform both a community-building cultural role and/or a boundary-setting ideological role.

This article looks at theories of myth and the way it functions in both journalism and law. This mythical understanding is contrasted with the widely held views of journalism and law as truth-seeking and fact-based institutions. The public identity of any plaintiff in a defamation case will necessarily come under challenge. The adversarial system necessitates the construction of competing tales of who that person is and how he or she customarily behaves.

This process seems to have been exacerbated in the case of Sydney solicitor John Marsden, the longest running defamation case in Australian legal history. Powerful archetypal patterns shaped the telling of the Marsden story, which takes it well beyond the realm of the controversial and into the realm of the mythical. Mythical images of hero, villain, martyr and initiate are identified as operating in the Marsden trial and its reporting. But the image of the mercurial Trickster is identified as a key myth in understanding the Marsden story.

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Mad Vow Disease

I’ve neglected this blog for a couple of months now. Mainly because I am trying to finish off my Master’s thesis.

But I want to get back into the discipline of regular posting. So to begin here’s an excerpt from a talk I gave recently about media naratives of same sex marriage. I’ll post some more over the next few weeks because it’s obviously a red hot issue at the moment. Lesbian comedian Kate Clinton recently called it a bad case of mad vow disease!

In the piece below I take a step back and ask what is the general way that marraige is portrayed in the media.

My initial explorations would suggest that the two dominant media stories about marriage present it as either a fantasy or as a social problem. It is either a fairy tale romance of a princess or movie star or it is a story about divorce rates, the problems of working mothers or child custody battles.

There is also a third narrative about marriage, which is part of a wider discourse, that I will call the “new world” or the “new adventure”. It includes articles like one in the Melbourne Age (2/10/03) that explored couples who are also business partners or an article from the Good Weekend (1/2/03) that explored new extended families, where the new and old families of divorced partners – including both sets of ex-partners and their new partners – form a friendly relational unit. This is part of the wider media discourse about emerging social trends and the advent of a “new world”. It is partly utopic and partly dystopic and thus embraces elements of both the fantasy and problem narratives of marriage. This story about new forms of social organization is where narratives of gay marriage intersect with the general media stories about marriage.

In the single biggest media story of a marriage in recent times: the story of Diana of Wales, we can see the intersection of all three marriage story types. It was, at different points in its trajectory, presented as both a fairytale and a problem and was also played out against a story of changing social forms in regard to marriage, the monarchy and the media.

In recent times we have seen the emergence of another princess fairytale in the news. On 9 October 2003 Sydney Morning Herald – and most other Australian papers – led with the story of Mary Donaldson the real estate agent from Tasmania and her engagement to Prince Fredrick of Denmark.

The keynote of the stories published about Donaldson over the weeks surrounding the announcement was the motif of “transformation”: of a commoner into a princess, of an English speaker into a Danish speaker, of a woman fond of “sporty” attire into a wearer of haute couture.

These stories clearly represent an institutional discourse about marriage even when this is cloaked by the fantasy of the lucky princess. This is nowhere clearer than in the stories that have emphasised that “her main job” in the immediate future will be to bear an heir.

The headline of the main announcement story (SMH 9/11/03) is revealing: “Danes denied a kiss but still love Aussie Mary”. This is a romance without visible passion.

In the same issue of the Herald another power couple were featured: victorious Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver. If anyone was in doubt that this was an American dream sprung to life you only had to listen to Schwarzenegger’s victory script: “I came here with absolutely nothing and California has given me absolutely everything. I want to be the people’s governor”, Schwarzenegger said. He called for support to make “the tough choices ahead” so that “together we can make this again the greatest state in the greatest country in the world”. (SMH 9/10/03)

Shriver is an integral part of that dream. She comes with Kennedy family pedigree and thus links this story with the Kennedy story, with the Camelot myth, with the story of Jack and Jackie.

But this is not really about romance, it is about a pragmatic alliance. The “telegenic and politically astute” Shriver as one report (SMH 9/10/03) called her, is an important part of Arnold’s political strategy. He makes this clear in his thank you speech. The report continues:

Mr Schwarzenegger fought back against the groping allegations with the help of his wife, who is recognised as a talented television journalist. Ms Shriver was the first person the actor thanked for his victory. He told her in front of his supporters: “I know how many votes I got today because of you.” (SMH 9/10/03)

If Shriver’s relationship to the Kennedy’s immediately summons up the vestiges of the dream of Camelot, this defence of her husband immediately summons up another contemporary political marriage: that of Hilary and Bill.

If in the story of Fredrick and Mary we see the fantasy meeting the institution with Schwarzenegger and Shriver we see the dream meeting pragmatism.

What is strikingly obvious from both these examples is the extent to which current media discourse on marriage is still embroiled in traditional narratives of gender and linked directly to other narratives of political power.

Marriage itself is a narrative ritual act. The form it takes is a story that two people tell to one another as a sign of their commitment: to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, till death do we part.

This story is told in the context of a particular national and particular institutional setting, it is told against the stories of others who have been married before, and it is a story that often contains both dream and pragmatics, both fantasy and problematics, romance and politics.

It is in this context of an institution that is at once idealised and problematised that we need to situate any discussion of same sex marriage.
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