The other night on CNN, Pete Buttigieg, in an interview with Jake Tapper, responded to Tapper’s question about Democrats who might oppose LGBT rights based on religious views, and about how they are different from Vice President Mike Pence, who opposes them on the same grounds. He said, “This is not an easy conversation for a lot of people who have, frankly, been brought up in a certain way and are struggling to get onto the right side of history.”
Buttigieg’s answer is disappointing for a number of reasons, first and foremost because he failed to answer Tapper’s question. Buttigieg’s failure to articulate how socially conservative Democrats are different from Pence is a disservice to Democrats, especially black Protestant Christians — less than 50 percent of whom, as Tapper mentioned earlier in the interview, support same-sex marriage. These voters have a right to know if they are welcome in the Democratic Party given their views on LGBT rights, or if they will be taken for granted or merely tolerated.
Of course, the reason Buttigieg couldn’t answer the question is that there is no difference between Pence opposing LGBT rights on religious grounds and socially conservative Democrats doing the same. But if Buttigieg said that, he would undoubtedly offend socially conservative Democrats, including black Protestant Christians, and lessen his chances of winning the Democratic nomination.
Buttigieg’s “right side of history” language, however, is problematic for another reason. While he and LGBT leaders might think the arc of history bends a certain way, on this issue, it doesn’t.
Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t on the ‘Right Side of History’
In her book released earlier this year, “Confronting Christianity,” author Rebecca McLaughlin addressed “the right side of history” argument LGBT activists often employ, and noted it simply isn’t true. McLaughlin writes:
Opposition to homosexual sex is common to the two largest global worldviews — Christianity and Islam — as well as to most other religious traditions. Given the global population trends, the claim that those who oppose gay marriage will be ‘on the wrong side of history’ is likely inaccurate.
The population trends to which McLaughlin refers paint an eye-opening picture. In Europe and America — places more open to same-sex marriage — fertility rates are below replacement levels, whereas in places such as Africa and the Muslim world — where same-sex marriage is most strongly opposed — fertility rates are significantly higher.
The world over, opposition to same-sex marriage is very common and will be increasingly so. Buttigieg claiming his view represents “the right side of history” is an ethnocentric and arrogant position to take, and doesn’t account for current demographic realities.
Race and Sexuality Are Different Things
It is also part of a larger false narrative the LGBT movement has predicated its existence on. By invoking “right side of history” language, Buttigieg is subtly implying his movement is similar to the civil rights movement. McLaughlin addresses this point in her book as well and offers several reasons why comparing the two movements is folly.
“First, unlike racial heritage,” writes McLaughlin, “sexual activity involves choice.” She goes on to parse this point further, adding, “While we do not choose our sexual attractions, we do choose our sexual actions. They therefore carry moral weight in a way that racial heritage does not.”
The second reason McLaughlin argues we need to resist the temptation to equate civil rights with LGBT rights is that, while there are no significant biological differences between races, there are real differences between men and women, “differences that are highly relevant in the context of sex.”
Furthermore, McLaughlin appeals to scripture to affirm that these two movements are of a different substance. “While the Bible cuts strongly and emphatically in favor of racial equality and integration,” explains McLaughlin, “it cuts equally emphatically against same-sex marriage.” Indeed, McLaughlin — herself a same-sex-attracted woman, happily married to a man — concludes that “the Bible is unequivocal on the question of homosexual sex.” The Bible opposes it.
To McLaughlin’s sound argument, I would add another reason the civil rights movement and LGBT movement should not be conflated: It’s demeaning to what African Americans have endured throughout U.S. history. Based both on scale and the level of hostility to which African Americans have been subjected, the two movements are certainly not equivalents.
‘Morally Repugnant’ Versus ‘Culturally Disfavored’
By using “right side of history” language, Buttigieg has affirmed just how urgent it is to disentangle sexuality and race. The combining of these two very different topics has most likely been a contributing factor to the downward trajectory of our political discourse. When the two are joined together, everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is portrayed in the same light as those who oppose racial equality.
In regards to this commingling of sexuality and race, and the harm it has done to American democracy, Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has offered some helpful guidance. In an article at the Pubic Discourse, Walker calls those on the left to distinguish what is “morally repugnant from what is culturally disfavored.”
Currently, the view that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman is the culturally disfavored position. But when people conceive of it as a “morally repugnant” position and urge others to join them on “the right side of history,” it turns everyone who resists that call into a bigot.
It cannot possibly be the case that more than half of black Protestant Christians are bigots, nor most of the people who hold to traditional marriage for religious reasons. As McLaughlin concurred in “Confronting Christianity,” “We must stop assuming that all traditional Christians are hateful bigots simply because they restrict marriage to male and female.”
Buttigieg should answer the question Tapper asked him the other night and declare once and for all whether he believes those who oppose same-sex marriage and the LGBT movement have a place in the Democratic Party. He should also refrain from “right side of history” language and admit that while Christians hold to a view of marriage that is “culturally disfavored,” it isn’t “morally repugnant.” Nor will it likely be on the wrong side of history.