David Cho recently asked me:
As liberal Democrats are undergoing soul searching after the 2004 election, some are talking about reframing the debate to inject morals into their positions in order to fight the perception that liberals are "anti-morals."

For example, they think they should say it is "immoral" to deny access to health care or equal marriage rights in this case. What do you think?

As you know, I do not believe that conservatives have cornered the market on morals.
We discussed the role of morality in politics (which reminds me of an earlier discussion on wmtc about George Lakoff's ideas.) I was finding it difficult to articulate my problem with approaching politics through morality. Fortunately, G came to my rescue:
If the whole political sphere becomes solely about morals, we are all doomed because at the end of the day, morals are entirely subjective. . . .

The law, on the other hand, is objective and is in place to essentially uphold a society's morality.

It's easy when there is an overwhelming majority in favor of one side. Where this becomes sticky is the situation in which certain moral viewpoints are split across a society, and there is no overwhelming majority for any side of the issue. Few will argue that murder is moral, hence the laws against it are not overly contested; however, viewpoints on issues such as gay marriage are pretty evenly split. Which moral view is then upheld in law? In a democratic society, that becomes a tough issue to handle. Can a large enough majority be won over on the issue? Can it be determined that a part of society is wrong on the issue, hence drafting it into law without an overwhelming majority supporting it? If so, how?

Where this becomes dangerous is when leaders invoke their own personal morality into law without consideration for one or either side(s) of the debate - cardinal sin #1 in a democracy.
I would also add that sometimes laws must be changed without the support of a majority, in order to build a greater democracy and uphold the promise of the Constitution. For example, the US couldn't wait for the majority of Americans to become comfortable with ending legal racial segregation. (Cross-reference to gay marriage here...)

All this got me thinking about how religion is used, especially how it's being used right now, as neoconservatives claiming religiosity re-fashion our society.

I have known many people who are devoutly religious and also extremely liberal or progressive. The people I'm thinking of are all African-Americans who I've met through my work as a word-processor in law firms for the past 15 years. They are not "casual Christians". Their faith is a major part of their life. They vote Democrat and would probably support a more liberal party if there was one.

The Haven Coalition has had several members who are observant Jews, including two rabbis (one male, one female). Some are lesbians, all are feminists. All are radically pro-choice and pro-equality, that is, they believe people should have equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. (Hint: that means they support gay marriage!)

These are but a few examples from my own life. Historically, we all know about the role religion has played in freedom movements, from the American civil rights movement to Bishop Tutu of South Africa to the liberation theology of Central American priests. I've plugged Jim Wallis's book several times in this blog. Two other books that had a profound influence on me politically were authored by nuns: Dead Man Walking by Helen Prejean and No Turning Back by Patricia Hussey and Barbara Ferraro, who resigned from their order over the church's inflexibility on abortion. (Catholics for Free Choice have an excellent website, by the way.)

But as you know, I don't have religion in my life. I was raised as a Jew, and still identify as Jewish as my ethnicity, but I'm an atheist. My activism and worldview don't come through faith. I was raised in a Jewish household that was actively liberal, but politics and religion were not connected, except in the belief that Jews, having been persecuted, should stand beside oppressed people everywhere.

The mainstream media's casting of religion as conservative - and liberalism as anti-religion - is so disturbing, and so outrageously incorrect.


G said...

Well, even racial rights went through some difficult opposition ... arguably more public than governmental, but the analogy is quite close to that of gay rights. History in this case (if anyone pays attention to it ... hmm ...) may give hope for the achievement of those rights.

That said, one has to ask: what would have happened with racial rights, had leaders representing the segregationist viewpoint (and there were more than a few) been in presidential power at the time? That is the exact concern today, and may well be the largest (and most frightful) difference between those debates. We've already seen rights-trumping legislation pushed through in recent months - what's to stop that from happening again with marriage rights?

L-girl said...

"History in this case (if anyone pays attention to it ... hmm ...) may give hope for the achievement of those rights."

Oh, I absolutely believe that history shows us that full gay rights will be achieved. Not may be, will be. I think the anti-gay hysteria is the last gasp of a dying breed. Once a people's movement towards freedom has begun, there is no stopping it. It may take quite a long time, but it's gonna happen.

"...what would have happened with racial rights, had leaders representing the segregationist viewpoint (and there were more than a few) been in presidential power at the time?"

Well, they were, once. And of course it took a Southerner to stand up to the South. But we're going to have to take the long view on this one. In the US, it will move state by state, until finally, it reaches that tipping point, and becomes national law.

Anonymous said...

Just watching a very good game between my Jays and the Yanks and I came across this one...


L-girl said...

I'm following it on the radio from work. Jays just tied it up on the Yankees godawful bullpen.

Will check out the link - thanks as always!

L-girl said...

Good one, ALPF! One of your best. It will soon be a post.

David Cho said...

I found G's response to my question very articulate and thoughtful.

"For example, the US couldn't wait for the majority of Americans to become comfortable with ending legal racial segregation"

I agree with you on that point in principle. But soon or later, the majority has to come around or laws in place will be overturned. Such is the case with Roe v. Wade which is constantly under threat, but Brown v. Board of Education isn't because most Americans have come around. It's just a fact of life.

L-girl said...

That quote is from me, btw.

David, you're on thin ice here. The majority of Americans are in favor of Roe v Wade. It has been shown over and over and over again. Most Americans do not want the government making personal medical decisions for them.

However, the minority of the country who wants Roe overturned are well organized and well funded and they have been stacking their state legislators and courts for decades.

The judges who are about to overturn Roe are going against what the majority wants.

Please remember, we don't argue about abortion on wmtc. I am passionately and militantly pro-choice, on the front lines every day.

People who oppose my right to control my own uterus and my own life need to express those beliefs elsewhere.

G said...


I have but one question:

"The majority has to come around ..."

To what?

Democratic theory says that decisions made in favor of the majority will be of greatest benefit to society ... that one's just simple logic. So what exactly is it they have to come around to?