Antonin Scalia is raging against the coming of the light.
Scalia's dissent from last week's epochal Supreme Court decision striking down Texas' anti-sodomy statute confirms Ayatollah Antonin's standing as the intellectual leader of the forces arrayed against equality and modernity in the United States. In establishing the deep historical roots of anti-gay sentiment in America, for instance, Scalia took pains to note the 20 prosecutions and four executions for consensual gay sex conducted in colonial times. He noted, approvingly, that even today, "many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools or as boarders in their home."
Actually, back in 1978, a California electorate far more conservative than today's massively repudiated an initiative seeking to ban gays from teaching school, but this inconvenient fact -- and other evidence of a massive shift in public sentiment on gay rights -- doesn't have quite the legal majesty of those four colonial executions. (Scalia is uncharacteristically short on detail here. Were they hangings or burnings?) Scalia's justifications for discriminatory conduct sound terribly familiar. Change "homosexual" to "Negro" and Scalia is at one with the authors of Plessy v. Ferguson's mandate for "separate but equal" schools, and the judges who upheld anti-miscegenation statutes. Indeed, of the 13 states whose anti-sodomy statutes were struck down last Thursday, 10 were once slave states of the South. In what has always been the main event in American history -- the battle to expand the definition of "men" in Jefferson's mighty line on who's created equal -- these are the states that have had to be dragged along kicking and screaming.
More immediately, 12 of the 13 states with sodomy laws on the books were states that George W. Bush carried in the 2000 election, and the 13th -- Florida -- was the one that Scalia and company handed to him. The culture wars over legal equality for gays -- save on the question of gay marriage -- are pretty much settled within the Democratic Party. It's the Republicans who are split on the question of equal rights for gays.
And in this battle, Scalia has no shortage of allies -- the recent and current Republican congressional leadership first and foremost. From Dick Armey, who referred to gay Democratic Rep. Barney Frank as "Barney Fag," to Rick Santorum, who equated consensual gay sex to "man-on-dog" fornication, to Tom DeLay, who's declared that the United States is and ought to remain a "Christian nation," to Trent Lott, who pined for segregation, the recent and current leaders of the Republican Party in Congress have compiled an impressive record of industrial-strength prejudice.
So where's the outrage? Lott, to be sure, had to step down, but for the rest, it looks as if gay-bashing is not only accepted in the highest Republican circles but actually a prerequisite for leadership. Just this Sunday, Bill Frist took to the airwaves to tout a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Frist looked mighty uncomfortable in the part; his statements were almost incoherent, and he conveyed the sense that he was speaking less from personal passion than from partisan duty.
Of course, plenty of Republicans welcomed last week's decision (beginning, I suspect, with Vice President Cheney). Plenty of Republicans are appalled when the United States votes in international bodies with Saudi Arabia and a handful of fundamentalist states against women's rights, reproductive freedoms and contraception distribution programs. Plenty of Republicans sicken at the hatreds expressed by their legislative leaders. But plenty or not, try to find a national Republican who speaks out for equality of sexual orientation or condemns the expressions of bias.
It's way past time for a prominent Republican to give a Sister Souljah speech. In a period when the United States finds itself threatened by an international network of religious intolerants fuming at modernity and equality, you'd think some GOP notables might step up to condemn the like-minded intolerants in their own ranks -- indeed, atop them. Is there no decent Republican with the guts to note that his party could do better than be led by a rats' nest of bigots?
Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of the Prospect.
This column originally appeared in yesterday's Washington Post.