The Culture War Goes On

These days, liberals might be forgiven for feeling that they've won the culture war, or at least that they're winning. With the large exception of abortion (on which opinions have basically not budged in decades and conservative states have moved aggressively to curtail women's rights), on most hot-button social issues the country continues to move left. Marriage equality is now embraced by a majority of Americans, as is marijuana legalization. Basic conservative ideas about family life—that women should stay home whether they want to or not, that children benefit from a good beating now and again—live on in the hearts of many but have been vanquished from the realm of reasonable debate. On these issues and many others, young people are far more liberal than the old, particularly the oldest generations that are dying out.

But the culture war has always, and will always, be with us. And just because you've lost a particular battle, it doesn't mean you can't keep fighting it. To wit, this inspiring bit of lawmaking from the Louisiana legislature:

The Louisiana House of Representatives rejected legislation, on Tuesday, that would remove the state's symbolic ban on certain kinds of sodomy. The bill failed by a wide margin on a vote of 27-67, with 11 members not voting.

Louisiana's anti-sodomy law was overturned and declared unconstitutional in 2003, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling such state statutes could not be enforced. Still, the Legislature has been unwilling to officially strike the measure from state law, even though it can't be used as a cause for arrest.

A House Committee passed the legislation onto the body's floor by a vote of 9-6 last week. But one of the state's most powerful lobbying groups, the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum, opposes striking the sodomy ban.

The group sent out a letter to every legislator urging them to vote against the proposal, claiming that teenagers would be less protected from sexual predators if they went through with the repeal. They also said the bill would put the public health at risk.

"Louisiana's anti-sodomy statute is consistent with the values of Louisiana residents who consider this behavior to be dangerous, unhealthy and immoral," stated the letter to lawmakers from the Louisiana Family Forum.

Every Republican but two voted to keep the sodomy law on the books (there were also 8 Democrats among the 67 votes to keep the law). How much of that was calculated politics and how much sprung from the genuine belief that people who commit sodomy should be arrested (but just the bad kind of sodomy, you know what they mean, not the awesome kind!), we'll never know.

The honorable members of the Louisiana House may be fighting against an enemy that has already overrun them and moved on. But once we stop debating marriage equality, there will be some other culture war issue, no doubt related in some way to sex (as almost all culture war issues are) that folks everywhere can argue about, and Southern legislators can use to tell their constituents that immoral Northeastern elitists are using to try to destroy their way of life. So it has been, and so it will be.


I wouldn't make too much of this. This was a free vote, without any policy consequence whatsoever. It will do nothing to make the lives of gays worse in any way, and will pander to the Duck Dynasty types. State legislators (and US congresspeople as well) cast these sorts of votes all the time, knowing that they're worthless but that they make obeisance to some Traditional Value or other that some are passionate about (on one side or the other) but increasing numbers are simply willing to quietly marginalize. Yes, cultural issues are still alive in the South, because these issues are all mixed up with southern white tribal identity. But that southern white tribal identity is itself eroding; it remains strong in rural and small-town Tennessee, but not here in booming, multicultural, and increasingly cosmopolitan Nashville. And Nashville is the future.

Um, actually it does matter. Cops in remote parts of the state use invalidated sodomy laws as a pretext to arrest and publicly shame gay couples. The fact that the case will be immediately dropped the next morning when the courts open does nothing to save your reputation when you're dragged out of the town's only motel in the middle of the night barely clothed with your lover in similar undress. Meanwhile, the arresting officer will say "Well gee... it's still listed as a crime in my handy reference guide to state statutes that I carry in my patrol car... I can't possibly know the outcome of every US Supreme Court ruling that has a bearing on state law." And he'll be right... and another rural gay couple loses their employment and finds their lives shattered.

That's why leaving invalidated laws on the books matters... "unenforceable" does not equal "unarrestable" when it comes to police officers... it just means that, legally, the arrest has a 100% chance of being dismissed (but everyone in town might still know what you were up to & judge you privately for it).

"And he'll be right." -- No, He would be wrong because (1) the 2003 case was well publicized and (2) even if it were not the Officer would get to do so once before the DA's office would say, "Look, We are not allowed to do this," giving Anyone arrested afterwards the perfect opportunity to files a lawsuit for harassment, abuse of power, etc.

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