David Koch and his brother Charles are lightning rods. Heroes on the right. Hated on the left.
They’ve poured millions into right-wing causes and candidates.
But have no fear. David is a social liberal. He’s pro-choice and he supports “gay rights.”
“I’m basically a libertarian, and I’m a conservative on economic matters, and I’m a social liberal,” Koch told ABC News’ Barbara Walters for her “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014″ TV special on Sunday.
But what exactly does “gay rights” mean here? Neither Walters nor Koch go into detail. (Transcript here.)
When Walters and Koch discuss “gay rights,” I think what they’re actually talking about is marriage. We see it all over the place, from all sorts of people. Ask folks if they support gay rights, and they’ll immediately hop to the issue of marriage equality. When debates over other LGBT equality issues come up, opponents will almost always jump to marriage. Take local public accommodations ordinances, for example. They’re meant to protect people in a wide variety of services and places. The majority of debate? Over wedding cakes.
Even celebrities equate “gay rights” or equal and fair treatment of LGBT people with marriage. Teen online celebrity and Vine star Nash Grier got into hot water when he used the word “fag” when making a derogatory Vine video on HIV/AIDS. What got him into trouble has absolutely nothing to do with marriage. But, in his mind, it’s all the same, writing just yesterday: “I never once had a problem with someone’s sexuality or sexual preference. If there is one thing I stand for in life, it is do whatever makes you happy. I have and never will be against same-sex relationships or marriages. I can’t stress to you enough how far off the title ‘homophobic’ is from my actual personality.”
All of this is our fault. “Our” meaning the LGBT community, but more specifically our major media and advocacy institutions. There are plenty (a minority) of voices pointing us toward other issues of importance and begging they be given the same platform that marriage has, but, by and large, the great bulk of our community — laypeople and advocates alike — have let marriage be our defining movement goal and public talking point for a decade now.
By doing that, we’ve let folks like Koch — a self-described libertarian — claim they support “gay rights,” when it’s absolutely impossible they really could. As a libertarian, he favors as little government intervention in life and business as necessary. No sacred cows get a pass. Even government efforts at non-discrimination enforcement are fair game.
Need a good example of how that plays out in practical politics? Look no further than fellow “libertarian” Rand Paul and his position on the Civil Rights Act:
PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.
PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant — but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.
INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth’s?
PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part — and this is the hard part about believing in freedom — is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example — you have to, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things and uh, we’re here at the bastion of newspaperdom, I’m sure you believe in the First Amendment so you understand that people can say bad things.It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior, but if we’re civilized people, we publicly criticize that, and don’t belong to those groups, or don’t associate with those people.
Goals like the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and protections from discrimination in housing and in public accommodations will never fly for “gay rights” “supporters” like Koch. They would infringe upon private property ownership rights, inserting the government into business affairs over which they believe government is best left out.
But we don’t hear these nuances in the national political and media narrative. Rarely now do we see in-depth discussion, debate or coverage on employment and other non-discrimination measures. When it is covered, as it was by local media in Charlotte earlier this fall, it’s often bungled by reporters who don’t know the first thing about gay rights outside of the marriage equality paradigm.
Ultimately, all of this marriage-heavy focus will be to our own peril. Once marriage is fully won, many folks will think the movement is done.
We’ve got to demand more — from our potential “allies,” from media, from politicians and, yes, from our own community and its organizations and leaders.
If we truly want to know if someone supports “gay rights,” we should be asking many more questions. Do they support anti-discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations? What about more complex issues — for example, the intersections between race, class, identity (sexual, gender and otherwise) and issues like crime, incarceration and education?
We have to stop letting marriage be the single-issue litmus test upon which we view a candidate’s or leader’s commitment to our cause, and we have to make the argument to the public that this single-issue support will no longer fly.
As a progressive LGBTQ movement, we can demand more. We’re not the Christian church; we don’t have to accept its call for “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty.” Anything and everything we choose can be essential — from the wealthy gay male couple who seeks to wed to the homeless, black transgender sex worker who doesn’t need law enforcement breathing down her neck as she tries to simply survive when every other person and institution has turned on her.
Ultimately, we have to stop piecemealing our movement priorities. It’s either all or nothing — all rights or none, all people or none. Our “allies” and “supporters” can’t claim to back our full equality or liberation while simultaneously opposing key components of said equality and liberation.
It’s time for a movement shift — in tone, in tactics, in strategy and style. Who’s with me?