Tag: gay rights

God of Tolerance Seeks Vengeance as APSA Short Courses Cancelled

THE CANARD “All the fake news that’s fit to print.”
 –New Orleans

The god of tolerance struck down with fury yesterday, unleashing a mighty hurricane headed for New Orleans that forced the American Political Science Association to cancel the first day of its annual conference. The organization had thumbed its nose at the god, choosing to convene their enormous meeting in a city that is in a state that discriminates against gays and lesbians by refusing them the right to marriage. Now it appears they will suffer the consequences. With its short courses shelved, a year’s worth of knowledge about introducing technology into the classroom and qualitative methodology will be lost.

The discipline’s theorists and post-positivists joined with the ten others in the field of 6,000 who take normative policy issues seriously to draft a statement. “For years, we have voiced our concerns that holding the annual convention in New Orleans, despite its historical affinity for bright costumes and overall fabulousness, is a tacit endorsement of Bobby Jindal’s intolerance for our LBGT brothers and sisters. While we wish to say, ‘we told you so,’ we actually did not of course because we are all atheists. But still, we appreciate the help. Thank you, god. By the way, should that be capitalized? We are really new at this.”

New Orleans residents are puzzled as to why they should be punished by the god for the sins of political scientists, when as a whole they are supportive of gay rights. They also expressed confusion, as the previous hurricane was said to have been retribution for the city’s cultural and sexual libertarianism. They fear they are being caught in the cross-fire between the god of tolerance and Jesus, who is said by some to not like gay people.

The American Political Science Association though remains undeterred. APSA president G. Bingham Powell issued a statement: “Our work will go on. We will rebuild. We reject any interference in our democratic right to hold our conference wherever we please. The god of tolerance cannot be allowed to restrict our precious freedom. This is a question of liberty.”

Escalation is expected. Theologists fear that if all the nation’s political scientists do not immediately leave the United States, whose federal law bans gay marriage, and pursue work in more egalitarian places such as Canada or Sweden, the god of  tolerance will strike next on San Francisco, reducing it to rubble, or at least forcing the political science association to cancel cocktails when it meets there in 2015.


Transnational Battle over Gay Rights

The transnational battle over gay rights took an interesting turn last week when the Obama administration announced that it would work hard to promote gay rights worldwide. The gay community welcomed the news. But more strategic thinkers also raised questions. As Neil Grungras of San Francisco’s Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration cautioned:

“In countries where U.S. moral leadership is not high and where increasingly Western values are [seen as] negative . . . there is a real danger people can use this issue and say, ‘No, we are cleaning up here, we are going to reject this American imposition of decay.’” As an example, Grungras pointed to last year’s gay pride event at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. This sparked large demonstrations against the U.S., gay rights, and homosexuals.

Also of interest is the reaction from American religious conservatives active in the fight against gay rights. They decried the Obama initiative, and vowed to oppose it. In the past, they have scored successes. They have formed a “Baptist-burqa” network of religious conservatives, both state and nonstate, including Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, and more, spanning the world, just like the gay rights network. They have successfully blocked major new UN initiatives on gay rights and excluded gay activists from participation in international institutions. They raise rival norms, primarily to religious freedom and cultural autonomy, as a means of attacking gay rights. And they are supporting the backlash against gay rights in many countries, especially in Africa.

This may be a rearguard action, but there is little doubt that it has and will slow the progress of gay rights around the world. True, there have been major, hard-fought advances for gay rights in some countries in recent years. But many countries remain indifferent or, if anything, have become more overtly hostile as gay rights advance. Uganda’s horrific Anti-Homosexuality Law, complete with death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality,” is an example.

Scholars who study such issues sometimes ignore “retrograde” networks, in favor of studying progressive new norms and their moral entrepreneurs. Yet in the transnational battle over gay rights at the UN and in many countries, opponents are powerful and important. One can’t understand the politics of gay rights without examining their sworn enemies. One can’t appreciate the framing of a “new” norm without noting its rivals’ frmaing. One can’t explain the shifting policy outcomes without analyzing the bitter conflict among hostile sides.

Beyond gay rights, this is true of countless other policy issues, from global warming to global health. One side’s solution to what it portrays as a pressing crisis will itself be a problem for another group, generating fervent opposition activism. One side’s initiatives are invariably matched by a rival’s counterpunch.

[SELF-PROMOTION WARNING!] For those interested in transnational battles over gay rights and other issues – as well as the implications for understanding global public policy more broadly – my book, The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics – is due out next month from Cambridge UP. [STORY IDEA for Brian Rathbun: Things PSers Like: Ironic attitude toward shameless self-promotion.]


Six Years of Gay Marriage in Canada and the World Did Not End

Fact: 6 years after gay marriage
Happy Cat is still happy.

It’s the 6th anniversary of gay marriage in Canada and – financial meltdowns in Europe and America aside – the world hasn’t ended. Society has remained intact. Babies are being born, flowers are blooming, a Canadian hockey team still can’t win the Stanley Cup and otters are still cute.

Actually, Canada is more than fine. In an article in the Calgary Herald, Naomi Lakritz argues:

While divorce rates have increased greatly since the introduction of Divorce Laws in 1968, actual divorce rates have been decreasing in Canada since the 1990s. The 50 per cent (failure rate) fallacy is false . . . In Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, the Yukon and Nunavut, the total number of new divorce cases has declined six per cent over the four-year period ending in 2008/2009,” says an IMF news release.
Indeed, while divorces per 100,000 population reached 362.3 in 1987, they were down to 220.7 per 100,000 in 2005, the year same-sex marriage became law. So much for the myth that same-sex marriage would aid the dissolution of straight marriages. They dissolve quite nicely on their own, thanks to their internal dynamics, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling and infidelity. These figures, by the way, come from such eminent sources as the Vanier Institute of the Family and Statistics Canada.
And, according to Statistics Canada, “the number of marriages in the country was 149,236 in 2006, down nearly 2,000 from the previous year, but up from 148,585 in 2004.” Looks like some sort of minor demographic blip occurred there in 2006, but that figure is still up from 2004, when much of the silly fearmongering was taking place prior to Bill C-38 being passed.
Indeed, a November 2009 report entitled Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences, by Anne-Marie Ambert of York University in Toronto, found that “divorce rates have gone down substantially during the 1990s and have remained at a lower level since 1997, with minor yearly fluctuations.”

So clearly ALL of the predictions of the religious right have come true…. in that they haven’t. At all.

Considering that less than 30 years ago that many people were arrested, committed or persecuted for homosexuality in many Western countries, the progress has been impressive, (no matter what might be coming out of the mouths of Tea-Partiers.) A list of countries/regions/areas/cities with same-sex marriage or civil unions is impressive and growing. Even if it is a little patchy in America, there is clear momentum in support for equal marriage rights. Obama supporting the Respect for Marriage Act is a positive (if slightly delayed) step forward.

Obviously, it’s not a totally rosy picture. It’s still a crime punishable by death in 7 countries and homosexual acts are outlawed by 113. The Uganda situation is particularly odious. But even the UN Human Rights Council has taken the step of passing its first resolution on LGBT persons in June. Even if there is still a lot of work to do, there seems to be a decent amount of momentum (and opposition).

And best wishes to New Yorkers getting ready to take the plunge!

Cross-posted at The Cana-Blog


Battlefield Normatica

Last week’s vote for gay marriage in New York state was a signal win for U.S. advocates.  Two weeks earlier, in a move hailed by gay groups and the Obama administration, the UN Human Rights Council  voted 23-19 to commission a study on “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”  Do these and other recent advances for gay advocates demonstrate that a new norm of gay rights is establishing itself on the global scene?

Certainly this seems to be the case, although the arrival of any “norm” is much harder to pinpoint than the promulgation of a new policy or law, such as New York’s.  Many more countries, and, in the U.S., states expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation than even 20 years ago.  And the lives of gay people are far more open and accepted today, influencing broader heterosexual culture.
Nonetheless, foes of gay rights remain powerful.  In the U.S., this is primarily the case with regard to gay marriage, which is likely to be a battlefield for years.  Internationally, the U.N. Human Rights Council vote was in fact only a small step, notwithstanding the fact that it received major media attention.  It did represent the first time that the Council as a whole had used the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity” in a resolution.  But foes were quick to denigrate the accomplishment.  They also vowed to fight any further steps, as they have been doing consistently at the UN and in many countries for years.
The broader point is that gay activists face powerful opponents at home and abroad.  And they too operate through networks that cross national and institutional boundaries.  What I have termed the “Baptist-burqa” network spans religious conservatives among many faiths, most importantly Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim.  It encompasses both states, primarily in Africa and the Middle East, and NGOs.  And it fights the gay rights network, which in turn fights back, on varied issues and in many forums worldwide.
Notably, these kinds of protracted and vehement conflicts are not confined only to gay rights.  They go well beyond culture war issues—to numerous others.  Josh Busby’s recent post makes the point that in the U.S. at least, how one stands on global warming has become something of a litmus test for party affiliation.  As Josh points out, there are Republicans who fear climate change (and different ones who support gay marriage) just as there are some on the left who remain climate skeptics.  But although the battle lines are sometimes blurry, on most global issues, groups of civil society “good guys” do not face off against “bad” old states or corporations.  Rather, contending networks encompass the gamut of international actors, both state and nonstate.
Those of you who know my recent work will know that this is a lead-in to a bit of shameless self-promotion for my forthcoming book, The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics (Okay, I’m a tiny bit ashamed–sorry).  That book will explore this network vs. network conflict, and the diverse ways that contending networks duke it out in varied institutions worldwide.  I still have one last chance to tweak the final product and would be interested in YOUR thoughts.

I hope that the book will serve as a corrective to the many studies focusing primarily on networks promoting change, even though real change is in fact rare and difficult.  A better approach to understanding how politics works, I claim, is to examine the ongoing conflicts—and to analyze powerful contenders in those conflict on a more or less equal footing.  How do they mobilize?  How do they affect and attack one another?  What tactics do they use, not just to promote themselves, but equally important, to torpedo their foes?  True there are differences between the strategies of those protecting the status quo and those seeking change.  But often it is not so easy to place antagonists in either of those boxes, particularly as time passes and policies change.
These analytic points are equally valid in international and domestic settings. Consider, for instance, the case of health care reform in the U.S.  The idea that all Americans should have some form of health insurance has been around for many decades.  But to have analyzed only those promoting this policy would have missed the vast bulk of the day-to-day politics that made this goal so difficult to achieve.  Even to examine the “political opportunity structure” for proponents would miss the fact that this “structure” is in large part the continuous creation of powerful political actors.  In that context, it is true, the Obama health care law was a milestone.  But of course, it came long after its original proposal, at very high political cost, and with the ultimate outcome still uncertain because opponents, now on the defensive, continue to fight on in the courts—and probably ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. 
All the more so in the international realm, where this kind of protracted policy conflict is endemic, where there are any number of institutions national and international in which “defeated” opponents can fight on, and in which normative talk is so cheap.  All the more reason then for analysts not to dwell on the few victories, usually at best partial and contingent.  To understand how the politics of norms works most of the time, one must look at the conflicts, the defeats, and the contending networks equally.  A few other analytic points I’ll throw out there for YOUR thoughts: 
Political scientists including myself have focused too much on “agenda setting.”  Certainly it can be a major accomplishment to draw media attention to an issue and even more so to put it on a governmental decision agenda.  But there is of course no guarantee that this will lead to anything–or at least anything anytime soon.   In fact getting one’s issue onto an agenda, invariably mobilizes contrary forces who work hard to get it off the agenda and their own ideas back on.
Political scientists and sociologists, including myself, have focused too much attention on “framing” as key to understanding policy change.  Yet there are a huge variety of frames out there, even within a single polity—and many of them are equally compelling (at least if one looks at them objectively).  Consider the supposed “master frame” of human rights.  It is so broad as to make it possible for all sides in many policy battles to tap it for their own uses.  Even more specific frames such as “harm to bodily integrity” often remain available for multiple sides to take up.
Political scientists, including myself, have focused too much attention on “persuasion” as the mechanism by which policy change happens.  Unless that term is given a broader meaning than normal, “persuasion” fails to capture the concrete combat that dwarfs most rhetorical efforts, even if it is often harder to see and study.  This includes efforts at excluding the other side from key institutions, at silencing opponents, at keeping others’ ideas off the agenda, at fighting back even after a policy has been established (see the continuing court battles over California’s Prop 8), and of course at raising money.
Finally, political scientists, in this case not including myself, have put too much faith in the power of deliberation to elevate the decision processes of leaders and citizens.  Recent work on deliberative democracy finally seems to be getting this criticism.  Many “target” audiences are beyond persuasion, due to self-interest or ideology.  And few promoters of ideas, whether new or old, truly want a free and fair debate.   Obviously such debate would be optimal–if it were possible to establish agreement on what that would mean, not in the abstract, but in an actual political conflict.  In reality, decisions are invariably made in the absence of the kind of deliberation political philosophers would prefer.
Gay rights is just one of numerous issues in which these normative battles play themselves out.  Those of us studying them ought to pay more attention to the fray itself, rather than primarily to those promoting change. 
Your thoughts welcome either on this blog or direct to me at cliffordbob2@gmail.com 


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