I don't know if you've heard, but presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee recently made liberals mad.
Speaking with CNN's Dana Bash, Huckabee called being gay "a lifestyle," and likened that lifestyle to one of drinking or swearing — for which, I suppose, liberals and members of the LGBTQ community might be grateful, given that other leading lights of the GOP have likened non-heterosexuality to a range of much worse things. So: progress?
But you know what? Ok. Let's address this "lifestyle" argument. Both science and friendly conversation support the idea that most people who fall on the LGBTQ spectrum are, to quote the Bard, born that way. But so what if they aren't?
Why are we so insistent that non-heteronormative people assure us that they had no choice in the matter? Continuing to fight the "lifestyle" battle suggests a lingering aversion, as if being LGBT or Q isn't worthy of choice. In some ways, it is profoundly anti-progressive. People get to be who they are, not who they're told to be by parents, communities, norms, or mores. They get to grow and change and make choices.
And as often happens when Republican culture warriors open their mouths, we liberals got distracted by the first egregious thing Huckabee said, and failed to pay enough attention to the follow-up. The lifestyle bug-a-boo is really just a product of something even more serious that Huckabee said a moment later:
For me...this is not just a political issue, this is a Biblical issue. And unless I get a new version of the Scriptures, it's really not my place to say, "Ok, I'm just going to evolve." [CNN]
I believe Mike Huckabee. For Mike Huckabee, a person's unalienable right to pursue happiness, whether it stems from an ingrained sexuality or a lifestyle choice, is not a political issue. It's a biblical issue. He refers not to our founding documents or nearly 250 years of constitutional law when considering the rights of LGBTQ Americans — he refers to the Bible. The Christian Bible. The Christian Bible as understood by those who follow his version of the Christian faith (which, it bears remembering, is a far cry from all Christians). That's his guiding star as he seeks office.
I don't wish to overstate Huckabee's chances — I don't know if he thinks he has a genuine shot at winning a general election, but I certainly don't. I'm guessing that most power players within the Republican Party probably don't think so, either. Mike Huckabee isn't a serious candidate — but he is a useful tool for shaping the conversation that conservatives want to have.
Just as liberals strive to change the national discourse to move the country closer to our political goals, so do conservatives. All political actors work to broaden the room available for certain kinds of conversations, moving those conversations from the margins to the center and thus legitimizing them. Successful national politicians build a message that falls inside those boundaries — and when activists move the boundaries, successful politicians follow. (Witness President Obama's "evolution" on marriage equality.)
Each time a political figure casually credits a narrow interpretation of Christian Scripture as his or her handbook to American civil rights, it serves to incrementally expand the space in which such beliefs are politically viable; each time it goes unchallenged, the space gets wider still. Witness efforts to declare the Bible the "state book" of Mississippi. Witness presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal brandishing a Bible and calling for spiritual revival. Witness the avalanche of religiously informed anti-choice laws in recent years. Witness Focus on the Family's monumental efforts to shape anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation.
This isn't about the lifestyles of Mike Huckabee's friends, and it isn't even about whether the people who fail to fit his narrow vision of human sexuality are born that way or choose it — because all of Huckabee's attitudes on that issue are rooted in and fed by his belief that his Scripture trumps all.
This is about whether Americans of any political bent want to maintain, or seek to erode, the separation of church and state. This is about the First Amendment, most especially its Establishment Clause. It's about the Sixth Article to the Constitution — "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office." It's about whether we seek government of, by, and for the people — or only some of the people, according to what they think about God.
So yes, call Mike Huckabee out on all the things he gets wrong about civil rights and decent behavior. But please also stop letting him and other far-right politicians slide on the question of Holy Writ in civil life. As Americans, we're tasked with building a more perfect union — not a Christian one.