Magazine article The American Prospect

Don't Call It a Culture War

Magazine article The American Prospect

Don't Call It a Culture War

Article excerpt

AS THE ELECTION-NIGHT RESULTS ROLLED IN--and even before that, as the polling leaned heavily toward Barack Obama--some liberals gleefully declared the end of the so-called culture war. This war's two most reliable weapons, demonizing same-sex marriage and decrying abortion rights, failed to propel Republican candidates to victory--supposedly indicating that so-called cultural issues had lost their bite. Wrote Peter Beinart in The Washington Post, "Culture war no longer sells."

Obama's landslide victory prompted many progressives to declare that the long-awaited Democratic majority had finally emerged. But watching the most momentous election in a generation was bittersweet. Despite the supposed ceasefire in the culture war, Nov. 4 saw the passage of four heartbreakingly bigoted ballot measures: same-sex marriage bans in California, Florida, and Arizona, along with an Arkansas initiative designed to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting or foster-parenting. This is a call to arms. Progressives should not declare the culture war dead; we must reframe it and keep fighting.

We'll continue to lose until we can successfully relabel LGBT rights a civil-rights issue situated firmly within the context of other civil-rights struggles, not an issue mired in the culture-war swamp of moral controversy. (To a lesser degree, the same goes for abortion rights.) "Culture" implies we are comfortable with different parts of our country and different groups of people seeing this issue differently. It implies that there is no absolute right or wrong--just two sparring factions--and that we'll simply have to wait for the rest of the country to come around. Culture changes slowly.

This is something I've heard a lot in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. "History is on our side! Don't worry, the demographic trends are with us!"

I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. These are the kind of conciliatory comments that go part and parcel with the culture-war frame. Civil-rights era activists knew history was on their side. But their goal was not to make every white American comfortable with the idea of sharing public spaces and power with people of color. It was to guarantee people of color those rights, regardless of where the culture stood. …

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