We'll continue to lose (Friedman writes) 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...."Culture" implies we are comfortable with different parts of our country and different groups of people seeing the 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.
"I'm sorry," she adds, "but that's just not good enough." Unfortunately, her proposed approach won't be good enough if it means denying that there is, in fact, a cultural war going on. If she means that advocating equal rights for homosexuals should not be seen as a "cultural" thing, I can accept that. The problem is that denying equal rights for homosexuals is a cultural thing. The most vocal homophobes believe that homophobia is part of their cultural birthright. What does someone like Maggie Gallagher say nearly every week? That being compelled by the state to tolerate same-sex marriage would be a violation of her cultural rights, her right as a believer and her right of conscience to say that homosexuality is wrong.
Friedman thinks it would be effective to equate same-sex marriage with interracial marriage. It almost seems as if she thinks no one has ever suggested this before. Yet homophobes themselves frequently invoke that argument in order to express their outrage at the equation. Giving at least some homophobes the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they're not racists, their view seems to be that there is no moral basis for objecting to interracial marriage, while their religion requires them to make moral objections to same-sex marriage. Culture enables and empowers their homophobia. Friedman is kidding herself and her readers if she thinks she can run around that obstacle instead of confronting the culture of homophobia. No matter what she says or what flag she wants to fly under, the other side knows it's waging a culture war, and it fights with the desperate fanaticism of those who feel that everything they know is at stake. They think that, if they lose, their culture goes. Their opponents should not necessarily disagree.
While criticizing Friedman's strategy, I can't deny her conclusion: "The harsh reality is that, just as the country wasn't rabidly conservative when it elected and re-elected George W. Bush, today's America is no progressive wonderland." Nor does it need to be one for Friedman's cause to prevail. The culture war itself is fought on a different plane from partisan politics. Libertarians are among her most likely allies, but they think "progressive" is a dirty word. The key to securing same-sex rights may be to decouple the cause from the bipolar partisanship typical of this country, find more allies outside one's preferred party, and surround the cultural enemy in a constantly shrinking space. They've been forced to retreat before and can be made to do so again. But that's not likely to happen if you don't acknowledge your enemy for what it is and act accordingly. If this be culture war, as a postmodern Patrick Henry might say, make the most of it.