January 14, 2010
by Robert Cruickshank
One of the most persistent features of the anti-equality movement is their desire to hide from public scrutiny. Whether it’s their efforts to close the trial to cameras or their efforts to block disclosure rules, Prop 8 supporters are adamant that they be allowed to hide their motives and even their names from us.
Why would they want to do this? Because it helps them politically. By claiming that they would somehow be harmed by public scrutiny and disclosure, Prop 8 supporters are reinforcing a narrative of victimhood that serves their broader agenda of painting marriage equality supporters as the bad guys. They also are able to keep their true feelings hidden, as their radicalism is masked by vague and reassuring images of smiling people protecting children and families from some existential threat that is supposedly inherent in same-sex marriages.
Conservatives have for decades cultivated a politics of victimhood – presenting themselves as victims of some group, usually liberal and often an oppressed minority, in order to gain sympathy for their insane beliefs and to delegitimize progressive ideas and actions. The result is a massive distortion of the true effects of Prop 8, and the normalization of support for discriminatory policy.
We saw this in the immediate aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008. As the names of those that donated to the Yes on 8 campaign were made public, in accordance with the laws of the state of California, some of those donors were held accountable by the public. Some were the target of boycotts, as consumers chose to spend their money at establishments that would not use that money to undermine equality.
Although this is an entirely normal process that did not result in any physical harm to anyone, Prop 8 donors and supporters framed those actions within the narrative of victimhood. The boycotts were used to reinforce the notion that there’s some big bad “gay agenda” out there looking to hurt poor innocent people.
While we might think this notion is absurd on its face (because it is), there is an increasing and disturbing tendency of courts to agree with this notion of conservative victimhood. In Washington State last year, courts ruled that signatures on a referendum petition to block a domestic partnership law could be kept hidden from the public in order to “protect” signers from some sort of supposed harassment.
That case will likely make it to the US Supreme Court, where yesterday’s ruling on cameras in the Prop 8 courtroom turned, in part, on the very issue of disclosure. As Rick Hasen explains, that has bigger implications for our democracy as the Supreme Court prepares its decision on the Citizens United case, which could eliminate campaign finance limits on corporate spending:
The Prop. 8 harassment issue is of course well known to the general public; but the same issue appears in the part of the Citizens United case that has gotten much less attention than the question of the Court possibly gutting corporate spending limits in candidate elections. Citizens United also asks for a breathtakingly broad exemption from generally applicable disclosure rules. If the argument is accepted, the public would not be able to tell who was spending what in most elections.
I had always assumed that CU’s disclosure argument was going nowhere, particularly if the Court majority was poised to strike down the corporate spending limits. One can imagine the Chief Justice pointing to disclosure as the more narrowly tailored alternative to the possibility of corruption, and trumpeting full disclosure as adequate campaign finance reform.
Now I’m not so sure, as I believe the conservatives on the Court could be buying a bit more into the harassment argument.
In other words, what we’re witnessing in America right now is a broad right-wing effort to hide the truth from the public so that voters can be more easily manipulated to embrace right-wing and/or corporate-friendly policies that voters might otherwise reject. It is an insult to our democracy and to our intelligence. But increasingly, courts seem to be arguing that being conservative is cause for protection.
As Hasen explains, if harassment is a genuine problem, then individuals can apply for and receive exemptions from disclosure rules. There is no need for a broad exemption.
What’s even more stunning about this argument is how it turns victimhood on its head. To my knowledge, no donor to or supporter of Prop 8 has ever been beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die or beaten and strangled for their views. In fact, gay bashing incidents have risen dramatically since Prop 8 passed.
And yet we’re supposed to believe it’s the Prop 8 defenders who are vulnerable and should be kept hidden from public view? Since that’s a ridiculous idea, it should be obvious that their motives in wanting to close the trial and their donor lists and petition signer lists are primarily political in nature.
Ultimately, the desire to prevent public disclosure is very deeply linked to the desire to block same-sex marriage. Those who oppose marriage equality want to make it safe in this country to discriminate against LGBT people. They understand that overt statements of dislike of LGBT people don’t fly in California, so they have to hide it, whether it’s in their deceptive campaigning, their push for a closed courtroom, or their efforts to hide their names from mandatory disclosure.
What that tells me is they have everything to hide. If the public knew what their true beliefs were, Prop 8 might never have been approved.