Senate Repeal of DADT in Global Context

Conservative religious fanatics lost on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and anti-gay discrimination. The scary thing is, that since it is clear that fear-mongering on gays will no longer win elections in the next generation, the turn to hate-mongering against Muslims may accelerate.

So the Senate has repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the compromise policy on gays serving in the military.

The real question is why treatment of gays is such a hot button issue in the United States in the first place. Since America is a big island, only a third of Americans even have a passport, and US media carefully protects Americans from points of view emanating from abroad, most Americans would probably be surprised to discover that their country is an outlier among industrialized democracies in its treatment of gays.

If we take full marriage rights as a proxy for gay rights in general, then Argentina, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland are all heads and shoulders above federal US policy.

Gays can serve openly in the military in Russia, Ukraine, Canada, South Africa, Salvador, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Israel, Nepal, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and virtually all of Europe including the Balkans with the exceptions of Greece and Turkey.

Is there anything that would make sense of this world pattern? I can make three suggestions. First, gay rights, including marriage rights, have been implemented by some countries that suffered a long period of fascist or other authoritarian governance, and which rebelled against it. Franco’s fascist Spain, in place from 1936-1975, gave way to a new Spanish parliamentary regime and in recent years to Spanish socialism. Fascist regimes affected a macho heterosexual patriarchy and typically ruthlessly persecuted gays. Fascist regimes also often, being nativist, had a special relationship to the Church (yes, Hitler was a believing Catholic) and took cues on public morality from the remnants of the Inquisition. (This is by no means to deny that many conscientious Catholics and priests vigorously opposed fascism). In Franco’s Spain mere admission of being gay could lead to imprisonment, rape and torture.

Calvinist, Protestant regimes such as Apartheid South Africa were likewise highly oppressive, patriarchal and heterosexual. The hierarchical rightwing society, which placed adult men of the most favored race, at the top of the society, was challenged by any group that did not easily fit on the social ladder or who challenged its legitimacy. The Apartheid regime in South Africa

“South Africa’s apartheid army forced white lesbian and gay soldiers to undergo ‘sex-change’ operations in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, and submitted many to chemical castration, electric shock, and other unethical medical experiments. Although the exact number is not known, former apartheid army surgeons estimate that as many as 900 forced ‘sexual reassignment’ operations may have been performed between 1971 and 1989 at military hospitals, as part of a top-secret program to root out homosexuality from the service. “

Gay rights came to form part of a human-rights backlash against rightwing policies in South Africa, Spain and Argentina, then. Although it does not yet extend to full marriage rights, a residue of reaction against central European fascism informs the general European commitment to non-discrimination against gays.

Second, gay rights are prominent in countries, as with Scandinavia, where there is a greater degree of gender equality and where women serve in large numbers in the legislatures. One suspects that just as anti-Apartheid activists saw an affinity between oppressed black Africans and discriminated-against gays, so Scandinavian feminists found a commonality with gays in confronting hetero male supremacism.

But third, and inescapably, religious fanaticism obviously plays a significant role in denying rights to gays. There is a direct relationship between rightwing Catholicism, rightwing evangelicalism, rightwing Hinduism, and rightwing Islam on the one hand, and discrimination against gays on the other.

Hindu India has been among the worst democratic countries for gay rights in modern history, and only in 2009 finally made it legal even to be gay (though it is still illegal to have a gay relationship!). Greece has a little-noted almost theocratic relationship at times with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Sri Lanka, obsessed by Theravada Buddhism, is like an island prison for gays, at least as far as the law goes. Despite widespread experimentation with gay sex in the Muslim world, which has an old history (half of the love poems in the Diwan of classic Abbasid poet Abu Nuwas are about young men), the public policies toward gays, shaped in part by the influence of the Muslim clergy, are among the worst in the world. And it is where the Church is strongest in the Catholic world that gays are treated worst.

Regional policy can also differ from national policy where one region of a country is more religious than another. And here we come to the United States. White, rightwing evangelicals have been among the most vocal opponents of gay rights in the United States (along with rightwing Catholics, African-American Protestants, and Mormons). Once the religious Right became politically active from the 1970s forward, and especially with the swing of white southern and western evangelicals to the Republican Party as a result of the Nixon Strategy in the aftermath of the enfranchisement of African-Americans, the Republican Party became a bastion of anti-gay policies and legislation, despite the significant gay constituency inside the party in the Northeast and the Bay Area of California.

Only six Republicans voted ‘yes’ in the procedural vote that allowed the DADT repeal to go forward in the Senate.

The Republican Party in the US is a coalition of groups, and ironically includes some relatively liberal factions (the Log Cabin Republicans, e.g., who sued over DADT). But religious ultra-conservatives are a key demographic for the party, and probably are growing in importance within it, according to Gallup. The ultra-conservatives are disproportionately white and committed Protestants (likely mostly evangelicals).

The mainstream Republican Party’s view on many social issues thus resembles that of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties in the Muslim world far more than it does the ‘conservative’ parties of Scandinavia and continental Europe. Religion is a big part of the reason, but likely the other two factors play a role. Frankly, many American whites still have a hierarchical view of race and sexual identity in America, and many have relatively authoritarian views of governance–favoring the National Security State over individual rights, e.g.

As in Europe, where some far-right parties such as that of LePen in France that used to bait gays have recently posed as their defenders from Muslim immigrants, we can expect the American Right to play the same game. A plea here to progressive gays not to fall for it, and to American Muslims to stand for tolerance for other discriminated-against groups.

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Responses | Print |

29 Responses

  1. You should just delete the Hitler = Catholic comment. It raises Godwin’s ugly for no real justification, since Hitler’s actual religion is both debatable and irrelevant to your discussion.

    Otherwise, great post, as usual.

  2. Having just been re-reading Kaplan’s “female perversions,” I suspect the basis for all of the above instances come from overly simplistic “infantile dichotomies” which divides the complexities of actual life into two, completely separate, parts. From this comes the attempt to completely obliterate the part that (subconsciously) brings anxiety or dread, with the attention being focused on the obliterating the offending part, not on coming to some understanding as to why it offends.

    Thus as Prof. Cole has suggested, when one example of this mindset loses the battle, one can expect it to focus on another instantiation as in Protestants vs. Catholics, Whites vs. Black, Straights vs. Gays … Abrahamics vs. Muslims.

    Time to strike up the (Boy, Girl, Whatever) Scouts Marching Song, “Be prepared …”

    • I know it’s a quibble, and perhaps even petty, but I think that it’s important to correct mistakes immediately rather than just ignoring them.

      Islam actually is an Abrahamic faith like Judaism and Christianity.

      The Prophet Mohammed is even regarded in some circles as having descended from Abraham through his older son Ismail and the Kaaba is said to have originally been constructed by Abraham and Ismail.

      In the case of Islam-obsession case I think that what offends is more the similarities than the differences between the faith, it was a common perception and insult for a long time to describe Islam as a heretical Christian cult and the Prophet as a deranged and corrupt priest.

      Muslims look at the original message and take it in a different direction. There may be a temptation to see that alternate interpretation as a direct challenge, whereas other completely divorced faiths (Hinduism and Buddhism for example) don’t claim to cover the same ground and may not seem as threatening.

    • Aren’t Muslims also “Abrahamics,” supposedly? I have heard them described that way and always wondered if most of them would actually like that label.

  3. I’ve never understood the context of right-wing homophobia except as part of a larger obsession with population growth as a form of military power.

    To illustrate this, consider three areas where early Christians disagreed with each other, but the rising Catholic hierarchy later imposed doctrine:

    1. suicide
    2. abortion
    3. homosexuality

    I can’t get into it here, but these ideas, like the role of women in the church, were openly in play for the first century or two A.D. In every case, the hierarchy chose the path that would ensure the growth of its army of followers over both rival Christian groups and the pagan establishment it sought to overthrow. No suicide, no abortion, and only heterosexual sex meant plenty of babies and no one trying to defect to Heaven ahead of schedule.

    It is not surprising that both Hitler and Stalin handed out medals to women who had lots of babies. Or that Romania was obsessed with baby-making. Or that there’s a Christian extremist scheme called the “Quiverful” movement that pressures women fundamentalists into having more babies, ostensibly to overcome the Moslem hordes who are always depicted as multiplying like rats. Sarah Palin appears to be an actual adherent of this doctrine.

    Amazing – the Quiverfuls have openly reduced a baby to an arrow, a weapon to be expended in war. A woman’s womb is nothing but a barracks for future soldiers. This makes homosexuals a sort of pre-deserter, depriving America of the future legions it needs to “win” World War III, to say nothing of the patriarchal discipline those legions would require to wage such a suicidal struggle.

  4. I disagree with deleting Hitler = Catholic. Irregardless of what Hitler’s affiliation was, religion played a major in helping bring unity to the people of Germany during Hitler’s reign.

    I wanted to address that the Soviet Union had very harsh punishment towards Gays. Anti-Homosexuality laws remained until 1993. Yet the Soviet Union/Russia is usually seen as atheistic. I was hoping that Juan would address this as to the reasoning.

    • Homosexuality was legalized in 1917, after the revolution, and banned again in 1930. The same thing happened with abortion and divorce. As Stalin got more power, the laws became more conservative.

  5. “it is clear that fear-mongering on gays will no longer win elections in the next generation…”

    My bet is that this is not “clear” at all.

    The “Anti-Gay” button is still very prominent in the control panel of the lexicographers of the Wrong– oops, we are supposed to say “Right,” right? Because that’s a strong, reassuring word. Out of the Black Sabbath political missal whose first printing came out of the fecund, horny imagination of one Newt “Slimy Amphibian Adulterous Liar” Gingrich, in the form of that famous little memo, now viral and with lots of genetically improved versions, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” link to

    As to homophobia on the “Wrong” side of the political spectrum, maybe there’s some religious component to that, but there’s an enormous dose of their hallmark Hypocrisy. Like the tight-assed, bigoted and hateful Director of Christian Education at a church I once attended, who wore starched collars and preferred young men for personal gratification. And I think I remember that many male Nazi leaders had the hots for young Aryan males, and of course the well-documented preference for pretty young boys. So as with that viciously destructive self-hater, Roy Cohn, and J. Edgar Crossdresser and any number of “Right”-eous politicians and military leaders, have their closet preferences but find it convenient to trigger that emotion we call “hate,” for lack of a better short descriptor, but which is a lot more complex that that. Something tied to individual and group identity, like all the other “litmus tests,” pro-war and pro-death-penalty and anti-abortion and anti-most-Bill-of-Rights-rights, and of course that amorphous but apparently well-sensed, if not well-comprehended, and needing-constant-reinforcement identification of The Enemy.

    Another example of what looks, physiologically analogizing, like cancer or an awful immune-system disorder, causing the body of humanity to destroy itself from failure to properly and honestly recognize its own nature.

    • Good post, but please don’t insult amphibians by calling Newt one, even if he is named after a particular species.

  6. Thanks for the wider view. How many sexual scandals have Republicans had to deal with over the last 10 years. Extra marital, gay etc

    • Right – and how many Republican operatives are closeted gays? A truly astonishing number, just judging by those who have been discovered or come out (David Brock for example.)

      And these Republican gay guys apparently all work to produce anti-homosexual hate messages as a key component of their “day jobs.” It’s bizarre.

      • Want a bit of juicy history? Maybe you already know something about Roy Cohn, one of the worst of the bunch on the Wrong side of the political cloud. link to

        Why is it that evil SOBs like this are always described biographers and commentators as “complicated” and “troubled?” They are just mean and crazy and the worst kind of hypocrites, as far as I can tell.

  7. Thank you professor for your forward thinking. I suspect the opposition to the concept of homosexuality stems from its natural inclusion in the human community, and thus, the need to exclude it from synthetic (read patriarchal) organizations.

  8. “Hindu India has been among the worst democratic countries for gay rights in modern history, and only in 2009 finally made it legal even to be gay (though it is still illegal to have a gay relationship!).”

    In India, the organised Hindu opposition to gay rights is hardly a couple of years old. On the other hand, the law that criminalizes “unnatural offences”, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, came into force in 1861. The particular section,drafted by Lord Macaulay,was informed by Victorian notions of morality and had nothing whatsoever to do with Hinduism. Besides, though the section remained in force for a long time, the number of convictions under its provisions was very low, and an overwhelming majority of them were cases concerning non-consensual sex and child abuse. Finally, when homosexual acts were decriminalized by the Delhi High Court in 2009, it was not just Hindu leaders that opposed it. Leaders representing all the major religious communities in India – Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs – were united in their opposition to legalizing homosexuality. Your correlation between Hinduism and the denial of gay rights thus glosses over the historical context of the ant-sodomy legislation in India, as well the opposition of various others religious groups to its repeal.

    • Yeah, right wing Hindu groups have been around rather longer than you imply, and their opposition to gay rights was a topic of discussion in the press in the early 1980s when I was living in Lucknow and Delhi.

      The Scandinavian countries also had a heritage of anti-gay legislation, just as did India. The question is why they jettisoned it and India did not (most of it is still in place there). That Scandinavians are mostly uninterested in religion, whereas India is a relatively religious country, is the obvious answer.

  9. Interesting that you regard the USA as an island. I wonder if the Canucks have anything to say about that.

  10. .
    Some folks don’t belong to organized religions,
    but who doesn’t hold any “religious beliefs ?”

    “Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, …
    or human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.”

    You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. Our beliefs diverge on the proper place of homosexuality in society.
    Your religious beliefs are right, and mine are wrong, because … ?

  11. “Conservative religious fanatics lost on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and anti-gay discrimination. The scary thing is, that since it is clear that fear-mongering on gays will no longer win elections in the next generation, the turn to hate-mongering against Muslims may accelerate.”

    Is this what you mean?
    link to

    Peter King: I’ll Hold Hearings On Radical Islam
    12/19/10 02:59 PM | AP

    NEW YORK — The incoming head of the House Committee on Homeland Security says he will hold hearings on what he calls the “radicalization” of some American Muslims.

    Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, said Sunday that law-enforcement officials around the country have told him they receive little cooperation from Muslims.

    But a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he fears King’s hearings will become an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.” Ibrahim Hooper said several recent terrorist plots have been foiled because members of the Muslim community did cooperate with law enforcement.

    King said in an opinion piece in Sunday’s Newsday that he will do all he can to “drive the public debate” on Islamic radicalization.

  12. Once again Republican legislators follow Muslim fundamentalist thinking. Is it because they share a common philosophy (and fear) or because campaign contributions flow from Middle Eastern sources via US intermediaries?

  13. Excellent article, and I think it is well complemented by super390’s exploration of the militarism angle.
    One issue though: if Sweden is as progressive, on women’s issues, as it is often made out to be, why doesn’t it prosecute sex crimes unless they involve Julian Assange?

    link to

  14. thanks for the excellent summary of the world wide situation – I would mention one thing that you missed, as I live here, and that it that the PRD the left wing party that rules Mexico City has this March allowed gay marriage and that the Supreme Court of mexico, in a 9-3 decision (imagine that kind of ‘pro-gay’ stance with the US supremes. impossible!) ruled that same sex marriages are consitutional and all other states in the country would have to recognize the validity of any gay marriage in Mexico City. they further ruled in August favor of gay adoption by same-sex couples by a vote of 9-2… saying that to do otherwise is clearly discriminatory. in other words, macho Mexico is more liberal than even the US – some change in the 18 years I’ve lived here, proud to say! The same sex marriage in Mexico City includes/extends the right to adopt children, to jointly apply for bank loans, to inherit wealth and to be covered by their spouses’ insurance policies.

  15. Juan’s last paragraph clarifies something that had me baffled. The extreme right-wing English Defence League had invited Koran-burning “Pastor” Terry Jones to their proposed rally in Luton (an English town with a large Asian population). After this caused entirely predictable uproar, and a threat from the British Government to ban him from entering the country, the EDL dis-invited him on the grounds that he’s homophobic.

  16. You left Ecuador off the list of enlightened nations. Their new constitution adopted last year explicitly includes sexual orientation, transgender status, etc. as protected bases. Allows same-sex marriage, too. The Catholic Church there fought bitterly against it, but to no avail.

    Much of Ecuador’s past fits into both the authoritarian and religious models. There were many periods of dictatorship and at one point, I believe in the late 19th century, there was a government that officially dedicated the country to the veneration of the Sacred Heart.

  17. To echo others – Hitler was not a Catholic, believing or otherwise. His public beliefs focussed on the mystic destiny of what he termed “Aryan” people, and the need to purify Germany/Austria of the contamination of Jewish culture.

    Hitler’s personal beliefs were centered on faith in the power of violence. Albert Speer chronicles Hitlers complete indifference to the deaths of Germans – even statements that the German people deserved to die as the war was closing in on him, since they failed him.

    Hitler had the support of many Catholics, but his real base of support was in the protestant north, I believe. Despite this, he never won an majority in any election in Germany before siezing power absolutely.

    Hitler clashed with the Catholic church over the churches recognition of the “Hebrew bible” i.e. the Old Testament – and many Catholic priests wound up in concentration camps as a result.

    Yes, the larger church accommodated Hitler, as did most major power interests in Europe.

    I know of no statement in which Hitler ever referred to Jesus. He did talk about a sense of personal destiny, or providence, but this seems more an expression of megalomania rather than any religious creed.

    Juan, i’m a fan – and you’re fantastic, but you undermine your credibility when you make errors like this. You should correct your remarks.

    • Hitler was baptized and confirmed. He had his differences with church policy, but there is this: “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” -Adolph Hitler, to Gen. Gerhard Engel, 1941.

      I am not, by the way, blaming Hitler on the Church. I am simply saying that there was a failure on the part of the Church to stand up to fascism, and rather than engaging in propaganda, as above, it would be better for believers to come to terms with that failure and to take the lesson from it that human rights should trump other, narrower interests and values, including human rights for gays.

  18. Nice article Juan. DADT does not end for 60 days upon certification according to counselors I have talked to at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. I am already looking into re-starting my military career now that I can. Keep up the good work, America needs your voice, not that I always agree with you… :-)

    Thanks for pointing out the connections between patriarchy, fascism and homophobia.

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