December 23, 2008

I read an interesting commentary in the December 2008 American Prospect magazine. The article really resonated with me – helped me understand my anger better.

The author, Ann Friedman, talks about the difference between culture wars and civil rights.

You know, those “culture wars” that the media talks about: Like the conflict between secular and non-secular. Pro-choice or anti-abortion. Discomfort with same-sex marriage. Religious right and atheists. Liberal versus conservative. Moral controversies.


This is the culture war or wars: People believe differently. And different beliefs are just that, different but okay.

Friedman notes: “‘Culture’ implies we are comfortable with different parts of our country and different groups of people seeing [things] differently. [Culture] implies that there is no absolute right or wrong – just sparring factions – and that we’ll simply have to wait [for change].” While culture changes slowly, it does change – eventually, I guess.

Friedman was writing about prohibitions against same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption and foster parenting. She was talking about the progress (or lack thereof) of the rights of the LGBT community.

Culture war or civil rights?

Imagine that the rights of Blacks was a culture war.

Instead of fighting for civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the people who protested and lobbied could have backed off. It was just a culture war. People see things differently. There is no absolute right or wrong. And as time passes and demographics change and and … The various factions would come around and agree that ethnicity /race doesn’t make one person better or worse. And then we’d have equal rights regardless of color.

Do you think that would have worked?

So what about the rights of the LGBT community? Culture war or basic civil rights?

For example, what about marriage? Think about it: Marriage is marriage. Nothing else is equal in law and regulation in the United States. Civil unions are not marriage. Marriage is marriage. The top of the line. The pinnacle or foundation.

Friedman’s point? Same-sex marriage is not a culture war. It’s a basic civil right. Unfortunately, ballot initiatives show that anti-gay measures pass easily.

And that’s why I’m so angry. Denial of civil rights to any individual or group of individuals is unacceptable. It’s about justice.

We didn’t think of the rights of Blacks as a culture war. We cannot think of LGBT rights as a culture war, either – as a disagreement between liberals and conservatives. We cannot wait for public opinion to change. We cannot wait for time to pass.

As Friedman says, “A civil-rights frame is not only more proactive…it is more persuasive…Invoking the term ‘culture war’ signals that we think something is controversial, when in fact, equal rights should be the furthest thing from it…I chafe at the notion that these are the first days of a new progressive era. Because if our time had truly come, bigotry on the ballot wouldn’t be a sure thing. And fundamental civil rights wouldn’t be perceived as a minor culture-war skirmish.”

Think about it. Culture war? Civil rights?

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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