Graduate school at Duke University in the early seventies was odd, because North Carolina is odd, but the Woodrow Wilson people were paying for it all and Duke had a major Swift scholar at the time. If you’re going to write a dissertation on the semiotics of satire – deconstructionism was big at the time – that was the place to be. Still, it was the South – red clay and loblolly pines out to the horizon, and trailer parks, and the trip down to hip Chapel Hill – a Little Bit of Heaven in the South – was a trip down the Jefferson Davis Highway. Folks were still pissed off about that War of Northern Aggression. It wasn’t a Civil War, damn it! And in Durham there was no town-gown relationship with Duke. Durham was cigarette factories and tobacco auction houses. Carmen was not rolling cigarettes in those factories. This wasn’t that romantic Bizet opera. The town wanted to have nothing to do with the fancy-pants rich college kids. There were only pockets of the late twentieth century here and there – the universities and the new Research Triangle Park – IBM and other big tech firms set up shop to invent the future. Cool, but otherwise it was grits, guns, gravy and God – and seething resentment about the past.
The mix was unstable. It couldn’t last, and a week ago it finally fell apart:
North Carolina’s General Assembly voted Wednesday to block cities and counties from passing protections against LGBT discrimination in a wide-ranging bill that could have enormous implications for the state.
HB 2, which passed in a special session, would set a statewide anti-discrimination policy, banning employers and businesses from discriminating against employees or customers based on their race, color, country of origin, religion, age or “biological sex.” The bill offers no protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and prevents local governments from passing any nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond the statewide standard.
The bill also pre-empts local employment ordinances governing wages, benefits, employee protections and leave policies. It would prevent schools from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
The measure passed 83-25 in the House of Representatives and 32-0 in the state Senate. (Senate Democrats walked out of the chamber before the vote.)
Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said he signed the bill Wednesday night.
That was March 23, 2016, and it was a nasty business:
“This bill essentially repeals 50 years of non-discrimination efforts and gives lawmakers in Raleigh unprecedented control over our city and local governments,” Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said in a statement. “North Carolina Republicans want to pass what would potentially be the single most discriminatory act in the country. This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights, and local autonomy.”
Yeah, but the idea was blocking Charlotte’s anti-discrimination measure from going into effect – one that banned businesses from discriminating against customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Charlotte is home to Bank of America and a whole lot of other big banks, who thought that was a good idea, given their diverse employee base, but the locals don’t think that way:
Critics of the Charlotte ordinance particularly took issue with a provision that allows transgender people to use bathrooms designated for their preferred gender. McCrory vowed to overturn it, claiming it creates “major public safety issues.” McCrory and other Republicans argue the policy would allow male predators to enter women’s bathrooms free of consequence… The governor, however, opposed the idea of calling a special session due to the $42,000-a-day cost, instead calling on lawmakers to address the Charlotte ordinance during the regular session.
So they introduced the bill in the final hours of the regular session and passed it before anyone had time to read it, much less think about it. Will there be Bathroom Police, turning away women who look a bit too masculine for the ladies room, and men who look a bit too feminine for the men’s room? Where are these people gonna pee – in the streets? It seems they’ll just have to hold it in, but there’s even more to this:
In addition to blocking anti-discrimination protections across the state and imposing standards for single-sex bathrooms, the bill also prevents cities and counties from raising the minimum wage.
The bill would also end anti-discrimination protections for veterans. At least two North Carolina jurisdictions – Greensboro and Orange County – have anti-discrimination ordinances in place banning bias based on military or veteran status. Under the new measure, cities and counties would be prohibited from passing protections for veterans or service members.
Stephen Peters, the Human Rights Campaign’s national press secretary and a Marine Corps veteran, criticized this consequence of the bill.
“Thousands of LGBT veterans have fought to secure our freedom, only to have the rug pulled out from under them by the North Carolina legislature’s willingness to wipe protections for local veterans off the books,” he said in a statement. “Gov. McCrory must take a stand for fairness and equality for all and veto any bill that would increase the risk of discrimination.”
During debate, state Rep. Grier Martin (D) introduced an amendment that would add protections for veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity to the bill. Rep. Paul Stam (R), a veteran, argued he doesn’t think it’s necessary to protect veterans from discrimination – despite reports to the contrary. The assembly voted to table the amendment.
Of course everyone knows what happened next – all the major corporations made noises like they’d pull out of the state, as if they could – although Pay Pal did cancel its plans of a big operation center in the state. The NBA says it may pull its All Star Game out of Charlotte. Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert there – and then was called a bully trying to intimidate the godly and pious. New York and a few other states cancelled state-funded business trips there. The late night comics had a field day. John Kasich said, were he governor down there, he’d never sign such a bill. Bernie Sanders said, were he president, he’d stop this nonsense. This caused quite a buzz, but the grits, guns, gravy and God crowd isn’t backing down.
Ray Sanchez, in a CNN item, explains that there’s a lot of this going around:
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill this week that protects businesses and religious groups from punishment if they deny services such as counseling, wedding planning and adoption support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people when it’s based on “sincerely held religious beliefs or convictions.”
Watchdog groups decry the bill as discriminatory. Proponents call it a protection of First Amendment rights.
Think Mississippi and North Carolina are alone? They’re not.
In Georgia last month, HB 757 gave faith-based organizations the option to deny services to gays and lesbians. Opponents immediately labeled it “anti-LGBT.”
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal cited Jesus’ ministry to outcasts in signaling his intention to veto the bill. Late last month, he did.
And he caught a lot of shit for that, but Sanchez notes that this was a long time coming:
On a summer day last year, a divided U.S. Supreme Court released a landmark opinion giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a historic victory.
Justice Anthony Kennedy voted along with the court’s four liberal justices and wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Each of the four conservative justices in the minority wrote his own dissent.
On June 26, nearly 46 years to the day after a riot at New York’s Stonewall Inn ushered in the modern gay rights movement, the high court decision sought to settle one of the major civil rights fights of this era. Kennedy’s opinion spoke of family, love and liberty.
“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions,” Kennedy said. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
In his dissent, the late Justice Antonin Scalia blasted the decision’s “threat to American democracy.”
And the rest is history:
The Obergefell ruling energized a growing movement to expand the coverage of laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.., but it also invigorated religious resistance against that movement. … Religious freedom bills have actually been growing since the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law in 1993, which was designed to prohibit the federal government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion.
The law passed with the backing of a broad-based coalition, but it wasn’t set against the more recent backdrop of gay rights or the wave of marriage equality laws and court rulings that culminated in the Obergefell decision.
And so it goes:
In September, a county clerk in Kentucky spent six days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. U.S. courts consistently ruled against Davis, but she became an icon to those championing religious exemption.
In August, an appellate court ruled against a Colorado bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The court rejected the owner’s assertion that the refusal was based on religious opposition to same-sex marriage, not because of the couple’s sexual orientation.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby allowed some family-owned or other closely held businesses to opt out of a federal requirement to pay for contraceptives in health coverage for their workers.
Owners of Hobby Lobby and another company argued the mandate in President Barack Obama’s health care reforms forced them to violate deeply held religious principles because they believe the specific contraceptives they objected to amount to abortion. The high court agreed.
And on and on, and now, Republicans just don’t want gay-rights laws, and Democrats don’t want religious exemptions:
The cycle of action and reaction has become familiar, if not entirely predictable: Social conservatives lament instances where business owners find themselves in hot water for controversial statements or actions; targeted measures are enacted; social liberals denounce the measures; business interests become involved.
A year ago, Indiana’s legislature passed a law intended to protect Christian businesses that did not want to provide services to gays and lesbians – particularly for same-sex weddings. But a week later – driven by businesses’ concerns over discrimination – the law was amended so that it could not be used to override current and future civil rights protections, including local anti-discrimination ordinances.
In the midst of this, the owners of Memories Pizza in the Walkerton, Indiana, told local media that they would refuse to cater a same-sex couple’s wedding. The comments went viral. There were petitions and calls for boycotts and travel bans. On the other side, supporters donated more than $842,000 to a GoFundMe account set up to help the business stay afloat.
This may play out endlessly, with variations like this:
State lawmakers are pushing legislation to prevent the University of Tennessee from ever spending school dollars on student-organized “Sex Week” events.
The bill, HB2248, would prohibit UT from using state funds to promote the use of gender-neutral pronouns, or to “promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays,” in addition to barring funding or support for Sex Week.
The bill would also trim $436,700 next year from the UT Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and direct $100,000 to purchase decals with the motto “In God We Trust” for law enforcement vehicles.
It’s the latest salvo in a four-year-long battle between conservative politicians in Tennessee and the state’s flagship campus in Knoxville over Sex Week, and one that some insist is threatening students’ First Amendment rights.
The basic idea:
Sex Week is an annual series of events organized by the student group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, or SEAT. It includes lectures, panels and workshops about abstinence, sexuality, body image, sexual relationships, BDSM and oral and anal sex.
“We’re really focused on creating a healthier and safer campus community for students,” junior Colleen Ryan, co-chair of SEAT, told The Huffington Post.
Conservative lawmakers for years have demanded that UT put a stop to Sex Week. Speaking to a Fox News talking head last week, state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) said he’s amazed that Sex Week continues despite lawmakers’ request that it “cease and desist,” and said they now need “to legislate” over it.
But students aren’t happy with the threats. “It would be a violation of our free speech to tell us we can’t have these events on campus,” Ryan told HuffPost.
Indeed, the suggested laws could inhibit free speech rights on UT’s campus, according to Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Yeah, but they’re talking about sex, damn it, although there’s this:
It is, perhaps, a strange lesson from a pope: Even the erotic can be divine. That is one take-away from the landmark document by Pope Francis on family life, a work that translates in English as “The Joy of Love.” Married couples, the pope says, should not fear “a healthy sexual desire.”
“In no way, then, can we consider the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family,” the often-surprising pontiff writes. “Rather, it must be seen as gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses.”
He gives a blunt “no” to gay marriage, and warns his flock not to forget the “differences between sexes.”
But still, Pope Francis says enjoy yourselves. The erotic can be simply divine – and now Republicans hate that guy even more, because they do seem to be conflicted about sex, and this didn’t help:
Dennis Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to a person the former House speaker sexually abused when the victim was a 14-year-old wrestler on a team coached by Hastert, prosecutors said in a court filing that details allegations by five former students.
The filing Friday night is the first time prosecutors have confirmed Hastert paid hush-money to conceal sex abuse. It chronicles a chain of deception that began with Hastert exploiting his position of trust as a teacher and coach and carried on years later to include lying to bank officials and making false claims of extortion to the FBI to conceal his wrongdoing.
The filing recommends that a federal judge sentence Hastert to up to six months in prison for violating banking laws as he sought to pay one of his victims, identified in court documents as “Individual A,” to ensure the person kept quiet. The sex-abuse allegations date to Hastert’s time at Yorkville High School in the Chicago suburb of Yorkville from 1965 to 1981.
“While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them,” the filing says.
Prosecutors say Hastert still was abusing boys when he first decided to run for office, but the now-74-year-old Republican managed to keep any hint of sexual misconduct quiet throughout a political career that carried him from the Illinois Legislature to the halls of Congress and eventually to the speaker’s office, where he was second in the line of succession to the presidency.
That nasty guy in the men’s room that those North Carolina Republicans were worried sick about was one of them, and Josh Marshall adds perspective:
What is worth remembering is that Hastert’s improbable rise to the pinnacle of political power in Washington was a direct consequence of Republican party efforts to exploit and eventually criminalize Bill Clinton’s extramarital sex life in order to overturn the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. The chain of events is clear and straightforward. …
From before Bill Clinton became President in January 1993 Republican opponents realized that his sexual impulsivity and history of extramarital affairs was one of his greatest political vulnerabilities. The key was how to take the story out of the supermarket tabloids and into the courts. The first big opportunity was the Republican-backed sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones in 1994. It was the legal maneuvering over the Jones lawsuit combined with the double-dip, wildly partisan and almost infinitely wide-ranging Independent Counsel Investigation of Ken Starr that led to the revelation of Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which finally led to his impeachment, the first in 130 years, in 1998.
That’s come up again, as his wife is running for president, but context is necessary:
As the November 1998 mid-term election approached, then Speaker Newt Gingrich was predicting a wave election which would bring 40 or even 50 new Republican members of the House into office. What was so odd about this prediction is that it was widely believed in Washington political circles and by most pundits – notwithstanding the fact that public polls never showed any evidence for this. This part I remember vividly because I was a rookie journalist at the time and I told all who would listen (basically everyone in our office) that I thought Republicans would actually lose seats in the House rather than gain them. There was no special insight to this. It was just a matter of looking at the polls. But Washington thought otherwise, largely on the reasoning that whatever the polls showed, conservative Christians were so upset about Clinton’s affair that they would turn out in droves and sweep Democrats from their already decimated numbers in the House.
That didn’t happen. Democrats actually gained a modest number of seats, something all but unprecedented in the sixth year of a president’s term. The shock of the result led to Gingrich’s fall from power and resignation almost immediately.
What we would learn only later was that while driving the country toward impeachment Gingrich was himself carrying on an affair with a twenty-something congressional aide named Callista Bisek. Gingrich would later divorce his wife Marianne and marry Bisek – they remain married – just as he had years before married Marianne after carrying on an affair with her while married to his first wife.
Oops, and then double-oops:
Just after the election, impeachment seemed dead. Republicans promised a return to bread and butter issues after a perceived public rebuke of their obsessive focus on impeachment and the president’s sex life. But that didn’t last long. Indeed, what soon unfolded foreshadowed the pattern by which the 2013 RNC “autopsy” was followed by the failure of immigration reform and the most racially charged GOP presidential nomination in history three years later. The GOP’s base’s hunger to punish the President was far greater than establishment belief that impeachment had proven to be a tremendous political loser. What’s more, Gingrich’s departure empowered the man who had already, in many respects, been running the show in the House: Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Notwithstanding the election results, DeLay was totally committed to moving ahead with impeachment and was able to use the threat of primaries to pull members back into the pro-impeachment camp.
Meanwhile, the Republican conference quickly settled on Rep. Bob Livingston as Speaker Designate for the next Congress and de facto leader as the House moved toward impeaching the president. But then news broke that Hustler’s Larry Flynt (yes, it was all really weird) was preparing an article on affairs conducted by Livingston and other members of Congress. This pushed Livingston to admit his own history of adultery and then – the very day the House passed articles of impeachment – in effect resign the Speakership even though he had not actually become Speaker.
Livingston resigned from the House and was succeeded by David Vitter, who would continue paying for sex with prostitutes after moving to Washington to take his seat in the House and later in the Senate. In 2007, Vitter’s phone number emerged from a published list of the phone records of “DC Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Vitter nonetheless survived the prostitution scandal and was reelected to the Senate in 2010. He failed in his bid to become Governor of Louisiana in 2015. …
The rapid fire events of the previous six weeks – the upset election result, the resignation of the Speaker, the impeachment of the President, followed by the resignation of the de facto Speaker – left official Washington and especially the House Republican caucus in a state of shock and pandemonium. Various names were at first mooted to succeed Livingston. But consensus quickly formed around a man little known even in Washington, let alone in the nation at large: Dennis J. Hastert.
And that’s how they ended up with a serial pedophile who really liked those delicious adolescent boys:
As ironic as it seems today, Hastert was suddenly thrust forward by a House GOP caucus, which had spent the last six to seven weeks decapitating itself, on the belief that he assured steadiness, colorlessness, zero controversy and a total lack of any surprises. Speaking to veteran Republican aides after the initial Hastert revelations last year, I could not find anyone who had the remotest inkling there was even anything very interesting in Hastert’s private life, let alone such a shocking revelation. Indeed, for eight years Hastert provided just what Republicans had hoped from him – colorlessness and non-controversial leadership of the House which was, in procedural terms, fairly effective.
And that is the whole story. Without the unending hunt into Bill Clinton’s sex life, you never would have heard of Denny Hastert.
What do they say? Karma’s a bitch? And those Republican folks in North Carolina, seething with resentment about a past that was taken away from them, when men were men and women were sweet powdered little bits of fluff, when everyone used the right restroom, damn it, want that past back – but it’s never that simple. It never was that simple. It never will be that simple. And really, there’s no such thing as Republican sex. There are, however, Republican perverts.