When I first started fighting for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality in 1989, the mission seemed quite clear. We were working to educate and change the minds of traditionalists who had virtually no experience with LGBT people or issues. These individuals had grown up with stereotypes and misconceptions that could be proven false by the coming out of friends, co-workers, neighbors, or family members.
Today, defining our opponents is not so easy, and sometimes vexing, because their values are so vacant and vacuous. Back in the day, a true conservative was defined by how one lived -- not necessarily how one voted. But today's soulless, corporate conservatism has nothing to do with the way one lives and everything to do with lazy political labels and one-size-fits-all prefab positions.
Conservatism has now become a country club that offers membership to those who support a handful of policy issues. To join, one has to repudiate (or refudiate) abortion, marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the idea that global warming is man made. One also has to irrationally hate Barack Obama and favor tax cuts for millionaires.
If you deviate from the "conservatively correct" prefab platform -- you are out. However, if you pass the standard "issue test" you are in -- no matter how libertine your actual lifestyle is. This creed of "it's about what you say, not how you live" is becoming rather evident as the GOP presidential nomination process heats up.
For example, Franklin Graham -- the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham -- offered his glowing approval on Sunday of Donald Trump's campaign.
"When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, 'Well, this has got to be a joke,'" Graham told ABC's Christiane Amanpour. "But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, 'You know? Maybe the guy's right.'"
As Truth Wins Out's Evan Hurst pointed out, Trump is known for his "revolving door of trophy wives." Whether it is conspicuous consumption or sexual morals, no one can reasonably claim that Trump is genuinely "conservative."
Yet, under the contemporary definition, Trump can join the club because he is suddenly questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and posing as a great defender of "traditional" marriage.
"I'm not in favor of gay marriage," Trump cynically said, just in time for his GOP presidential bid. "They should not be able to marry...I just don't feel good about it. I don't feel right about it. I'm against it... I'm opposed to gay marriage."
Equally mystifying is the traction serial adulterer Newt Gingrich is getting from social conservatives. In a recent presidential straw poll taken by attendees at the religious right's Awakening 2011 conference, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich placed third with 21% of the votes. Maybe I'm missing something, but how is Gingrich dumping his first wife while she was recovering in the hospital from cancer "conservative"? How do these "traditionalists" rationalize Gingrich leaving his second wife for a young staffer while leading the charge to impeach Bill Clinton?
Help me figure this out. My parents have been happily married for 41 years, yet are considered liberals because they are pro-choice, pro-gay Democrats. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are still with their first wives, but are portrayed as anathema to the "family values" crowd. Yet, these moral scolds champion sleazy candidates like Gingrich and Trump who played musical wives.
In my view, you are not socially conservative unless you truly live that way. Where you stand on social or sexual issues during the day is less important than where you actually lie down at night. Candidates not practicing what they preach are phonies, while conservative pastors who endorse sordid candidates are puritanical poseurs who only care about political power.
It is also time for the media to stop calling crazy people conservatives. When Maryland-based anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson recently said that attempts to win LGBT marriage equality were "a satanic plot to destroy our seed," it's just paranoia, not a political philosophy.
When televangelist Pat Robertson claimed this week that liberals support reproductive health rights in order to make lesbians feel better about not being able to have children (they actually can and often do), he's unbalanced, not simply right of center.
And how about Democratic Jacksonville City Council candidate Kimberly Daniels? Here is what she said about Halloween:
The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:
* Sex with demons
* Orgies between animals and humans
* Animal and human sacrifices
Daniels belongs in a butterfly net, not on a butterfly ballot. Unfortunately, she represents a strain of acceptable modern conservatism that has overtaken the GOP and has even found its way into a few conservative Democratic circles.
I've never been a conservative, but at least I understood it before it transformed from "fuddy-duddy" to "nutty buddy."