booze(Weekly Column)

A recent USA Today feature showed a striking similarity to the Religious Right’s ongoing wars on beers and queers.

In the case of alcohol, America’s busybodies organized at the turn of the last century, which led to Prohibition in 1920. The teetotalers claimed drinking was a terrible sin and that they had the right to impose their beliefs on the entire country.  The result was an unmitigated disaster that is best remembered for unintended consequences – such as dangerous moonshine and the rise of bootlegging mobsters.

In terms of LGBT people, religious fanatics banned together in the late 1970’s to pass or uphold laws that forced their sexual hang-ups and moralizing mores onto people they considered sinful. The unintended consequences included a high suicide rate among gay people and countless divorces that occurred after spouses came out of the closet.

The fight against beers and queers is most similar in that they both encompass pitched, ongoing battles and both issues are subject to a maddening patchwork of anachronistic laws at the state, county and local levels.

For example, 1 in 9 counties in the United States are still dry. Similarly, for LGBT people, laws on employment protection, marriage and adoption fluctuate wildly from place-to-place. Indeed a gay person’s family can be fully recognized by law in one state, but as soon as the state line is crossed, the family ceases to exist as a legal entity. It really is the metaphorical equivalent of traveling from dry to wet counties with a bottle of whisky in the car.

To ensure that gay people are second-class citizens, the Religious Right regularly lies about LGBT life, yet does so with soothing language about “protecting” marriage. In modern anti-gay campaigns, slick, high-priced consultants go out of their way to appear as if their campaigns are not about hate. This is part of an effort to entice mainstream voters who are turned off by fire and brimstone messages.

Similarly, today’s teetotalers are using chicanery to disguise their true intentions and avoid upsetting political moderates. For instance, in a Mount Pleasant, Texas campaign to keep alcohol illegal, a soft and misleading slogan, “Mount Pleasant Cares”, was intentionally created to deceive voters.

“We never mentioned beer or wine,” Vatra Solomon, a local resident and political consultant who advised the drys told USA Today. “We talked about children and safety and a healthy environment — those buzzwords. A lot of people like a glass of wine at dinner or a beer watching the Cowboys. We couldn’t afford to offend them.”

dryxIsn’t this eerily similar to how some campaigns use code words like, “family values”, to conceal that passing anti-gay marriage laws cruelly strip away hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples? When it comes to the Religious Right, a belief in End Times often justifies the mean-spirited means.

Fortunately, the religious zealots are losing both battles, as grudging tolerance is finally giving way to acceptance by the wider culture. In terms of alcohol, “drys are losing ground on all levels, from the state — since 2002, 14 states have ended bans on Sunday alcohol sales,” according to USA Today.

The number of Tennessee communities that allow sales of liquor by the drink (in bars and restaurants) has increased 56% since 2003. In the same period, 22 of Texas’ 254 counties and more than 235 of its municipalities have gone wet (or “moist,” a category in which beer and wine might be legal, but not liquor).

Of course, the same can now be said for homosexuality, with a majority of Americans now finding gay relations acceptable and an overwhelming number in favor of allowing gay soldiers to be able to serve openly in the military. Five states allow LGBT couples to marry. It often seems that victories, large and small, are happening on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Economic factors are a common denominator for recent momentum in efforts to end bans on spirits and LGBT rights. Locales are beginning to understand that being perceived as rigid and judgmental backwaters is not conducive to attracting new businesses. After all, few people want to relocate to a place that is lorded over by a narrow-minded fundamentalist elite.

One lesson to be learned from the alcohol fight is that fundamentalists don’t give up very easily. These fanatics have been railing against alcohol distribution, sales and consumption since Prohibition ended in 1933. They have fought tooth and nail to impose their values on entire communities. So, even though we may have reached a tipping point on LGBT equality, don’t expect our foes to fold the tent anytime soon.

Still, this battle is instructive because alcohol was once the Religious Right’s sin du jour.  Now, most national right wing organizations don’t waste time or political capital lobbying to ban booze. The once Biblical absolute against alcohol is disappearing as quickly as a shot of Absolut Vodka.

Would anybody bet a six pack that the same won’t be true for the alleged “sin” of homosexuality?