Homophobe in denial: Why it's important to call Mike Huckabee the H word

"I'm not homophobic," the presidential contender claims. Lies or self-delusion? Either way, here's the real issue

Published April 10, 2014 11:45AM (EDT)

  (AP/Alex Brandon)
(AP/Alex Brandon)

Mike Huckabee doesn't hate gay people -- he just loves the Bible. “I’m not against anybody. I’m really not. I’m not a hater. I’m not homophobic,” Huckabee said Tuesday to an audience at the Iowa Faith and Freedom convention, reiterating his opposition to marriage equality. “I honestly don’t care what people do personally in their individual lives.

“When people say, ‘Why don’t you just kind of get on the right side of history?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to understand, this for me is not about the right side or the wrong side of history, this is the right side of the Bible, and unless God rewrites it, edits it, sends it down with his signature on it, it’s not my book to change,’” he explained.

This is a pretty absurd claim. Because of course Mike Huckabee is a homophobe! So is Ken Cuccinelli, Rick Santorum, Marsha Blackburn, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Jan Brewer and a great many other men and women who are currently in positions that allow them to influence and implement policy that sanctions or enacts blatant discrimination against LGBTQ people.

There is actually nothing wrong with stating this explicitly, calling homophobes like Mike Huckabee homophobes. But for some reason, a number of people -- on the left and the right -- consider taking a position against people who endorse arbitrary discrimination more offensive or aggressive than arbitrary discrimination.

Brendan Eich resigns from his post at Mozilla after his employees and the public found out that he gave money to help deny gay couples the benefits and privileges that come with being married -- including but not limited to tax breaks, adoption rights and medical power of attorney -- and Andrew Sullivan says it's LGBTQ people who are lacking in "tolerance." Arizona comes within inches of passing a law that would have empowered business owners to openly discriminate against anyone they thought may be LGBTQ and George Will accuses the people who narrowly escaped having their basic rights legislated into nonexistence "sore winners." Ross Douthat claims -- in a country where less than 50 percent of the states have equal marriage -- that we are "not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore," and frets about what kind of "terms" LGBTQ "victors" will impose on people who continue to fight even this narrow equal rights agenda.

The size and scope of the parade of people accusing LGBTQ people and their allies of bullying or, per Sullivan, "intolerance," becomes all the more ridiculous when you begin to consider how long overdue -- and narrow -- these gains really are. There are currently only 17 states with equal marriage laws; President Obama just signed two executive orders to address the gender wage gap, but has taken no action on LGBTQ pay and employment disparities; the Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues to languish in congressional purgatory because homophobes like John Boehner think job security for LGBTQ people is a frivolous request; violence against trans people continues at crisis levels; and conservative talking heads like Bill O'Reilly use their platforms to accuse trans children of being sexual predators -- but, yes, sure, let's pretend that it's the supposed shitty attitudes of LGBTQ people that's the real problem tearing this country apart.

Men like Huckabee and Eich would much prefer the public regard their homophobia as a simple difference of opinion, but supporting policies like those that allow a middle manager to fire his gay employee because he kept a photo of his partner on his desk isn't an opinion -- it's an action with real consequences. For a lawmaker like John Boehner to have the "opinion" that ENDA is "frivolous" is actually him saying that it's OK to deprive someone of reliable employment, of the ability to support themselves and their family. Likewise, Eich's financial contribution to a campaign that sought to maintain a distinct and unequal legal category for gay couples in relationships of mutual care wasn't some privately held view -- it was an action he took in the service of a policy he wanted to see enacted. Marriage in the United States is not simply a big party -- it's a system through which the government confers benefits. (Also: This is a bad system. We should probably develop a different system.)

Mozilla employees effectively gave Eich a vote of no confidence after they learned that he believes that some adults shouldn't be able to enter into binding legal contracts. Contrary to some of the more heated claims made in recent weeks, no one called for Eich's head. The people expected to work under him said that Eich's political contributions -- his actions -- made him a poor fit for the organization. Eich resigned, and Mozilla supported him in doing so.

Here's Erin Kissane, a Mozilla employee, explaining why she didn't support Eich as a leader: "A CEO is a symbol. Mozilla’s work is made cohesive by an activist mission, rather than by a mandate to make as much money as possible. It is difficult for me to understand how we are best served by a leader whose capacity to divide our community is so apparent."

Eich's "opinion" was never just that so-called traditional marriage involves a union between a man and a woman; his "opinion" is that there should be laws that exclude gay couples from the rights and benefits of marriage. He paid money to help put those policies into place. Huckabee, as governor of Arkansas, used his "opinions" about LGBTQ people to support a constitutional ban on equal marriage and prevent gay people from being foster parents.

People like Eich and Huckabee believe that LGBTQ people deserve fewer rights and legal protections than straight people, and they are fighting to enshrine these views into policy. And it's this that makes them "haters" on the wrong side of history; it's this that makes them homophobes.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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