Defining ‘morality’

DEFINING ‘MORALITY’…. At a church rally late last week, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) shared his usual culture-war palaver, emphasizing his opposition to marriage equality and reproductive rights. But he also went a little further, adding that gay people and unmarried women who sleep with their boyfriends “shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom.”

DeMint went on to say that few seem willing to defend him when he makes these bizarre declarations, “but everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”

The notion that DeMint believes Americans’ rights would be violated by gays and unmarried women teaching in classrooms is truly mind-numbing, but the NYT‘s Nicholas Kristof takes the next step today, offering the right-wing senator a reminder about the nature of morality.

To me, job discrimination against people on the basis of private sexual practices, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is what is truly immoral. Senator DeMint’s first comment plays into larger anti-gay bigotry and the second into anti-women narratives.

But there’s a larger point here. So many conservatives focus on morality as a function of personal, private behavior, such as sexual orientation, while ignoring more basic issues of poverty and social justice. And it astonishes me that they seem driven by the Bible, when Jesus was profoundly concerned with social justice and was hostile to nit-picking judgmental codes.

There certainly are immense moral challenges in this country, but aren’t they more along the lines of children who don’t get health care? Or school kids who don’t get the same opportunity in life because they go to third-rate inner-city schools? Or kids who are trafficked into a modern version of slavery? Or the need to raise the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund so that fewer people die around the world of AIDS, malaria and TB? Or working more energetically to end the brutal war in Congo and forestall the war that may be coming in South Sudan? It seems to me that there are plenty of genuine opportunities for Senator DeMint to get on his high horse, and I’d love to see him show some moral leadership. But discriminating against teachers on the basis of their private sexual conduct is pathetic and ludicrous — and, in my eyes, immoral to boot.

Amen to that. For much of the right, nearly all of the Republican Party, issues of morality come down to whether one is outraged by the existence of the LGBT community, and whether one wants sweeping laws interfering with women’s reproductive rights. In the case of DeMint and some like-minded extremists, this might even include barring unmarried women from classrooms, but like the conservative staples, this ties into the larger disgust for human sexuality and feminism.

But it’s long past time for conservatives to realize that morality deserves a far broader definition.