It’s no longer fashionable to burn witches at the stake or banish sinners who violate the rules handed down from priests and kings. But some people in the Alabama Republican Party haven’t gotten the message.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned laws banning gay marriage, the chairwoman of the College Republican Federation of Alabama, Stephanie Petelos, told a local newspaper that harsh comments from Republicans about gays were the party among young people and that allowing gays to marry was “not going to ruin America.”
Because of this unforgivable heresy, the state GOP will vote Friday on a new rule that would banish anyone from the party’s Steering Committee who dares to disagree with anything in the national Republican platform. Petelos is a member of the Steering Committee by virtue of her position as head of the state College Republicans.
In other words, some people in the Alabama GOP believe that nobody should be allowed to express any opinion that conflicts with whatever the most recent Republican National Convention agreed on. Heretics and dissenters will be burned — or at least stripped of their leadership positions.
So what did Petelos say that was so offensive to the Old Guard that seeks to banish her?
“The majority of students don’t derive the premise of their argument for or against gay marriage from religion, because we’re governed by the constitution and not the Bible,” Petelos told The Birmingham News. “I think a lot of people would be actively for [gay marriage] if they didn’t live in fear of backlash from party leaders. We don’t want to go against the party. We love the party. We’re just passionate about a whole list of other issues. That’s why we’re involved.”
This issue isn’t really about gay marriage. (I’ll remind you again that my views about gay marriage are different from either side of the mainstream. I don’t believe government has any business having anything to do with marriage.) This is about whether a state political party is so narrow-minded that it feels threatened when one of its leaders holds views that differ from the expressed opinions of a national convention — and the views of some people who are still fighting a battle that they’ve already lost.
The most recent Republican platform calls for statehood for Puerto Rico. What if you don’t think that’s a good idea? Are you going to get tossed from your position in the state party leadership in Alabama if you say it’s a bad idea?
Tossing leaders whose opinions deviate from the party line is something I expect from communist parties in one-party states, not something I expect from a party that’s clearly in political control of a U.S. state. Fortunately, some state Republicans who aren’t Neanderthals are fighting to stop this proposal.
I worked with Alabama Republicans for many years and I know that many of them are very decent people, even the ones who are launching this misguided attack. Even though I’ve given up on the electoral process as a way to bring about change (for reasons I’ve discussed before), I know that they mean well. Still, despite all the talk about individual freedom, this incident betrays something wrong with their mindset.
We all think we’re right about the positions we take, but the difference is that some of us don’t believe we have the right to impose our positions on others. The sort of person with the mindset to support this rule change believes that he is so right that he should not only use the force of government to stop other people from doing what they want with their own lives, but it seems normal and reasonable to him to squelch dissent in his own party from those who would dare to disagree with him.
Why do those people do this? It’s because they’re so sure in their hearts that they’re right — and they believe it’s right and proper for them to force others to go along with them.
As a pragmatic matter, this attempt to shut Petelos up is misguided. It’s alienating many of those who would otherwise be enthusiastic about Republican economic policies — and it’s in the service of a lost cause. They fight against gay marriage is one they’ve lost. It’s over. The law has changed, but mostly the attitudes of most people have changed. Whether you like it or not, you have to deal with that — as long as you accept a majoritarian system as the right way to make decisions.
Petelos isn’t some wild-haired left-winger who happened to slip into a position of influence. Her father is a long-time Republican legislator and mayor of one of the most important cities in the state. Her mother was a long-time Republican judge until last year. So Petelos comes from solid Republican roots — and she represents what future Republicans believe. Those who are trying to stop the legality of gay marriage are on the way out. They just don’t know it yet.
It’s sad that some Republicans are trying so hard to shoot themselves in the foot with this fight. Whether they like it or not, their bullying behavior is just going to hasten the day when they’re shown the door. I hope the measure is defeated Friday.
Update: Alabama Republicans did the right thing when this issue came to a vote, easily defeating this measure to punish someone who dared disagree with the party platform about gay marriage. It was a voice vote, but a reporter said it was “overwhelmingly” defeated.