First off, kudos to at least one RNC delegate for attempting to bring the party into the 21st century on marriage equality. Pat Kerby, congratulations on standing up to one nasty facet of the party you call home.
The effort failed, of course. And in the failure, Kris Kobach, one of Romney’s advisors, said something that is getting passed around:
Our government routinely judges situations where you might regard people completely affecting themselves—like, for example, the use of controlled substances. Like polygamy that is voluntarily entered in to. We condemn those activities even though they are not hurting other people, at least directly. So this is worded way too broadly for inclusion in the platform.
There is, however, a grain of truth to this statement. There are negative consequences to being LGBT or to using illegal drugs or to ending up in a polygamous marriage in the sects that practice it.
Communities that practice religious, though not legal, polygynous marriage (because, after all, we can be that specific) experience more spousal abuse and child abuse. They limit educational opportunities and employment opportunities for the women involved and not infrequently result in male children who are cast out with little hope for getting along in the wider world. They offer very little in the way of spousal choice for women, to the point that Kobach’s “voluntarily entered into” describes a choice that is no choice.
Use of illegal drugs can limit employment opportunities, both through the use of drug testing and because users can easily end up with a criminal record under our current system in the U.S. It can break up family relationships, largely through the endless telling of lies, the devastation of household budgets, and the need to distance one’s self from a user in order to maintain a clean legal record or housing. It can lead to homelessness. It can lead to illness through the sharing of dirty drug paraphenalia or through prostitution when other means of obtaining money have run out.
Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have higher rates of homelessness, particularly as teenagers. They experience higher rates of bullying. They experience higher rates of mental illness and suicide. They experience higher rates of drug use. They experience more employment discrimination and less familial support. They have a great deal more difficulty having the basic facts of their lives recognized by the law. Trans people experience all of that–only more so.
Kobach is right in so far as there are negative consequences to all of these things. That, however, is where being right ends. Why? Because none of these people are “completely affecting themselves”.
Every consequence I just listed is tied to how we as a society treat the people in question. We don’t have to set up such dire consequences for people who do illegal drugs, but we’ve collectively decided punishment is the way to go. We don’t have to allow the options of people, particularly children, in religious communities to be so restricted, but we’ve decided the adults’ religious freedom is more important than the integrity of their children. We don’t have to make the lives of LGBT people miserable with few legal remedies, but we do in most of our nation.
So, while Kobach is right on some of the effects, he neglects to mention that people like him–and the legal inequalities he’s fighting for–are the cause.