"We Look Like Mississippi"

By: Bob Minor

In a Greenville NBC affiliate interview, North Carolina's outgoing Democratic governor Beverly Perdue said: "People around the country are watching us, and they're really confused. To have been such a progressive, forward-thinking, economically driven state that invested in education and that stood up for the civil rights of people, including the civil rights marches back in the '50s and '60s and '70s - folks are saying, 'What in the world is going on in North Carolina?' We look like Mississippi."

Perdue was reacting to North Carolina's 62 to 38 percent approval of a constitutional amendment to ban non-heterosexual marriage. On May 8, 2012 it became the 29th state to do so and the last of the Southern states - including Mississippi.

Fair criticism? I don't know. After all, she didn't say: "We look as bad as the Magnolia State."

I live in Missouri, a former slave state that passed such an amendment by an even greater margin. Here state legislators scramble to outdo themselves for crazy. They just gave gun owners a protected status, legislated the constitutional right of citizens to participate in rodeos, and erected a bust of Rush Limbaugh in the statehouse, while maintaining every discrimination possible against LGBT people.

Such comparisons are politically common, though. How often have we heard conservatives believe they were criticizing Democrats for having "San Francisco values?"

But, unlike San Francisco, down in Jackson, Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant didn't take kindly to the comparison at all, as if being likened to his state on marriage equality were an insult:

"She's a very nice lady. It's just disappointing. To be able to use Mississippi in a disparaging way on a popular vote in her own state is, I think, something that's certainly petty and something I think she will reflect on, and hopefully apologize for those types of remarks."

To hear someone label one's state "backward," I guess, evokes defensiveness even if Mississippi earned its reputation as last in so many measures. It's dead last in median family income, nest egg savings, students who complete high school, per capita visits to the dentist, best states to live, public transportation, and seatbelt use, and near the bottom in numerous measures such as people who've completed bachelor's degrees, numbers of library visits, grade 8 math scores, overall child health, divorce rates, and total number of roller coasters.

If one were really conservative, I'd think being considered backward against the cultural tide would be a compliment. Wasn't Mississippi the state where the war on women folks believed it was so backward that voting on an amendment last year to define a person as beginning at conception should be a shoe-in? Well then, even Mississippi couldn't buy that.

The good news for Mississippi and North Carolina is that they can stand proudly with other "red states," in the Deep South and some bluer ones further north. The bad news, I guess, is that they stand with what much of the world does label "backward."

And maybe people in Mississippi don't like that label. On the other hand, Kansas seems proud to be labeled the most politically conservative state in the union as measured by its congressional delegation, which isn't much different.

"Conservative" has come to mean regressive, moving backward while the world moves in the opposite direction. It no longer means what "conservation" of natural resources or voting for Richard Nixon meant. It's so negative that the Bush's had to assure us that they were "compassionate" conservatives.

The movement of culture as it opens equal opportunities to new groups is today's conservative enemy. Conservatives proudly look back to some good old days where their nostalgia fantasizes things as so much better.

It's a badge of honor to prevent what they consider a degradation of some ideal they read into the past. As the culture moves on, they're gazing into fogged-up rearview mirrors.

Meanwhile science has left them behind.

Meanwhile, younger generations are moving on, progressing in their support for marriage and women's equality and leaving backward religious institutions.

Meanwhile, the general public is moving on. A March poll showed 52% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry compared with about 40% in 2006 - 74% among those aged 18-29 now favor it.

Meanwhile, religious people are now found on both sides of marriage equality. Strong majorities of Jews (81%) and the religiously unaffiliated (77%) support same-sex marriage, in addition to 59% of Roman Catholics and a solid majority (56%) of white mainline Protestants.

Meanwhile, six states - all in the Northeast except Iowa - and the District of Columbia allow same sex-marriages.

All this makes cultural conservatism even more desperate. If they want to make the world feel safer for their increasingly out-dated beliefs, they're going to have to legislate them now, not tomorrow.

They're going to have to "enshrine" them in constitutions. They're going to have to make it as difficult as possible for the future to change.

Patriarchal male bishops are going to have to haul "disobedient" sisters back under their influence. It's no wonder American bishops incited a Vatican crackdown on the Leadership Conference on Women Religious.

The problem with those nuns, the Vatican proclaimed, was "the prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith," especially their lack of outspokenness on issues of marriage equality, contraception, and abortion.

Conservatism is fear based, after all. The more afraid people get, the more they fear what they'll lose, and the more they need to cling onto their own stuff.

Germany's Third Reich knew this. They argued to the middle class that unless you voted for them, you were likely to lose the little you still had - you might not have much but others are going to take it from you unless you embrace Fascism.

In movies where the knight makes his final, ultimately victorious stand against the great dragon, just before the beast dies, there's one final, more-deadly-than-ever swoop of the tail to confront. That moment is at hand in the struggle, and those progressives down in Mississippi know it too.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction, and Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.fairnessproject.org.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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