California must have looked jealously upon the Trump administration — it has created and now doubled down on a travel ban of its own.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., signed a bill that would forbid state funding for travel to any state that "voids or repeals…protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression." It mostly affects state agencies and athletic teams at public universities. Enacted in January, the bill covered North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kansas. Now Texas, South Dakota, Kentucky and Alabama have been added to the list—a list of deplorables.
In taking the extraordinary step of imposing sanctions, California makes clear that it views red states as beyond the pale. Think of it this way: Why did the United States ban travel to Cuba? It did not want to financially prop up or lend legitimacy to the Castro dictatorship. It wanted to marginalize that regime and pressure it to change.
California hasn't gone so far as to ban all trade and travel. But it has expressed the same motivation, seeking to shame and marginalize.
If it looks like California is constructing a foreign policy, that's because it is: It is treating red states like rogue states.
This is dangerous. Over at The American Interest, Jason Willick explains that these sort of conflicts over rights "need to be resolved by the courts, by federal civil rights agencies, and by the voters in [the relevant] states." That's how federalism allows states to walk their own paths, up to a constitutionally-defined limit. Willick is correct to write that California's foray into foreign policy abrogates normal American mechanisms of dispute resolution.
By severing ties with eight of its fellow states, California has needlessly weaponized the American divide. The last thing we should want is states taking direct action against one another each time one thinks the other has done something immoral or taken the wrong side in the culture war. It is easy to get caught up in the language and poses of "The Resistance," but keeping to intelligently designed structures and long-respected practices are the surer way of protecting the country.
In the meantime, an escalation of the culture wars is sure only to rally Republican voters around the flag, even if President Trump is hoisting it. But how can the Left resist? It has created its own set of blasphemy laws, which must now be enforced. Opposition to gay marriage, which was candidate Barack Obama's position while he was the champion of hope and change, is now dismissed as retrograde, the next to last refuge of a homophobe. That last refuge, of course, is religious liberty.
The Left sees religious liberty as a mere code word and an obvious front for bigotry. California's actions suggest that the Left will not stop until every last dissenting Christian photographer revels in the beauty of a gay marriage, until every last Catholic adoption agency is shuttered—the kids be damned. This is about justice, and the fate of a bunch of orphans cannot be allowed to stand in its way.
It makes a certain sense: If gay marriage is a progression of the civil rights movement, stubborn dissenters become the equivalent of last-gasp segregationists and can be treated accordingly. That is how a significant portion of the Left views their more religious compatriots and the political communities that try to respect their higher obligations. It is no coincidence that the ACLU (which supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993) was on hand to applaud California's move.
Clearly, Jonathan Rauch's call for moderation in the culture war has been forgotten. Rauch, an early advocate of gay marriage, wrote: "We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win." If opponents of gay marriage can use the threat of an assault on religious freedom, he wagered in 2010, we will find it more difficult to achieve legal equality.
He was right: that is partly why nationwide gay marriage had to come through the courts? But now that legal equality has been achieved, what use is there, it could be reasoned, of strategic moderation?
"A house divided against itself cannot stand," we no longer seem to believe. But when states begin cutting off contact, treating one another like deplorables, how exactly will our polity prosper? Forget discovering a general will, this makes it difficult to even aim toward the common good.
General Charles de Gaulle once asked, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" No problem compared to a country with two types of people that treat each other as beneath contempt, as foreign enemies to be sanctioned and boycotted.
Elliot Kaufman (@esterlingk) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential Blog. He is a student at Stanford University.
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