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What the 'bathroom wars' tell us about our culture

050216 Hughes oped
On the surface it all looks to be about expanding the frontiers of freedom. But it's not. (Chuck Liddy/The News &#38; Observer via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

The "bathroom wars" are heating up. Every day with dizzying regularity news stories about firings, court rulings and boycotts pop up in the brave new world of sexual politics. Last week, it was baseball hero Curt Schilling getting fired from ESPN for posting a criticism of transgenderism on his private Facebook page. Before that, it was a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruling that a transgender student born female could use the boys' restroom. And before that, there was the by now famous boycott of a North Carolina anti-transgender law by the cities of Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, and by PayPal and Bruce Springsteen.

Even the presidential candidates have gotten in the act. Donald Trump has said that transgender people should choose the bathroom they want. Ted Cruz disagrees, asking after criticizing Trump's statement if the country had gone "stark raving nuts."

There are all sorts of reasons why it's a bad idea to let men in women's bathrooms, but what interests me in the bathroom wars is the larger context of the fight. It reveals how aggressive the progressive Left has become in the culture wars. The cultural Left, which for decades has been pushing sexual revolution as the avant-garde of a larger crusade against traditional morality, is losing its liberal mind. Sensing victory, it is starting to show its ugly illiberal teeth. It's not good enough merely to accommodate transgender people while respecting the rights of others. That would be the traditional "liberal" solution. No, they must press their agenda with obnoxious boycotts, draconian court rulings and by rewriting the laws to force their views on everyone else.

Tolerance is not enough. They demand complete and utter conformity to their point of view.

Why so authoritarian? The higher aim of progressive liberalism today is to deconstruct traditional morality, especially as it pertains to the family, marriage and sexual relations. That's a pretty tall order, and it is not for the faint of heart. Everything including marriage and the family must be redefined, and what better way to do that than to thrust the question of gender identity into the heart of what it means to be a "tolerant" person.

On the surface it all looks to be about expanding the frontiers of freedom — of merely letting people be themselves. But it's not. The only way to enforce the new "tolerance" is not only to deny other people their rights — the rights of women and children to privacy in bathrooms, for example — but also to be intolerant of any kind of dissent whatsoever. Because the new demands are so new and strange, and contrary to thousands of years of custom, their advocates cannot stand even the slightest deviation from the new norm. Out of such insecurity comes a need to control and condemn, and to shrink the space of discourse to the point where even one iota of disagreement is equated with bigotry or worse.

You will be told that it's all about civil rights and discrimination. It's not. Put aside the moral absurdity of equating the discomfort of a transgendered person's inability to choose a bathroom to the suffering of black people under Jim Crow laws. There is no way to rationally ground a legal notion of discrimination in something as subjective as a self-chosen sexual or gender identity. If we are only "who we say we are," then we can be anything at all. If everything is "personal," than the law can be anything one person wants it to be. A five foot five man can claim to be a six foot seven Chinese woman, which is the subject of a video that's gone viral on the Internet. And if it's only about sex or gender, then what's to stop a man from suing the state so he can marry his porn-laden computer (as has already happened in Texas)?

As I explain in my book, The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left, the larger purpose of sexual identity politics is to widen the range of what is considered normal. If the "orange" of marriage plurality is now the new "black," then it will not be long before same-sex marriage will look positively Victorian. The argument is always the same: No one anywhere or under any circumstance has the slightest right to criticize a person's private sexual choices. You simply have no right to hold a negative view, much less express it. That is really what the same-sex marriage movement is about. It is not even about equality or tolerance, but about a new legal and moral order in which only one view of sexuality and marriage must prevail.

That is not liberal. It's illiberal.

Kim R. Holmes is a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State.  He's the author of the book, "The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left (Encounter Books 2016). Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.