Much like Cold Wars, culture wars never actually die out — they simply go dormant for years. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded us of the former and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demonstrated the latter.
While Putin invaded Ukraine and put the world on edge, Abbott opened a new front against LGBTQ+ communities. Abbott declared gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth to constitute “child abuse.” He then directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate any allegation of such treatment.
Make no mistake, this is the culture war equivalent of a column of tanks crossing borders.
Abbott made his move after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, himself an ardent culture warrior, issued an opinion laying out his case against gender-reaffirming treatment. Abbott dictated that certain professionals had an obligation to report anything that might fall within the ambit of his pronouncement and called on “members of the general public” to report parents of transgender youth.
I am loathe to make comparisons to Nazi Germany, but employing citizens to report on family, friends and neighbors was a hallmark of the Gestapo. Given that Texas recently attempted to deputize their citizens to enforce an abortion ban — another significant front of the culture war — it seems they keep inching closer to that historical line.
Furthermore, it is having a similar effect on targeted populations. Just as Jewish refugees fled European states to find safety, the families of transgender youth have packed up and fled states enacting hostile laws. The fear of persecution, conflict and generalized violence is the same. The only difference is that they are crossing state borders rather than international ones.
Multiple district attorneys, including those in the five largest Texas counties, vowed to defy Abbott and his order. Other citizens have begun to organize and prepare to push back against the oppressive slate of laws.
The resurgence of once apparently extinguished battlelines is in no small part a reaction to a significant swing in the U.S. Supreme Court over the past half decade.
After the GOP gambled and won by blocking the nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, President Donald Trump appointed three conservative justices. That created a 6-3 majority and invited challenges Republicans planned for decades.
Colorado is already on the frontlines.
Just as Abbott issued his marching orders in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review to a case filed by a web developer who wants to sell wedding websites while denying same-sex customers.
The pre-emptive challenge lost on a 2-1 vote at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but will now be heard before the new bench conservatives have salivated over for years.
While the developer hoped to pit both freedom of speech and religious freedom rights against the state’s interest in protecting citizens against discrimination, the Supreme Court decided to review only the former. Nonetheless, it sets the field for a significant battle that will have repercussions for decades.
The outcome is not guaranteed. We are less than two years removed from when one of Trump’s nominees, Colorado’s Justice Neil Gorsuch, penned the LGBTQ+ protective opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County.
What does seem guaranteed is that new laws and new challenges will continue to stoke the once dying embers of culture wars many presumed were behind us. The divisions we hoped had been healed in the wake of cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage equality decision, seem ripe to be ripped open again.
The resulting collateral damage could be monumental in a country already suffering from bitter political division.
While the world watches a Cold War autocrat attempt to rewrite the history of his country be reclaiming former territories that secured freedom decades ago, here at home multiple fronts have re-opened on the culture wars we thought were closed.
Both undermine the peace we thought we achieved.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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