Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was in Pennsylvania in late June of 1863. He wanted to fight, hoping to inspire peace parties he imagined flourishing in the North. And the Union armies were looking for him.
So there was going to be a battle, somewhere. Maybe at Chambersburg, or Harrisburg, or Cashtown.
But an army needs shoes. So a unit of Southern troops was sent to forage for footwear at a nearby town, known for its tanneries and cobblers. And they found them, after a fashion. "Boots and saddles were there," Samuel Eliot Morison wryly notes. "on one brigade of General John Buford's cavalry division." So the great three-day battle erupted at Gettysburg and not down the road.
In the same manner, someday historians will look back at America's epic social and legal struggle over gays joining society and wonder, "Why here?" Why did the forces of ossified religion, put to flight by much of modern life, turn and make a stand over whether a bakery must bake a frosted tower of sugar and flour—to channel Natalie Merchant—for any gay couple who walks through the door?
That question bubbled up last week, while reading Louisian Gov. Bobby Jindal's op-ed in the Times, "I'm Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage" (Jindal must have written that headline himself. No Times copy editor would have dared.)
Prejudice is about dehumanization. People of faith, to Jindal, are individuals: "a priest, minster or rabbi." They are "musicians, caterers, photographers and others should be immune from government coercion" Specific trades, like characters in a Richard Scarry story.
And who is doing the coercing? They are "left-wing activists" "the radical left" "radical liberals" "left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom" "Hollywood and the media elite" Shady, faceless forces. Once, he does mention "gay men or lesbians." A typo perhaps.
And what do these anonymous hordes do? They "bully," and "shriek" The idea that they might be regular folks too, individuals who, though gay, want to get married and have cake, and should be able to buy cake in a free society, well, that's not an issue to Jindal.
"They will not deter me," he vows, standing like a stone wall, surveying the battlefield.
Jindal uses the words "liberty" "freedom" or "free" 17 times, part of the right wing delusion that if the right buzzword is found, they'll fool people. Heck, it worked with abortion.
As with many battles, the clash over balky bakers and phobic photographers was half luck, half opportunity. A weakness in the line of advancing rights. Hoteliers couldn't refuse to rent rooms to gay couples, since adultery is banned in the Bible too. They couldn't draw the line at baking birthday cakes for children of gay unions. That would recognize forming families is what marriage, gay or straight, is all about, and be too cruel, even for religious conservatives.
This is a skirmish, a small battle in a losing war. They have to lose, since winning would unravel society. If a baker doesn't have to make a cake for a gay weddings, then the county clerk doesn't have to record the paperwork and the fire department doesn't have to keep the hall where one's scheduled from burning down. People whose faith keeps them from participating in the modern world should retire into enclaves, like the Amish.
That won't happen. This is just the hidebound wheeling about and charging, again, before falling back to the next defensive line. A momentarily successful rally, like Pickett's Charge -- the last gasp of Confederate hopes at Gettsyburg. The Rebs breached the Union line at Cemetery Ridge. And then overpowering numbers of the boys in blue crushed them.
Whatever victories Republican revanchists win or lose, whatever the Supreme Court decides, they've already lost. History will continue to roll over them, past them, around them, and they'll be left only with bitter memories of their glorious lost cause.