California's reputation as a coastal stronghold of liberal elitism is so firmly entrenched in the national consciousness that the reality is sometimes difficult to process, even among those who live here. Every once in a while, though, that reality makes itself known in the ugliest way possible and we're left scratching our heads trying to figure out how exactly the place that was home to ground zero for the 60s counterculture, elected "Governor Moonbeam," and gave the world about a thousand silly new age religions has also given rise to some of the most bilious reactionary ideas this country's ever seen. The truth is that while metropolises like San Francisco and Los Angeles are indeed damn-near pure blue, much of what surrounds them isn't. In fact, just south of L.A. lies Orange County, one of the most fiscally and socially conservative areas in the country.
In November of 2008, Orange County voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop 8, which not only banned gay marriage in California but, according to a post-election legal push by its proponents, nullified the marriages of same-sex couples who'd already tied the knot in the five months doing so was legal. The fact that Prop 8 passed at all was shocking, but if you looked at the numbers that came out of Orange County, it shouldn't have been. Maybe this is why it shouldn't be all that surprising that a lawyer currently trying to get a ballot measure enacted that would call for the death penalty against gay people is doing it from his home base in O.C. Matthew McLaughlin is his name and the language of the proposal he's attempting to foist on the state of California is so unhinged (even by conservative standards) and so weird (even by California standards) that despite the bastion of right-wing thinking it came out of it's still tough to get your head fully around.
Dubbed the "Sodomite Suppression Act" by McLaughlin, the proposal would, if it came to fruition, allow voters to tell the state that "the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method." And why is McLaughlin so offended by gay people? Well, his proposal continues: "The abominable crime against nature known as buggery, called also sodomy, is a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty, commands us to suppress on pain of our utter destruction even as he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha." While it might sound as if McLaughlin was undergoing a stroke when he wrote this, the real diagnosis is simply something we've seen before over and over again: an insanely fundamentalist reading of a 2,000-year-old book of stories written and compiled by people who knew absolutely nothing and were literally terrified of their own shadows.
McLaughlin's proposal is moving forward because, regardless of how repugnant it may be, that's how the law in California works. Constitutionally there's no way to stop it. We have something here known as “direct democracy” that allows any citizen to propose almost any law he or she can imagine, with the only caveat being that a certain number of signatures is required to push it forward. As long as somebody coughs up the $200 application fee and files the motion, the state has to listen. This doesn't mean the state will approve the initiative, only that it will consider it. McLaughlin's bill almost certainly won't get the 356,000 signatures it needs to be knocked into the dirt by the California Supreme Court, but while it's in motion at this level State Attorney General Kamala Harris has no choice but to consider certifying it, which would ostensibly put petitioners in various places around California (but not really, because very few people are going to want to stand outside a grocery store with a clipboard and get punched in the face over and over again by random strangers).
While Matthew McLaughlin continues his fruitless campaign, which he likely believes will at least earn him a ticket to the right hand of his spiteful god, a concurrent move is underway to get him disbarred -- and that'll probably draw a hell of a lot more signatures than he does. As of this writing 28,000 people have attached their names to a demand that the California Bar revoke McLaughlin's license to practice, saying, "Advocating the murder of innocent citizens clearly demonstrates moral turpitude and abuse of the law." Even the California legislature's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus is lobbying for disbarment, while Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom calls McLaughlin's initiative "reprehensible" and "an affront to humanity."
When you hear about something like this and you live in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, you get angry -- very angry. The kind of right-wing Bible-thumping lunacy Matthew McLaughlin is so cavalierly projectile vomiting into the public space is, you imagine, reserved for places far away from here. Accusations of elitism be damned, you like to think of Southern California as an enclave of progressive thinking. It's simply the way things are here in L.A., so much so that you actually begin to take it for granted that you don't typically have to come face-to-face with idiots like McLaughlin (which isn't to say we don't have our own brand of dangerous idiocy out here). It feels like a personal affront, like your crazy neighbor letting his dog come over and shit on your lawn.
It's so offensive, in fact, that I reached out to Matthew McLaughlin, whose contact information is publicly available through the California Bar. McLaughlin's address, maybe wisely for him, is nothing more than a box at a Mail Box Express in a Huntington Beach strip mall and his phone number takes you to an answering machine message that says simply, "Hi, this is Matt. Please leave a message after the tone; you can also send a fax." He hasn't yet returned my call but I'd certainly like to talk to him, maybe because I feel as if I need to understand why he's doing this.
The answer of course is self-evident given that McLaughlin filed another ballot measure back in 2003 aimed at making King James Bibles textbooks for all California students, grades K-12, unless their parents provided "specific objection" as to why they were opting-out. McLaughlin is a Christian fanatic. Nothing more. It's merely the place in which he's a Christian fanatic that causes so much cognitive dissonance. He's less than an hour outside of Downtown L.A. and even in a place like Orange County his views are extreme. Maybe I just want to tell him to get his ignorant ass out of my state, or maybe I'm hoping I might finally be able figure out how in the year 2015, in a place as enlightened and diverse as California, someone can still hold tightly to the darkness of a religious fundamentalism that sanctions literally killing someone for who he or she loves.
I don't know, though. I like to think we're different here. That finding a Christian zealot in Southern California is like seeing a unicorn. Then I remember that every Sunday morning, Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church takes over the Hollywood Palladium, right on Sunset. Where just a few hours earlier there were kids getting high and throwing themselves at Skrillex, there are suddenly kids high on Christ, lifting their arms in praise for a church founded by a man who was at one time instrumental in pushing through Prop 8. The main campus of Saddleback is located in Orange County. Who knows, maybe Matthew McLaughlin is even a member.