It’s Policy, Stupid

The Senate has just confirmed the nomination of Roberta Achtenberg as the chief fair-housing official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There could be no more potent statement of a growing acceptance of homosexuality up to the highest circles of government. But perhaps the worst of the story is the way the debate was characterized in the press. Social conservatives who stood against the nomination—from senators to writers to think-tank scholars—were portrayed as opposing Achtenberg solely on personal grounds. And in the heat of the debate on the Senate floor, they did give some grounds for that portrayal. Achtenberg was called "pushy," "mean-spirited," "intolerant." Senator Phil Gramm of Texas tried to soften the rhetoric, talking about his concern over her "temperament." But do you see what these phrases do? They play right into the hands of Achtenberg's supporters, who self-righteously insisted that the only reason for opposing the nomination was personal bigotry. Senator Don Riegle of Michigan, chairman of the Senate committee that approved the nomination, said the opposition was trying to impose a test based purely on "personal orientation or values." But let's get this straight: Conservatives are not opposed to Achtenberg on just a personal level. They are opposed to her public policies. If homosexuals have relationships with people of the same sex in the privacy of their homes, they have the same civil rights as the rest of us. What they do privately is not the issue, and politically speaking, it's not our concern. Where homosexuality does become a political issue is when it affects public policy. Achtenberg comes to Washington with a public record. As a lawyer in San Francisco, she tried to keep gay bathhouses open even after it became clear that they were breeding grounds for AIDS and a threat to the public health. And as a local official she showed a willingness to use her elective position to promote an agenda far beyond the mandate of the office. She used her political clout to cajole and threaten a private organization, the United Way, to cut off funding for another private organization, the Boy Scouts—all in the interest of advancing a radical gay-rights agenda. Now, I have some experience in the abuse of political office (in my case to re-elect a president). So I know the dangers in elevating someone with this kind of public record to a powerful position in the administration. In her position, Achtenberg will be interpreting and enforcing laws that govern the use of housing and rental property. This would affect, for example, Christians who object to renting their property to unmarried couples or homosexuals. Achtenberg will be in charge in investigating compliance with fair housing laws—as she interprets those laws. The fall-out of this debate will continue, with more finger pointing and charges of bigotry aimed at Christians. So let's be clear: We are not simply prejudiced against gay people. As Christians, of course, we know that character matters, that private choices influence public policy. But in the public square our emphasis is on the policy itself, wherever it may have come from. Think of the police poster against drunken driving: "Drink—and it's your business. Drive—and it's ours." What you do privately is your business. But when it affects the public welfare, then it becomes our business.


Chuck Colson


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