Garrison Keillor has done it again: he’s written another insipid article loaded with casual bigotry, this time against gays. I’m pleased to see that Dan Savage has savaged him, so I don’t need to go on at length.

However, this really isn’t the first time Keillor has done this—he has a history of unthinking stereotyping and rejection of gays and atheists. He’s an excellent example of why, when I see the Religious Right and the Religious Left, I don’t think the problem is the Right or Left…it’s the Religious.

My criticism of Keillor from 2005 is below the fold. Not only does he reject atheism and homosexuality, but he does so on the most trivial grounds—gay people want to get married to economize on their wardrobe? It’s nuts.


I have to confess to having had a fondness for Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion. I know it’s sappy and maudlin, and it speaks most clearly to a fairly narrow cultural mindset, but it’s my culture. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but my mother and grandparents were Minnesota transplants of Scandinavian descent, and that understated Northern Lutheran lifestyle was familiar ground. The rhythms of the speech, the homey tales of Lake Wobegon, even the hymns they often sing are pleasant reminders of growing up. My grandparents were devotees of the cult of Lawrence Welk, but I imagine they would have been very comfortable with Garrison Keillor, too.

I also like that he’s a vocal Democrat, and has spoken strongly on liberal values. He represents some of the best of the good ol’ down-home American attitude. But…

But he also represents some of the worst. He was brought up in a fundamentalist home, and all too often, it shows through. For instance, here are a few examples from his stint as an advice columnist on Salon:

I’ve had a crush on the girl who lives downstairs since she moved in. We have gotten to know each other to some extent and are on friendly terms, and I feel we are very different people. I am an atheist/humanist and she is the youth group coordinator at a local Catholic church. She is not dogmatic or anything, but it is a stumbling block for me that we will not get along on a very basic level if a relationship should occur. I wonder if it is possible for the secular and the sacred to come together in harmony. Please help me with my conundrum.

Guy Upstairs

Dear Guy,

Keep your mitts off that nice Catholic girl, you heathen, and go bother the Unitarian girls. Life presents enough stumbling blocks in the natural course of things without you going and walking into trees. You asked for my advice and that’s it. Cool it. And if you can’t cool it, then start reading your Bible and taking instruction in the faith.

Yikes. That was harsh and rather one-sided—I would have advised the poor fellow to get to know the girl better, and discover if their different religious beliefs might not be more compatible than he thinks, and if he were the Catholic and she the atheist I would have said the same thing. Keillor seems to have a knee-jerk intolerance towards non-Christians. Here’s another example:

I’m in my late 20s, looking forward to moving in together with my boyfriend, whom I adore, and getting on with our lives. We are committed to each other. My parents are working very hard to convince me that if I want to have kids with him (I do), we need to get married and he needs to convert to my religion. My sweetie is an atheist anarchist who has thought about his beliefs and is a very principled fellow. I don’t know what to do, but my parents are putting on the full-court press and it’s very upsetting. I don’t want to shun my family but I adore this man and I just want everyone to get along. Can you suggest some reading material?

N.Y. Woman

Dear N.Y.,

Yes, I’d suggest the sacred texts of your religion, and I’d suggest that your sweetie read them. He can be an atheist anarchist on his own time, but if he wants to marry you, he’s got to marry your family, and he should know the religion and be comfortable around it and able to hear it talked about. If you were farmers, he should know corn from dandelions, right? So get him on the ball. Atheistic anarchism is a refuge for the immature and indolent. Smoke him out.

It’s strange how he notes that “he’s got to marry your family”, but doesn’t seem to recognize that she also has to marry his, and most importantly, him. Perhaps there should be some reciprocal acknowledgment of each other’s beliefs, hmmm? Would her family be comfortable around atheism? And why assume he would be uncomfortable with it? More often than not, atheists are familiar with the religious—many of us grew up with them—and it’s frequently far less upsetting for us to be around Christians than for some Christians to notice our existence.

Case in point, I’m willing to overlook his casual dismissal of atheism; I’m used to it. The indifferent bigotry of the religious is something you have to get accustomed to if you are going to get by in our society. This weekend, though, Keillor published an opinion piece in the Strib that really left me cold.

I favor marriage between people whose body parts are not similar. I’m sorry, but same-sex marriage seems timid, an attempt to save on wardrobe and accessories. Marrying somebody from your team. Still, it’s probably good for them to have to fight for the right to marry. My parents eloped against strong opposition from both families and they were in love for the rest of their lives and held hands and were tender on into their 80s. Of course they always had fresh strawberries.

Can you trivialize it any more, Garrison? Homosexuals only want to marry to share clothes…do heterosexuals only marry to share the rent and get that tax deduction? I think homosexuals want to fall in love for the rest of their lives and hold hands and eat strawberries together, too, and it is not our privilege to stand in their way. Keillor’s parents eloped (as did mine, by the way), but despite their family opposition they could stand up as adults and get society’s blessing on their independence and their partnership. Gay marriage is about granting consenting adults autonomy and recognition and public commitment to one another. There is no good cause to deny it, and pretending it is just about sharing wardrobe accessories is contemptible.

Ah, but again he reminds me of my grandparents: they were good people, loving and kind, and I cared for them very much, but my grandfather hated “the Japs” and could be spiteful and mean when he was drunk, and my grandmother warned me not to date any Negroes when I went off to college. That I loved my grandparents doesn’t make their unthinking racism any less wrong.

When he’s being shallow and stupid, Keillor doesn’t take any half-measures. I thought this was particularly weak:

Politics is transitory, too. The big huffers and woofers come and go and the tidal changes they promise don’t quite happen. Look at the Conservative Revolution: What did it change? It got us into one reckless war in Iraq and it steered the economy toward the reef, but any fool could have done that, you didn’t need a conservative.

All it got us was a war and a damaged economy, but no big deal. Tell that to those parents who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq, or the unemployed and homeless who are in despair. It makes a difference. Imagine if this country had had a responsible, competent president in 2001 who, instead of launching an unjustified war and spilling blood and treasure on foreign sands, had invested in sensible domestic security and made only measured strikes against those responsible for attacks against our country. Imagine that we hadn’t sunk trillions of dollars deeper in debt, and were not committed to an insane war that has damage our international reputation and committed us to years of bloody folly. Only a fool would think that having Bush and his neo-con cronies in office has made no difference in the history of our country. Bush made a difference—for the worse.


  1. #1 MAJeff
    March 15, 2007

    And here I thought Keillor had a gay son.

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    March 15, 2007

    I’ve heard the same argument before, that this is just poorly done satire. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a couple year’s worth of pattern here — you’d think he’d realize it didn’t get a laugh the first time.

    hmm. somebody on Savage’s blog pointed out this link:

    where the author analyzes Keillor’s positions on the plotical platforms the dem party should be adopting if they want to woo red staters.

    In looking at that article, it seems to me that Keillor’s latest piece is a further attempt by him to try to get the democratic party to back-burner social issues in favor of what he views as the vastly more important and ubiquitous economic issues that many red staters actually agree with the dems on.

    so, while it might have been poor satire, it’s likely that the aim is not at all at the gay marriage issue, but rather a not-so-subtle poke at what he views is slowing the acceptance of the dem party.

    I bet he is surprised that the argument did not become one over the focus of the dem party, instead of his supposed homophobia.

    I predict if he responds to the attacks at all, he will again try to point out what he was saying in the article linked to above.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.