I don’t think we’re learning the right lesson from the uproar over Phil Robertson, A&E’s Duck Dynasty star and sex-with-minors advocate. The real lesson is this:
We know we’re right and we know we can show it. Let’s have the courage of that conviction.
I haven’t blogged much the past few months so I missed the initial furor, but on December 18 I did post this on Facebook:
I thought what the Duck Dynasty guy said was reprehensible, but I’m not thrilled about A&E him suspending from his show for it. Obviously A&E has the right to do whatever they please within the parameters of the contracts they sign, but if we’re going to silence stupid arguments, I’d rather do it by pointing out their flaws rather than punishing the speaker. Certainly, if this were turned around and someone hated what I was saying, I’d rather they engaged my statements instead of punishing me into shutting up.
One hundred and thirty-five comments later, I can say it’s my most controversial status update ever. It wasn’t deeply argued. It just focused on my gut reaction to A&E’s suspension of Robertson. When I looked deeper, I found two sources of my misgiving.
One is simply that I tend to sympathize with the person over the corporation. A&E is not a person (Citizens United notwithstanding), and I want to give our corporate overlords as little control over our lives as possible. I understand they can restrict my speech in the workplace and on the job, but I’d like to feel as though the rest of my life is the rest of my life. I’d hate to be called into my boss’s office and told, “You’ve written some pretty harsh things about opponents of same-sex marriage, so we’re letting you go.”
Of course, when it comes to Robertson, it’s easy to argue against this position. For instance, your advocacy of certain views outside the workplace might ruin your effectiveness on the job. I thought it was perfectly reasonable for Bank of America to tell viciously anti-gay Frank Turek, You can’t publish books and go on the radio maligning an entire segment of our workforce and then expect us to hire you to conduct trust-building exercises with them, for fuck’s sake! (Not a direct quote.)
Similarly, A&E might decide Robertson is too damaging to the show’s ratings or the network’s brand. In that case, people aren’t being fired for the content of their views, or for expressing them, but for making themselves bad at what they were hired to do. Also, given the presence of an A&E rep in the room during the interview, it’s easy to argue that Robertson was actually at work and not speaking on his own time. Ultimately, I’d be happier if A&E fired or suspended Robertson for business reasons than because he said something I detest.
But another factor is this: I don’t like attempts to silence people just because they say things that some find offensive. Read more…
I got my regular NOM money-beg email today and it contained this unintentionally hilarious line:
The good news is that 2014 promises to be a year full of opportunity for the marriage movement to regain ground and seize back the momentum!
Well, yes, that’s absolutely true. The only time you have an opportunity to “regain ground” and “seize back the momentum” is when you’re losing.
Looked at from that angle, 2014 may be NOM’s opportunitiest year ever!
Thomas Peters, NOM’s communications director, shows us the limits of empathy.
Peters suffered a diving accident that left him with a fractured fifth vertebrae, a severe spinal cord injury, and doubtful prospects for recovery. Fortunately, it seems, he’s doing better than most with this kind of injury, though he still may never walk and has limited use of his upper body. Recently, on NOM’s website, he posted “Reflections on my Time Away.”
It’s a sad read, and not just because of his trauma. I had hoped for a moment that it might be inspirational. I thought of Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who had a stroke in January 2012. A year later he was able to climb the steps of the Capitol, and a few months after that he issued this statement:
When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.
Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.
Thomas Peters has experienced no such epiphany, which makes it bittersweet for a gay man like me to read his moving tribute to family:
The accident has taught me the essential value defended by the principle of subsidiarity: the value of family and friends as the first line of defense when things go badly. My family and friends have come forward to help my wife and I in ways that have taken our breadth away. They brought us meals, helped pack and move our home, loaned us their cars, contributed their professional advice like how to plan our financial future and cover medical expenses, they have organized prayer groups for us, designed wristbands to help remind people to pray for us and offered us gifts so generous I have had to firmly say no because they are simply too much. The man is never poor or alone who has good friends. My wife and I simply could not gave survived this were it not for our dear family and friends.
The accident has taught me more about the incredible gift of marriage. My father, during his speech at my wedding reception, said the sacrament of marriage gives us the grace to do the impossible. I have met people during these months who think it is incredible, even impossible, that my wife and I survived a trauma like this having been married only three months. I tell them it helps to marry the right woman and get married the right way, the way the Church taught the two of us what marriage is and why it should be honored. People have told us that they are inspired and receive hope from the witness of our marriage – it inspires us too, I respond! We feel it is possible to face anything, even a future of me paralyzed, so long as we cling to each other, to God, and to our marriage vows.
That’s hard to read, because even as you’re thinking, Exactly, exactly!, you also know Peters is still determined to deny you the right to marry, deprive you of the honor and and hope and inspiration that come with it:
But make no mistake, as soon as I am able, I am coming back to fight harder than ever for all of these things [the causes of life, marriage and religious freedom] because I know now that it is prayer that makes the warrior his strongest.
Mark Kirk’s stroke left him with greater empathy and the courage to act on it. It didn’t merely deepen that empathy — it broadened it, too, extending it to a greater chunk of humanity than it had previously known. When the senator calls his stroke “a gift from God,” we can understand what he means, even as we’re daunted by the great price of that gift.
But not so for Peters. His empathy extends only to those who are like him. He sees his family and friends and supporters as people, but gays and lesbians are only abstractions. He can’t conceive of us as actual human beings gifted with marriages that we experience in just the same way that he does with his wife. If he did, he could never come back determined to destroy them.
For Mark Kirk, faith and tragedy gave him a light to see more of humanity. For Peters, a self-described “American Papist,” they led him into the legalism and strictures of his religion. They led him away from humanity.
What might it be like for Peters to follow Mark Kirk’s path? I see a clue in NOM’s blog posts. They refer to the Senator, but do not mention his stroke or the reasons for his change of heart. They simply call him a “GOP turncoat.” His actual life and experience are irrelevant. For them he’s defined simply by his betrayal of their doctrine.
This, I think, is what happens when doctrine overrides humanity, and here I find I butt up against the limits of my own empathy. I’ve never gone through a trauma as terrible as what Peters is dealing with now, and I can only struggle to imagine how it would feel. I don’t know how I would cope, what refuge I would take, what comforts I would seek. I suppose I can see why Peters would shy away from being labeled a turncoat by those he depends on the most.
Simply put, I can’t fault him for falling back on what he knows. All I can do, then, is congratulate him on what he’s accomplished so far, wish him strength in his battle ahead, and hope that recovery of the body is matched by growth in spirit and soul.
Maggie has finally weighed in on New Jersey’s law banning reparative therapy. She’s been holding off: “I will read the bill Chris Christie signed carefully before I issue any statement, if I do.”
Apparently Maggie didn’t read it carefully enough. She now says:
Governor Chris Christie has just put his name to a bill that uses the power of government to strip both parents and teenagers of the right to seek competent, professional help to live their life in accordance with their own values. The bill does not ban a specific kind of destructive therapy; it is a blanket ban on any licensed counseling professional helping any teenager who does not wish to act on gay (or transgender) desire. Not only efforts to change orientation but efforts to change behavior are forbidden, under penalty of law.
Governor Christie just endorsed a law that thus excludes many gay teens who wish to live in accordance with Bible-based values from the circle of care; he has outright banned chastity as a goal of counseling. [emphasis added]
Maggie’s careful reading was actually quite sloppy. I guess she’s alarmed by this part of the bill’s wording:
“sexual orientation change efforts” means the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors… [emphasis added]
If Maggie stopped reading there, then it might have sounded like a ban on chastity counseling. But if she’d kept going she’d have read section 2.b. in full:
except that sexual orientation change efforts shall not include…counseling that…does not seek to change sexual orientation.
In other words, therapists are allowed to try and change patients’ behaviors (gay or straight), as long as they don’t try to change patients’ sexual orientation (gay or straight). Christie has in no way “outright banned chastity as a goal of counseling.”
I can’t say that Maggie is deliberately lying. The bill’s structure is a bit confusing. Really, though, Maggie’s paid to get these things right. But she didn’t, so get ready to hear this grievously wrong talking point again and again.
Stop for a moment and note your reaction to this entry’s headline. Specifically:
1. What was your first thought about what it meant — your first interpretation?
2. What your immediate feeling, your gut response, to that interpretation?
3. How do you feel about the person saying it?
Note those things. We’ll come back to them later.
That headline is a quote from a new strategy document for opposing same-sex marriage (short version here). That quote is offered as a good thing for our opponents to say in public. That quote, to me at least, is a good example of why our opponents are doomed to fail.
The John Jay Institute issued this strategy document, and it’s worth reading:
This paper explores findings from a growing body of research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and narrative theory to inform how to take a more sophisticated approach to communicating in the marriage debate. It offers new opportunities for understanding, developing, and using persuasion informed by cognitive science and narrative theory to advance traditional marriage and counter marriage revisionism.
Basically, it’s built on the growing mounds of evidence that people don’t reason their way to conclusions, especially on complex moral issues. Conclusions come from the gut, and reason is an afterthought, a tool used to support decisions we’ve already made. This is a human tendency, one that cuts across political, economic, and cultural lines.
That makes the John Jay paper a leap in our opponents’ sophistication. Its recommendations are likely to start popping up in their communications. The paper deserves an in-depth analysis, but for now I want to focus on this one horrendous bit of it, because it illustrates just how tone-deaf our opponents are, and how difficult it is for them to put science into practice.
The headline comes from a section on how to use metaphor in the marriage debate. They claim that one of our metaphors is “A HOMOSEXUAL COUPLE IS A HETEROSEXUAL COUPLE.” (All these caps are from the original, sorry.) Or, as our side phrases it (infinitely better): Same love. A same-sex committed relationship deserves the same status as one involving opposite-sexers.
The John Jay paper says the way to undermine our metaphor (I’m not sure they know what a metaphor is) is to focus on ”the ability of husbands and wives to contribute to the common good through the creation and perpetuation of family.” In other words, it’s not the same love, because we can’t have kids.
It’s hard for me to let that pass (same-sex couples can’t create and perpetuate families?), but let me leapfrog it to get to what’s even worse. The John Jay folks anticipate we”ll rebut them by pointing out that society allows infertile opposite sex couples to wed — and here’s the John Jay comeback to that:
Use this metaphor to counter revisionist arguments about infertile marriages: AN INFERTILE MARRIAGE IS A PROFITLESS COMPANY.
They go on to give a reasoned explanation of the metaphor, but keep in mind that a reasoned explanation is not the point. The point is to reach people in a quick, gut-level way. So let me share my gut-level responses.
1. The metaphor says that an infertile marriage is a failure, pointless, unlikely to survive and probably not worth saving anyway.
2, My gut-level reaction is astonishment and contempt that someone could be so callous and blind to the value of committed couples who can’t birth children.
3. My feeling about the person saying this thing is that they’re, well, callous and blind. My reaction is that I don’t want to be on their side.
But here’s how John Jay describes the metaphor:
US law incorporates businesses and levies particular taxes tailored to corporate profits. The rationale for this is that as a category of activity, commercial enterprise generates profits. Yet, a commercial enterprise that fails to turn a profit was still incorporated and considered a valid commercial enterprise. A profitless company still endorses the ideal of a profitable company, and an infertile couple still endorses the ideal of conjugal marriage.
Wow. All that mumbo jumbo about “an infertile couple still endorses the ideal” is just wishful thinking. It’s pathetically easy to refute. But did you catch that word in the middle: “fails”? If you’re trying to reach people on an emotional level, this notion that AN INFERTILE MARRIAGE IS A PROFITLESS COMPANY is so heartless and offensive that people won’t even stay around to listen to your oh-so-nuanced explanation of what you really meant. And if even if they do listen to it, then their reasoning — based on the notion that reason is generally used to justify our emotional response — will rush to the cause of rejecting it completely.
This John Jay paper lays the groundwork for what our opponents will be doing next. We should be prepared for that. Luckily we’re in the right, in the most human, empathetic, compassionate way, so it won’t be hard for us to dissect that strategy and develop effective responses.
Let’s take the next week or two and do that. I’ll put up a series of posts, and fair warning: if you get ahead of me in the comments then I will steal your ideas without remorse.
This could be fun.
Our victories at the Supreme Court came over a month ago and I’m still waiting for the backlash.
The National Organization for Marriage is obviously hoping for one, and they’ve reported gleefully on France’s violent riots — sorry, inspiring demonstrations — against marriage equality. But nothing like that has happened here. And today we get this graph from Gallup:
It wouldn’t be quite right to say support for marriage equality has increased since the decision, or the opposition has diminished. The poll’s margin of error don’t grant us that much certainty. But there sure isn’t any sign of a backlash.
In Pennsylvania, as you may know, County Clerk Bruce Hanes has issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Here’s the reaction from NOM, called The Lawlessness of Gay Marriage Activists is on Full Display:
In Pennsylvania, Montgomery County’s Register of Wills (the person who issues marriage licenses) suddenly decided he can ignore Pennsylvania law and give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The guy claims he did it only after reading Justice Kennedy’s opinion in the Windsor case striking down part of the federal DOMA law, and concluded that gay couples should have the right to marry even though Pennsylvania law defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Kudos to the Office of General Counsel for the Governor for insisting “Individual elected officials cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce,” as their press secretary Nils Hagen-Frederiksen wrote in a released statement. “All officials are constitutionally required to administer and enforce the laws that are enacted by the Legislature.”
The irony is so bright it burns my eyes. NOM has built fundraising efforts on the notion that Town Clerks in New York have the right to “pick and choose which laws to enforce” and to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as an exercise of their religious freedom.
NOM’s hypocrisy will surprise only those who haven’t been paying attention. But what about our own hypocrisy when we denounce the New York Town Clerks while praising Montgomery County’s Bruce Hanes? Is there a difference?
I think there is.
Civil disobedience has a long and proud history in the US. In its best form, though, it’s not a mere refusal to obey a law. It involves a person publicly breaking an unjust law and accepting the consequences precisely in order to force an examination of that law in the public eye, and if necessary, in court. This is not “lawlessness.” It’s a deliberate attempt to invoke our legal system.
That’s happening right now in Montgomery County. It’s not quite what happened in New York with those Town Clerks. They didn’t do anything to force a re-examination of marriage equality. In fact, they were willing to direct same-sex applicants to other Clerks. Unlike Bruce Hanes, they did not say the marriage equality law was invalid; they merely claimed that they personally did not have to obey it.
Now, that’s lawlessness.
Perhaps this isn’t entirely fair. Those Clerks might say they weren’t protesting marriage equality per se, but the laws that force them to sign documents for marriages they personally deem invalid. It’s hard to believe their sincerity, though. They’d have to argue that religious freedom means that government officials can demand you pass their personal religious test before they’ll help you, and that, of course, is the opposite of religious freedom.
I see another difference between New York and Montgomery County, though: Civil disobedience doesn’t usually involve someone using their power to victimize citizens. Civil disobedience doesn’t much involve victims at all — the lack of victims is a sign that the law being disobeyed is unjust! It’s easy to identify by name the victims of the New York Town Clerks. The victims in Montgomery County, not so much.
Before I close, I want to point out something NOM founder Robert George published two days ago on the question of religious freedom:
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., responded in his Letter from Birmingham Jail to those who criticized his program of civil disobedience as mere willful law-breaking:
I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
King turned not inward to his own feelings of being aggrieved by the law, not to the intuitions of his autonomous self, and not even to a claim of his own rights. Instead he turned to “moral responsibility”—to obligation, to duty. He, like Newman, understood this as a duty to principles of justice we did not create, but to which we must respond. As the Declaration of Independence teaches us, prior to any laws made by men are the immutable standards of justice—standards by which we judge whether the laws are just and can rightfully command our obedience.
Robert George, fierce opponent of marriage equality, goes on to identify those standards:
These standards, of the equal dignity of all human persons, of their equal freedom, and of the accountability of government to the people…
As I said above: The irony is so bright it burns.
NOM’s communications director Thomas Peters has been in a serious accident:
Thomas was involved in an accident yesterday evening and has sustained major injuries. He is awake, responsive, and in stable but critical condition. Family and friends are with him.
I’ve tangled with him before and have been sharply critical of him, but today I wish him my best and send him all my hopes for a full and speedy recovery.