In a Fox News opinion piece, Penny Young Nance, the head of the ultra-conservative Concerned Women for America, responded to my essay calling on President Obama to make an even more strong statement in support of marriage equality. I want to take a few moments to respond to Ms. Nance’s critiques.
1. Comparing opposition to inter-racial marriage to opposition to gay marriage NOT same as comparing race & sexuality
Ms. Nance writes, “Sexual behavior and race are not the same thing.” I agree. I never said that they were. However, I do believe that hateful vitriol and opposition to equal rights often springs from the same well. And that was my point in making the comparison. Whether it was to preserve slavery or deny women the right to vote, opponents of equality and justice have always manipulated religion and science to try and rationalize their irrational discrimination. This time around, while the issues are very different, the objections are eerily similar.
2. Hate breeds hate.
I applaud Ms. Nance for writing, “As a mother of two, and a strong supporter of traditional marriage, I would be the first to stand up against any kid being bullied. For any reason. Period… The problem of bullying in schools is real and we must swiftly deal with it, regardless of how marriage is defined.” She’s 100% right. But saying that denying marriage equality to same-sex couples, sending a resounding message to gay and straight kids alike that the former are morally and legally inferior to the latter, is not “exploiting” the subject but rather stating facts. Bullying is bullying, whether it takes the form of constitutional amendments or name calling or scissors. Let’s not pretend that our political discourse and laws don’t create the climate for bullying and suicide.
3. Who cares if most Americans support marriage equality?
Ms. Nance argues that polls showing majority support for marriage equality are clearly baseless because, in ballot measure after ballot measure, voters have struck down marriage equality. First of all, we know that anti-marriage equality measures tend to draw more opponents to the polls than supporters, so they’re not exactly reliable bellwethers of public opinion. But Penny misses my larger point: Who cares? Fundamental rights should not be subject to public opinion and popular will. See, e.g., the United States Constitution which safeguards against such tyranny of the majority.
4. Condemning bigotry is not the same as calling people bigots.
Bigotry: “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own”. Seems to me that imposing one’s own personal beliefs about marriage to cut off the legal rights of other families is precisely the definition of bigotry. But that said, I don’t condemn anyone who struggles with the question of gay marriage. That is a personal decision between you and your own conscience. I hold the word “bigot” in a special place for those who send me hatemail about how I’m going to burn in hell and destroy civilization because I’m shacked up with a woman… but for those people who are loving and decent but genuinely uncomfortable with gay marriage, for whatever reason, I have nothing but compassion. That said, let’s make a deal: I won’t deny you any rights or liberties in spite of your opposition to marriage equality if you don’t deny me any rights and liberties for being gay. Deal?
My question back to Ms. Nance is simple: I understand that you are personally opposed to same-sex marriage and I respect that. How do you justify denying legal recognition and basic benefits to millions of loving couples in our country on the basis of your personal beliefs?
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