It’s probably less a matter of great minds thinking alike than “some things are so obvious even I can’t miss them,” but Alvin McEwan at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters published a post yesterday morning commenting on the same topic I was working on but not quite ready to publish – namely opponents of marriage equality are trying to turn the debate from one of policy into one about their supposed or lack of bigotry toward gay people. As Alvin observed, people opposed to marriage equality use the “You’re accusing me of being a bigot I’m not a bigot” line as a cynical ploy:
I don’t worry about the so-called bigotry of marriage equality opponents because I am bothered by their deliberate evasiveness. Let’s be honest. Their whine about being unfairly cast as bigots is a cynical dodge. It’s a game many of them play to distract us from a real issue of marriage equality.
Justice Kennedy addressed that issue specifically in his ruling. He says that by denying marriage rights to same-sex couples who have kids, you’re humiliating and demeaning those kids. By denying their families equal protection under the law by the parents who are raising them and who love them and who make their family. So we can put it in the interests of children, but I think that cuts both ways. And the ruling cuts against that argument. I mean, gay people exist. There’s nothing we can do in public policy can do to make more of us exist or less of us exist. And you guys for a generation have argued that public policy ought to demean gay people as a way of expressing disapproval of the fact that we exist. But you don’t make any less of us exist, you are just arguing for more discrimination. And more discrimination doesn’t make straight people’s lives any better.
Immediately, the conservatives on the panel argued that they were being accused of bigotry and it was wrong and they weren’t bigots and it was wrong to say so. To which Maddow responded:
“No one’s calling anybody a bigot,” Maddow shot back. “You’re the only one who’s saying ‘bigot.’”
Notice the rhetorical sleight of hand here – faced with a simple statement of what opponents of marriage equality have been doing, they try to turn the discussion into an argument about bigotry. It’s a tactic that is designed to create lots of noise and distract the discussion from issues of policy. It also gives them an opening to argue that they are victims of anti-christian bigotry – that non-discrimination laws and marriage equality will victimize proponents of traditional marriage.
Conservatives are bolstering their claims by arguing that the majority opinion in the DOMA case accused them being bigots and even enemies of humanity. (It’s not a true claim but it serves their political purposes, much as obfusating the reasons SPLC designated a number of anti-gay groups as hate groups.) The rapidly emerging theme from conservatives shows up from the Deseret News Editorial team:
But instead of offering a thoughtful framework for the accommodation of the complex moral issues and the many legitimately engaged voices involved in that conversation, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of five justices, borrowed the phraseology of constitutional law to issue a polemical ultimatum against those who cherish how traditional marriage unites men and women for the benefit of children.[snip]
How the court ultimately grounded its decision, however, by castigating supporters of traditional marriage will stifle meaningful and needed ongoing dialogue. Kennedy’s opinion asserts that when Congress passed DOMA in 1996, codifying for purposes of federal law the opposite-sex attributes of marriage that had been unquestioned in virtually all human societies, a majority of Congress and President Bill Clinton (who signed the act into law) acted with animus and malice that could only have been motivated by the intent to disparage, stigmatize and demean same-sex couples.[snip]
But Kennedy’s opinion ignores this complexity and castigates any who might fret about redefining marriage as motivated by animus. This one-dimensional view uses the rhetorical power of the court to bully those who, for example, seek an honest and fact-based discussion about how the innovation of same-sex marriage might affect the well being of the increasingly unstable American family. And it has grave implications for the rights of conscience and the religious freedoms of those who believe that the traditional ideal of conjugal marriage is a transcendent truth.
In other words, Kennedy’s opinion stigmatied opponents of same sex marriage as bigots.
These tactics are motivated by a very simple fear, one demonstrated in an odd bit of synchronicity by Paula Deen’s fall from grace, that being opposed to marriage equality will become socially unacceptable in the same way that opposing racial integration is socially unacceptable. Gabriel Arana noted as much at The American Prospect:
After passing constitutional amendments in 30 states banning same-sex marriage, in November voters in four states rejected similar amendments. Gallagher conceded that it was a turning point, and said wistfully that she hoped same-sex marriage would become, in the future, something reasonable people could disagree on—that opponents of gay unions would not be branded as bigots and shunned from public discourse. Think abortion—where you can be an upstanding member of society and still hold the minority view—not racial segregation, where a firm public consensus exists.
Douthat and Gallagher’s pleas for pluralism will go unanswered. As I’ve written before, in the future opposition to marriage equality will indeed be the moral equivalent of racism, and whether or not this happens depends little on the magnanimity of gay-marriage supporters.
In an earlier article, Arana argued:
Gallagher’s worst fears will be realized. In the future, gay marriage will not be a question but a given. Gay people deserve to get married and raise a family. In the future, questioning this assumption will be the moral equivalent of racism. Like racism, it will be banished from polite discourse and relegated to online comment sections where the postings are anonymous.
For conservatives, Kennedy’s opinion last week was a painful moment – although Kennedy didn’t call them bigots, they see the writing on the wall. In not so many years, they fear, people will look at them with the same distaste they regard the old segregationists. Opposition to marriage equality will be seen as a retrograde attitude, confined to an ignorant and bigoted population, an attitude respectable people simply do not hold and if they do, they keep it to themselves.
Opponents of marriage equality have done their level best to try to convince the world they aren’t bigots – they’re not opposed to gay marriage, they’re just wildly in favor of something they call traditional marriage, and it’s simply unfortunate that they must pass laws to protect it against the general gone to hellness of the world. They often portray opposition to marriage equality as an unfortunate necessity cause by the other list of marriage’s ailments (divorce, falling marriage rates, illegitimacy, premarital sex, cohabitating, and so on); same sex marriage, in this construction, is simply a Rubicon which must not be crossed lest marriage itself cease to have meaning. Same sex marriage is a tipping point, it is the straw that breaks the marriage camel’s back. (Okay it’s time to end my use of florid metaphor.)
The arguments deployed in against marriage equality have shifted from “Nothing even marriage like” to “Let us just keep the word marriage, you can have civil unions and we’ll have marriages” to “Respect out right to disagree” without ever acknowledging how many of their campaigns have smeared gay persons. Rather than own their history, opponents of marriage equality are trying to play the victim card, pleading that they are the real victims here. It’s all a dodge to try to make public discussions of marriage equality so toxic that people avoid them. It shouldn’t be allowed to work.