Monday, August 09, 2010

How intolerant of you to not tolerate our opinion that you and your relationships are inferior!

There's a curious meme I've noticed running through some of the debate on gay marriage. It comes from some of the more thoughtful people opposing (or even just leaning towards opposing) gay marriage. It's the idea that gay people in this debate are "intolerant."

I've been noticing this for quite some time, probably ever since the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, when so many Mormons seemed to react with shock at the idea that people would actually be angry at them for outlawing their marriages. And just today, through Andrew's post, I'm seeing it again. (Not in Andrew's post, but in posts he links to and in comments.)

Symphonyofdissent is "uncomfortable with the labeling of people of conscience as bigots and homophobes" and "sick of the lack of effort to build consensus on common ground and to efforts to punish and smear those that disagree." SilverRain feels that gay marriage advocates' "aggressive behavior has already done more to hurt [their] cause than help it" and they call people bigoted and homophobic in an "attempt to manipulate through shame, to control another person's behavior." In short, as commenter Scotty Starnes puts it, "the gay community’s intolerance is also a factor when it comes to others accepting their lifestyle."

Let's break down these ideas a little bit. First, I really wonder what is the supposed difference between opposition to gay marriage by "people of conscience" and opposition to gay marriage by "bigots and homophobes." "People of conscience," I suppose, avoid violence and outright name calling, so there is that. But what is the difference if a law forbidding same-sex marriage is passed by people of conscience or passed by "bigots and homophobes"? The end result sure seems the same to me.

Second, what is the difference between a "person of conscience" and a "bigot and homophobe"? Is there one? Symphonyofdissent clearly feels he is the former, not the latter. Yet he writes things like:
Another key empirical question for me is whether legalized Gay Marriage and increased acceptance for homosexuality merely takes already openly Gay People out of a more promiscuous lifestyle and puts them into monogamous and more stable families, or whether this acceptance will lead more people that are marginally attracted to males (Probably true bisexuals) to choose to enter into gay relationships rather than equally fulfilling heterosexual ones. I think that practically if we are dealing with a fixed population of Gay individuals then marriage is a far more ideal state. ... It seems that this is a worthwhile question to be asked.
A clear inference here is that homosexual relationships are inferior to heterosexual ones, and legalizing gay marriage is bad if it leads to more of them. Apparently, though, it would be "intolerant" of us take this belief in gay inferiority as evidence of any bigotry or homophobia on the part of symphonyofdissent. Apparently, that would be a "smear."

Am I being overly "aggressive" by pointing that out? Am I attempting to "manipulate through shame"? Does that do more harm than good? No, no, and I don't know.

I don't think there's anything wrong with pointing out a person's clear prejudices, especially when they probably don't seem so clear to that person. I don't think there's anything wrong with pointing out that a person has no claim to being free of "bigotry and homophobia" when he probably doesn't even have a clear conception of what being free of those things would really mean.

Am I trying to manipulate anyone through shame? No. I might be ashamed to have my own biases pointed out. Or I might not. I might change my behavior because of it, or I might not. But those feelings and behaviors would be on me. I would be responsible for them, not the person who called me out. So I reject the idea of "manipulation." I don't have the power to manipulate anyone. I can't make anyone do anything they don't want to do. Not even to think.

Am I doing more harm than good? Maybe. If I say that before one can claim to be free from "bigotry and homophobia," one must accept gay people as just as good (or bad or indifferent) as straight people and gay relationships as just as good (or bad or indifferent) as straight relationships, maybe somebody somewhere will decide that s/he therefore can't support gay marriage. It seems pretty unlikely, but I suppose it's possible. Is that even "more harm than good"? I don't know.

But I do know one thing. I know that this is what people who call GLBT people "intolerant" are really saying:

You should tolerate our belief that your sexual orientation is inferior.
You should tolerate our belief that your relationships are inferior.
If you don't tolerate our belief in your inferiority, you are the intolerant one.

Do I even need to say it? Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, and bullshit. No one needs to tolerate those beliefs.

You want common ground for dialog? Start here: gay people are just as good (or bad or indifferent) as straight people; being gay is just as good (or bad or indifferent) as being straight; gay relationships are just as good (or bad or indifferent) as straight relationships.

That's what common ground really looks like. That's what a starting point for dialog really looks like. If you can't go there, for whatever reason, fine. That's your prerogative. But if you can't begin there, don't go calling the other side "intolerant." Because you've got it exactly backwards.

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17 comments:

  1. I guess the question is...can someone disagree without having something called into question?

    The idea seems to be "no." That there is no way to prioritize straight relationships/marriages without having something about oneself be called into question. As a result, there will be no common ground that isn't compromise. It's just that each side wants very different compromise from the other side.

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  2. Ordinarily, I'd say "common ground" lies in respect for each other's opinions and so on, but when the anti-SSM side's opinion is that gay relationships are intrinsically inferior, then the anti-SSM side a) does not respect gay people and b) does not deserve the respect of gay people and their allies.

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  3. But what is "respect"? It sounds as much like a dirty word as "tolerance."

    If the pro-SSM side's opinion is that religious beliefs that (dis)like and (dis)prefer gay relationships are intrinsically inferior, then the pro-SSM also a) does not respect these religious people and b) does not deserve the respect of these religious people and their allies.

    So...I guess there is no common ground in this case.

    People don't want respect. They want agreement and acceptance.

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  4. I don't know. I mean, it comes back the post's title: "Tolerate my opinion that you are inferior." That's not bloody likely to happen. OTOH, "Tolerate my opinion that we're not inferior" could get some traction. That seems like it would be an easier direction to move in for a lot of people. It was for me. (I used to be anti-SSM myself.)

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  5. You are right to highlight the particular comment that you do. I do not think that it was especially well worded or thought out especially since I am struggling to figure out my feelings on the matter myself.

    I suppose I can be labelled as bigoted in the sense that my personal convictions lead me to view heterosexual relationships as closer to the ideal than homosexual relationships. I do think that homosexual relationships are for many people better than the alternative of celibate loneliness (Though not for temple attending/priesthood holding members that have covenanted to obey the law of chastity). I also think that those entering into homosexual relationships should have their rights protected fully including adoption rights etc. (Though I think adoption agencies should perhaps be allowed to give preference, all other factors being equal, to a heterosexual couple over a homosexual or lesbian couple).

    Two very dear friends of mine from college that I lived right next door to for two years are in a long term committed relationship and I am incredibly happy for them. I want the best for them and think they deserve full legal rights and protections.

    In the particular case of California something recently granted was taken away. Yet, what we are really dealing with in 99 percent of the cases is the question of whether or not to extend a new right that has never before been granted. It's not a question of taking away rights but of how to define a changing institution. Whatever the outcome there will be a significant impact for better or for worse. I am entirely persuadable and used to be of the strong conviction that the benefits to gay couples outweighs any harms. I've read several things that have put this certainty into doubt and so I have drifted from strong support to true indecision. I would hardly call myself an opponent or anti-SSM. In fact, I think SSM is to some degree inevitable given the confluence of supreme court decisions from Loving V. Virginia to Lawrence V. Texas.

    (I do however think that Judge Walker made the correct decision given the set of facts presented to him.)

    However, I am sick of people acting like this is a closed question that need not be examined or thought about. There are religious freedom issues at stake that if not talked about could easily be ignored with negative consequences. A very dramatic social change should not be put into place without some kind of deliberate discussion and realization of the consequences. I prefer the more gradual and incremental strategy of granting full civil unions nationwide. I think this is a reasonable compromise that is equal for all intents and purposes ( I am planning on writing a blog post on the separate but equal issue quite soon)

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  6. kuri,

    However (dis)tasteful, "tolerate my opinion that you are inferior" MUST happen for tolerance to have any meaning at all. In fact, such a tolerance must allow us to realize that the other side -- no matter how much we may think so -- isn't so certainly vile as to have a position "you are inferior nwehehe [ominous thunderclap]"

    ...Of course, if this is unacceptable, then let's just admit that we don't even want or care for tolerance, but are looking for acceptance and agreement. We probably won't move any closer on this front, but at least we'd be more honest about our expectations...

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  7. Thank you for responding so thoughtfully. I did feel that it was a little unfair of me to single you out like I did in the post, since there are many far worse offenders. It was more the timing of your post than anything else that led me to focus on it so much.

    I realize also that this is a struggle for many Mormons who feel torn between what they'd like to do and what they believe their church is telling them they should do. I sympathize somewhat with that struggle.

    I agree that there will be some consequences for religions, although with our strong Constitutional protections for freedom of religion and speech, I think they will be relatively minor (i.e., things like social opprobrium and loss of federal funding rather than genuine infringements on religious freedom). That should be discussed honestly by both sides imo.

    But I question whether allowing gay marriage will really be that big of a social change. Adding some proportion out of the 2 to 7 percent of the population that is gay to the more than 90 percent of all people who marry doesn't seem very likely to have dramatic effects for anyone but gay people.

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  8. Andrew,

    I don't view tolerance as an absolute good. I support the free speech and free religion rights of, for example, the Westboro Baptist Church, but I see no reason to express "tolerance" or any sort of respect for their views. Nor do I want their tolerance. Their views are vile and inferior. I have no problem saying that. I respect their human and civil rights, but that's all.

    "Normal" opponents of gay rights vary widely in their stances -- some are merely sophisticated enough to hide their hatred, some are close-minded, some are ignorant, some are confused, some are struggling, some are open-minded, and so on -- so I respond to them with varying degrees of "tolerance." But I don't really have much tolerance for many of their views, no matter where on that personal continuum they might be. And I'm fine with that.

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  9. In other words, you openly admit that you *are* intolerant. You just feel that the intolerance is justified.

    (which is begging the question)

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  10. Yes to both. I tolerate the ideas of people who are merely misguided -- Republicans, say, or Boston Celtics fans. But I abhor some other people's ideas. I hope those ideas will be stamped out, or at least exiled beyond the fringes of decent society.

    They probably feel the same way about my ideas. And again, I'm fine with that. Let ideas compete in the arena of free speech. I'll do what I can in my tiny sphere to crush their ideas. Let them try the same with mine. But please, no more whining for "tolerance" by people who aren't giving it to those they ask it from.

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  11. Interesting post, and I can see your point.

    I would like to set a couple things straight, however. First, that my criticizing the aggression of either side is a separate issue from demanding they tolerate my opinions. I entered that in my original post because I'm immensely disinterested in people who simply want to name-call me because I see more nuance in this issue than they do and I'm trying to navigate through the nuances.

    Also, I'm not the one who said that SSM-pro's namecalling is an attempt to manipulate and control another person's behavior. That was a direct quote from an SSM-proponent on a recent thread at FMH, #254, who admitted that is why she used those words.

    And for the record, I find the dehumanization of homosexuals just as vile as I do the dehumanization of those who hold the religious belief that homosexuality is morally wrong.

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  12. SilverRain quipped: "I find the dehumanization of homosexuals just as vile as I do the dehumanization of those who hold the religious belief that homosexuality is morally wrong."

    The difference here is that there is no basis for the dehumanization of homosexuals. On the other hand, the dehumanization of those who hold racist and bigot beliefs is clearly justified. Do you advocate not dehumanizing anyone ever? How about those who commit crimes against humanity? Give me a break.

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  13. that's easy to answer.

    NO human should EVER be dehumanized, because a human IS a human, no matter what they say or do.

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  14. SilverRain,

    Thanks for commenting. "First, that my criticizing the aggression of either side is a separate issue from demanding they tolerate my opinions." Duly noted.

    "...I'm not the one who said that SSM-pro's namecalling is an attempt to manipulate and control another person's behavior. That was a direct quote from an SSM-proponent..."

    That wasn't a direct quote, it was your characterization of a direct quote. I disagree with that characterization. I don't think pressuring someone is the same thing as manipulating and controlling them.

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  15. Anonymous and Andrew,

    I agree with Andrew. No one should ever be dehumanized. (Although "dehumanization" seems like an exaggeration in the context we're talking about.)

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  16. kuri—I see your point, now. I see pressuring someone through name-calling as crossing the line into manipulation and control, and you do not.

    Ditto on dehumanization. It's far too easy to think that someone who disagrees with you is somehow less than human, undeserving of respect and deserving of violence. So easy, in fact, that groups of people have been doing it throughout history. Back in the day, they called them mobs.

    And I see too much growing mob mentality on both sides of this fence.

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  17. "...we insist on calling your stance homophobic and bigoted, so that you don’t feel comfortable about your positions."

    The commenter you cite doesn't call anyone a name. S/he calls a stance bigoted and homophobic. Not a person; a stance, an idea, a point of view. That's not name-calling in my book.

    Besides, the church's stance that homosexual relationships are inferior is bigoted and homophobic. There's no evidence to support that position. It's simply prejudice.

    "And I see too much growing mob mentality on both sides of this fence."

    I don't see it on either side, frankly. I saw a lot of understandable anger on the part of gay people in California after the vote, but I thought they were actually quite restrained considering what had been taken away from them.

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What do you think?