Sunday, May 09, 2010

I'm not bigoted, I just believe you're inferior

Meet the National Organization for Marriage. Its goal is keeping same-sex marriage from becoming legal, and it's incredibly effective. As Dante Atkins of noted this week, "NOM, with the aid of substantial funding from Mormon and Catholic churches and organizations, was the organization primarily responsible for passing Proposition 8 in California and approving Question 1 in Maine, both of which eliminated the legal right for same-sex couples to marry in their respective states."

Since I support same-sex marriage, I'm naturally curious as to what those who are against it are saying, and whether they are making a rational argument supported by facts.

In 2009, I wrote about Dr. James Dobson's Eleven Arguments Against Gay Marriage. I found Dobson's conclusions to be prejudicial, nonsensical and supported by so-called "evidence" that could not be defended upon inquiry.

NOM's approach to the subject is more dispassionate. Unlike Dobson, they aren't beginning their argument with the idea that homosexuality is condemned by God and therefore anything that gay Americans do to increase their civil rights constitutes the advancement of an immoral agenda.

So how does NOM attack same-sex marriage, given that they aren't using morality as an angle? First, they use a lot of "weasel words:" ambiguous claims that create an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said. This begins with the very first sentence of NOM's Marriage Talking Points: "Strong majorities of Americans oppose gay marriage." When I first read that, I thought, "how odd they would lead off with such a demonstrably false claim." A recent Washington Post - ABC News poll found that 47% of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage, while 50% are opposed. So those that are opposed to same-sex marriage don't constitute a majority, much less a strong majority. Ah ha, but read the sentence again. It doesn't say, "A strong majority of Americans," it says, "Strong majorities of Americans." Ok, well I guess it's true that strong majorities of say, rural Alabamans are opposed to same-sex marriage, and Alabamans are Americans (though grudgingly so), so, technically, the statement is true, although misleading.

Second, NOM's arguments are based on a lot of specious reasoning. NOM talking points include questions such as "What's the harm from same-sex marriage?" and "Are you saying gays cannot be good parents?" It gives the answers to these questions as, "Two men might each be a good father, but neither can be a mom. The ideal for children is the love of their own mom and dad. No same-sex couple can provide that.” and, "Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists?"

I find both of these "answers" fascinating. NOM acknowledges that gay men might be good parents, but not ideal parents. Apparently in this case, the "good" is such an enemy of the "ideal" that the "good" must be outlawed! Additionally, NOM's arguments are based on certain presumptions. Certain demonstrably false presumptions.

Number one: "Marriage is about bringing two sexes together, so that children get the love of their own mom and a dad." From a legal standpoint, this isn't what marriage is about at all. But of course, NOM makes a point of reminding it's followers that supporters of same-sex marriage, "seek to change the subject to just about anything: discrimination, benefits...Don't get sidetracked." Indeed, don't get sidetracked, you just might derail your own paper-thin argument.

Number two: “High rates of divorce are one more reason we should be strengthening marriage, not conducting radical social experiments on it.” Surprise! Massachusetts, the state in which same-sex marriage has been legal the longest, has the lowest divorce rate in the country. States with populations hostile to same-sex marriage have some of the highest divorce rates.

Number three: "Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us." First of all, the vast majority of those who support marriage equality are heterosexual. Second, allowing more Americans to wed the partner of their choice isn't "redefining" marriage any more than American citizenship was "redefined" when it was extended to Native Americans in 1924.

Number four: That NOM's stance against same-sex marriage cannot reasonably be construed as bigotry. NOM suggests that its supporters answer the question "Are you a bigot?" with another question, "Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists?" Now we return to the weasel word argument. If I accuse someone of bigotry because they believe that same-sex couples cannot possibly be as good at parenting as opposite-sex couples, then I'm attacking people, "who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids."

I'm particularly fascinated by this part of the argument because it raises the question: What is bigotry?

Bigotry can be defined as irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion or as the state of mind a narrow-minded person who is intolerant of beliefs other than his or her own.

Is NOM's stance against same-sex marriage irrational? Well, NOM repeatedly refers to the belief that only opposite-sex partners can be ideal parents. NOM loves to talk about what its supporters "believe" and what it "common sense." But at no point does NOM offer any facts or statistics to support its arguments that same-sex parenting is by definition inferior. It's like believing in ghosts. A person can believe ghosts exist. They can argue that it's "common sense." But without any spectral evidence, that person is by definition irrational. Is NOM's stance intolerant of other beliefs? I'd say its demands for a Constitutional Amendment to ban marriage equality for all time answer that question. NOM claims to be all about democracy, but it refuses to allow for the possibility that a majority might support same-sex marriage and want to change the law.

Sorry guys, you are bigoted. And in the long run, ignorance and intolerance will always lose. I've got some more to say on where the Prejudice Movement in America is going, but I'll save it for next time.

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