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Oct 28 2013

In Which I Celebrate Bigots

Jonathan Rauch, one of the most consistently reasonable voices in the debate over same-sex marriage, has a column in The Atlantic arguing that we should actually be happy about the most extreme anti-gay voices. At the least, we should recognize that they play a role in advancing equality.

Generational replacement doesn’t explain why people in all age groups, even the elderly, have grown more gay-friendly. Gay people have been coming out for years, but that has been a gradual process, while recent changes in public attitude have been dizzyingly fast. Something else, I believe, was decisive: we won in the realm of ideas. And our antagonists—people who spouted speech we believed was deeply offensive, from Anita Bryant to Jerry Falwell to, yes, Orson Scott Card—helped us win…

History shows that the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do. We learn empirically that women are as intelligent and capable as men; this knowledge strengthens the moral claims of gender equality. We learn from social experience that laws permitting religious pluralism make societies more governable; this knowledge strengthens the moral claims of religious liberty. We learn from critical argument that the notion that some races are fit to be enslaved by others is impossible to defend without recourse to hypocrisy and mendacity; this knowledge strengthens the moral claims of inherent human dignity. To make social learning possible, we need to criticize our adversaries, of course. But no less do we need them to criticize us.

All of which brings me back to Orson Scott Card. Some of the things he has said are execrable. He wrote in 2004 that when gay marriage is allowed, “society will bend all its efforts to seize upon any hint of homosexuality in our young people and encourage it.” That was not quite a flat reiteration of the ancient lie that homosexuals seduce and recruit children—the homophobic equivalent of the anti-Semitic blood libel—but it is about as close as anyone dares to come today.

Fortunately, Card’s claim is false. Better still, it is preposterous. Most fair-minded people who read his screeds will see that they are not proper arguments at all, but merely ill-tempered reflexes. When Card puts his stuff out there, he makes us look good by comparison. The more he talks, and the more we talk, the better we sound.

I think he has a point. The more the bigots scream about how same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, will lead to the “collapse of the family” and the end of America or even civilization itself, and the more time goes by with none of those things happening, the more ridiculous they look. 14 states now have marriage equality, as do many countries around the world, and none of those dystopic predictions have come true.

I’ve said before that I think the reason we’ve seen such a massive shift in public opinion on this issue in such a relatively short period of time is because most of the people who initially opposed it did so not because they have some deep hatred of gay people but because it just seemed like such a radical change to them. Their opposition to equality was a soft form of bigotry, not a hard one. And as time goes by, the change seems less radical. People start to get used to the idea, especially as more and more states adopt it. And once public opinion shifts enough, a tipping point occurs.

And I think Rauch is right, that at least part of the dynamic driving the shift in public opinion is the utter absurdity of the anti-equality activists. So let us say thank you to Brian Brown, Maggie Gallagher, Bryan Fischer, Alan Keyes, Joseph Farah, Scott Lively and all the other bigots who have unwittingly helped the cause of equality.

30 comments

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  1. 1
    Sastra

    History shows that the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do.

    The anti-gay bigot were up against two very powerful enemies:

    1.) The secular. The arguments against gay marriage had to make reasonable sense AS arguments, and not just matters of personal faith. Drag the reasons into the light of the public square and they shrivel up and die.

    2.) The religious. Going the opposite direction and citing their religious privilege required an explicit or implicit claim that the religions which had no problem with gay marriage weren’t really true religions. Good luck making that one in the public square, too.

  2. 2
    John Pieret

    What’s more, as marriage equality began to spread and they realized they were losing, the bigots’ rhetoric has become more and more crazed and they seize on more and more issues, such as bathroom and sports choices for 6 and 7 year old transgender kids, that make them seem ever more irrational and unreasonable. It is not unlike going from a polite “Are you a Christian and would you like this tract” to carrying a sandwich board and shouting at every passerby “The end is nigh and you are going to hell.”

  3. 3
    raven

    I’ve long thought that the strongest argument and ally of atheists were…xians. Not reasonable moderate xians but the Oogedy Boogedy fundie types.

    AFAICT, they created the New Atheists.

    Worked for me. I was an apolitical xian until I collded with the forced birthers and creationists.

  4. 4
    marcus

    I have to confess that 10 years ago I thought the idea of ‘ gay-marriage’ somewhat radical, and I have always considered myself egalitarian, and with many gay friends besides In my defense, part of my feeling (because it clearly wasn’t rational thinking) in this regard was that marriage was not something that was particularly important or necessary. To make a long screed short, I was wrong and wrong again and then wrong again when I thought that ‘civil unions’ were a reasonable compromise (at least as a first step). Although I am a little embarrassed to have been so ‘behind the curve’, as it were, I am very happy to have been wrong, and to be shown so.
    (Ironically, watching the untiring work of so many working so hard for marriage equality has helped me see the value and necessity of the institution itself. In my opinion marriage equality has strengthened the institution of marriage and it’s relevance.
    Thank you dumb-ass bigots for forcing me to grow and learn.

  5. 5
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @John Pieret:

    as marriage equality began to spread and they realized they were losing, the bigots’ rhetoric has become more and more crazed and they seize on more and more issues, such as bathroom and sports choices for 6 and 7 year old transgender kids, that make them seem ever more irrational and unreasonable

    I respectfully submit that their rhetoric was neither more rational nor less heated in the past. To say that the racists of George Wallace’s day were more unhinged than those of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s would be an equivalent statement, and just as wrong.

    When the police were beating my friends for fun because they suspected my friends might actually have sex with each other, were they less unhinged than Klingenschmidtt is when he insists the bible requires a queer free military?

    Yeah.

  6. 6
    dshetty

    Ill agree. I went from civil unions with same rights as marriage is a reasonable compromise to “equality or bust” thanks to Rudy Guilani arguments against gay marriage.

  7. 7
    jeevmon

    There’s an argument to be made that Martin Luther King, Jr. needed Bull Connor.

  8. 8
    Quodlibet

    The more the bigots scream about how same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, will lead to the “collapse of the family” and the end of America or even civilization itself, and the more time goes by with none of those things happening, the more ridiculous they look.

    Especially as marriage equality is just about the most PRO-family policy that has come along in decades. With marriage equality, our society will be benefit from more families, strengthened and affirmed relationships, and more homes for children who need stable, loving families. The only possible objection is pure bigotry.

    ———-

    marcus @ #4 – me, too. I thought I was so enlightened to be “tolerant” of the gays and lesbians and other queerfolk who, increasingly, have became an important part of my life. One day it really hit me that my wonderful “tolerance” was narrow-minded and hateful. We tolerate mosquitoes, dandruff, and bad coffee. How could I have applied that way of thinking to people I love? I am glad now to be, as one local church* describes itself, “open, welcoming, and affirming.”

    * I’m an out atheist who sings in the fabulous semi-pro church choir. As churches go, it’s not bad. All people welcomed, and encouraged in leadership roles. No evangelicizing. Support to its poor neighborhood with food, clothes, transportation, school books, shelter, etc., no questions asked, nothing expected. If you show up in need, they will care for you. In this forum, I always feel a need to explain why I go to church every week! I don’t recite prayers, don’t particpate in communion, etc. I donate to their music program.

    In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire,
    Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire;
    Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear,
    Not mend their minds; as some to church repair,
    Not for the doctrine, but the music there.
    –Alexander Pope (1688–1744) An Essay on Criticism

    I identify strongly with the last two lines!

  9. 9
    beergoggles

    Is his claim that “History shows that the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do” really true? Is it a causal relationship like he claims? Or is it merely that any environment that is open enough to allow for the open exchange of ideas is also secular enough to recognize bias and ensure equal rights? After all, the US hasn’t realized full marriage equality whereas several other nations have and they have far narrower laws in regards to what an ‘open intellectual environment’ would be that is nothing like the first amendment.

  10. 10
    lorn

    If civil rights, including gay rights, were primarily an intellectual issue that could be laid to rest, settled once and for all, by debate and reason Jonathan Rauch would have a point. Unfortunately reason doesn’t really play much of a part in the actual argument. Yes, the anti-gay crowds have to, by default, express their objections in words and syntactical structures that resemble logic and debate just to have something to say. But their argument is not rooted in logic or intellectual judgment. Their objections are visceral and subjective. Based on deep feelings of disgust and revulsion. It is not rational or based on words.

    Debating anti-gay sentiment with a true believer is like debating acrophobia with an acrophobe. All the good words, all your best arguments, collectively, won’t begin to make a dent in what they feel.

    You simply can’t end bigotry and anti-gay sentiment through debate.

    There is something you can usefully debated, the bounds of acceptable behavior. It is nearly impossible to legislate feelings and private behavior. But you can legislate public behavior. Open accommodations for minorities didn’t, in and of itself, change any minds. It did say that hotels were open for minorities even as the owner ground his teeth to powder unlocking doors for black people. The owner’s feelings were beside the point. The issue wasn’t settled through debate, and, as evidenced by the reaction to a black president, it still isn’t settled. The only thing that changes deeply held feelings is death and the emergence of the next generation that grows up around blacks, and browns, and gays and who can, at some level, see themselves in their faces.

  11. 11
    eoraptor

    I take the position that civil unions are the answer, but the question isn’t whether gays should be allowed to marry. As has been said so many times and places before, marriage seems more like a religious thing. It’s fine if you want to go through some church ceremony to ritualize your union, but in the eyes of the law, none of the legal benefits and duties typically associated with marriage should apply until you get yourselves down to the courthouse and sign Form I-Wantthestatetokeepmyspousefromscrewingme.

    In that context, I think gays would almost always find some church that would solemnize the union, if they wanted, and the fundagelicals would generate less breeze flapping their jaws.

    My $0.02 — discount at your pleasure.

  12. 12
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Yeah, it’s kind of like the Twilight Zone that way.

  13. 13
    D. C. Sessions

    I thought that ‘civil unions’ were a reasonable compromise (at least as a first step).

    Hmm. Rather the other way ’round for me — I’d consider them the last step — but total equality in that civil unions are the only part of “marriage” that the State needs to be involved with.

    I also continue to suspect that if the fundies were smart, they’d settle for that solution: “maybe we can’t have the State support our Marriage, but at least it’s not defiling it with their icky thing!”

  14. 14
    cptdoom

    Although I understand that Rauch is saying, I think he is mistaken about the proposed boycott of Ender’s Game. The point of the boycott is that the book and the movie don’t, reflect Card’s bigotry. The boycott therefore is being used to highlight Card’s bigotry and hatred, by making it clear the movie does not provide full details on how horrible a man he is.

  15. 15
    alanb

    “The Civil Rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.”
    -John F. Kennedy

  16. 16
    bobcarroll

    My response to this situation in my own life was less than adequate. When the first suggestion of the possibility of gay marriage started appearing on the political scene, I thought that civil unions would be an acceptable compromise. It wasn’t long, though, that it became clear that this wasn’t working. The same problems kept cropping up. Even where civil unions were legal, gay people had the same problems. So, once again, separate but equal turned out to be an idiotic fallacy. That took me too long to figure out.

  17. 17
    cswella

    I can see that, the biggest ignition to my leaving the church and religion overall was the church’s stance on homosexuality. The Lutheran church I went to broke off ties with charities and other churches simply because they didn’t mind employing or having gays as volunteers.

    This stance seemed so ridiculous to me that I spent more time reading the bible to prove them wrong, and once I couldn’t, the whole rest of the bible unraveled into nonsense.

  18. 18
    marcus

    D.C. Sessions @ 13 Of course, you are correct as well. As long as everyone is allowed to participate equally, with complete and commensurate rights, that is all that really matters.

  19. 19
    gregorypeterson

    All that blather about how marriage equality will destroy America etc has been done before, back when legalizing the “unnatural sin of miscegenation” had the Bible Belt (and bigots elsewhere) in a froth.

    Compare and contrast.

    http://www.citizenscouncils.com/

  20. 20
    democommie

    “There’s an argument to be made that Martin Luther King, Jr. needed Bull Connor.”

    ““The Civil Rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.”
    -John F. Kennedy”

    Blacks in this country needed Bull Connors like I need four testicles. They had more than enough of Bull Connors and his like, long before MLK, Jr. was born.

    WE needed Bull Connors. WE needed Emmet Till. WE needed Medgar Evers. WE needed them and the hundreds of others whose lives and deaths were emblematic of the evils of institutional racism in the U.S.–and WE needed Trayvon Martin 18 months ago. WE needed them to wake us the hell up and remind us that thinking good thoughts will not bring about change. Only political action will bring about change.

    WE continue to be complacent, myself included, about the status quo and its effects on non-whites, gays, women and others who still fight–every fucking day–for what we white, heterosexual males take for granted.

    I need all of those fucking bigots Ed mentions like I need a subscription to “The American Rifleman”.

  21. 21
    dingojack

    History shows that the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do.”
    Bearing in mind that America has one of the lowest social mobilities and highest economic equalities in the civilised world, it doesn’t bode well, (not to mention how it reflects on your ‘education’ system).
    Dingo
    ——-
    PS: If America had a bunch of founding fathers, why can’t an American family have two?

  22. 22
    dingojack

    eoraptor – If marriage is a primarily religious function, should married people get tax breaks &etc. Wouldn’t that have establishment clause implications? Of course if it’s primarily a government thing, then it’s no problem.
    Dingo
    ——–
    Here, you can get married on a beach by an atheist, ride in on a white charger, have a guy in a dress and a funny hat say some magic words, have a silent Buddhist wedding or even get married by Elvis in the back of his pink ’60 Caddy, if you want. *
    It’s the signing of the bit of paper that seals the contract, all the rest is irrelevant icing.

    * (But only if your of the opposite sex, of course. Grrrr!)

  23. 23
    lofgren

    Everybody probably already knows this XKCD comic:

    http://xkcd.com/774/

    As maddeningly illogical as it is, it seems that a significant chunk of the population use this heuristic to determine their positions, especially on complex issues like equality. Overt bigots provide cover for people who aren’t quite comfortable embracing tolerance, let alone all-out support for gay (or any other minority) rights. Yes, associating with the extreme bigots is distasteful to most people. But the mere existence of the extreme bigots allows those with more subtle beliefs to excuse and even congratulate themselves.

    Anyway, there are plenty of dead gay men who would have probably have been a lot happier getting dirty looks on the street or getting denied marriage benefits than they were getting beaten to death by skinheads.

  24. 24
    laurentweppe

    @lofgren

    When the “debate” devolves so often into “My religion proves that I am morally superior and therefore entitled to lord over you wretched heathens” versus “My atheism proves that I am intellectually superior and therefore entitled to lord over you moronic rubes”, I for one have no qualms about taking Left Stickman’s side.

    When it comes to racism and homophobia, the side in favor of equality refrained from becoming their ennemy’s mirror image: the Civil Right movement never used black supremacism to answer white supremacism, and the Gay Rights movement was quick to dismiss the notion that every heterosexual was three mere beers away from turning gay. When it comes to atheism in the anglo-saxon world, the fact that many writters need to remind their readership that sectarian supremacism is a bad thing shows that Left Stickman’s point is far from being “maddeningly illogical”

  25. 25
    lofgren

    laurentweppe, you’re missing the point. Left stickman isn’t staking out a position based on who is right. That would be logical. He is staking his position because occupying a position between the two most strident voices in the debate makes him feel comfortably superior. That is what is illogical.

    There is another cartoon floating around that I was not able to find in which a man stands between two men and yells at them that they are both extremists. Then another man appears far to the right of the third man. The second man then moves to the third man’s position, and declares that the first man and the fourth man are extremists. In other words his own position is determined based on his view of himself as a sensible moderate, rather than based on which is the best possible position.

    Ironically your post illustrates this habit perfectly.

  26. 26
    John Pieret

    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden @ 5:

    Appologies. I didn’t mean to say that the bigpts were any less hateful or harmful back in 2000-2004, when SSM was ramped up by Bush and Karl Rove as a way to get Bush reelected by”energizing the base.” I only meant that the public political face of the anti-SSM marriage movement went from something that presented itself as what many Americans (like some have said here) thought was a movement against a “radical” change in “marriage” to frothing-at-the-mouth, Bull Connors-like, out-and-out naked hatred. Bull Connors and his ilk never changed over time but it was the revelation to most Americans just what Connors was like that may have made as great a contribution to civil rights as MLK (especially in the contrast of the two).

  27. 27
    Chinami Sweet

    The Bigots will simply wait. In 20 years, they will point out ills of that time, negative developments or the like, and blame it on gays. The same way they now claim “taking god out of schools” is responsible for Sandy Hook and other school shootings and the general “increase” [sic] in crime.

  28. 28
    cswella

    @27. Chinami:

    Some of them, maybe, but I’m assuming most of them will go the way of the civil rights opposition, and claim they’ve always supported gay marriage.

    Those proposing that the gays are to blame for issues will be shunted into obscurity or silence. Unfortunately, the majority of the people who are in positions of power or influence will still hold these beliefs, but it will be more like you wouldn’t hear Pat Robertson say the n-word on live television.

  29. 29
    eric

    I think the reason we’ve seen such a massive shift in public opinion on this issue in such a relatively short period of time is because most of the people who initially opposed it did so not because they have some deep hatred of gay people but because it just seemed like such a radical change to them. Their opposition to equality was a soft form of bigotry, not a hard one.

    I think the court cases have helped immeasurably too (i.e., in addition to the loudmouth bigots making mainstream people recoil from their positions). IMO part of this “soft bigotry” was the assumption – by disinterested mainstreamers – that the anti-SSM side did in fact have some credible argument. That there was a ‘there’ behind their position. When the anti-SSM side was forced to formally articulate their complaints in court, it became immediately obvious even to the disinterested mainstreamers that they had no good reason to prevent SSM. The assumption evaporated. Now they are not getting the benefit of the doubt.

  30. 30
    Jake Hamby

    A big problem we have in the U.S. is that the vast majority of people know that it’s not “PC” to make openly bigoted comments, so they conceal their own bigotries and prejudices, often even from themselves. That’s why it’s so important to talk about implicit biases as well as explicit.

    There’s a part of the documentary Planet B-Boy (about the world-wide competitive breakdancing culture) where the mother of a young boy on the French team is talking to the interviewer about how she was hesitant at first to let her boy play with these older men. So I’m joking with the friend I’m watching the documentary with that she’s thinking “because they’re Black” and then she says exactly that (in French of course) and then follows that with something like “yes I admit I’m a little bit racist.”

    That really stuck with me as a difference between the U.S. and French (and other European) cultures the extent to which people feel free to express their bigotries in public without using code (or speaking in whispers). That’s a big part of Max Blumenthal’s new book on Israel, Goliath, the extent to which the people he talks to say such openly bigoted things against Arabs and are openly prejudiced against non-Jews in all aspects of society very much like the relationship between whites and blacks in the Jim Crow-era South. It’s an aspect of Israeli society that’s carefully hidden by the mainstream media, part of the problem with “access journalism” I suppose.

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