Partisanship Distorts Everything, Including Equality

hate-crime A candle light vigil is held following a July attack against a woman in Lincoln, Nebraska. Credit: TED KIRK/Lincoln Journal Star[/caption]

In America today, we often consider ourselves to be politically divided and diametrically opposed. However, we are not all that different. The two political parties maintain their ranks by sharpening our contrasts and blurring our commonalities. Therefore, we cannot reasonably expect the parties to resolve the conflicts they manufacture.

The recent tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado reignited the nation’s gun control debate, and the angry nature of the ensuing arguments would seem to intensify the impression that there is a stark polarity in the way that Americans think. Yet analysis of America’s two most enduringly contentious political debates – gun control and abortion – reveals similar thinking on both sides.

Pro-life activists on the political right and pro-gun control activists on the political left may seem to be from total opposite ends of the spectrum, but within their respective contexts, they’re both motivated by a desire to protect innocent life and are willing to curtail certain liberties in order to do so. We all share a mutual interest in defending life and protecting ourselves from unwarranted government intrusion, though we may differ as to how we seek to reconcile these sometimes conflicting interests. How long must we shout at each other before we realize that our hearts are the same?

With the two political parties bent on perpetuating polarization, it is no wonder that we are divided even on the issue of marital unity. The deeply personal has been politicized. Why should the validity of someone’s consensual and committed relationship be subject to the scrutiny of anyone else, let alone the subject of a national political discussion? It’s absurd. If we weren’t such a partisan nation, we would acknowledge this. In the Defense of Marriage Act, the government refused to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages on a federal level, thus denying the benefits of marriage to gay couples legally married in their states. This is clear government intrusion upon liberty, yet unlike the gun control debate and the abortion debate, it isn’t being done to protect life; it merely penalizes people for trying to live their lives. And this is a situation in which neither party can be fairly cast in the role of hero or villain – DOMA and DADT were both implemented during the Clinton administration.

The recent Chick-fil-A controversy has prompted a lot of emotion about the issue of marital equality. Many people are now boycotting Chick-fil-A due to COO Dan Cathy’s remarks against gay marriage and his sizable donations to anti-gay groups, and others have shown their support for the franchise. It is sensible for proponents of gay rights to boycott the chain, but there are two noteworthy ironies with this course of action. Firstly, it is strange to see consumers boycotting a food product for the sake of gay rights. There are so many reasons to boycott food products on terms relevant to the food industry, e.g. the deplorable treatment of migrant workers who pick crops. Cesar Chavez must be turning over in his grave. The second irony here pertains to the underlying logic of the boycott, with people urging one another into participating by declaring, “It won’t work if only a few of us boycott them – we all have to!” Many of the people issuing these sorts of proclamations are adamant Democrats, and if they set a trend by applying this same logic to their voting habits, we could break free from a two-party system that encourages division and conflict and poisons the discussion of equality.

In many ways, the politicization of this issue has been unhelpful for the cause and the country. When conservative politicians speak out against gay marriage, their statements should be repudiated, but their characters shouldn’t be demonized and their other ideas shouldn’t be completely disregarded. The latter approach is non-constructive. Similarly, people should not feel compelled to embrace President Obama’s ineffective economic policies simply because the President is now in favor of gay marriage. If we ignore the regrettable ways that the issue has been framed politically, and if we carefully reevaluate the way that it has been presented religiously, the issue of gay marriage ought to become much clearer. Here are some of the most common arguments against gay marriage, and some concise rebuttals:

“Marriage is defined as the union between a man and a woman.”

In England, the article of clothing covering one’s legs is referred to as trousers. In America, we call this clothing item “pants.” I have yet to see protests over this. Where is the etymological outrage? The feigned concern over the “definition” of marriage makes it seem like it’s a disagreement over semantics, when in fact the anti-gay marriage movement is premised on telling gay people that their love for one another is inferior to marriage and implicitly wrong. This undermines their orientation in a fundamental way. It fans the flames of homophobia and hatred. It causes kids to be bullied in school until they reach the point that they commit suicide to end the suffering. Homosexuality is naturally occurring, has always occurred, and will always occur. Hatred and intolerance towards these people is the only perversity, and that perversity should be ended, even if this necessitates the inconvenient task of revising a dictionary.

“I find homosexual acts to be disgusting.”

Then don’t engage in those acts.

“The legalization of gay marriage will lead the way to bestiality, pedophilia, and polygamy.”

An animal is not a consenting adult, nor is a child. A number in excess of 2 is not equal to 2.

“If gay people adopt kids, their kids might become gay.”

This implies that being gay is a bad thing, which it isn’t, but the concern itself is dubious. Sexuality is one of the most intensely subjective and personal aspects of an individual’s life. Our predispositions are only known to ourselves; our choices are best made by ourselves. Fortunately, we each have the capacity to determine our own lives and loves, in spite of parental and societal influence or repression.

A child raised by a parent who objects to gay marriage will likewise grow up to be an individual capable of arriving upon his or her own conclusions. In a free-thinking society such as ours, a young person can access information and perspectives from a variety of sources and then make up his or her own mind. That’s one of the reasons why this country is great.

Ultimately, the best environment for a child to be raised is one in which he or she is loved and cared for. It’s bewildering that someone would argue against a child finding such a home.

“The people asking for tolerance are intolerant of those who disagree with them!”

In this country, every American is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Accept that, and accept that people will live their lives differently than you and will love different types of people than you. That is tolerance. It is not a broad, philosophical acceptance of any and all things that could occur or be said. Therefore, it is not a contradiction if a person seeking societal acceptance of their identity refuses to tolerate your bigotry. If your identity is based upon your bigotry towards them, and if you are seeking acceptance for your bigotry-dependent identity by attempting to stamp out the freedoms of others, perhaps you need to find a healthier way to define yourself.

“The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.”

To borrow the etymological concern for definitions, “Christian” is derived from Christ – and a Christian is defined as a follower of Christ. And Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Priests, parishioners, and Biblical scholars have varying interpretations of the references to homosexuality in the Bible. However, the Bible makes it overwhelmingly clear that we are meant to be humbled by God. We are not meant to think ourselves equal to or above Him. Therefore, it is the role of a Christian to seek to better himself, to better serve his fellow man, and to better serve God. It is not the role of a Christian to ignore the Biblical passages in which his own faults are condemned and to seize upon parts of the scripture that can be used to condemn others, in defiance of Christ’s transparent instructions not to do so. This type of hypocritical judgment could not be more antithetical to the spirit of Christ. And irrational infringements upon individual freedom could not be more antithetical to the spirit of America.

The debate will, of course, rage on. Some people will skim the Bible and look for text to affirm their own prejudices and judgments. Others will read the Bible and look for wisdom to inspire their own compassion and humility. Some people will look at the world and try to prohibit couples from expressing their love. Others will look at the world and say that there is not enough love and they will try to do everything within their power to cause that to change. If we manage to cut through the angry partisan rhetoric, we will realize that we all believe in freedom, and gay marriage is an exercise of freedom that no one is forced to partake in, and no church is forced to officiate. If you want to strengthen the institution of marriage, don’t direct your hatred towards someone else’s love. Direct your own love into your own marriage. This is often framed as an issue in which the LGBT community is being denied their rights, but this is also a matter in which America must determine whether it will deny its own conscience.

Last month, three men attacked a 33-year-old woman in her home in Lincoln, Nebraska. The woman was an out and proud lesbian. Her attackers hid behind masks. They stripped her naked, bound her with zip-ties, cut her, and carved slurs into her abdomen and across her arms. They painted derogatory words on the walls of her home. They poured gasoline on her property and tried to destroy it. She made her way to her neighbor’s house, naked and mutilated, with blood dripping down her forehead. As you read articles about the crime, ask yourself if you want to be part of the culture that sees this woman as lesser, as a sinner, as distinctly separate in her ability to love and be loved. Determine whether you want to isolate words within the Old Testament that you can use to condemn this woman with the self-righteousness of a god, or whether you will heed the true sentiments of Jesus, who unequivocally stated that the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is the second greatest commandment in the law. You can’t beat someone’s identity out of them. But if you learn the details of this hate crime and of similar incidents, and still you wish to violently, legislatively, financially, or passively deny another person their rights to their own identity and expression of love, you might find your own identity start to change. And you might not like who you become.