Almost from the very day we began the argument over marriage equality, opponents have been fretting about how they would be perceived. They have expressed in supposedly sad tones that they merely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that it is unfair that their "simple and innocent" belief would have them labeled "bigots."
I think Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed the problematic deception behind this false worry with his words about DOMA last week. He said DOMA demeaned children in same-sex families by sending them a message that their families are somehow inferior. In expressing that, Kennedy did not call anyone a "bigot." However, to hear the opponents of marriage equality rant and rave, that's exactly what he did. They refuse to notice that by not calling them out specifically, Kennedy was actually agreeing with their notion that their beliefs regarding marriage equality don't necessarily make them bigots. But he did attack the idea behind opposing marriage equality, and you can attack an idea without attacking those who subscribe to that idea.
Now, that is the standard view of Justice Kennedy's opinion as it relates to the opponents of marriage equality fretting about being unfairly called "bigots." But it's not my view.
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 whining 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.
And that issue is the one Justice Kennedy so eloquently aired: What about the children raised by gay couples? Why should these children feel that their families are somehow inferior simply because of someone else's personal beliefs? Why should they be denied rights and self-esteem simply because someone like Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council, or Brian Brown from the National Organization for Marriage, refuses to address their very existence while at the same time waxing insincere about being labeled a "bigot," or attempting to muddy the waters with meaningless statements about "decades of social science research" supporting their point of view but not naming at least one study that would accurately back them up?
Just as they feel that they have a right to bogart the definition of "marriage," marriage equality opponents feel that they have an equal right to bogart the argument over marriage equality itself until it's less about same-sex families and more about them. As long as they focus all of the attention on themselves, they don't have to address how their point of view actually harms same-sex couples and their children.
And sadly, I think that those leading the charge against marriage equality know this. Their careful avoidance of same-sex couples and especially their children is intentional.
A little tip, guys: All the talk about "morality" and "values" don't mean a thing if you employ dishonest methods designed to ignore the rights, needs, and the very existence of your fellow Americans -- especially when those fellow Americans are children.