When liberals think of gay marriage opponents, they often think of the Westboro Baptist Church and the thugs who murdered Matthew Shepard. Instead, they should think of people like U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a congressman who does not support gay marriage, despite having a gay son and being a good, loving father, according to his son.
The headline "Rep. Matt Salmon: Gay son hasn't changed my views on gay marriage" went viral this week and sparked a flurry of hate from a few liberals who likened him to the Westboro Baptists. In response, Rep. Salmon's son said, "If he's going to change his mind it's going to come from a place of love. All [people who are calling his comments 'hate speech' are] doing is fighting intolerance with intolerance." Interestingly enough, if many liberals had read the full article instead of making assumptions based on the headline alone, they might not have mistaken Rep. Salmon for a hateful man.
For many liberals who believe in gay marriage, it seems obvious that any good person would support gay marriage. As a result, they may automatically think that anyone who disagrees must be a monster. However, Rep. Salmon shatters this image.
Few among the anti-gay-marriage crowd believe that they are being cruel to gay people or that gay people should be punished in any way. They simply believe that they are protecting the institution of marriage. As Fox News' Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, put it in a Daily Show interview, "[I'm] not anti-gay marriage. There's a difference between anti-something and if you're for something. ... I'm for the idea that marriage is that which is a biblical model."
It is true that there are many people who consciously hate gay people, bully them and do intolerable things to them. We should do all that we can to fight to end those deplorable problems. However, when it comes to gay marriage, many people who are keeping gay marriage from being legal, if not the majority of them, are much more Average Joe than Fred Phelps.
However, liberals have a bias toward perceiving those who are against gay marriage as terrible. NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, argues that people have a tribal tendency to treat politics and religion as "team games." Accordingly, humans end up seeing things in terms of "us vs. them." This may lead us to fail to realize that "them" includes the nice lady who lives across the street and the jolly guy playing right field for the employee softball team.
Liberal media and liberal social media users have done their damndest to share stories about the most extreme examples of anti-gay intolerance. These liberals have developed a powerful stereotype of anti-gay-marriage individuals as a fringe radicals. Many tactless liberals have created a narrative of "us vs. them" that is so far from the truth that they have forgotten who they really need to convince.
But given the example of Rep. Salmon, we can begin to see something simple: that those who vote "no" to gay marriage are not uniformly evil, just as those who vote "yes" to environmental causes are not uniformly nice. As the artist Ben Folds so eloquently put it, "See that asshole with the peace sign on his license plate, / Giving me the finger and running me out of his lane?" Holding one seemingly right or wrong opinion does not define the entirety of a person.
If liberals are to truly win the gay marriage debate, they must realize that the anti-gay-marriage folks are among their peers. So go out and talk directly to them. One word of advice: Talking should not come in the form of hostile posts on Facebook that demonize the anti-gay-marriage crowd. That's probably not the best way to win their hearts and minds.
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