As the country continues to change and adapt to include LGBT individuals into state and federal law on issues like marriage and other such privileges, more and more people on the opposing side are finding that their island is getting smaller and smaller. As is the way of these things, what was once considered taboo is eventually adopted and absorbed into society under the grounds of "doing the right thing." When agreeing with social issues like same-sex marriage is viewed as doing the right thing, the opposition takes on a new and dark role in the argument that's hard to bounce back from. Where we were once dealing with "what I think and how it's different than what you think," we are now dealing with prejudice, bigotry, discrimination. Right-wing politicians and media personalities, in their uphill battle to speak their minds on the opposing side of marriage equality, will frequently try to fight off that type of discriminatory branding. For some reason, they just can't shake it.
I've spent some time trying to find an argument opposing same-sex marriage that doesn't cause the person making that argument to come off like a complete ass hole, and I simply can't do it. I would like to give these people the benefit of the doubt, but there's a very good chance that people who make prejudicial-sounding arguments against same-sex marriage might actually be prejudice.
As I said before, the island is getting smaller and smaller. As of October 2014, more than half of our states now recognize same-sex marriages. Many who spent their time in this fight on the majority side are now the minority, and they aren't going quietly.
In a panel conversation at The New Yorker Festival in 2010 titled "The Case for Gay Marriage," I was able to hear several prominent figures in the gay-marriage fight speak their minds, both for and against the issue. One voice -- the only voice -- that was able to stand up against same-sex marriages as well as civil unions was the co-founder and president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian S. Brown.
Throughout the conversation, which took place in New York City, Mr. Brown was presented with a number of opportunities to clearly and eloquently make his point as to why marriage should only be allowed between one man and one woman. However, every time he was given an opportunity, it felt as if I was watching a bee with only one wing, buzzing in circles on a picnic table. The arguments from Mr. Brown were all quite broad and generic, resorting back to talking points, vague statistics, or thousand-year-old customs that we should all be living our lives by. It quickly became clear to me that this man must be censoring himself. But from what?
Being the only person on the your side of an argument on a panel of five people must be frustrating. I'm sure I would have been a little overwhelmed if I was on a panel with four other people who all opposed me and what I believed in. As the conversation revved into gear and panelists started calling a spade a spade, the notion came to the table that people who oppose same-sex marriage are bigots or discriminatory in some way, acting from a place of deep prejudice. Mr. Brown, in what I think was a desperate attempt to not look like an ass hole, made a fascinating move -- he played the victim. Yes. Brian S. Brown felt completely victimized by these accusations that he was prejudiced or discriminatory in his need to protect traditional marriage. It was then clear to me that Mr. Brown was censoring himself from saying something that would send him to the inevitable place all opposition to same-sex marriages so easily go and that is to a place of bigotry. "I'm not a bigot and I don't appreciated being called one," he seemed to say. Well, if it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck...
From this point on, the conversation, at many times, became, what Cynthia Nixon referred to as "highjacked" by Mr. Brown. The tables were turned and the talk was taken to a place of "all of the terrible things that straight people [were] going through" in order for LGBT couples to achieve marriage equality. This is an argument we see quite often from the other side of the fight in that some heterosexual opponents legitimately feel that homosexual people are a threat to their existence and to their marriage. Not to their idea of marriage, mind you -- their actual marriage. Allowing gay people the same privileges as heterosexual people completely defiles that privilege, in the eyes of these opponents. There isn't another way to look at that other than blatant prejudice and discrimination. When heterosexuals play the victim and try and paint themselves as people who have had or will have their rights and privileges taken away from them, well I don't think there is anything quite so offensive.
One nice way to oppose same-sex marriage is to say, "this is the way things have been for thousands of years." Sure. The same can be said about owning slaves or beating your wives. Sometimes, holding onto thousand-year-old traditions isn't the best thing for you -- or your wife, for that matter. But, to do anything to change marriage or "redefine" marriage? That's just plain wrong. However, a social concept like marriage is one that must evolve if it is to survive. Cynthia Nixon said, "Gay people who want to marry have no desire to redefine marriage in any way -- when women got the vote, they weren't redefining 'voting' -- when African Americans got the right to sit at a lunch counter alongside white people, they did not redefine 'eating out.' They were simply invited to the table and that's all we want. We have no desire to change marriage, we want to be entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities that straight people have."
In the end, it all comes down to what matters to you. Do you really care? Many people will vote in favor of same-sex marriage with "Who cares? Why not? It doesn't bother me" as their reasoning. On the other hand, if you do care enough to think that gay people don't deserve the same privileges as you, then it's time for you to admit to yourself that discrimination and prejudice are a part of who you are. I also think it's time to start calling it out into the open. As we say in New York, if you see something, say something -- and as far as our politicians are concerned, the best way to say something is with a vote.
Standing on the wrong side of history has it's ramifications. When our children flip through the history books and see photographs from the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and see photographs of protesters outside of white schools, throwing rocks at black students attempting to be integrated, do you wonder what those children think? Often, when we see photos like that, people forget that those angry faces in the crowd, spewing hatred and disgust -- those are actual people. They are real human beings that made a choice to stand up and express how much they didn't like someone. And after time passed them by, they had to get up and go to work the next day and the day after that, knowing that they failed and knowing that their hatred wasn't enough to win. As the years have gone by and the dust on many racial civil rights issues has settled and it has now become quite taboo to speak out against black Americans and their rights to equality in this country, we still have all those photos. We still have our history. Those people, if they are lucky enough to still draw breath, will forever be reminded of a time when hatred ruled their lives.
To those that oppose gay marriage -- if you don't want to be called a bigot or accused of discrimination or prejudice, then find a basis for your opinion that doesn't come from fear, religious intolerance, the fact that you "just don't like it," or the blatant dislike you have for people that are different than you. Simple as that.
Everyone stands for something and those that do not stand up for equality stand up for inequality. Which do you stand for?