This week, with no forethought or planning, I found myself embroiled in a seemingly unending Facebook debate over gay marriage and "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day." The root of my complaint was the amount of people who took part in the Aug 1 event but said they were doing so ("solely", key point here) in support of "free speech" and "standing up for what you believe in."
As many of these people would tell you, they had not left their homes, traveled to their local Chick-Fil-A restaurant and stood in ludicrously long lines because they oppose gay marriage. No, they were just saluting the first amendment and a man's right to speak his mind.
I say, that's a lie.
I have no doubt that many, if not all, of the Chick-Fil-A appreciators were motivated, in part, by free speech, but that does not replace, supplant, or exceed the fact that the event itself was inexorably tied to the gay marriage debate.
As a journalist, and as a man who values honesty, I become frustrated when people mask their true intentions in a thin veil of political distraction. It upsets me to see the insincerity of our culture as we invent any number of straw-man excuses to hide our true motivation. For example, the Utah politician who says that voting maps need to be redrawn to represent an "Urban/Rural blend" (or simply put, "Gerrymandering to protect the party") or the college fraternity that recruits young men with a pitch of "brotherly support" and "leadership experience" (or simply put, "We like to party. We like, we like to party.")
Or anyone that bought an original chicken sandwich on Wednesday. Free speech is swell, but you were there because you oppose gay marriage and because you more-than-support people who speak out publicly against gay marriage. Is it so hard to just come out and say it?
Following my Facebook uproar, I received a text today from a close friend who wanted to weigh in. I will not name him because this person is dear to me and I would not want him to think that I'm betraying his trust or exploiting our private conversations. I feel the need to post the conversation, however, because it illustrates so eloquently the divide that exists between two competing schools of thought.
I should note that just 4 years ago, I sounded exactly like Jim (not his real name, I picked it because it sounds like "him"). I was so blinded by my religious beliefs that homosexuality was a sin that I couldn't even grasp or comprehended the wholly separate concept that secular laws are not dictated by any one dogmatic definition of right and wrong. They are decided by what is fair, what is best for the largest number of people and what is just. Lest we forget, Justice is blind.
It took me years to see this and as I have learned, the hardest thing about experiencing a paradigm shift is waiting for everyone else. (as a note, I will occasionally make bolded notes throughout the following conversation to illustrate a point, and the texts themselves have been edited for punctuation and spelling)
Jim: I need someone to explain why it's love and tolerance to attend a gay parade, and hatred and bigotry to eat some chicken. Also, why is it wrong to stand up for free speech when it's speech you believe in?
Me: To the first question, it's because (Dan Cathy) said gay marriage is "twisted" and the result of a "deprived mind". To the second question, standing up for free speech is great, but no one's free speech was threatened ("threats" were made in select cities to stop CFA's expansion. Those threats are hollow and most have been redacted) and people can't deny that the underlying issue is gay marriage and not free speech. Free speech is secondary to the true motives.
Jim: So people going to Chick-fil-A are gay haters? Or are they just marriage lovers? Obviously it's hard to make a blanket statement on people's motives (this will be important later). My stand is the less silent the majority becomes, the less damage the minority can cause.
Me: People who went to Chick-fil-A oppose gay marriage, and it's easy to make blanket statements when that's an event's stated purpose. (Mike Huckabee, who started "CFA Appreciation Day" said on his Facebook page: "The goal is simple. Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, August 1") Not to compare the two, but you can easily make blanket statements about people who attend a KKK rally, because it has a stated purpose.
Jim: So you are upset at the redneck anti-gays because they are hiding behind free speech, not because they are anti-gay?
Me: Exactly. It's political distraction. I get mad whenever people don't own up to their motives.
Jim: I have never met a gay (note that "a gay" is a pejorative expression) that stood up to their real motives either, but that's beside the point.
Me: They want to get married. What other motivation is there?
Jim: They want the benefits of marriage without the constraints of marriage.
Me: I'm not sure I follow.
Jim: Gay relationships, in my experience, are not based on fidelity, sticking with one partner or whatever you call it. (Speculative opinion) They want the legal and tax benefits of marriage but not to live by the real purpose of marriage. And why give legal benefits to a marriage that can't grow the economy by creating children.
Me: I would point to the irony of a blanket statement (I told you it would come up again. Note that blanket statements about why straight conservatives attended Chick-Fil-A are not kosher, even when they were prompted by leaders of the "traditional marriage" school, but supposition on the nature of every single LGBT relationship is fine) but it would be ineffective. To your first, there is no quantifiable evidence to support the statement you made and plenty of anecdotal evidence to refute it. To your second, gay marriages pose no threat to straight marriages, so what's the harm? I also find it hard to understand how you can accuse them of infidelity and in the next breath deny them a chance at a faithful union recognized by law. That's like cutting off a baby bird's wings because they have not yet learned to fly. (Not my best metaphor) It's a Catch-22.
Jim: My biggest problem is that marriage is a religious institution that idiotic politicians have used to push their agendas. Pretending that it's not a religious union is silly.
Me: Marriage ceased being a religious institution when governmental benefits became involved. As such, all citizens are entitled to equal treatment.
Jim: What's the point of a legal union?
Me: Tax breaks, visitation rights and inheritance to name a few, not to mention the indignity of being treated like a second-class citizen.
Jim: I would say it's the traditional marriage folk that get treated like second-class citizens, reverse bigotry I suppose.
Me: I would say that's absurd. You and I are free to marry whomever we choose.
Jim: The governmental benefits are based on child production, and gays can't do it.
Me: They're based on much more than that. Childless couples can still marry.
Jim: Let's not go down the slope of testing fertility before marriage. Two guys or two girls can't have kids. That's not going to change.
Me: But by your own logic an infertile couple should not be entitled to equal rights. In the end, what's the harm?
Jim: They don't get the tax breaks of having children.
Me: But they get visitation and inheritance rights and they're not social pariahs. Plus, they can adopt, just like gay couples.
Jim: (And here, finally, is where the true reason for opposition comes out) When this land ceases to worship and adhere to the precepts of the god of this land we are gonna crash and burn. I'm gonna stand on the redneck side. (In short, because my God said so...but does he really?)
Me: See, the argument always gets back to religion, which has no place in secular law. A Jewish majority shouldn't have the power to force Lutheran businesses to close on Saturdays and a straight majority shouldn't decide which rights their gay peers do and do not have.
Jim: The harm is marriage is not a right. It's not! (It is for some people, not all) And standing up for traditional marriage makes you a social pariah and earns you the name of bigot.
Me: I would say that opposing gay marriage makes someone a bigot. To me, it's equal to inter-racial marriage.
Jim: The majority should determine those rights, they should make sure they don't get beat on or discriminated against. But that's the point of majority rule. (I'm not sure that is the "point" of majority rule, and you could argue that the "point" of our constitutionally-convoluted bi-cameral legislature is to protect minorities, not majorities, from discrimination)
Me: At the end of the day, being criticized for opposing gay marriage and being discriminated against are two very different things.
Jim: Here's what I really want, gay marriage to be admittedly and legally a state issue and not move on from there. But because that won't happen I'm anti-gay marriage.
Me: Everything should be a state issue, (I am, I admit, a federalist. Let's leave that one for another day) and so far gay marriage has been. No federal gay marriage bill has ever been seriously considered.
Jim: I also would love to have this conversation with a few gays (again, pejorative) without names being called and having it sink into something like a debate on the senate floor.
Me: You should, I have.
Jim: And they didn't cry and call names? Any I have had, that's all that happens. (anecdotal oversimplification)
Me: Again, blanket statements. (yup) I think there's plenty of name calling on both sides. (yup yup)
Jim: I'm talking my experiences.
Me: Exactly, you've never experienced what it's like to be deprived of a civil right. Either have I.