Neither Winning Friends nor Influencing People: Comments on Chick-fil-A and Gay Marriage.

Well, I cannot start a blog about “thinking with conviction in a polarized world” and then shy away from commenting on a polarizing issue.

Homosexual rights activists have been pushing for a boycott against Chick-fil-A for a few months now because of the political opinions and donations of its owner. Recently, however, the issue has boiled over thanks to comments by the mayors of Chicago and Boston saying that because of those opinions they would deny business licenses to Chick-fil-A.

I’ve never eaten at a Chick-fil-A and don’t plan to, not because of any personal convictions but because I just don’t like fast food. I’ve never participated either a boycott nor a “buycott”, because it strikes me as a waste of emotional energy, but I do have some opinions on the matter.

My first observation is not original, but I think it bears repeating: Chick-fil-A is not being targeted for discriminatory hiring practices or denying service to homosexuals, but because of the owner’s political activity. If private citizens choose to boycott Chick-fil-A because of that, fine. However, it is unethical for politicians to bully citizens because of their political beliefs. For all their rhetoric, I doubt that Rahm Emmanuel or Mumbles Menino would be so stupid as to actually attempt to block the construction of a Chick-fil-A in their cities. If they did, Chicago and Boston would be facing First Amendment lawsuits which they would have no hope of winning; even Menino has admitted as much. This leads me to believe that all the sound and fury coming from the mouths of politicians is about making themselves look good by bullying an unpopular businessman.

My second, and I hope more original, observation is about the nature of the debate on gay marriage in general: a couple of decades ago discussion about gay marriage could be shut down with a handy quote from Leviticus about men lying with men being an abomination in the sight of the Lord, and a tiresome tirade on gay marriage being one more mogul on slippery slope of civilizational collapse.

I would like to say we are past those dark days, but we are not. The hyperbole and demonizing has simply passed to the other side. As of spring 2012 or so, it has become fashionable to call all opponents of gay marriage ipso facto ignorant, bigoted, hate-mongering rednecks. Certainly some opponents of gay marriage fit that description, but there is no attempt to distinguish clowns like the Jonesboro Baptists from more thoughtful individuals like Rick Warren. If you are against gay marriage, you are either ignorant, at best, or you are a despicable human being.

Let’s apply this logic, shall we? Barack Obama was either ignorant or a hate-mongering redneck while he was against gay marriage (2008-2011), but enlightened while was for it (1994-2008; 2011-present… unless you happen to think that our President was lying about his opposition to it, in which case you are a racist.) Since all those African-American pastors who stand up against gay marriage have doctorates in divinity and are well versed in subjects like law, sociology, and political science, they can’t be excused as ignorant; they must be plain old evil.

What, you don’t feel comfortable with these black and white assertions? Well, neither do I. Fortunately there is a common sense way out.

Rather than look at the outcomes of the argument we find so offensive, it helps to look for the values each side is trying to defend.

If you are in favor of gay marriage you probably feel strongly about the following values:

  • Homosexuals have an inherent dignity as persons equal to that of heterosexuals, and so should enjoy the same rights and privileges.

  • The fact that homosexuals are traditionally excluded from open and committed sexual relationships analogous to marriage leads to psychological divisions, a sense of inferiority, and emotionally and physically unhealthy relationships. This is a social problem that must be overcome.

If you are against gay marriage you probably feel strongly about the following values:

  • Marriage is not only a romantic commitment between two individuals; it is also a public, cultural and economic reality that under-grids the structure of society.

  • Marriage continues society’s existence by producing, caring for, and educating the next generation. (A hypothetical homosexual marriage cannot, per se, achieve all that.)

  • The male and female gender difference is not an accident of genitalia, but something that touches every aspect of the human person.

These are not meant to be arguments, but statements of value from which arguments can be elaborated. I hope that partisans on one side or the other will find their values honestly reflected in these statements. Personally, I am in broad agreement with all of these statements, though I would quibble about aspects of each. I believe that most people will at least be able to see, upon reflection, the values and logic that motivate the other side and realize that few people over the age of twenty-five are motivated by an anarchist desire to upend civilization or simple fag-hatred.

Sizing up the various arguments for and against gay marriage, which I will not bother to restate here, I come away with a few thoughts: gay marriage proponents have the advantage because they put the argument in pithy terms of common law and individual rights which all Americans can understand and generally agree with. For example:

If still they argued in Marxist terms of overthrowing bourgeoisie superstructures, they wouldn’t get anywhere with us.

Although they have a harder time articulating themselves, I think opponents of gay marriage actually have a broader, more holistic understanding of human sexuality and how it relates to the rest of the human experience (which I suppose makes me an ignorant, hate-mongering redneck). It is a harder position to articulate because it cannot be made with our common language of individual rights. It is, culturally speaking, a lost argument, because the mental and cultural separation of sexual activity from other aspects of human life like family, law, or culture has been a given since the advent of reliable methods of contraception fifty years ago.

Some closing words of advice: if you are in favor of gay marriage, please tone down the rhetoric and relax. You are winning the cultural argument and will shortly have either universally recognized gay marriage, or something equivalent to it, and will own the cultural consequences for better or for worse.

If you are against gay marriage, have eight kids, take up organic farming, and rest assured that in thirty or forty years’ time when the furor dies down, you will be considered a valuable part of America’s diverse cultural tapestry and a perhaps even a reminder of a more integrated and humane past, sorta like the Amish or Wendell Berry… not a bad life.

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4 comments

  1. Mmm. How sexuality relates to the human experience- I do not need an understanding of that to support gay marriage; I only need an understanding of how sexuality relates to the human experience for a particular subset of humanity.

    You don’t immediately sound like a bigoted hatemonger, but if you argued against gay marriage because of the Bible, you would be. The bible has nothing to do with monogamous loving gay relationships.

    1. I’m very uncomfortable declaring people evil bigots for the sin of having an opinion.
      Someone who appeals to the Bible to justify his opinion is not doing something wrong; he is basically saying “Look, this practice is not part of our cultural tradition. The tradition has worked so far, lets not screw with it.” The problem is that just because a text is traditional does not mean it is adequate to the new situation. He then has to explain why the tradition is what it is, and why it should apply to the contemporary issue. Saying “Well, the Bible is inspired” is of course inadequate in a secular society.

  2. An interesting post. I’ve liked it especially because of the excellent “10 reasons ..” you’ve included, but while I disagree with you overall, you’ve given a useful analysis in a lot of respects.

    “It is a harder position to articulate because it cannot be made with our common language of individual rights.” Or, it’s a harder position to articulate because it’s nasty and doesn’t really make sense …

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