Today’s gay marriage dissenters are yesterday’s Southern racists, according to the interwebs. (This a mildly edited comic from this site.)
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision has become a figurehead for the issues swirling about this subject, with people’s talking points revolving around broader topics than James Obergefell or Richard Hodges. This needn’t be a bad or illogical thing – but when we hear talk of the U.S Supreme Court legalizing anything, something’s gone wrong.
The morality of same-sex marriage, or anything, needn’t translate directly into its legal status, which might actually be different from how it is viewed socially, which might look different if you’re considering that in terms of active persecution vs. statements of approval, etc. I believe it is justified to address these different concerns because, strictly unrelated though they may be to the marriage ruling, they have been kicked up in the dust surrounding it and are now fair game for logical interaction.
The Hypothetical Future Homophobe
So then, to address this comic in particular, which contains threads of thoughts very visible ever since the ruling. The first line I’d like to focus on is the dialogue of the hypothetical future homophobe: “The gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry.”
Strictly speaking, you can draw a cartoon of a half-century-future world and put whatever dialogue into its creatures’ mouths that you desire. I understand that this is a cartoon, but a cartoonist needn’t sacrifice the depth of the reach of his accuracy for the sake of a joke. I’ve seen very powerful comics, powerful precisely because you can contemplate the integrity of the joke and keep reaching deeper. Sometimes this is elegantly behind the structure of the joke, sometimes the joke is predicated on raising the deeper thought directly, as in a Calvin and Hobbes comic below, while other times some combination is accomplished.
The reason why the Oatmeal cartoonist placed this dialogue here, can only be that this is the argument they think is on the other side of their fence. But how many Americans have actually argued that “the gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry” – shouldn’t be allowed in the same way that people of color were once denied the right to vote? Excepting the much-covered, forty-member Westboro Baptist Church (a group often mentioned, I suspect, because this one extended family far outstrips any other church in the nation in terms of fulfilling the proliferated stereotype of hateful Christian), how often are same-sex weddings picketed or barred from happening? How many legislators or juridical activists are there in Washington trying to pass laws that forbid such happenings from taking place? Suddenly, we’re back at my opening remarks – a lot of dimensions have collapsed in the emotionally charged whirlpool of argument, and careful distinctions between what marriage actually is, what government should recognize as marriage, what government recognition would legally, politically, logically entail – are gone.
Us vs. Them
There are even more facets of this cartoon that I’d like to dive into – in the first panel for instance; what percent of Americans realistically hold that contention? – but one of them that I’ll touch on is the use of the definite article “the” in the future old man’s speech. The cartoonist has put into his mouth an uncharitable “us vs. them” mentality that cordons off those he considers “other” in a way that the more generic “gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry” doesn’t quite hit you with. It prescribes to both sides of the debate the belief that people are gay or aren’t, a fact determined by and fixed from birth – a thesis by no means universally agreed upon. In effect, the cartoonist is forcing this line of argument into his opponent’s mouth so that the following can appear all the more unreasonable.
And yet, this cartoonist has chosen the opinion more convenient for him. Perhaps he didn’t do this consciously, scheming in a dark corner somewhere, cackling. Fine. The error remains in the cartoon, ready to erode careful thought on the part of its audience. As George Orwell famously formulated in his discussion of the dystopian Newspeak – “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Though it’s obviously not on the level of effectiveness of Newspeak, I would call this an illegal move in the same vein, for two reasons. On the more abstract side, it simply distorts the truth of the situation, casting from the mind what many people think is a very important point of contention in this entire discussion. (Perhaps some people would argue that the question of what “marriage” Well then, let them argue that in the open rather than dusting the issue under the rug and, effectively, seizing the contested territory uncontested.)
The second, more local, offense, is that this serves to extend further the grossness of the hypothetical character’s thoughtcrime. Between a person arguing that laws should reflect the reality that two people of the same sex cannot marry, and a person saying that two people of the same sex could but should not be allowed to marry, one is obviously more unsympathetic, and it’s this unsympathetic one that the cartoonist depicted. By going for the more outrageous of two choices, the artist has denied, once again, the representation of a more fair and non-bigoted argument for the character’s position.
Not Hate – Just Disagreement
Another major point still needs to be addressed. While it’s very clear to everyone what racism is and that it exists, the parallel charge leveled against the future bigot – “homophobic” – currently stands on somewhat different footing.
Wikipedia (which, I figure, makes up in its democratic representation of culture whatever it lacks in the vein of recognized authority) says by way of definition that “Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred, may be based on irrational fear, and is sometimes related to religious beliefs.” This new term (first used in print in 1969, according to Wikipedia – and even then, it meant something quite different) is a precocious word, potent in its science-y sound and a loose cannon over its ill-defined range, encompassing antipathy, prejudice, or hatred, whether against an idea, or people associated therewith.
I think that it’s more the rule than the exception that “homophobia” denotes a specific antipathy towards people themselves. I’ve been talking throughout of collapsed dimensions, but I think that this is one distinction that is woefully forgotten indeed. It’s the basic reminder that just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean that you hate them as a person. While this cartoonist might envision a future in which his opposition has been winnowed to only the most personally vindictive slice, it seems that a lot of the cartoonist’s side views their opposition as generally like this: petty, emotional, hateful, mean-spirited. While those sentiments undoubtedly exist, characterizing your opposition that way is grossly inaccurate. As that side of the disagreement champions, even flaunts, being tolerant, at the same time they refuse to recognize any other side as participating in that same practice, that basic human courtesy: the ability to disagree with a person and still sit down to play cards or have a beer with them.
The Natural Analogue to Racism
I will allow that, given the existence of homophobia (and I don’t doubt that it exists – ISIS has demonstrated that recently enough – but the extent to which it is a real issue here is, I think, yet to be really examined), it serves as the natural analogue to racism. This is assuming, of course, a general analogy between the race civil rights issues and this present affair. But that is a big assumption.
This entire discussion has seen a strong tendency – a very human, recurrent tendency – to claim past precedents for reinforcement. What this cartoonist has done – what this cartoon exists to do – is to claim the historical precedent of race-based civil rights as comparable to the current same-sex marriage decision. This is by no means, however, the only precedent that could be considered. Most notably, there is the case of Roe v. Wade. This was another landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, one that came down on a new side of a hotly contested, wide-reaching social issue. Importantly, the Supreme Court’s decision was not the extinguishing stroke in that debate – instead, it ignited it. People have not been cajoled, worn down, convinced, or otherwise persuaded to the abortionists’ side en masse as has been desired. Not in the least.
The Fight Isn’t Over
As a postscript, I would like to conclude my discussion on the topic with the tangential issue of the legal rights of those who oppose this decision. As I’ve said throughout, a lot of dimensions have been swallowed up in the ruling on this one case, and, concerning those who are afraid of being sued over the issues discussed here, a friend has brought to my attention these legal resources.
What is needed is for people who care about this issue – people who see intelligent distinctions that aren’t being recognized, truth that isn’t accepted – to stand up and proclaim it boldly, loud and clear. Be persuasive, be firm, be steadfast. The abortion fight isn’t over yet, and neither is this one.