Thursday, May 17, 2012

Marriage: Facts vs. Emotion

We hear it all the time, and we slap back with examples all the time.

"The Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman." Or "Marriage has been about one man and one woman for (insert number of thousands of years.)"

Which supporters of same sex marriage, certainly including myself, respond to with facts. About the institution of marriage, about the Bible, about anything that makes us feel better. Because that is what it is...we are addressing how we feel about their statement. Because while the things that we are stating are completely true, their truth and the fact (that word again) that they invalidate the argument make absolutely no difference in the mind of the person who made the original statement.

Because their position has, in reality, nothing to do with what the Bible says. Or what the tradition is. Or whether or not the "traditional" view of marriage they espouse is actually less than two hundred years old.

It has to do with emotion. It has to do with how they feel about same sex marriage, not about whether or not it makes logical sense.

They can't bring up a logic argument, at least one not involving religion (logic and religion are a whole separate conversation,) that supports their position. We know it, and deep down most of them know it too.

But what we can't dispute is how they feel. A cartoon I saw this morning had a gay marriage opponent admitting in the final panel that "Gay people are icky." And that is what we are fighting.

Because, if we are going to truly believe in the freedom of personal opinion, we can't tell them that they aren't allowed to feel that way. We can tell them why we feel they are short-sighted, bigoted, insecure, fearful, insular and dozens of other things. We can not tell them they are wrong to have an opinion. We can only disagree with it based on our opinion.

There are thousands of young people out there who think Tupac is still alive. Thousands of middle aged people who feel the same about Elvis. Thousands who believe that aliens are among us. Millions who think the GOP has the best interests of the people at heart. You will not win a single one of those arguments with facts, and we won't win this one with facts either.

It's emotion. They can deal with the fact that faceless people in California or Massachusetts or Iowa are gay and married and that their position is threatening those couples happiness...because they don't have any personal feelings about those people like they do about the pastor that is nice to their kids or comforted grandma when grandpa died. They don't care about denying happiness to people they don't like or know. (The morality of that when most of them follow a religion that specifically tells them they are, above all, supposed to care about, again, a separate conversation.)

They care about disappointing people they love or admire. And let's face it, most of the older generation are never going to know or care about any gay people.

Except Doogie Howser. Yeah, that one gets to them. (Go Neil!)

They are too isolated. The people they listen to and discuss these things with all think the same way they do. The percentage of the people they knew that are gay either fled their little circles for the edges of the country thirty years ago or are so deep in denial that they punish themselves with self hate and express it outwardly as just plain hate. (Until they get caught in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis.)

Which is not say there isn't hope. Or that there aren't ways to reach them. It is just difficult. And facts will only help after we reach them emotionally enough to get a little bit of doubt in there with all that anger and hostility.

So I'm not saying to leave behind the facts. But remember that it isn't logic you are talking to. It is "Gay people are icky."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Romney's Bully Past Matters

Last week, the Washington Post reported an incident in which GOP Candidate Mitt Romney engaged in a scene out of teenage nightmares.

Some might call that statement a bit strong.

I disagree. The report from the Post was corroborated by five of Romney's classmates, including at least one who actually helped. The details of that incident are available freely around the net and I encourage you to Google them. But let's talk about why those details are still important, rather than what they are.

First, there is the denial from Romney that he remembers the incident. Admittedly, I would find this only mildly troubling if it were not for the fact that his time at Cranbook has been pointed to as the genesis of his leadership skills. Romney learned not only to fit in but to fit in despite being, in many ways that mattered a lot in 1965, "different." Also, our senior years in high school tend to be rather memorable, as anyone who makes teen angst comedies can tell you while they count their box office dollars.

The problem with that is how Mitt Romney was handed an opportunity to be forthcoming and to stand up and say, "fifty years ago I did something wrong, and I am sorry." And instead, he played it off with the political equivalent of "boys will be boys."

Really? So, holding down a screaming kid and hacking off his hair is just good-natured fun? In Mr. Romney's words, "hijinks?" No. This was not putting a picnic table on the school roof or green food color in the cafeteria eggs. This was a violent attack on a young man who was different and forcing him to conform despite his protests, fear and the very real possibility of permanent injury. (Yes, I consider wielding scissors near the ears of a struggling victim a risk of disfiguring injury.)

What makes it worse is that Romney himself had overcome issues about being different. He was of a different religion than his classmates, one that has always struggled with being perceived as almost a cult. He was not very athletic yet hung out with boys who clearly were (Thomas Buford,who assisted Romney, was the school's wrestling champion.) Romney, to his credit, found ways around these things and rose to become a school leader. But that also means, he should have known how the boy he attacked felt. Either he did not, which indicates a lack of empathy, or he ignored those feelings, which is cruelty.

So why should this matter, fifty years later? Romney has a lifetimes worth of seasoning, and it seems self-relevant that he is probably a far wiser and less violent person today. And, after all, how many of us didn't do something stupid in high school we later wished we could take back?

Certainly, we all have adolescent regrets. Those times form the people we are now. And I certainly do not feel Mitt Romney should not be allowed some of them.

The problem I have is this: his behavior has become less dramatic, but his rationale for it seems to have remained.

Romney attacked the boy because he was different and he didn't want to allow that to go unpunished, perhaps especially after Romney himself had made the effort to change. According to the article, Romney said, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” And that is incredibly characteristic of this man's behavior even today.

Mitt wants to force people to conform to his perception of right and wrong now, just as much as then. He wants you to pursue the same reproductive choices as his family and friends, he wants to define social institutions in favor of his friends perceptions. He thinks you should meet his expectations, or the expectations of his society, and if you don't, you "can't" be allowed to get away with it.

That's a bully. And whether he is wielding scissors or the power of the executive office, it is still a matter of him imposing his will on you.