Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Propaganda Watch: The "Harm" of Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts

Just in time for the 2008 elections and the vote on Proposition 8 in California (and Prop 102 in Arizona, and Prop 2 in Florida), SPLC-recognized hate group Mass Resistance has put out a "fact" sheet regarding "What same-sex 'marriage' [sic] has done to Massachusetts." I first saw this dishonest piece of propaganda promoted on anti-equality blog Opine Editorials. Occasional Fannie's Room commenter Chairm promoted this piece without questioning a single claim that Mass Resistance made.

Mass Resistance gives it the good college try, I suppose(?), but the most striking fact about its list is that there are absolutely no citations for any of its egregious claims.

It is easy for our opponents to make all sorts of asinine, dishonest, and misleading claims about gay people and same-sex marriage. What is frustrating is that, to rebut even the smallest one-sentence claim, it takes genuine research and several paragraphs to do an adequate job. That's what critical thinking, as opposed to ideological sound-bite thinking, entails. It's just far easier for these people to make unverified sound-bites and pretend that it "proves" their point that same-sex marriage causes Great Harm than it is to say anything of substance. So, while there is so very much I want to point out about this "fact" sheet, I hope you realize that rebutting all of these claims would be a full-time job.

Thus, I'm going to focus on a few particularly egregious claims.

1. Gay Marriage Causes Teh AIDS!

This first claim is one that others will undoubtedly use to stir innocent people into a scary-disease-fearing frenzy. Citing no epidemiological data or any sort of evidence whatsoever, Mass Resistance claims:

"Since homosexual marriage became 'legal' [sic] the rates of HIV / AIDS have gone up considerably in Massachusetts. This year public funding to deal with HIV/AIDS has risen by $500,000."

The implication is clear, the legalization of same-sex marriage caused HIV/AIDS rates to rise. But the funny thing is, most people know that (say it with me now) correlation. does not. imply. causation.

Besides, Mass Resistance's statement is utterly devoid of any context. What do they even mean by "HIV/AIDS rates"? For instance, it's simply not clear whether they're referring to prevalence or incidence of HIV/AIDS, two very different epidemiological measures.

I mean, it is true, actually, that the numbers of those living with HIV/AIDS are increasing nationwide (prevalence). This is because, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites (below), people with HIV/AIDS are living longer due to advances in anti-retroviral therapy. When people with HIV/AIDS live longer, then the numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS are necessarily going to increase. A-der. And, this trend is occurring not just in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage happens to be legal, but everywhere in the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains it this way:

"This increase was expected, due to the fact that antiretroviral treatment has greatly extended the life spans of people with HIV, and because more people become infected with HIV than die from the disease each year."

Anyone who actually works in the field of public health would laugh someone right out of the office for suggesting that a rise in HIV/AIDS rates has anything to do with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts

Secondly, the more relevant statistic, the one that would even allow us to begin to start talking about correlation in a same-sex marriage context, would be numbers of new diagnoses in a particular time span (incidence). And, looking at the actual data from the Massachusetts Department of Pubic Health, we can see that while, yes, the numbers of those living with HIV/AIDS has increased over the past 7 years, the numbers of new diagnoses has dramatically decreased. Curious minds, as opposed to those whose minds already have "everything" figured out, would also want to know which population groups these new diagnoses are occurring in.

But no, Mass Resistance gives us none of this relevant background information. They merely give us a general statement that honestly tells us nothing more than that two things happened to occur together: increase in "rates of HIV/AIDS" and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Neat. O.

You know, as a demonstration in ridiculousness, guess what else just happened to occur the exact year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. The Boston Red Sox won the world series! Are these phenomenon related in any way? Did same-sex marriage cause the Red Sox to win? Who knows. But in order to make baseball fans everywhere support marriage equality, I'm just going to start an innuendo-filled After Same-Sex Marriage is Legalized, Baseball Teams Tend to Win the World Series campaign.

2. Gay Marriage Causes Wannabe-Lawyers to Learn Teh Law!

Secondly, as an attorney, I also want to respond to this asinine claim made by Mass Resistance:

"The Massachusetts Bar Exam now tests lawyers on their knowledge of same-sex 'marriage' issues. In 2007, a Boston man, Stephen Dunne, failed the Massachusetts bar exam because he refused to answer the questions in it about homosexual marriage."

This one is really quite ridiculous. The purpose of a state bar exam is to assess an attorney's competence with respect to knowing what the law of a particular state is. Competent attorneys learn rules of law even if they do not agree with these laws. And, attorneys must prove that they are qualified to practice law by answering questions related to these laws on a bar exam. If candidates refuse to answer questions that involve laws that they morally disagree with, there is no way to prove that they are competent or that they actually know the law of their particular jurisdiction. There is no right to practice law. Accordingly, people are not entitled to a law license just because they go to law school but refuse to answer bar examination questions that they happen to have moral qualms with.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Illinois, and yet I and other gay and lesbian attorneys here do not refuse to answer questions pertaining to family law on our bar exams. That would be ridiculous. But hey, if Mass Resistance wants to utilize attorneys who "refuse" to learn about and respond to questions of law that they do not agree with, go on ahead. Throw your education down the toilet and fail your bar exam. More power to us.

3. Gay Marriage Causes Concerned Parents to Go to Jails!

When I read this next tidbit, I immediately knew there was more to this story than what Mass Resistance was telling us:

"By the following year [information about same-sex marriage] was in elementary school curricula. Kindergartners were given picture books telling them that same-sex couples are just another kind of family, like their own parents. In 2005, when David Parker of Lexington, MA – a parent of a kindergartner – strongly insisted on being notified when teachers were discussing homosexuality or transgenderism with his son, the school had him arrested and put in jail overnight."

Why did I think there was more to the story here? Well, like many reasonable people, I just really doubt that a guy would be arrested for merely insisting on being notified when his son's teachers discussed gay stuff. I mean seriously. When I spent, oh, about two seconds googling "David Parker" I quickly learned that the man was really arrested for trespass because he refused to leave the school. The Boston Globe reports that Parker went to ask to be notified about content at his son's school and:

"The meeting ended with Parker's arrest after he refused to leave the school, and the Lexington man spent the night in jail. Yesterday, Parker was arraigned in Concord District Court on one count of trespassing, and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. Bail was set at $1,000, and Parker was freed after being ordered to stay off Lexington school property."

That is certainly a relevant piece of information that inquiring readers would want to know. Parker wasn't arrested as part of some sinister homofascist plot to silence concerned parents, he was arrested because he wouldn't leave the dang school!

You know, marriage defenders always try to articulate the various harms of same-sex marriage. Yet can they ever do so in an honest and logical way? It's too bad that the ones who try, the ones who claim to be coming from a place of morality, make their cases by mostly resorting to dishonesty, fear-mongering, and innuendo. These tactics have no place in a civil debate. There is a reason some people are called haters and bigots.

This piece is profoundly disgusting. If those who oppose marriage equality have to invent the "harms" of same-sex marriage, one is forced to wonder why exactly they are opposed to marriage equality in the first place.

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