Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prop 8 Narratives: An Examination of Christian Male Privilege

For those not familiar, Playful Walrus is a conservative Christian blogger who writes quite often about his opposition to same-sex marriage. I have critiqued his articles before, as I am perhaps endlessly fascinated by those who boast of their strong Christian faith whilst also engaging in feminists-are-ugly namecalling (and failing to apologize when called out for it), comparing homosexuality to having a fetish for sticking bananas in one's ear, and comparing same-sex couples who seek marriage licenses to those who are too lazy to earn diplomas.

Assuming arguendo that Jesus was a real historical figure who possessed divine qualities, I'm pretty sure he was clear about all that compassion and kindness stuff, despite what he may or may not have said about the homosex. Perhaps if Walrus took a moment to refrain from denigrating "tingly feelings," a category into which compassion and kindness surely fall, he would have more room for his god's other divine messages. And yes, same-sex marriage advocates can also be mean at times. However, one would logically expect those on Team Jesus to take that duty to be civil a bit more seriously than Team Heathen Homo.

Anyway, Walrus' general writing style is to write short, snippy soundbite reactions to what pro-equality advocates have said in newspaper articles or letters to the editor. Although shallow, his commentary is interesting to observe as a barometer of the privileged mindset of the "oppressed" Christian male.

For one, in his latest article regarding the ongoing Prop 8 trial, entitled "Proposition 8 Roundup: The Crying Game," he fails to demonstrate even a cursory curiosity or comprehension of the constitutional issues pertinent to his fave topic. Not that he lets that stop him from holding and sharing his very strong opinions about how the case should be decided on the monomanic "marriage defense" blog he contributes to.

His opinion seems to be based mostly on emotional reactions to quotations in newspaper articles about the case, rather than, say, arguments for or against the constitutional validity of Prop 8. And so, whilst accusing same-sex marriage advocates of engaging in an overly-emotional "crying game," his own post is rather long on emotion and short on substance. The emotion he plays on, rather than tears, is rage. Populist rage, to be specific, at the fact that an Elitist Judge and Ivy League Professors might determine that an action of the majority might have constituted unconstitutional discrimination.

That really seems to be the summation of his position: The people voted against same-sex marriage. The will of the people is supreme. End of story.

Observe his reaction to an AP article about the Prop 8 Case that mentioned the "two Ivy League historians who will discuss the nation's experience with matrimony and anti-gay discrimination." Of this testimony, Walrus dismissively declares: "This is irrelevant" and "You see, Californians – you need Ivy League professors telling you how to live your lives and how to vote."

Upon reading Walrus' reactions, one is led to wonder, has Walrus even read the complaint in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (otherwise known as the Prop 8 Case)? I don't ask this relevant question so as to embarrass Walrus, but only to acknowledge that there are, actually, legal questions that go beyond his populist appeal and constant refrain of California Voters Voted For Prop 8 And That Settles The Matter.

For instance, the basic issue in Perry is whether Prop 8 is a violation of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. If one understands that in the context of 14th Amendment doctrine, one also understands that an exploration of our "nation's experience with matrimony and anti-gay discrimination" is hardly an irrelevant inquiry, as Walrus claims. And, the best way to explore that issue is for each side to present experts in those particular fields of inquiry. This has nothing to do with Elitist Ivy League Professors telling people how to live their lives.

When determining whether a state action that curtails the rights of minorities is a violation of the 14th Amendment, a court will analyze that action under varying levels of scrutiny. To put it very generally, a court will judge a law more stringently the more the minority group is deemed to be oppressed in society and the more "fundamental" or important the right at issue. Shelves of law review articles that nobody reads have been written about "discrete and insular minorities," a concept crafted by Justice Harlan Stone in a famous footnote in a famous Supreme Court plurality opinion. Thus, for purposes of making the determination as to whether Prop 8 is constitutional, it is extremely relevant for both sides to present evidence as to how historically maligned and oppressed gay people have been (or not) in the US. While it is perhaps possible that a court will invent a whole new way of analyzing a 14th Amendment claim, that determination will be the building block, so to speak, of a court's analysis.

Unfortunately, Walrus seems to believe his own fauxbjective ignorance to be a reflection of reality about what does and does not count as "relevant" to a constitutional court case. He stirs up populist rage that sheds little light on the substantive matter and offers his readers nothing helpful to make that determination for themselves. If anything, it misleads. The people voted, the drumbeat goes, and that's all that matters.

Well, no. It's not, actually. It's more complicated than that.

Two, disregarding the lived experiences of same-sex couples, Walrus states as fact his opinion that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples isn't anti-gay discrimination and isn't a "compelling interest." For instance, he claims that "one can be completely neutral towards or even supportive of homosexual behavior" and "still be in favor of maintaining a bride+groom requirement in state marriage licensing." The argument here is that one can oppose same-sex marriage and not be considered anti-gay. However, given that the denial of a marriage license to same-sex couples has a clear and disparate impact on gays, such a ban meets the very definition of anti-gay discrimination. No amount of weaseling and semantics can get around the fact that no matter how much opponents of same-sex marriage love love love us, a ban on same-sex marriage still constitutes anti-gay discrimination.

In another blog post, he authoritatively wrote, with little explanation or analysis, that "There is no compelling interest for a court to overturn the state's constitutional amendment." I will withhold personality judgments and instead merely observe that (a) again, there is no attempt at legal argument or analysis here, only a mere conclusion and (b) I question the appropriateness of yet another heterosexual, married dude deeming himself to be the arbiter of what does and doesn't count as discrimination against gay people and what does and doesn't count as a "compelling interest" with respect to the constitutional rights of gay people. (See above, re: Christian Male Privilege). While that is certainly what the court in this case may find, the judge will likely at least offer us some analysis for such an opinion.

Three, not surprisingly, his opposition to same-sex marriage is, in addition to being rooted in his Christian faith, also rooted in his worship of the gender binary- both of which place the male category above the female. Responding to a quotation regarding the importance of heterosexual marriage, he claims:

"Yes, because [man-woman marriage] unites both basic elements of society and perpetuates society."

It's always interesting when people speak of men and women in society as though (a) only two "basic elements," male and female, comprise all of society and (b) all of humanity can be easily reduced to two basic atoms on some sort of sociological periodic table of elements. Despite the observable fact that sex and gender exist in nature along a gradation, gender complementarists cover their ears, close their eyes, and insist that the category "male" and the category "female" are two discrete, complementary categories of humans that, when linked together in coitus and marriage, magically comprise a whole greater than themselves in this really incredibly special way.

Other than his continual argumentum ad populum, Playful Walrus seems to base much of his opposition to marriage equality on this notion of gender complementarity. It doesn't of course, have a lick to do with whether or not marriage is a good idea for society. At least not on the surface and certainly not in a way that is "self-evident" to all people. And accordingly, this man, whose general outlook on the matter is that "same-sex couplings have not produced anything for society, except for the spread of disease," fails to care and comprehend how gender complementarism is, even with the best of intentions, a fantastical perpetuation of male and heterosexual supremacy.

Because his ideology dominates in society, he doesn't have to understand this or understand how such an ideology, masquerading as "truth," harms those insignificant "tingly feelings" of many women and LGBT people. That is part of the privilege. He doesn't have to care about this. And so he chooses not to.

He opposes rights for his fellow citizens- indeed, devotes much of his web presence to doing so- undoubtedly with the approval of his own Christian conscience. He claims to "vehemently" oppose anti-gay bullying, which is an admirable first step in demonstrating compassion. Given that a large part of Christian Male Privilege means believing one's own opinions and ignorance of reality to constitute Truth, it becomes more understandable as to how and why some people truly believe that they are Only Doing What's Right, even though their advocacy hurts others and perpetuates the idea that the types of people who look remarkably like themselves are the best types of people ever.

In some ways, I have compassion for those who live with great privilege in society, knowing that it quite possibly entails possessing delusions of one's own grandeur that would be quite enticing to remain attached to. If possessors of this privilege did not also possess and wield the power to deny others equal rights, I would perhaps have pity for them. Because it is repeatedly and continually reinforced in them that their experiences in life are objective, rational, and centered compared to the experiences of women and other supposedly subjective, overly-emotional, "tingly" types who live on the margins of Real Life, many men are lacking in the ability to distinguish their own opinions from fact. It is only natural for such a scenario to lead to an over-estimation of one's own competence and correctness in nearly all situations. That is something we must understand and address.

As we saw with the Manhattan Declaration, the power and weight of the Christian Male Voice, especially their ability to convince themselves and others that they are awesome, brave, objectively correct, and righteous for opposing LGBT rights, cannot go underestimated or unacknowledged. Whereas society's maligned and othered would be laughed into the loony bin and/or summarily dismissed as unbelievably arrogant for writing a Courageous Declaration informing us all that their own lookalike god says that they're pretty much right about everything, Christian men are lauded (and laud themselves) for doing so.

We cannot let such fictions continue to be constructed as reality for the rest of us.

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