Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: "The Price of Prop 8"

The conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation has put out a piece called "The Price of Prop 8," by Thomas M. Messner that reports instances of real and alleged harassment that supporters of California's Proposition 8 faced after the 2008 election. Proposition 8, of course, was California's voter referendum that took away the right for same-sex couples to marry.

For more than a year now, "marriage defenders" have been parroting various acts and allegations of wrongdoing allegedly committed by same-sex marriage advocates as though they're The Worst Possible Things That Have Ever Happened To Anyone In The History of Ever. I have addressed many of these claims before. This Heritage Foundation is a regurgitation of many of these "marriage defense" allegations.

Nonetheless, my analysis of this brief is as follows.

1) The Brief Ignores the Substantive Debate

Despite their numerous victories, professional and lay "marriage defenders" insist that it is they who are oppressed by the Angry Gay Mobs and that it is therefore, as Messner argues, "an important example of civic courage" to oppose rights to a historically-persecuted minority group.

Neither this boastful message, however, nor Messner's report, have a lick to do with the substantive debate of whether or not same-sex marriage is a good idea for society. That is the real elephant taking a dump all over this report.

Another subtext, however, ominously lurks. Namely, that gay people don't deserve equal marriage rights because look at how mean same-sex marriage advocates are, for no reason at all, to people who don't agree with them. That is the real point of the report, is it not?

2) The Brief Ignores the Larger Social Context

Devoid of any larger social and historical context, the report miserably fails to acknowledge- even in passing- the discrimination, hostility, and violence inflicted upon LGBT people in the US that is a likely root of much anger within the LGBT community. Whilst the report cites instances of stolen "Yes on 8" yard signs, it ignores that, within this same climate, sexual orientation-based hate crimes are the 3rd most frequently committed hate crime in the US. It ignores the reality that professional organizations and think-tanks exist to reinforce the idea that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender is an unnatural aberration from the superior and normed heterosexuality.

So, while these historical and current levels of aggression against LGBT people does not excuse LGBT people who are violent or who engage in misbehavior, an angry response is certainly to be expected. Violence, aggression, and social movements do not occur in a vacuum. From a causal standpoint, violence begets further violence, whether it is physical, spiritual, or mental. Many "marriage defenders" have convinced themselves that they don't have anything against gay people, but they nonetheless fail to understand the impact that their unwitting heterosupremacist words and actions have on others.

A huge failing of this Heritage Foundation report is that, like so many "marriage defenders," it expresses no comprehension of or acknowledgment of this aggressive social context surrounding the "culture wars." Worse, it doesn't have to. As the heterosexual experience in life is the default human experience, it doesn't have to take into account that LGBT people experience this situation far differently than the Poor "Marriage Defenders" Who Are Harassed For No Reason At All.

It doesn't take "courage" to advocate for the discriminatory status quo, it takes courage to examine one's own privilege and contributions to a violent, aggressive world.

3) Report Conflates Impoliteness and Legal Protesting With Illegal Activity

Clutching his pearls, Messner cites various "John Does" who claim to have been on the receiving end of impoliteness because of their support of Prop 8:

"John Doe 58" and "John Doe 28" reported receiving "phone calls and voice mails calling them 'bigot' and using vulgar language." "John Doe 51" reportedly "received e-mails, letters, and postcards using vulgar language and offensive labels like 'gay hater.'" "John Doe 26" reported receiving "a book, sent anonymously through, that contained 'the greatest homosexual love stories of all time.'"

Now, while I condemn these actions and agree that they are uncivil, a real degree of difference exists between these actions and the threats, vandalism, and illegal behavior with which the report lumps them Furthermore, the report also conflates illegal activity with legal, legitimate forms of social protest. For instance, the report condemns the following as evidence of anti-Mormon bigotry and malice:

"After Prop 8 passed, crowds of same-sex marriage activists congregated for protests at Mormon houses of worship throughout the nation. One video shows same-sex marriage activists massed outside the Mormon temple in New York City crying 'fascist church' repeatedly. Another video appears to show angry activists rattling the gates of the temple in Los Angeles and chanting 'shame on you.' Images from various protests show signs like 'Mormon Scum,' 'Get your filthy church off me,' and 'Keep your hate in Salt Lake.'"

Some of these signs were undoubtedly impolite. However, perhaps Messner does not understand that if a religious organization involves itself in political and social affairs, as the Church of Latter Day Saints did with respect to Prop 8, it is then not immune to criticism and protest just because it happens to be a religious organization. Criticism is not religious bigotry. Painting it as such diminishes the credibility of this report, as does conflating legal and impolite behavior with illegal activity.

4) Truthiness

If we remove the above legal acts from the report, many of the allegations that we are left with contain elements of truthiness to them. Elements of spin are present, extremely relevant facts were sometimes not included, and many of the Horrendous Acts are unproven allegations made by various "John Does" who have no accountability or motivation to tell the truth. Despite the lack of verified evidence relating to many of these allegations, many "marriage defenders" have accepted the "truth" of these allegations based on little more than what their guts have told them.

For instance, the section on "anti-Mormon bigotry" is entitled "'Mormons in the Crosshairs.'" This subheading uses undeniably violent imagery that suggests Mormons are within the telescopic sights of some sort of firearm. This subheading is enclosed within quotations marks, meaning that a reasonable reader could infer that it was a direct quotation made by a raging, violent same-sex marriage advocate who perhaps threatened to shoot Mormons.

Following the citation, however, we learn that the phrase comes, not from any same-sex marriage advocate, but from conservative Townhall columnist Kathyrn Lopez in this article. There, in her piece entitled "Mormons in the Crosshairs," Lopez breathlessly warned that "Mormons have a reason to be nervous" because of the Angry Gay Mobs. This arguably misleading title aside, Lopez's violent imagery is an unnecessary exaggeration given the fact that Mormons are not, actually, being shot by gay people.

Within this same section, Messner goes on to "report":

"Anti-Mormon malice reached a new level when someone mailed packages containing suspicious white powder to Mormon temples in California and Utah. At least one of those incidents triggered a domestic terrorism investigation by the FBI."

While he hides the unknown perpetrator of these acts in the word "someone," information that Mr. Messner fails to include is that the FBI called any link between the white powder and Prop 8 to be "a stretch." And, indeed, the FBI statement in the very source that Messner cited was that:

"We've got to follow the evidence and at this point we have not received anything that would lead us to believe the opponents of Prop. 8 are behind any kind of terroristic activity," FBI Special Agent Juan Becerra said from the agency's Salt Lake City office. "It would be irresponsible to say that at this point."

It would be irresponsible to say that at this point. That didn't stop Messner from implying as much in his report, though. He omitted the FBI quotation and instead chose to offer this instance as evidence of Prop-8-caused malice toward Mormons. Perhaps the FBI's statement didn't fit into Messner's narrative.

Furthermore, as Jesse Fruwith rightly notes the Heritage report would be "left in bloody shambles" if it included only incidents that could be reasonably linked to Prop 8. For instance, one "John Doe" placed a Yes on 8 sign on her balcony and later found that her staircase had been covered in urine. Her logical conclusion? Someone peed on her staircase because she supported Prop 8. Fruwith notes:

"'John Doe 12' and at least 55 other John Does make up the heart, soul and spine of the Heritage Foundation's litany of alleged sins committed against supporters of Proposition 8."

Disturbingly, "marriage defenders" have bought and promoted every single one of these John Doe stories without a shred of skepticism. Fruwith continues:

"It serves to show that gays and their supporters are prone to evil, which we already knew to be true. Why should we be skeptical of things that reinforce our version of truth? In this case the answer to that question is 'anonymous sources': often they'll say whatever they want, to get the desired result they want, and not have to worry about being exposed as liars or cheats because you haven't published their names. In the reality-based community, we call this 'accountability.' Heritage also lacks accountability because no one can show that their John Does are fakes or liars if no one knows who they are. Naturally, the Heritage authors can claim all these people were given anonymity to protect them from further urine."

I'm not denying that some of these incidents occurred. The point is that many "marriage defenders" have accepted each and every account of Gays Behaving Badly, no matter how far-fetched, because it confirms their overall narrative that says gays are Very Bad People Who Don't Deserve Equal Rights.

The Heritage article concludes:

"The freedom of parties on both sides of the marriage debate to voice their views and to promote them in public policy should be respected."

What this statement means is that "marriage defenders" want to advocate for an unjust, unequal society and they want to do it not only with the approval of their own consciences but with the approval of everyone else's consciences as well. While I would like to see people on all sides of this debate treat each other more civilly, I cannot agree that "marriage defenders" have the special right to engage in political activity without having to endure legal, legitimate, and non-violent counter-protest in return.

For, lest they misunderstand, and we know damn well that they often do, we have rights and freedoms too.

[Cross-posted at A World of Progress]

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