Thursday, May 26, 2011

Parsing Gay Marriage: All Our Base Are Love This Wording

If you live in the New York City area, there's a good chance that, like me, you watch too much New York 1 News. For anyone not familiar, NY1 is the cable channel that brings you info on weather, traffic and bodega stabbings in a ten-minute news cycle that repeats ad nauseum all day long. (It may be hard to judge exactly what's "too much" of NY1, but roughly it's any multiple of ten minutes greater than one.)

And speaking of ads and nausea, lately on NY1 there's been an advertisement, a bit of absurd propaganda, really, that warns of the dangers of legalizing gay marriage in New York State.

Propaganda is a strong word, I know, but I think it's warranted when shameless fear-mongering is involved—folksy Waylon Jennings-ish Dukes of Hazzard-style voiceovers notwithstanding. Even the car commercials that annoy me so much attach their pompous opinions to some relevant and discernible facts; but for all this ad's Richard Linklater-esque verbosity, it's logic is still as confounding as, well, a Richard Linklater movie. (Maybe it only makes sense if you watch it stoned.)

In terms of concrete facts, all I learned from the "Consequences" ad—a product of a group called National Organization for Marriage, or NOM—is that there's a risk of teachers instructing children that "boys can marry other boys." As if once informed of the existence of gay marriage your impressionable 8-year-old son and his buddy from gym class are going to elope at recess.

I thought NOM's website might shed some light on the actual dangers of gay marriage, or at least provide some entertainment, so I went out a-clicking. Under the site's "Get Informed" heading I found a page about The Threat to Marriage, but instead of any specific explanation of the dangers of allowing the infamous "Adam and Steve" to "make it official" all I found was some very dry stuff about gay and anti-gay lobbying efforts. Nothing about how The Possibility of Gay Marriage amounts to a Threat To Marriage In General. And certainly not entertaining.

The Marriage Talking Points page, however, is much juicier, and much, uh, entertainier. (Fact-based? Informative? We'll get to that.) In particular the part about how to parry frequently asked questions may be the enterainiest. Here are a few stand-out items:

1. Are you a bigot? “Why do you want to take away people’s rights?” “Isn’t it wrong to write discrimination into the constitution?”

A: “Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists? I think that’s pretty offensive, don’t you? Particularly to the 60 percent of African-Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t new; it’s not taking away anyone’s rights. It’s common sense.”

Here NOM is reframing the question with a bunch of rhetorical "doody," in an apparent attempt at Frank Luntz-style emotional manipulation: deflecting the question with an unrelated question, injecting obfuscating counter-accusations—even playing the race card to shame dissenters—and wrapping the whole bundle of "bull-cookies" in a picnic blanket of 1950s wholesome goodness. Rhetorically speaking.

Anyway, to answer your clever counter-question—“Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists?"—if promoting homophobia makes you a bigot, then yes, I believe that about you.

Ahh, but there I go calling you names, NOM. How shameful of me! Even though you're in the business of peddling intolerance, maybe you're right—we probably should consider whether we're offending anyone before we go wantonly passing any civil rights legislation.

Come to think of it, that was pretty offensive how that one black lady in the '50s kept refusing to go to the back of the bus, which totally offended all those white people who opposed desegregation. I mean, some of the victimized white people back then were so offended they started turning their fire hoses and police dogs on the callous, insensitive black folks. (Most white people keep police dogs around in case of periods of emotional duress.)

Offended White People

By the way, if NOM's reasoning is sound, this time around any offended black people can join in as we point the hose at uppity homosexuals!

3. Why do we need a constitutional amendment? “Isn’t DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] enough?”

A: “Lawsuits like the one that imposed gay marriage in Massachusetts now threaten marriage in at least 12 other states so far. We need a marriage amendment to settle the issue once and for all, so we don’t have this debate in our face every day. The people get to decide what marriage means. No-end run around the rules by activist judges or grandstanding San-Francisco-style politicians.”

I must agree, the chief purpose of legislation should be to ensure we don't have to put up with debate in our faces. Also I have no idea what a grandstanding San-Francisco-style politician is, but it sounds awesome and makes any argument more convincing.

As a quick side-note, here's a gratuitous stock photo of an offended black person, who I'm pretty sure would have something entertaining to say about this subject (one way or another):

Debate for your face!

Getting back on track, here's the keystone of NOM's archway of spurious logic:


Extensive and repeated polling agrees that the single most effective message is:

"Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose,
they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."

What makes this sentence so powerful? Well, "extensive and repeated polling" shows something that warlords, politicians and death squads around the world have known for millenia, which is that portraying yourself as the victim allows you to much more effectively persecute others. Menacing "Cockroaches" in Rwanda, filthy thieving Jews in the ghettos—that sort of thing. In this instance they've learned to pretend to treat gays humanely, but they still paint them as villains who are trying to rob the God-fearin' Americans of their freedoms. And yet for all the Chicken Little panic about The Threat to Marriage I was unable to find the part about how if gay marriage passes in New York State I'll have to replace my wife with a man.

Here's more about how The Sentence works:

This allows people to express support for tolerance while opposing gay marriage. Some modify it to “People have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”

More accurately the crafty wording of the magic sentence allows people to feign support for tolerance while opposing tolerance. Also it's worth noting that laws, including those that "redefine marriage for all of us," are not passed by an exclusive cabal of gays and lesbians. There's actually a whole, um, like, legal process thing-a-ma-jig that goes on? And it also includes loads of heterosexuals too, and they all, like, discuss it and bang gavels and like vote and junk? I think they call it a congress or a government or something?

Getting back to that alleged "60% of African Americans who oppose same-sex marriage": I'm no mutant arachnoid, but my spider sense tells me that NOM determined that figure through the very same "extensive and repeated polling" that was designed to find the best wording to coax people into opposing gay marriage. (Um, like, objectivity and junk?)

Language to avoid at all costs: "Ban same-sex marriage." Our base loves this wording. So do supporters of SSM. They know it causes us to lose about ten percentage points in polls. Don’t use it. Say we’re against “redefining marriage” or in favor or “marriage as the union of husband and wife” NEVER “banning same-sex marriage.”

So there you have it: NOM is technically not against banning same-sex marriage.

Anyway, the only danger to John and Jane Doe if their neighbors Adam and Steven get hitched is that, should John & Jane happen to be old fashioned, bigoted homophobes, they will have to suffer their worldview becoming increasingly irrelevant. Which is fine by me—just as long as there are no, like, grandstanding San-Francisco-style politicians putting debate in our faces, and junk?