Bad arguments

Because I haven’t written in awhile, I’m going to take it easy on myself and evaluate a simple bad editorial. The hard part is resisting the urge to throw my head against the desk as I address points that should have been put down years ago, but are still constantly repeated and uncritically accepted.

Katherine Kersten’s opinion piece, “Gay marriage supporters opt to intimidate,” was published on Saturday in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.  The Minnesota legislature, unfortunately, just decided to send a measure before the voters that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. (Minnesota state law lacks marriage equality anyway — and apparently the legislature should have been fixing their massive deficit to avoid a state government shutdown.)

Text from Kersten’s piece, in which she calls for “a few ground rules to ensure a fair and open exchange of views,” will appear in blockquotes.

Same-sex-marriage supporters’ constant mantra has been that Minnesotans who support one man-one woman marriage are motivated by bigotry. Gay-marriage proponents make this claim even about people who merely support letting Minnesotans vote on the issue.

… But people who support one man-one woman marriage are not bigots. They argue, very reasonably, that marriage is rooted in nature — in male/female sexual complementarity — and that children need both a mother and a father. They say that’s why it has been the bedrock institution of procreation and social order in virtually all times and places.

Claim: It’s unreasonable to say that supporters of one man-one woman marriage (which I’ll abbreviate to 1M1WM for simplicity) are bigots.

Response: Supporting 1M1WM is fine. The problem is that the 1M1WM crowd doesn’t stop there, but seeks to actively deny the same privilege to others they disagree with, without real justification. Forget acceptance, that’s definitely not tolerance — and so, it is bigotry. For that matter, letting the law stay as it is also qualifies as intolerance. Yes, when you passively ignore an injustice you can fix, you are actively committing injustice. “We won’t pass any more laws against you!”

My second recommendation: We know the precise constitutional amendment language the people will be voting on, so don’t distort it.

… The “ban” language [in opinion polling regarding measures like this] also casts traditional marriage supporters in a negative light. It compels them to say they are against something, rather than allowing them to articulate what they are for.

Most important, people often hesitate to tell a pollster their true beliefs about marriage when traditional marriage supporters are routinely demonized as bigots and haters.

Claim 1: Marriage-related opinion poll wording fails to predict voter behavior.
Claim 2: The way these polls are worded is biased and unfair.

Response: Kersten makes one good point. At least some polls should ask how voters will respond to the exact language appearing on the ballot, because we need to know how people will actually vote. Kersten points out that polls in California and Maine had predicted that voters would reject 1M1WM measures.

Is fairness an issue, though? It’s nice to know what you support. But it’s not unfair to ask you if you would, in fact, actively deny something to others. Coming back to Kersten’s first claim, the attempt to frame opposition to marriage equality as (only) support for 1M1WM marriage is so absurd I marvel that so many people continue to parrot it. See also: “I’m not opposed to interracial marriage; I just support marriage exclusively between people of the same race.”

One last point: In the coming debate, we must have zero tolerance for intimidation tactics. Bullying has become standard operating procedure for many same-sex marriage activists. Their attack last year on Target Corp. is now held up as a national model by those attempting to silence same-sex marriage opponents.

In California, support for Prop 8 has cost some people their jobs. The latest casualty is Olympic gold medal winner Peter Vidmar, who resigned as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team on May 6, after his support for Prop 8 became public. McCarthyism of this kind threatens to undermine Americans’ cherished freedom to engage politically without fear of personal reprisals.

Claim: Marriage equality activists have used bullying to produce results in their favor.

Response: This is a tough one, because Kersten summarizes a variety of incidents involving different people and organizations in different contexts.

Let’s start easy. Is it inappropriate for someone to use a position or organization to advance opinions on issues that are irrelevant to that particular pulpit? Absolutely — for example, if my state attorney general used his letterhead to announce his faith (or his atheism!), I’d expect him to be disciplined. (I hope he doesn’t get to prosecute himself.)

Is it inappropriate for someone who commands public influence to advance opinions on hir own time? The public and media interest ze enjoys is in this case unrelated to the issue at hand. However, this person is not just the Nebraska attorney general, or a Chase bank teller, or a Staples associate; even a public figure is entitled to a private life and mind. It’s not unfair to use one’s “social network” to the fullest, even if one’s famous or constantly making new friends. Just stick to the issues and don’t invoke irrelevant connections.

But what if a public figure’s private speech impacts the perception of an organization ze participates in? If what ze says suggests that ze not only disagrees with, but will fail to live up to the organization’s expectation of hir, that is something that both parties should be mindful of. If my boss were to disagree with my lifestyle or viewpoints, as long as that wouldn’t affect my treatment as an employee, I would have no right or reason to complain to hir superiors. A person should be penalized only if ze fails to perform the job ze was hired to do, or if the person was explicitly hired to embody the personality or personal opinions the organization values. From what I’ve read, there was no good reason to remove Vidmar from his position on the 2012 Olympic team: he represented a delegation to an apolitical event, was doing his job properly, and wasn’t speaking against marriage equality as the US chief of mission.

Last, we come to the fairness of the pressure placed on Target by equal rights activists, and similar situations. Is it reasonable to ask organizations we deal with to support our values, and is it reasonable to expect at least tolerance from them? Absolutely, because although here we are concerned with impersonal entities, these entities employ and affect the lives of real people, and promote and lobby legislators who affect the lives of these real people. When we buy, our obvious concerns are price and quality, but so long as companies can choose how to treat their workers and can affect the political process, our purchases really are votes. Whether it’s absurd that it works that way is irrelevant to the here-and-now where the inviolable freedom of the voter is invoked.

Or if you don’t want to get that deep into the philosophical, isn’t the buyer’s freedom of choice, however unwisely chosen, simply called…capitalism?

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