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Keith Olbermann breaks it down

Linked by mumpish and Terrance, but I'm passing it on:

I'm not all that familiar with Olbermann's work. Indeed, think I only learned of his existence within the past two years through links sent to me by friends (I rarely watch television). I don't have much context for him other than awareness that he's a controversial liberal commentator, but this and the signs I've seen saying, "When do I get to vote on your marriage?" send a very clear "live and let live" message.

What depresses me is that the folks who most need to hear these words are unlikely to see this video. The irony that they likely say the same thing about this side of the debate when their preacher delivers a particularly passionate sermon about the evils of homosexuality is not lost on me. The kinder ones that don't openly revile us think they're being compassionate Christians when they consider us poor, pitiable, benighted fools who just can't see the light. They shake their heads in dismay and say that the folks who most need to hear the message aren't in church. Two sides of the same coin.

I realize this about them. I'd like to think that some of them realize this about me. The problem is that there really is no middle ground on this issue, which is why it seems to have become about as divisive as abortion.

I hope that we're not going to do this separate-but-unequal nonsense. Surely we've learned at least that much from history.

If we as a nation truly aspire to separating church and state, then we ought to leave religion out of this entirely. However, if a certain segment of the population were capable of doing so, we wouldn't be having this discussion. I'm afraid there are an awful lot of folks across this country who are stuck on "love the sinner, but hate the sin." It also suggests a certain amount of self-loathing that some of the people who have totally screwed up their lives are the first to point fingers and demand accountability. I have to wonder if there isn't some transference going on -- in some cases, that they want to punish other people for the mistakes that they themselves made, or they want to force the world into some overly-idealized nuclear family configuration that they wish they'd had.

How can we counter unquestioning faith with reason and logic? How can we even converse? Pointing out the parts of the Bible that most people ignore, like Leviticus 11:9-12 on eating shellfish, doesn't seem to do any good. Most of the devout don't seem to care about plausibility. (To drive this point home, I made an icon that says, "If you can pick the parts of the Bible you choose to believe in, then so can I" that I'll be using on LJ to show my support. It is attached to this post.)

How can we talk about this respectfully and civilly? Are we having a dialogue, or merely promoting our perspective to validate our own perceptions? We all love to think we're open-minded, but honestly, on this issue, I'm not. I'm really not. And I don't believe that all opinions are equally researched or informed. And yet, if we don't listen to them, how can we fairly expect them to listen to us? Even if we listen as sincerely as we can, and foster some goodwill, it's an either/or thing. I can't see how to achieve a win/win on this where both sides will be satisfied.

Despite my sincere hope for change, I have to admit that it often feels like we're at an impasse on this issue. I've never passed by anti-gay protesters and thought, "Gee, they're right," because I've had gay friends my whole life, and my mind is pretty well made up. I'm confident that their minds are, too, because they're just as much a product of their life experience as I am - it always seemed normal to me because it's always been there. I'm sure it must seem equally abnormal to those who weren't aware of it, or who were made aware of it in a negative way by church and family.

It's difficult to question that which you've always assumed to be so. I actively did a lot of critical thinking in college about ethics, but I also majored in philosophy. I am grateful for my education, but not everyone has been so fortunate. Most people don't have the time or inclination to actively seek such mental discomfort -- indeed, they're looking for more comfort and stability, not less, and that's a key appeal of religion ... reassurance and constancy.

I've never seen anyone over the age of 30 change their minds about a deeply-held conviction without it becoming suddenly and specifically personal. Regarding homosexuality, I'm thinking of some fundamentalist-leaning acquaintances whose son came out to them a few years back. It was incredibly hard for them -- first, they went through denial and anger, and shunned him ... rejected him completely. He was hospitalized for a suicide attempt shortly after. Only then, when they realized that they had very nearly lost their son, were they able to put their love for him above their beliefs and reunite as a family. I know that sounds fairly dramatic, but it's all true.

A street corner protest on a volatile issue isn't going to single-handedly create change in people's hearts and minds, and, frankly, I think it's unlikely to get folks who are my age thinking because they're already for it or against it. You'll either get a reaction of approval or disgust, and getting in someone's face about it only exacerbates hostility. Protests are for politicians and the media ... to spread visibility, and if they see enough of their constituents getting involved, they'll take some notice. They are also important for showing support and demonstrating to those being marginalized that we do care. In terms of relations with the general public, though, I sometimes have to wonder whether they do more harm than good, and whether or not they are more likely to alienate people from a given cause and increase an attitude of dismissiveness.

For that matter, I have no illusions that my writing here makes an iota of difference. Much as I love feedback and discussion, I decided a long time ago to journal as a means of transcribing and organizing my thoughts. I'm aware that on hot issues, I'm preaching to the choir in some instances, and in others, where friends have disagreed, well, have I ever changed your mind about anything here? Can you cite it? I'd be happy, but very surprised if I have.

And yet, we cannot give up: resistance is essential. A culturally dominant idea or mindset does not often relinquish power willingly. Veteran's Day was yesterday, and I thought back to the founding of our country. The American Continental Army endured suffering few of us can really comprehend on the road to revolution. Make no mistake: there were British sympathizers at that time. The newly-formed country was not united. Not everyone was pleased with the outcome.

The real hope for change rests with influencing young people, but that doesn't do squat for my LGBT friends right now. Legislation from the bench gets overturned by popular votes like Prop 8. Getting openly pro-gay politicians elected is pretty darned tough in most parts of the country.

I don't know how to fix this, but I surely wish that I did. I wish I knew of a better method, of a way to effect change that was both kind and effective. There just seems to be no good way.

Logically, it seems like we should be able to learn from the previous civil rights struggles and not have equal rights for LGBT individuals take so long. I don't want to wait. I don't want to be gradual. Mostly, I want the other side to just fast forward to the inevitable. I want to see my friends legally married now, not ten or twenty years from now.

Realistically, though, I sometimes feel like there's a certain section of the population that needs to die off before we'll see much improvement, however much I may dislike it.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 13th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC)
I don't think you're completely correct about not being able to change minds after 30, and it's the black civil rights effort that provides the counter-example. The Civil Rights Act would not be a reality - well, it wouldn't have been signed in 1964, anyway - if the minds of millions of whites of all ages hadn't been convinced, within the space of one generation, really, that equal rights for blacks was in the common interest.

As sure as I am of that, though, I'm not sure what is different about this issue ... perhaps that the basis for discrimination - sexual orientation rather than skin color - isn't as universally understood to be genetically determined?
Nov. 13th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
I didn't say it wasn't possible: I just said that I had never witnessed it. And regarding the Civil Rights Act, there were an awful lot of unconvinced whites, and it was a pretty violent struggle. It gets overidealized a lot. My mother lived in Atlanta during those times - their housekeeper, Alberta, told them that King used to lock the church doors to coerce everyone into contributing to the collection plate for the cause, whether they fully supported it or not. Not pretty ... MLK might've been a little gentler than Malcolm X, but that doesn't mean that he didn't embrace "by any means necessary" when he took a mind to.

One of the problematic differences between the basis for discrimination is that you can pass much more easily (not comfortably, necessarily, but more easily) for straight than you can for white. In other words, your skin tone is clearly and visibly darker or lighter, but orientation isn't as visible. While it's true that it might be nigh impossible for an extremely effeminate male to butch up, there are plenty of friends I've known for years who passed.

I don't know if you remember meeting Lance at our wedding, but he didn't come out until after high school, well into university and beyond where doing so could damage his father's reputation as a coach at the local college. Lance fooled a lot of people, including my parents. It was extraordinarily rare for me to argue with my parents - I can probably count the instances on one hand and have fingers left over - but one of the doozies was them admonishing me for spending too much time with a guy who was, by all outward appearances, dating my friend Debbie. And I couldn't tell them. I had to keep his secret. The most I could say was that, "It's not like that: Debbie isn't remotely concerned, nor should she be: he's really not interested in me." In response to their "We trust you, but it looks bad," I couldn't explain that he wasn't interested in Debbie, either, and that nobody had anything to worry about! :)

The point of that minor ramble is that Lance could hide that he was gay. You can't hide being black unless you are very fair-skinned or willing to do a pretty formidable makeup routine every single day of your life.

Because of that, sexual orientation seems less concrete and tangible, and I think there's an added burden of betrayal in many circumstances. When someone comes out, especially someone that you never suspected, well, they're not exactly who you thought they were. For teenagers going through puberty, they're already pretty insecure about their bodies, and wondering if a friend had a crush on them or was checking them out can result in a fight or flight reaction.

In other words, in the majority of cases, you know right up front whether someone is Caucasian or African-American. With LGBT, I think it's harder for a lot of people to get their heads around.

You make a very good point on the genetic determination aspect. A lot of people still seem to be under the mistaken impression that it's like trying to like broccoli ... that it's a preference, which, of course, it isn't. So, yes, I'd agree with you that that's likely one of the things that makes it different.

Nov. 13th, 2008 09:51 am (UTC)
Is there really no middle ground on this issue? I think there is, and it is exemplified by people like my parents. They believe that civil unions are fine, and that what people do in their private lives is, well, private, but nevertheless put some special, mystical meaning on the word "marriage". Their arguments center around outdated issues with reproduction. They are not aware of the federal benefits implications of the California vote. They think that civil unions are the same as marriage in all but issues involving children and terminology, so don't understand the point. They are rather ambivalent to the issue, however, since it doesn't directly affect them as far as they are aware. I believe there are quite a few people in this camp.

With enough effort, I think I could eventually persuade them to the right side. I note that they are in their 70s. The arguments I'd use are ones that I'm not seeing much of, or at least are not being emphasized. And I wonder, why not?
*Civil unions are an old tradition. See affrerement. Whether these union were sexual or not is really nobody's business, and beside the point.
*Emphasis on the denial to civil union partners of benefits available to the married (some listed here).
*Cite evidence that gay people can make fabulous parents.
*Point out that the fact that someone isn't married does not preclude him or her, hetero or gay, from becoming a parent (be it sperm bank, surrogacy, or the aftermath of a boozy evening at the local bar). You can't legislate that possibility away.

The second argument would make some very effective ads featuring people dealing with the consequences of the denial of those benefits. Why am I not seeing such ads?

It is frustrating, but I think the changes in this are simply going to have to take a certain amount of time. How long did women have to wait to be allowed to vote from the time of Seneca Falls convention? More than 60 years. Or have equal economic rights/equal pay? Still waiting. How long did the civil rights movement take to become effective? Almost 100 years from the first civil rights act. Social change just takes time. There's a reason for this, though:

I don't think "learning more" from the past experiences could possibly speed things up because most people make such decisions based on emotion rather than reason. They view these things as moral judgments or axioms, not as *consequences* of moral judgments. Making that changeover for most people is very hard. (This comment courtesy of my xNTP self. :P)

Olbermann's commentary is moving, but yes, he's preaching to the choir in the choir's own language. It isn't persuasive to those on the other side. I don't know what would be. Perhaps these are the people that are really a lost cause as you say. I just don't understand why those on the Godly right feel that they are in a position to judge others on the same level as their God would.

There's one last obstacle for change in this area: it affects a relatively small proportion of the population. Many progressives focus on other issues that have more impact on the population as a whole. I admit sheepishly that I am more likely to put effort into working toward a guarantee of a basic level of health care for every member of the population, or for a less naive and less militaristic foreign policy, because change there could help more people. But I strongly agree that marriage rights should be extended to any two people regardless of their sex.

Nov. 19th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
Hey, there! Thank you for the time you invested in your thoughtful post. I enjoyed reading it, and I'm sorry for my slight delay in getting back to you.

As far as the middle ground issue goes, it's something that my husband and I have gone around and around about. Here is the problem:

Marriage is a single term that does double duty. It refers both to the legal status and the religious/cultural status.

My husband has proposed that we change it so that everyone, across the board, legally has a civil union. Straight folks and gay folks. In other words, you wouldn't have a marriage certificate, but a civil union certificate. He suggests that marriage should be a term used specifically for the religious ceremony. Gay people could be married in churches that offer this ceremony to same sex couples.

My problem with his suggestion is that it won't play in Peoria. In other words, I think you'd have more outcry -- straight couples saying, "How dare you say that I'm not married!" when being given a civil union certificate. I think from a PR perspective, it goes down a lot rougher than simply acknowledging that the existing term, marriage, is an umbrella term that covers both legal and religious status.

Making it so that gays can have civil unions instead of marriages becomes very problematic in terms of discrimination. Drinking fountains Hotels or cruises for married couples only (no civil unions allowed). If you cross from one state to another, would your civil union rights be the same? If we observe historical precedent from the civil rights movement, separate but equal is always the former, but less often the latter.

Your point about them being in their 70s is a good one, and one that echoes my sentiment that, and apologies for sounding harsh, for this issue to move forward, there's a layer of the citizenry that needs to pass on. (For reference, my parents fit into this age bracket as well, although my parents have had openly gay friends, so they are actively aware of this issue.)

I like your point about affrerement. *chuckles over the xNTP comment* On the emotion versus reason in decision making, maybe we just need more Ts in the world? ;)

I recognize that it's going to take time ... my rational mind recognizes the reality of the situation on that, but then I read posts like this from my friend, Terrance, and my reaction is that it simply isn't good enough. Why should he have to tell his child that he and his husband are "married in their hearts, but not by the rules?" Why? Because of the tyranny of a majority? Because of laws based on Judeo-Christian belief? Again, I return to my point about our supposed value for separation of church and state. We're a bunch of hypocrites when it comes to that. I feel that after these last eight years, the pendulum needs to swing back, away from theocracy.

Thank you again, though, for your considered response. I always enjoy reading your posts!
Dec. 1st, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
You're so kind, thanks! :)

No need to apologize for slow responses, for I am the master of those (as this comment demonstrates...)

I guess I kind of agree with your husband's stance. What he proposes is the situation, in spirit at least, in a lot of European countries. For example, in Germany, everyone gets a civil ceremony at city hall, and then those so inclined have a church wedding with the big flouffy dress and party and lots of family at some other point in time. I am told that the basis for this is an ideal of separating religious and state matters. This division has come to seem normal to me. As for the terminology, why not call both things marriage, but with qualifiers: civil marriage, and faith-religious-church-somethingcatchallandpc marriage?

The discrimination issue is a big can of worms, that I will leave for dessert, later. But for crossing state lines, let me quote Article IV, Section 1 of the US Consititution:

"Article IV Section 1. Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof. "

To my non-lawyer eyes, this should mean that civil unions and marriages enacted in one state should be recognized by all states. And from this point of view, the Federal "defense" of marriage act is so blatantly, horrendously unconstitutional. It is in effect an amendment that was passed as if it were a normal law.

We do need more Ts in the world, that's for sure. But nonetheless I certainly feel like a jerk when I say that it'll take time, and people have to be patient, when there is a lot of pointless pain being caused by this, as evidenced by your friend's post.

I would be so happy to see a real separation of church and state in the US. I greatly dislike religion being inflicted upon people against their will, to put it mildly.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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