Gay Marriage and American Indians

Front Porch Republic has a pretty insightful piece of gay marriage and liberal culture.

I. The Invisible Moral Code
Jeremy Beer makes the point that modern liberalism presents itself as content-neutral while, in fact, propping up a number of break-them-if-you-dare moral rules. The same person will claim to be a moral relativist, where what’s right for you is right for you, and use claims of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. as an argument-ender. This latter behavior, whether acknowledged or not, is similar to a Christian saying, “A-ha! But now you’re violating (this Bible passage, this Creed, etc.)!” It’s an appeal to an absolute truth which both parties can be expected (even required) to play by, all under the pretense of “there are no absolutes, even this one” moral relativism.

When it comes to gay marriage, then, proponents are so convinced that allowing gay marriage is so blantantly and obviously right that to deny it is to violate the absolute ban on Heterosexism. And the only reason they can imagine for violating this ban is, you guessed it, hate. So it doesn’t matter one’s views on homosexuality or homosexuals. Even a practicing homosexual who thinks that gay marriage is a sham marriage must hate homosexuals. If you don’t believe me, read the writings of everyone upset with traditional Anglicans and Catholics – you would think that the Nazi Party was opening the doors for Klansmen.

II. The Cultural Other
Jeremy Beer compares all of this to the notion of the Cultural Other: that once you’ve created a cultural monolith, it’s easy to view anyone outside of it as barbarian (indeed, the term barbarian comes from the Greek’s mockery of what non-Greek languages sound like). He says, for instance, that:

Gay-marriage proponents appear to be irrationally angry, but think of it this way: they are disgusted by the fact of opposition to same-sex marriage much in the same way that, say, American pioneers on the prairie were disgusted by the culinary habits of the American Indian (eating dogs, digging in to a freshly killed buffalo and eating its raw organs, etc.). The ways in which the cultural Other thinks, the things he believes, if they are intelligible at all, are usually simply abominations, and that is that.

The links he provides support his allegation. For example, when Monica Hesse, a bisexual reporter in favor of gay marriage, did a piece showing that some opponents of gay marriage (she spotlighted one Brian Brown) aren’t, in fact, hate-filled monsters, she was herself bombarded with such vile hate mail that it brought her to tears. Attempting to put a human face upon the Other is a violation of the Unbreakable Rules that no one acknowledges exist.

By painting the Other as an inhuman monster, it permits the party (in this case, gay marriage advocates) to treat them in an uncivilized way. So when the American Indians went from being nations we treated as virtually our equals (in the 18th century) to simple and cruel savages (in the 19th), it meant we could do increasingly disturbing things. Cowboys in the Southwest were said to have mass raped Navajo women so frequently that it stopped being news-worthy. How did they justify it? The Navajo were the savage ones. We see it again in the Iraq war: by imagining the Iraqis are sub-human, we allow ourselves to treat them in a way which violates their human dignity, as we saw in Abu Gharib.

We’re only beginning to see the implications of this in the gay marriage debate, since it’s still a relatively young movement (it’s hard to dehumanize everyone who doesn’t think the same way as you when you yourself were raised thinking the other way; it’s much easier to dehumanize the Other a generation or two in). But already, look at the way that Mormons were treated for their position on California’s Prop 8. Gay marriage activists ran offensive TV spots (“In the spot, a pair of Mormon missionaries knock on the door of a lesbian couple, rifle their drawers and shred their marriage certificate in front of them. “), shockingly offensive print ads (by a group called Californians Against Hate, no less), and started a push to remove the LDS Church’s tax exemption… just for its opposition to gay marriage. That, mind you, is without the LDS Church donating a dime to the political effort – just lending its considerable organizational capacities to fight for marriage (something which Mormons care deeply about, in no small part due to their belief in eternal marriage). The Washington Post coverage comes pretty close to defending the on the basis that Mormons are more unliked than gays. In other words, it’s okay to attack them because they’re the Other.

III. Behaving as the Other
But Beer’s got a second point, perhaps even more important than the first. He recounts two weddings he attended: the first, a secular wedding in which the female celebrant declared the bride and groom’s sorrow at the lack of gay marriage; the second, an Evangelical wedding which contained an anti-gay marriage sermon. In both cases, the parties marrying were heterosexual, and the politicization of this most solemn and personal of occassions is highly suggestive. But Beer’s analysis on the second example, the Evangelical wedding, is worth consideration:

Like cornered Indians pushed into mountain retreats, many of our Middle Americans are retrenching, engaging in ancient rituals now out of anger and dismay as much as piety, lashing out, and with all of this thereby confirming to the dominant coastal Other their basic inhumanity.

In other words, there’s a risk that in opposing gay marriage, we’ll start to engage in behavior which (a) turns gay marriage proponents into faceless monsters beneath our contempt or our shared humanity; and/or (b) behave in such a reactionary way that it confirms the Barbarian Myth against “Middle America” and gay marriage opponents. In part, this is the classic “how can we be tolerant of intolerance?” dilemma. But it’s more dramatic, in that the forces of intolerance are the cultural majority and have a much easier time presenting their views.

The media typically covers pro-gay marriage extremists, pro-gay marriage moderates, and anti-gay marriage extremists. When those, like Monica Hesse, dare to consider anti-gay marriage moderates, they pay a steep price in stigma and vitriol. Presenting an authentic Christian message that God loves homosexuals, we love homosexuals (and if we don’t, we’re sinning), and that homosexuality is harming society, and that gay marriage is harming society is hard. Loving the sinner and hating the sin seems paradoxical, and those who hate morality and hate the moralizer find the whole paradox suspect. But perhaps that’s why it’s all the more important to do so, and in such a humble and noble way that it can’t be mistaken for hate-mongering by any but the most blind.

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