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A False Equivalency

By Howard Ross, Founder and Chief Learning officer

I know that some people are excited about last week’s Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing marriage equality in all 50 states; however, being a historian by training, I am aware that the “real” civil rights battles of history were actually fought after legal dynamics changed. The great Civil Rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s, for example, happened after Brown v. Board of Education decision was delivered.

white houseAnother phase of the battle is just beginning. For example, some are concerned that their religious rights being threatened and as a result, a false equivalency has been created as if these are two equivalent points of view. For example, a video recently distributed by Catholic Vote encourages heterosexuals to speak freely and lovingly about their opposition to gay marriage. However, there is an important difference. LGBTQ people want the freedom to manage their own lives. They are not asking anybody else to do anything they do not want to do. I promise that almost no LGBTQ people want to be married by an officiate who does not want to marry them, or even buy a cake from somebody who does not want to have their business. On the other hand, people who oppose marriage equality are not being asked to do anything. They have the freedom not to marry somebody of the same gender or even attend a wedding if they do not want. There is no violation of any freedom on their part. All they are being asked to do is allow their fellow citizens to have the freedom to choose for themselves. There is no infringement on anybody’s freedom, except that they have to live in a society with people who love people of the same gender.

marriageThat should be easy, right? It should settle the issue. But it probably will not; and the reason is that this is not a rational issue, it is an emotional one. At every level the issue of marriage equality has been an emotional reaction from which we rationalize our feelings. Let’s look at the four major reasons people oppose equal rights:

  1. “Scriptural Concerns.” In other words, marriage equality violates the Bible. There are two passages in Leviticus which are most often cited– 18:22 and 20:13 — that deem a man “lying with” another man “detestable,” and Romans 1:26-27, which castigates men for doing “shameful acts” with other men. But, of course, if we are to consider the Bible to be the absolute law then we have to keep in mind that Deuteronomy 22:20-21 says that if a woman has sex before marriage, the men of her town must stone her to death at her father’s doorstep. Judges 11:30-31 and 34-35 states that a man may sacrifice his daughter to thank God for giving him a triumph. Leviticus 25:44-45 permits the enslavement of foreigners, and Exodus 31:14 clearly states that “Everyone who (works on the Sabbath) shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (You might want to remember that when you’re mowing you’re lawn on Saturday or Sunday— after all “Sabbath” itself can be different depending upon whom you are speaking to!) Of course, in addition, being Jewish, my religion says I should not eat pork. The same is true for Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs and Jains and others. Does that mean nobody should be allowed to eat pork? Only if you mistakenly think that the United States is a theocracy, which, of course, is forbidden by the Constitution. In fact, virtually every person of faith, no matter how religious, chooses some parts of their religious laws to follow and some to modify based on current historical realities.
  2. The purpose of marriage is to procreate, the argument goes, therefore,, there is no reason for LGBTQ folks to marry. But when my mother remarried at 73 years old there were no cries of protest, even though I promise she had no intention to procreate. In addition, according to Pew Research Center, only 41% of married couples say having children is “very important” compared to 65% only twenty years ago.
  3. Harm to the children. In fact, as Justice Kennedy so eloquently spoke to in his findings, the rejection of LGBTQ folks causes enormous emotional pain to their children. Studies show that children of gay parents are “…Children of same-sex couples fare better when it comes to physical health and social well-being than children in the general population.” And, finally…
  4. “Marriage and ‘domestic partnership’ are the same. If that’s true, then why protest making marriage available to all?

The truth is that none of these are “rational” concerns at all. So let’s please stop creating the kind of false equivalency that we see represented in the accompanying video. The real reason people oppose marriage equality is because of the “yuk” factor. It just doesn’t feel good to them. It feels “strange”, “weird”, “abnormal”, or “sinful.” I get that. But is that a reason to limit other people’s freedom and make them feel like second-class citizens?

To read more of Howard’s writings, check out Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives and ReInventing Diversity:  Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance

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