Little Rock Integration Protest (source Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday a right-wing, fundamentalist preacher/politician/media personality urged his fans to go to Chick-fil-A to show their support for the company’s opposition to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. Purchasing a chicken sandwich, or refusing to do so, became a political statement leading to some of the most heated discussions I have ever seen erupting on Facebook. I watched friendships end in rather dramatic ways, and I read vitriolic remarks of astonishing potency on both sides of the conflict. Although I weighed in on plenty of these discussions in bits and pieces, I wanted to put all of my thoughts in one place:
It’s not about Freedom Of Speech
One aspect of the rhetoric that initially astonished me was the claim by many of the Chick-fil-A supporters that they were going to the restaurant to support Dan Cathy’s “First Amendment Rights” which – apparently – they thought were under attack. If I understand their argument correctly, Mr. Cathy exercised his freedom of speech by publicly espousing his support for “biblical marriage” and the media response to his comments was an attempt to squelch Mr. Cathy’s right to speak his mind.
Mind you, no one told Mr. Cathy he could not say the things he said or had no right to say them. No one refused to publish his comments. In fact, they were reproduced in every possible media outlet. They were tweeted and facebooked, they were mentioned on television news, and journalists reprinted them in print and online. No one said Mr. Cathy should not be allowed to say or think these things. No one challenged his First Amendment rights.
But “I’m supporting Chick-fil-A because I believe in Free Speech” is much more palatable than “I’m supporting Chick-fil-A because I oppose same-sex marriage.” Hiding their true agenda like this is not a new tactic for the Far Right. They already try to claim that opposing same-sex marriage is about protecting “family values” and “defending traditional marriage.” Of course, the reality is that keeping people who would make great parents from adopting children is not supporting family values. Similarly, keeping two people who love each other and want to make a lifetime commitment to each other from marrying is not protecting marriage.
In a similar vein, telling someone that something they said is bigoted and ignorant is not opposing Free Speech, it is using Free Speech in exactly the way the freedom was intended – to hold an idea up to public examination and critique in a way that allows for all sides of an issue to be considered. Dan Cathy has a right to say any ignorant thing he likes, and we have a right to point out all the flaws in his statements.
The heart of the matter is that support for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights is rapidly becoming the norm in the United States and in the Western world. Even Chick-fil-A realized this with their hastily-published attempts to back out of the debate. Opponents of same-sex marriage realize that they have to cloak their rhetoric of hate behind innocuous or falsely positive language. Otherwise, they will quickly be dismissed as ignorant, bigoted fundamentalists trying to hide a political agenda of exclusion behind empty religious claims.
Yes, this is Bigotry and Hate
All it takes is a quick look at what’s at stake, however, and it becomes clear that their arguments are just that. I have already discussed how the claim by opponents of same-sex marriage that they are just being “biblical” is disingenuous at best and – more accurately – theologically indefensible. I’ve also discussed why I insist on using the term “bigotry” when talking about those who oppose LGBT rights, but I am happy to elucidate further.
The only argument against LGBT rights (adoption, marriage, protection from discrimination) is one drawn from a particular interpretation of certain sacred texts, an interpretation is not even the normative one among mainline religious scholars. When a person uses a selective, minority interpretation of sacred texts to withhold rights from another person, that is bigotry. We saw this happen with slavery in the nineteenth century. We saw this happen with religious opposition to women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century. We saw this happen with the American Civil Rights movement in the middle of the twentieth century. In fact, fifty years ago religious claims were frequently used to argue for sustaining the laws forbidding “interracial” marriage.
The pattern is the same every time. When our understanding of biology, psychology, human nature, sex, gender, or ethnicity changes, the only way to sustain the superstitions of past generations is to argue from the religious texts written during those times. Eventually, of course, even those arguments fail, and in hindsight future generations identify them as exactly what they were: prejudicial ignorance. I see absolutely no way in which the debate over same-sex marriage differs from the debate over two people of different ethnicities marrying, and so I label opposition to same-sex marriage as what it is: bigotry.
That does not, necessarily, mean that it is hatred. Sometimes prejudice can be well-intentioned in its cruelty, rather than intentionally hateful. And yet, many of us have charged that Chick-fil-A funds “hate groups” with their profits. David Badash in the Huffington Post offered an explanation for why we make this claim. His citations from GLAAD itemizing the comments from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and Peter Sprigg give ample reason why the Southern Poverty Law Center considers FRC a “hate group.”
It is one thing to say (however erroneously) that “my religious beliefs require me to oppose same-sex marriage.” It is another thing entirely to dedicate millions of dollars to spreading malicious misinformation about your fellow citizens in an attempt to deny them access to the same rights and freedoms others enjoy. The former is simply ignorance, superstition, or bigotry. The latter is hateful.
What Else Did that Chicken Sandwich Buy?
Our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender brothers and sisters, parents and children, teachers and warfighters and public safety workers, bosses and employees, friends and neighbors cannot help but hear it any other way. For those of you who proudly purchased a chicken sandwich yesterday, what message were you sending them?
Yesterday you told my two friends in California (who are legally married there) that they aren’t real mothers to their brilliant, charming, beautiful son. You told them that they shouldn’t be allowed to have or raise children, and that it is biologically impossible for them to do as good of a job as opposite sex parents. I have seen how they parent with wisdom, intentionality, and love. You are wrong.
You told my dear friends, one a professor and the other an artist, that their relationship of over thirty years is somehow inferior to the opposite-sex marriages we see falling apart all around us. You said that their love, commitment, and sacrifice for each other – in the face of the additional hurdles of prejudice – don’t matter and aren’t worth the effort. You have said that their love should not be honored, and that their values don’t support strong families. I am in awe of the depth and maturity of their relationship. You are wrong.
You told my various gay and lesbian friends who are pastors openly serving congregations that they have no place in the pulpit, and that their communities of faith are not welcome at your Eucharistic table. You have said that the Sunday afternoons spent in hospital rooms, the 2 a.m. phone calls, and the lifetime dedicated to study, prayer, and service in answer to God’s call are meaningless and a source of shame to the Church. You are wrong.
You have supported every parent who threw their child out of the house for their “sinful lifestyle choices” or shipped them off to be “re-programmed.” You have supported every charitable group that fired a leader or denied a volunteer because their love for another person contradicted the organization’s “values.” You have sided with the hospitals who have blocked people from sitting beside the deathbed of their lifelong partner. You have joined your voice with the chorus of people who, through actions large and small, have insulted, wounded, marginalized, and excluded our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters.
You are free to do so. Likewise we are free to point out that such behavior is shameful and has no place in twenty-first century society.
Dan Cathy, Mike Huckabee, the Family Research Council, and all those who supported their prejudicial policies of exclusion and ignorance yesterday are on the losing side of history. They know this, and that is why they are trying to hide their reprehensible “values” of intolerance behind empty and irrelevant rhetoric of Constitutional freedoms. We must look past the innocuous-sounding language to the actual consequences of their policies. The reality is that anti-LGBT laws and practices destroy families, break hearts, scar souls, deprive children of loving parents, block hard-working professionals from experiencing the fruits of their labors, and in every way make us weaker, poorer, and less healthy as a society. It is our duty as citizens, and as neighbors, to correct that shameful injustice by consistently and unequivocally standing against bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head: in the classroom; in the legislature; in the pulpit, bima, or minbar; and yes, even in the fast food line.