hhed: Gay marriage ignites debate about tolerance
Should the gay marriage movement become more tolerant of other viewpoints? Shaunti Feldhahn, a right-leaning columnist, writes the commentary this week, and Andrea Sarvady, a left-leaning columnist, responds.
For years, the gay rights movement was about "live and let live" tolerance. But the Miss USA flap showed just how much ill will has built up among activists, and how much the need for tolerance has shifted.
Even though the majority of Americans simply want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage - and themselves have no ill will in the process - gay marriage activists have been very successful at redefining disagreement as hateful bigotry. Ironically, this has given those crying "tolerance" permission to treat others with thinly veiled (or outright) derision and loathing.
This bizarre reality is only possible because of how the mainstream entertainment and news media present the issue. Editors and producers jump on traditionalists, yet don't even notice slanted pro-gay reporting.
For example, this lede from an April 23 Associated Press report about gay marriage in Connecticut: " A decade-long battle for marriage equality in Connecticut ended when the General Assembly voted to update the state's marriage laws." (Just imagine the furor if this equally biased opening had been used: " A decade-long battle to preserve traditional marriage was lost today ..." )
After the Miss USA pageant, this shocking anti-traditional bigotry was on display. Following Miss California Carrie Prejean's respectful answer that she believed marriage was between a man and a woman, gay activist and pageant judge Perez Hilton began such vile persecution that America gasped. Hilton said she was a " dumb b-tch" and the " c-word." On his Web site, he posted her picture and drew a male phallus in her mouth. He apparently never saw the hypocrisy of telling the "Today" show that he attacked her because she wasn't "saying things that will make everyone feel welcome."
Gay activists had a great opportunity at that moment. But instead of loudly condemning Hilton's hatefulness, all too many defended him or stayed virtually silent.
Americans have always managed vehemently differing opinions via our belief in respect-based free speech: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it." To that, I might add, " And your difference of opinion doesn't mean you are evil." I believe most Americans - gay or straight - prefer that civil approach, and I urge activists on both sides to embrace it.
I'm afraid that I join gay rights activists in being confused as to just what "great opportunity" they forgo in not publicly defending Miss California against Miss USA judge Perez Hilton.
Ah, what the heck - I'm feeling tolerant, so let me state this unequivocally: Carrie Prejean has every right to voice her views on both gay marriage and, in her words, "opposite marriage." Let's be clear that although this didn't cost her the crown (Miss North Carolina was already ahead in two competitions), Prejean was subject to some awfully crass treatment by Perez Hilton in the days following this low-rent rip-off of the Miss America pageant.
Of course, anyone familiar with "The Queen of All Media" expected the ensuing drama.
Mario Lavandeira, aka Perez Hilton, is an outrageous blogger who uses photos, captions and drawings to savagely rip on celebrities of all persuasions on a daily basis. Being mean? Name-calling? Honey, that's his bread and butter, and the Miss USA folks were perfectly aware of that when they gave him the job. Once more, pageant co-owner Donald Trump pulled America's strings, and we did our little marionette dance. I've got to hand it to that guy.
Most serious activists for any cause are not going to lose their hard-won credibility by commenting on a made-for-TV blowup generated by a publicity-seeking provocateur like Lavandeira. They're also well aware that few Americans opposed to their viewpoint will be won over by any outlandish rant, agreeing instead that civil discourse does get you further.
On the other hand, sometimes an issue can stir within you such a passionate response that passionate words are required. "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals," the Rev. Jerry Falwell once declared. " It is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
Cruel, alienating language usually backfires. Falwell's horrific bigotry is now seen as such by the majority of Americans, whether or not they approve of gay marriage. We've come a long way, and tolerance of each other's viewpoints is a huge part of that. So I too encourage folks in the gay marriage movement to stay respectful and resist name-calling. Yet know this: They'll never stop fighting for all citizens to have equal protection and status under the law. Tolerate that, America.
Andrea Sarvady (ASarvad@gmail.com) is a writer and educator specializing in counseling, and a married mother of three. Shaunti Feldhahn (email@example.com) is a conservative Christian author and speaker, and married mother of two children. Contact them at Universal Press, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo.