A column in today's Washington Post decries President-elect Obama's selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration in a month's time. The selection has caused an uproar in the Left blogosphere, with many arguing that the choice constitutes a betrayal of Obama's promise for a more equal and inclusive Administration. Already it is evident that Obama is likely to be in for a rough ride from an energized Left that believes it is responsible for his election.
It's hard to know where to begin on this issue, one that almost belies belief that it is an issue at all. What is most risible about the pro-gay marriage Left's response is that it reflects a view that Obama has betrayed them by selecting Warren, who supported Prop. 8 in California (recognizing marriage only between a man and a woman, and thus de-recognizing same-sex marriages that were sanctioned in the wake of a court decision). Yet, one could quite reasonably conclude that Obama is actually acting consistently, having throughout the primaries and general election declared his personal opposition to gay marriage, while insisting that civil unions would generally suffice. In this sense, Obama's views significantly mirror Warren's own, and he bases his opposition to gay marriage on a similar (if more soft-pedaled) view that marriage should be defined exclusively as a recognized bond specifically between a man and a woman.
In today's Post column, Joe Solmonese compares the selection of Warren to the hypothetical choice of an anti-Semite to deliver the invocation. He asks, "but would any inaugural committee say to Jewish Americans, 'We're opening with an anti-Semite but closing the program with a rabbi, so don't worry'"? Toward the closing of the column he decries the choice of the "anti-gay" Warren. Given that Obama also opposed same-sex marriage during the campaign, are we to assume that the support of Obama - even by members of the activist gay community - was "anti-gay" and comparable to the support of an anti-Semite?
Of course, it is widely believed that Obama didn't really believe what he said, and was only currying favor of Middle America (in which case, he arguably owes his election more to them, and thus must indeed respect the widespread opposition to gay marriage that many there hold. One could conclude that in selecting Warren he is being inclusive). After all, even while claiming to personally oppose gay marriage, Obama opposed the passage of Proposition 8, a curious if expedient position. Few have failed to notice that it was on his coattails - particularly his appeal to socially conservative black and Hispanic voters - that Prop. 8 passed. It's interesting that people like Rick Warren and the Mormon church bear the brunt of the fury of the gay community, while those ethnic communities - part of Obama's base - are given a pass. I have heard that they need to be educated, while it appears the Mormons need to be eradicated.
What this response begs for is a strong resistance to the notion that opposition to gay marriage constitutes a base and baseless prejudice akin to anti-Semitism or racism (another frequently invoked analogy is bans on interracial marriage). These are deeply flawed analogies, but their frequent repetition has the intended effect of convincing many well-meaning people that they are true and therefore there can be no argument. No one wants to be accused of anti-Semitism or racism, and if opposition to gay marriage is akin to these reprehensible prejudices, then clearly it's irrational and unjustified to oppose gay marriage.
The aim of this tactic is to paint opposition as irrational - purely faith-based, prejudiced, traditionalist and mean-spirited. Arguments that are brought by opponents to gay marriage are heckled, twisted or ignored. Solomnese alludes to a basic argument against gay marriage - that in sundering the connection of marriage to reproductive biology of one man-one woman, it wholly opens the definition of marriage to any combination of partnerships, such as polygamy, polyamory or incest (indeed, these relationships would biologically have a STRONGER claim to state-sanctioned legitimacy) - but summarily dismisses some of its main points without counterargument, but merely contempt. "More recently, he [Warren] even compared same-sex marriage to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. He may cloak himself in media-friendly happy talk that plays well on television, but he stands steadfastly against any measure of equality for LGBT Americans." Solomnese regards such analogies as outrageous, worthy only of ridicule or dismissiveness - refusing to address the legitimate claim that underlies them - even as he peddles analogies that are in fact outrageous. It is the word "even" that galls in the previous passage - as if such concerns are unworthy of consideration or below contempt. It's inconceivable that there is an reasoned basis by Warren or others who raise such concerns - rather, such considerations are further evidence of irrational and baseless prejudice.
It is a curious pass: we are not debating whether gays should or should not be arrested for illegal private acts, as was once the case. We are not debating whether or not gays should be rounded up and put in concentration camps, as the analogy to anti-Semitism is intended to intimate is the secret wish of opponents. In most cases, we are not even arguing whether or not gays should be accorded the rights and privileges pertaining to civil unions: indeed, my best understanding of Proposition 8 is that it would not have added a single civil benefit for gay couples already protected (and still protected) by civil unions. Yet, those who oppose gay marriage - including, apparently, President-elect Obama - are accused of being "anti-gay," of being comparable to anti-Semites and racists, and of being in the grip of wholly unreasoned and unreasonable set of fanatic religious beliefs and ugly prejudices.
I, like many of my friends on the Left and too few on the Right, deplored the usage of phrases such as "feminazi" used by the likes of Rush Limbaugh to mock and deride his opposition. Feminism in its many guises is a legitimate position to hold with reasons and arguments in its favor. It should be understood to be a basic requirement of citizenship to treat those positions respectfully, even if one opposes some or many aspects of its overarching argument. What we see happening now developing around the gay marriage issue is a similar and lamentable effort to paint reasonable and reasoned opposition to gay marriage - an opposition I share, and which I can elaborate more upon in a future post - as nothing other than sheer and spiteful prejudice. This might be a moment for a probing national conversation on this issue, but I fear the burden of irresponsibility falls on gay activists who have become so certain of the rightness of their cause that opponents to their position are increasingly being implicitly compared to members of the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi party. This slash and burn effort may in the end accomplish its aims, but only at the cost of any prospect of future civility and exchange of reasons that should rightly be the basis of democratic discourse. Of course mine is the audacity of hope.