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03/03/2011

Here, Bob Vander Plaats uses pure rhetoric detached from substance. Unless we do better, he probably will (again) leverage it to pure victory.

by Jeremy Hooper

This framing, combined with the fact that it goes so unchecked and unchallenged, is at the heart of what's wrong with our national marriage equality conversation:

When [Bob] Vander Plaats is asked how same-sex marriage affects his marriage, he responds with a question of his own.

"What does it do to the next generation?" he asked. "As people of faith, we are called to have a multi-generational view, a multi-generational vision."

"We believe strong marriages lead to strong families, which lead to strong societies and communities and even school districts," he added later.

With the goal of strong marriages in mind, the Family Leader encompasses the Iowa Family Policy Center, Iowa Family Political Action Committee and Marriage Matters.
Vander Plaats 'Capturing Momentum' [Spencer Daily Reporter]

Okay, so let's start with the dodge: Without even seeing video of this exchange, we can screen it in our minds. We've seen Vander Plaats and countless other "pro-family" figures do it a million times. Rather than actually answer a straightforward question, our opposition speakers will take said question, throw it through the spin blender, then proceed to perform whatever script the larger movement is workshopping at that particular time. Sure, everyone in politics does this dodge game from time to time (which is always annoying, regardless of cause or affiliation), but there is no denying that the anti-LGBT forces are among the worst offenders.

Then there's the "next generation" canard: Are LGBT people not part of that generation? Had the "Greatest Generation" or the "Baby Boomers" possessed the research, ability, desire to take on LGBT equality as a cause, might we not be at a place where targeted bias on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would be drastically lessened, if not largely alleviated? Because if LGBT people are to continue existence; if preventing things like bullying, wanton employment practices, deportation, etc., are common interests; and if protecting all kids is a shared goal, then there's no "multi-generational vision" more practical, reasoned, or overdue than commitment to ending harassment of one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination.

And then finally: Bob Vander Plaats' "strong marriages" aside. How unbelievably offensive. Personally, I'd stack the strength of my marriage against just about anyone's. If faced with a scale weighing contributions to family, society, and the greater good, neither my husband nor I would hesitate to step up to the challenge. Yet here we have Bob Vander Plaats talking about marital strength, with homosexuality being the sole variable that separates the supposed strong from the supposed weak. That's it. It doesn't matter how rushed, loveless, corrupt, short-lived, or whatever a marriage may be -- as long as it features both a penis and a vagina, then it's innately stronger than anything we 'mos could possibly concoct. As I said: Offensive.

But does the media challenge the rhetoric? No. Not really. Not writ large. Hell, even our own movement doesn't challenge the rhetoric as effectively as we should, writing off people like Bob as "fringe" or "extremist," even while he continues to beat us at the polls. In the contrived debate that is the "gay marriage culture war™," a large number of us have simply accepted bullsh*t as the commodity we've been tasked with debating. A better strategy would be for those of us who know it's crap -- YOU. KNOW. IT'S. CRAP! -- to stop these fairy tales from achieving public palatability. To demand a higher standard. To insist on words that are actually connected to meaning. To force the LGBT opposition speakers who insist that we have this stupid "war" over people's lives and loves to at least tell us how they truly think, what they truly want, and where they really wish to take the public. These are not unfair of irrational demands!

Anne Beatts, one of the original "Saturday Night Live" writers, once described the gender disparity common in 1970s, pre-Tina Fey comedy writing rooms by saying "[the men] had to spell 'cat,' and [the women] had to say when the Edict of Nantes was revoked." It's become a favorite comment here at G-A-Y, because it so ably sums up the gay vs. anti-gay debate in this nation, where the former set has to do a triple flip over a high bar just to advance a half-step, while the latter side largely sails by in heterosexist America, kicking over even the lowest bars that get in their way. Whereas the pro-civil rights side prides itself on cogent arguments and throughly researched bullet points, our opposition (and far too much of the public) feels like it's perfectly suitable to counter those carefully studied, thoroughly lawful, intensely measured, highly principled points by using rhetoric that ranges from red herring to abject lie. We cite Equal Protection and Due Process -- they cite "strong marriage" anecdotes. We share firsthand testimony of what societal bias does to the psyche -- they give lip service to a "multi-generational view." We pore over case law, they resort to personal interpretation of Genesis. And so on and so on.

And yes, it's maddening that this is the choice the "pro-family" (a strategically rhetorical label itself) community has made. But the hard truth that we may not want to face: That if even 20% more LGBT people, potential allies, interest groups, gay networks like Logo, people in power seats who claim to be supportive but then confine the LGBT fight to a niche audience, etc., actually gave enough of a damn to engage as strongly as the other side engages and to actually take on the fight in the staunch way that it needs, we would be immeasurably better off than we are today. Right now, we are gaining despite being outplayed in most every way. Imagine what could be.

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