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The debate is getting very weird and increasingly toxic

by Jeremy Hooper

In a recent GLAAD Blog post, I commented on how peacefully marriage equality is expanding throughout this nation. Thankfully, that remains true, at least with the everyday citizens of this great country. Since I wrote the post, two more states (AZ and WY) have adopted the freedom to marry, and outside one lone mention of the Benham brothers' father screaming at the weddings of same-sex couples, here have been no reports of citizens raising even a minor stink over the newfound equality in their midst. Americans are moving past this as we all become more perfect and more unified than we were before.

Unfortunately, this is not what's happening with the professional anti-LGBT activists who spend their days creating negativity toward us. I can honestly say that in my ten years of writing about this stuff, I've never felt more weirded out by what's going on with the other side than I have been over the past month. It's as if this movement has lost its collective mind, which is manifesting in a whole lot of noise that barely even mentions LGBT rights policy these days and instead focuses on demonizing the victors.

Yes, debating about LGBT rights has always been frustrating. In the heat of debates, my mind has always been filled with ideas I want to get out in order to advance my side, frustrations I'd like to find a way to get beyond, opponents over whom I wish to prevail, and a clash of ideas that can be both exciting and infuriating, sometimes from one minute to the next. That is what public debate is about. I signed up for it long ago, and I've remained involved in order to carry out the job left to be done.

Sadly, I do feel like we are in a new and particularly gross stage of this whole thing. Since the American public has so drastically shifted and so many people have so easily opened their hearts to freedoms like marriage equality, the folks who are still soldiering on, fully and deeply engaged on the other side, are the true die-hards who see this fight as one they must win in order to save face, jobs, virtue, or even America itself. But since they've lost so many of their practical fights, with near-guarantees that more loss is in the cards, they have had to come up with new focal points. Sometimes it's a divorcee who regrets they way her own marriage played out. Other times it's basic paperwork with language that activists exploit in order to foster their own false persecution narrative. Increasingly, it's any business owner who wishes to flout local anti-discrimination law who will instantly become a movement hero, so long as loving same-sex couples are their target. But if you are a public thinker who uses your platform to pushback against any of this anti-LGBT activism, then increasingly you are portrayed as some sort of out-of-line militant simply because you stepped up and took a role in the national debate.

We now have an opposition movement that is telling America that we, the side that has achieved so much because we actually made winning arguments, has somehow lied and cheated and stolen our way forward. They don't think we should be where we are today, so they have to act like we only got there because of illicitness. Our gains are illegitimate, in their telling. By extension, so are we.

And when it comes to their pushback against is, it's no longer about what we actually do or what we actually seek. They are now debating what they wish we'd done and what their "victim" narrative wishes we wanted. Far-right groups and activists force us to spend infinitely more time correcting bad facts in their deliberately manufactured "controversies" than we get to spend on actually making the meritorious case for marriage itself. In this debate, actually debating the matter at hand is sooooo 2008.

The whole thing has started to feel incredibly toxic. And weird. I find myself dealing with spinmeisters who are so obviously twisting basic truths (i.e. bearing false witness) in order to drum up rage that I can barely understand how they compartmentalize the egregious lies with an ability to sleep at night. But then, after processing how that kind of behavior makes me feel as a thinking human who prizes fact, I find myself annoyed and sometimes angry that I'm even having to dignify this pure and utter noise that has come to define this debate. After all, I got into this fight because I believed in basic truths about human reality, America, and how we should fairly accommodate our citizenry. I got into it to fight for soldiers' right to serve openly, protections that work to lessen hate crimes, measures that reduce discrimination in employment and accommodation, and, of course, the full and unfettered right to marry. I've thoroughly enjoyed engaging in those fights and making whatever small dent I've made in the mass of rejection that used to hog all of the space. But I didn't get into this fight to go tit for tat against these anti-LGBT groups' obvious ploys. I didn't agree to a game where one side will force good actors on both sides to first piece together the tattered shreds of the rule book they meticulously and purposely shredded before we can even get back to discussing the matters at hand.

If that's the game they plan to play for the next decade, I can't say that I will stick around for the long haul to play it. Which makes me wonder if that is their ultimate goal: to make it so toxic that they wear down most of the honest brokers on the right side of history in hopes that they and their shouting will find validation through the process of elimination. You know, since they couldn't win the other way.

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