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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Unanswered Questions in Gay Marriage Debate

I thought it would be fitting to inaugurate my blog with a response to a column by Maggie Gallagher. I respect Maggie Gallagher. She often has compassion, she’s well-intentioned, and she is willing to criticize politicians on both sides of the spectrum.

You can read her recent column here:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ucmg/20060531/cm_ucmg/gaymarriagecreatesnewconflictsforneighbors;_ylt=Ag3CWnOUIctHmJDto5rwqD39wxIF;_ylu=X3oDMTA5aHJvMDdwBHNlYwN5bmNhdA--

In the piece (if you skipped that link without reading it), she recounts the story of “Skip” Childs, a volunteer fireman who was not reappointed to the Board of Fire Engineers in his Massachusetts town after a Selectman questioned him publicly about a petition he had signed, opposing gay marriage.

In Childs, she has found a very sympathetic hero. By all accounts, he’s a good guy, and his wife, a female, makes cake for volunteers. It is entirely possible that Childs should have been placed again onto the Board of Fire Engineers; perhaps he would have done an excellent job.

I have a quibble with Gallagher’s reporting before I continue to my main argument. She presents the story in her first sentence as a man being fired for a petition that he signed. In truth, it appears to be a political appointment at the local level, not entirely unlike the Senate giving a judicial candidate an up-or-down vote. (To be fair, most local fire appointments probably do not involve personal politics.) Additionally, although Gallagher implies that Childs lost his position because of the signing, he was actually unanimously rejected for the position by the five-member board. Eric Williams reported in the April 22, Cape Cod Times that “most selectmen” cited other reasons for their vote.

That said, it is entirely possible that Childs was the best candidate and the selectmen made a bad decision.

However, that bad decision was based on a legitimate question: would Childs be able and willing to offer equal protection to everyone in Truro? If the answer was “no,” that would obviously be a problem.

He didn’t answer no. As far as we can tell from Gallagher‘s column, he didn’t answer “yes,” either. And he didn’t respond in a manner which convinced the selectman who asked it that the answer would be an unequivocal yes.

In all probability, Childs is a selfless human being who would rush in, pull a member of a gay couple out of a burning building, and administer CPR in exactly the manner his professional code of conduct requires. However, it’s safe to say that somewhere in America’s small towns reside firemen who would not make exactly the same decisions. Their number is probably small. Smaller still would be the number of firemen who would let a black man die, or hesitate to save a black husband whose white wife was safely outside. But in this big country, those men probably exist. It is unlikely that these men would make an open declaration of their bias at a town council meeting. But they would probably be willing to sign a petition to ban gay marriage.

Am I saying that all people who sign such petitions are biased and unfit to serve the public? Certainly not. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. You have just as much right to oppose gay marriage as you do to oppose interracial marriage. But if you’re not biased and unfit to serve, then say so. There are bigoted arguments to make against gay marriage; we‘ve all heard them. If there are un-bigoted arguments against it, make them. Stand up and be clear about it. Say, “It is understandable that you think my desire to prevent certain couples from enjoying the same rights as other couples indicates bias. But it doesn’t, and here’s why.”

Paul Asher-Best’s justifies his actions by asking: “If the issue is interracial marriage, would questioning him on attitudes toward black people be so out of line?”

Gallagher doesn’t answer this question. Perhaps she considers it an unfair comparison. Personally, I don’t think it’s unfair. Whether or not homosexuality is innate, the decision to marry someone of your own sex is a choice. Similarly, while race is innate, interracial marriage involves choice. It’s a choice that was opposed, quite vehemently, in many U.S. states just decades ago.

Gallagher knows that comparisons of anti-gay marriage activists and racists will be made; she has predicted as much in columns like this: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-gallagher_04edi.ART.State.Edition1.902f072.html .

I don’t think Maggie Gallagher is a bad person. I think she’s a deeply religious person, she cares genuinely about the world and the welfare of children in particular, and she thinks that all citizens should act responsibly.

The fact is, there are hateful people in the state of Massachusetts. There are people who oppose gay marriage because they think homosexuals are less-than-human, who would laugh rather than save the life of their gay neighbor. How many of those people are there? One hopes they number few, but no one in their right mind would deny they exist. In all likelihood, those people were more than willing to sign a petition opposing gay marriage. Maggie Gallagher, Skip Childs, and his wife are probably not anything like those people. But they were happy to sign their names alongside them.

13 Comments:

Blogger Vinteuil said...

You are going about this exactly right.

Steve Burton

6/15/2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger eeka said...

I definitely agree that there are people who are opposed to equal marriage, but wouldn't personally harm queer people.

That being said though, I think it's important that people being hired for PUBLIC service have really good boundaries. You know, like an understanding that it isn't their place whether to support or not support something if that thing doesn't affect them whatsoever. In my field, I won't hire people who feel that all Christian counselors are quacks and we should actively discourage people from going to them. This just demonstrates poor boundaries, which people in the human services can't be havin'. I personally have encountered more Christian counselors than not who I believe are quacks and go against mainstream mental health practices, but as long as they're not actively harming clients, it's not my place to have an opinion one way or another, or to discourage or encourage clients from seeking them out.

10/20/2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Phil Thibedeaux said...

Eeka,
That's a good point. I think the best comparison is in the hiring of someone, say, a person who thinks Christian counselors are quacks.

If it concerns a matter of public knowledge (say, the person has an anti-Christian web site), I think, at the very least, it's worth asking them about, or pursuing, during the hiring process.

If they honestly feel that their beliefs won't impact their job, then, at the very least, they should say so, and explain why.

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