The Gay Marriage Column

Well! There has been quite a rhubarb over this whole gay marriage thing! If you’ll permit me, I’d like to employ my usual measured, careful analysis of this controversy to see if I can help us understand both sides a little better.

On the one side, you have the fags. The fags, the queers, the dykes, and the lesbos. They want the government to let them marry each other the same way people of the opposite sex marry each other, i.e., expensively, and followed by a lifetime of sexless drudgery. The homos also want to require kindergarten teachers to promote homosexuality to their students, complete with visual aids and in-class demonstrations; they want to destroy the traditional family unit and replace it with a society where everyone just walks around naked all the time, sometimes pausing in the street to do it with a stranger; they want the First Amendment rewritten to make all churches illegal except for the ones with fashionable interior design; and they want the national anthem replaced with something by Sondheim.

On the other side, you have the religious nutjobs — the zealots, the whackos, the crusaders, the cultists. These bigots want to enforce Christianity — their particular brand of it, of course, since all the other kinds of Christianity are wicked — throughout the land, first by putting up Nativity scenes in federal courthouses, and eventually by replacing every American city’s street lights with giant crucifixes and all state constitutions with copies of Guideposts magazine. They believe that gays are second-class citizens whose deviant behavior strips them of any rights under the Constitution, and that if the gays want to get married they should all just move to an island somewhere, start their own little gay-marriage colony, and eventually kill each other with AIDS (which religious people believe is spontaneously generated, like fire, when you rub two gays together).

There. Have I summed everything up?

California’s recent vote on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, was a close one — 52% in favor of the ban, 48% against. What especially frustrated those opposing the proposition was that early polling had indicated a handy majority of voters agreed with them. It wasn’t until a certain church got involved — a certain church known as the Latter-day Saint LDS Church of the Mormons — that the tide turned the other way. For those in favor of gay marriage, it was like playing a game of basketball where your team is outperforming the other team until the fourth quarter, when suddenly they bring in 750,000 extra players. The analogy is imperfect, because in this case the extra players did not violate the rules of the game, and because of course gays don’t play basketball, but you get the idea.

The LDS Church made the unusual move of specifically encouraging its members in California to not just vote for Prop 8, but to donate their time and money to encourage others to vote for it, too. And for the most part, rank-and-file Mormons responded to their leaders’ directions the way they usually do: they had a meeting, served refreshments, ran over by about 10 minutes, declared Democrats evil, talked about BYU football for a while, and then went out and did what had been asked of them. About $40 million was raised in support of Prop 8, and at least half of that was contributed by Mormons. Many church members also canvassed neighborhoods and made phone calls for Prop 8. It was an all-out effort, and there’s no disputing it was the Mormon involvement that got Prop 8 passed. Mormons should be proud to know that their efforts paid off.

Strangely, however, now that gay-marriage proponents are expressing outrage and anger at the Mormons, many church members are acting like their involvement was inconsequential. They’re celebrating on Election Night, and then the next day saying, “What? Why are you mad at US? We weren’t the only ones!” There have also been several instances where it has become known that someone donated money to Prop 8 — political contributions are a matter of public record — and people have boycotted their businesses in response. This, too, has left some Prop 8 supporters hurt and confused.

What people failed to realize, I guess, is that when you get involved in a political issue, you don’t get to choose what kind of response you get. You don’t get to accept the congratulations for your victory but refuse the jeers from the losing side. That doesn’t excuse the illegal reactions, of course. The physical threats, the vandalism, that’s all out of bounds, obviously. But refusing to patronize a business whose owner contributed to a political cause you disagree with is a perfectly legal and reasonable thing to do. If you’re going to take a stand for something, you have to accept that there’s going to be a negative reaction from those who disagree with that stand.

A man named Dave Leatherby, owner of an ice cream shop in Sacramento and a devout Catholic, contributed, with his family, about $20,000 in support of the gay-marriage ban. He’s now shocked and bewildered that the people who view his contribution as an attack on their civil rights are boycotting his business. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, “he is particularly confused because his business has participated in the annual gay pride Rainbow Festival.” Which is sort of like saying, “Sure, I punched you in the face and threw you in a ditch. But don’t forget — I also came to your birthday party last year!”

Some of the boycotting takes things too far, though. Some activists are calling for a boycott of the entire state of Utah, including the gay-friendly Sundance Film Festival, which is held in Utah’s most liberal town, Park City. That’s like boycotting Nevada because you don’t like hookers. I guess “Utah” equals “Mormonism” in the same broad, stereotypical, mostly-true-but-not-entirely sense that “gay” equals “un-athletic.”

Then there was the head of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center organizing a drive to send protest postcards to LDS Church “president Thomas Munson,” whose last name is actually Monson. Or gay columnist Dan Savage saying on CNN that a letter in support of Prop 8 had been read over the pulpit at all Mormon “temples,” unaware that Mormon temples are quite different from the regular Mormon churches, which is where the letter was actually read. (Ask any Mormon — the difference is huge.) Or the various calls to hold protests at Mormon temples on a Sunday, apparently unaware that Mormon temples are closed and empty on Sundays, because all the Mormons are at their churches. (See? Told you there was a difference.)

What we’re finding is that the average gay activist knows as much about Mormons as the average Mormon knows about gays, i.e., mostly unflattering half-truths that they once heard from someone who doesn’t like them.

There are some legal misunderstandings, too. Many Prop 8 opponents are saying the LDS Church’s involvement in this political issue means it should have its tax-exempt status revoked. This refers to section 501(c)(3) of U.S. Title Code 26, which a lot of people didn’t read because they heard it wasn’t as good as U.S. Title Code 25, so I’ll summarize it. It’s laying out which groups are exempt from taxation, and it includes:

“Corporations … organized and operated exclusively for religious … purposes … no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation.” (The ellipses are to simplify the sentence by removing the parts that don’t apply here.)

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but the church’s lawyers are lawyers, and I’m guessing their defense lies in the word “substantial.” You’d have a hard time showing that the church’s attempt to influence the passage of Prop 8 constituted a “substantial” part of its activities, given that it’s a worldwide church with billions of dollars in holdings and 13 million members. Only a small fraction of that money and those members reside in California. “Revoke their tax-exempt status!” makes sense until you actually read what the law says. Then you can see it’s not so cut-and-dried.

But some Prop 8 supporters have been misunderstanding the law, too. I’ve been hearing a lot of this lately: “Prop 8 opponents should just drop it. The people have spoken and the measure has passed! It’s over!” And that’s a lame argument. Are you saying that if the outcome had been the other way around, you’d be saying, “Oh well! We lost. Time to move on and just accept gay marriage”? Of course not. “You lost! Get over it!” reeks of gloating and smugness, and it’s as unhelpful as a lesbian in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.

Most of these people were upset that there even had to be a vote, considering Californians had already banned gay marriage once before, only to have that law struck down by the state Supreme Court. They complain that it’s not fair for the court to go against the will of The People. Well, that argument’s as useless and hollow as Bill O’Reilly’s head. There’s not a gentle way of saying this, so I’ll just spit it out: It doesn’t matter what The People want. Part of what the U.S. Supreme Court and the individual state supreme courts do is compare the will of The People against the state and U.S. constitutions. Those documents trump everything else. If The People vote for something that the Supreme Court determines is a violation of the Constitution, then it doesn’t matter how many of The People voted for it. It’s out, period.

So the issue isn’t whether the state Supreme Court should be overruling The People, because the answer is yes, it should, if what The People want is unconstitutional. The issue is whether the Supreme Court was correct when it determined that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. That’s the question, and obviously there are strong arguments on both sides. Even the court itself was divided, 4-3, and if seven robe-wearing old people whose names you wouldn’t recognize can’t agree on something unanimously, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

As usual with these things, both sides are convinced of their own moral rightness, and each side is upset that its intolerance is not being greeted with more tolerance by the other side. Everyone claims to want to reach an “understanding” or a “compromise,” but all they really mean is that they want the other side to give up and back down.

This is all wrong! Gays and Mormons should focus not on their differences but on what they have in common. They both love being persecuted and telling the world what martyrs they are, for example. They both love Disneyland. They both prefer Mitt Romney over John McCain. They’re both always well represented on “American Idol.” They’re both unwelcome in Alabama. They’re both suspicious of Catholic priests. The list goes on and on.

As these emotionally charged debates continue, it’s important to remember what we share — our desire for happiness, our inherent worth as human beings, and our gratitude to live in a country that lets us hash these things out without anyone having to raise an army or execute any dissenters. In the stirring words of our national anthem, let’s send in the clowns.

The Munson/Monson thing happens at about 7:40 in this video, and she says it a couple times. Dan Savage's "temple" reference starts at around 1:45 in this video, though you might watch the whole thing if you're interested in seeing two people on opposites of an issue behaving like complete jackasses toward one another.

I think this column will be appreciated by those who complained during the election that I didn't do an adequate job making fun of both sides equally. Alternatively, it's possible that those people will merely be offended by half of this column's jokes. It's hard to tell.

I have never used the word "rhubarb" on this website before.

You might have noticed that this is "Snide Remarks" number 600. Hooray for round numbers ending in zeroes! The column considered to be "Snide Remarks" #1 was actually published 614 weeks ago (Feb. 6, 1997), which means the weeks I wrote more than one column have almost exactly balanced out the weeks I didn't write any. Math is interesting!