The Ethical Dilemma: What to Say to the Anti-Gay

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What to Say to the Anti-Gay: I have a number of conservative, religious associates who subscribe to the school of “marriage means one man and one woman.” I can’t always come up with articulate responses to their stubborn objections to gay marriage. Do you have any good humanist retorts I can use?

—What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Dear What’s,

Gary Stein, a columnist for the Florida Sun Sentinel, recently published a terrific list of common objections to gay marriage and pithy retorts. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m just going to quote him (with permission), with a few tweaks [and my two bits in brackets] for readers. Referencing the fight over Florida’s same-sex marriage ban, Stein lays out a number of familiar refrains:

My religion says same-sex marriage is wrong. Good. I respect that. Don’t marry somebody of the same sex.

The Good Book says it’s immoral. That’s enough for me. The Bible also says you shouldn’t gossip, shouldn’t eat a ham sandwich, shouldn’t have tattoos and shouldn’t remarry after a divorce. And there are slaves in the Bible. Is that good enough for you?

People have voted against same-sex marriage. True. And there are people who would vote for slavery if it were on the ballot. Basic human rights should not be voted on.

The Founding Fathers didn’t have same-sex marriage in mind. Actually, I don’t see anything in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence about marriage, although I did notice something about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If the pursuit of happiness means same-sex marriage, who are you to deny that?

The purpose of marriage is to have children. How are same-sex couples going to do that? By that logic, if a straight couple wants to get married but they don’t want to have children, they would be out of luck. [And, by the way, lots of LGBT couples are finding ways to have children.]

Children need a mother and a father. Half of the marriages in this country end in divorce, which means a lot of kids don’t have both a mother and father at home. Ideal? No. But most of the kids make it through life okay. Maybe you should worry about keeping straight marriages together, rather than keeping same-sex couples from marrying.

Same-sex marriage is a threat to the very sanctity of marriage. Did you miss the part about the 50% divorce rate among straight marriages? [And how many straight marriage problems have anything whatsoever to do with LGBT marriage?]

I think it’s creepy what same-sex couples do. Is anybody forcing you to look at what goes on in the privacy of somebody else’s bedroom? That would be creepy. It would also be a crime.

Same-sex marriage will ruin society as we know it. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, with more states getting on board all the time. Life has gone on pretty normally in those states. [And many people will attest that society is actually enhanced with same-sex marriage.]

Thanks to Gary Stein for putting together this list of tired objections and fresh responses. He sounds like a humanist to me.

My Teen Acts Like a Racist: My ninth grader, who is white, and her friends, who represent various races, call each other the “n” word when, according to her, they are goofing around; she says this behavior is especially common among her Asian buddies. Meanwhile they all watch rap videos where the “n” word is flung around as much as the “f” bomb. I’m told these things are really popular.

She’s a model student who has never been in any kind of trouble, her teachers all rave about what a great kid she is, and she’s always kind, generous and helpful to others. Aside from this aberration (which seems to have taken off when she began high school), we are nothing but proud of her.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Am I just out of touch with current slang and what’s considered cool? Is she doing this as a form of rebellion, simply to get a rise out of me? Or should I take it seriously and take some kind of punitive action or send her to a shrink?

—Not the Tree This Apple Fell From

Dear Good Apple,

From what you say, your choice of the word “act” is spot-on. You daughter appears to be acting out, pretending to be racist so she can watch you go bonkers (even if you’re attempting to suppress your reaction). She’s discovered a raw nerve and is having fun making you squirm.

The stuff kids gravitate to—from pop stars behaving badly to all forms of entertainment that pushes and crosses the good-taste line—models this kind of (to adults) shocking expression. But generation after generation, teens have had a compulsion to scandalize their parents by breaking taboos. Judging from the fact that I’ve been hearing the same thing from others, this seems to be something that’s trending at the moment. Back in the day, it might have been short skirts, long hair, the Bump or Twist or Jitterbug or Charleston.

But acting bigoted—even if it’s just an act—is deeply abhorrent to those of us who have lived through times when such bigotry was the norm, and we remember all too well the agony and tragedy that went into making such attitudes forbidden. Optimistically, what’s happening now among teenagers may actually be defusing the sting of the “n” word and other stereotypes. [As someone who has a problem with words that can’t be spoken or written for PC reasons, I feel silly writing “n” and “f” words, but I’m also not ready to spell them out.] Remember when it would have been unimaginable for a same-sex or interracial couple to display affection in public? Now we’re seeing mainstream shows and commercials that casually depict such relationships as ordinary—and increasingly, they are. The same thing may be happening with highly-charged, unspeakable/unprintable words with horrible histories. Kids are not only tossing them around profusely, they’re also co-opting them as terms of endearment within and across races (Madonna  and the National Football League, among others, say this is so). As a result, slurs like the “n” word may be losing their negative charge—similar to what happened once gay people embraced the word “queer.” The kids may be on to something. The times, they are a’changin’.

But they aren’t changed yet. So what do you do with your daughter right now? You don’t want to feed her habit and heighten her thrills by getting all preachy or threatening. But you do need to remind her that this behavior could backfire if it were to escape the spaces where she thinks she’s confining it. She and her friends could be overheard and reported to school authorities. Someone walking down the street could pick up on the language and react violently. In particular, remind her that this trash talk should never show up on whatever social media she and her friends are fooling with.

Let her know (as if she doesn’t already) that what she thinks is rebellious and amusing strikes you as juvenile and distasteful, to put it mildly. But then, while keeping an eye out to be sure it doesn’t escalate, do your best to let it roll off you like it’s nothing—which is probably the quickest way to bore her into outgrowing it.