Sunday, May 29, 2011

Redefining the Tradition of Bullying

In Mormon circles and elsewhere, opponents of gay marriage are continuing to claim that some high-profile folk in their ranks are being bullied and intimidated. 

The most recent examples they offer are Peter Vidmar, the accomplished Olympic athlete and LDS church member (who just days ago resigned his position of chef de mission for the U.S. Olympic Committee), and Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General of the United States (who in late April left his law firm to continue representing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in their effort to continue enforcement of the federal Defense of Marriage Act given the U.S. Justice Department's decision to no longer defend this unusual statute that carves out an exception to the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution). 

These gentlemen made their decision based on public pressure. I haven't seen any evidence of threats of violence or physical intimidation against either of these men. In other words, they haven't been bullied or intimidated. Not unless gay marriage opponents are trying their hand at redefining some terms of their own.

Do these people even know what bullying is? Do they realize the horrific impacts of actual examples of bullying against gay people, especially youth?

The claim is that Vidmar and Clement, who, of their own free will and choice, placed themselves in prominent public positions as advocates for opponents of gay marriage, lending what weight and credibility they may have to that cause, are being bullied by people from a historically marginalized and vilified group of people that is now finally beginning to have its voices broadly heard on issues of equal justice. I hope they let us know when to cue the violins.

So it appears that some of the opponents of gay marriage want "bullying and intimidation" to mean whatever serves their purpose. They who are carrying on the tradition of heaping on decades and centuries of shame on gay people, resulting in trauma, injustice and even death, both told and untold, are now claiming shamelessly that they and their advocates are being bullied and intimidated. And then they ask for civil discourse. Really?

Perhaps these opponents could take a couple of hours out of their long days spent in ivory towers of moral superiority and certitude and go to a gay community center to sit with a survivor of actual bullying and genuine intimidation. They could listen to first-hand accounts of what it's like to be on the receiving end of true bullying, hatred and violence. Here in my town or Portland, Oregon, there is an example from only a few days ago of an assault on two gay men. Unfortunately, we could find others as well. Even here in gay-friendly Portland. Sadly, we could find examples almost anywhere---in public venues, in workplaces, in schools, in churches, in restaurants, the list goes on. For the most vociferous opponents of gay marriage, it's not about marriage at all. It's about clinging to beliefs that gay people are broken, rebellious and inferior.

If these opponents can't bring themselves to sit with a gay person, perhaps they can sit with a person who was beaten, bullied and intimidated during the long years of the Civil Rights Movement and who was told that they were by law "equal" but in fact must remain separate, that their tax dollars were good enough, but their money at the lunch counter or in other public accommodations was unwelcome, that they could not marry the person they loved because the traditional definition of marriage, unchanged for thousands of years (as the argument goes), forbade it because of that person's race.

As it stands now, these assertions of bullying and intimidation ring as hollow as the yells of a kid who cries foul to the duty teacher on a playground who breaks another kid's arm and who is pushed back by the other kid in self-defense.

I can only hope that these opponents will begin to see that they are acting very much like the George Wallace of the 1960s, grasping at the last threads of unjust and inhumane beliefs. I also hope, that, like George Wallace of later years, they will see what they have done in the name of their religious beliefs and weep. And then rejoin the rest of us with our complex, multifaceted society working to advance opportunity and justice for all.

While they catch up, we'll focus on things like remembering that it really does get better.

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