Labels: Nothing Learned, Nothing Gained
A friend told me on the morning of the primary elections that word was, based on - I presume - comments I made on this paper's website, that I was anti-gay. I laughed and said I guessed I'd have to let myself know of this latest development.
That brought to mind a column I once penned, "I'm a Racist and Didn't Even Know It."
The piece was a tongue-in-cheek response to the way we talk to one another these days. Dialogue and debate have given way to labeling others all manner of despicable things when they do not agree.
If you're against the policies of President Obama, you're a racist. If you think we should require voter identification at polling places, you're a racist. If you jumped to any conclusions after Nidal Hassan murdered 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, you're a racist.
Now it appears I'm a homophobe. Getting to be quite a list of character flaws.
At the risk of prolonging what has been an overwrought, over-written-about, overboard topic, it seems important now for a little house cleaning before returning to the discussion of our failing national dialogues.
If you must know, I see both sides of this issue. Try as I might, I don't see how same-sex marriage threatens traditional marriage.
On the other hand, whether one thinks the roots of traditional marriage are religious or civil, I can respect those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Sort of like the Boy Scouts being for boys.
And I wonder why civil unions for gay couples, with all the same civil, social and economic rights traditional couples receive, is so repellent.
Seems like the debate boils down to what is really an argument over a single word: marriage.
So my personal opinion is, as unusual as this may sound to readers: I don't have one. Or, maybe I am "evolving," like President Obama was before his latest announcement that he's for gay marriage.
It's funny. I don't remember proponents of same-sex marriage accusing Mr. Obama of being a homophobe or anti-gay during the prolonged period of his personal evolution.
Which brings me back around to the point of this piece, which is: Labeling people despicable things because they don't agree with one another is tearing this country apart.
If someone is against gay marriage, there is no logical leap that can be made to deduce that that person is then a homophobe unless the accuser is intimately acquainted with the accused.
Let's illustrate this hypothetically. My sister announces one day she is a lesbian. Will I stop loving her because of it?
Will her sexual preference automatically turn me into something I am not? Do I care who she loves?
But what if she says she wants to get married in the traditional sense, and another brother says that he believes marriage is for a man and a woman, and would she consider a civil union instead? Will she lash out at him that he is a homophobe, knowing that he has never given her any reason to believe that to be true?
See the problem?
It doesn't matter what the issue is. We have many other issues before us that are very serious and deserve our respectful attention and debate.
To accuse those we disagree with of being racists, bigots or homophobes is not only absurd, it introduces destructive and dividing forces into our abilities to move forward and solve the issues at hand. We poison the debate.
People dig in, become entrenched, seal their borders, harden their positions. They become less willing to listen to the other side when they are slandered like this. Nothing is learned. Nothing is gained.
We do not progress. We split into opposing camps, and because of the name-calling, we will not listen to the other side. It is the slander of others in this case that delays the evolution of ideas and principles.
The unspoken leader in the national debate of gay marriage, as with so many other national debates, is and should be the president.
Mr. Obama was afforded respect while he "evolved." Whether honest and non-bigoted opponents evolve or not, they deserve that same respect.
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines and is a regular contributor to The Pilot and PineStraw magazine. Contact him at email@example.com.
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