Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why Can't They Tell the Truth?

One of the most disheartening aspects about the debate regarding marriage equality, other than the fact that there is a debate, is the dishonesty of opponents. In particular, the Christian Right simply seems unable or unwilling to tell the public the facts. They always seem to twist or distort facts in order to try to panic people into supporting their agenda. 
Recently, Baptist Press published a series of falsehoods by Dale Schowengerdt, who works for the far right Alliance Defense Fund. The article is entitled Religious liberty & the case against gay ‘marriage.’” Even in headlines,, they can’t resist the urge to put “scare” quotes around marriage when it refers to gay couples. I guess it is like the Klan saying, “Blacks want their ‘human’ rights.”
The real problem with this article is that it is entirely based on the deceptive practice of bait & switch. It claims to contain evidence as to why marriage equality threatens the rights of fundamentalists to their “religious liberty.” But none of the cases they use to prove it are actually about same-sex marriage, and none of them are germane to religious liberty either.
We should be clear that what they mean by religious liberty, and what normal people mean, are two different things. They basically believe any action a religious person takes, and justifies due to their religious beliefs, qualifies as religious freedom. So, when a business throws out customers because they are gay, and the owner hates gays because he is convinced God wants him to, that is religious freedom. Actually it isn’t. It may be business freedom, or freedom of association, but it is not religious freedom. The business is not a church and the business owner is not acting in a religious capacity.
Consider the far right religious groups that are part of the Identity cult, which believes in the superiority of the white race as God’s chosen people. They hate Jews, as the children of Satan, and argue that non-whites are the “beasts of the field” that the Bible talks about, only fit as servants (slaves) to their white masters. If an Identity-owned cafĂ© threw out black “beasts of the field” people would normally see this as a discrimination issue, not a religious one. 
I happen to support the freedom of non-government, private businesses to discriminate for any stupid reason they wish, and would boycott them for doing so, and urge others to follow my lead. But ADF isn’t trying to defend that. They don’t want a business owner to be free to throw out Baptists for instance. They won’t go to court to defend an anti-Semite’s rights to refuse to serve Jewish customers. In fact, they demand laws to protect them as a special class, because they are religious. For instance, they would want laws that make it illegal to fire people who won’t work on whatever Sabbath day they think some deity mandates. They do NOT support either liberty or equality of rights. They want one set of rights for themselves, which they then want denied to the LGBT community.  Moral hypocrisy, sadly, is pretty much standard practice in fundamentalism.
Let us look at every single incident used by Schowengerdt to “prove” marriage rights for gay couples are a threat to him and his fellow bigots.
The first case is the resignation of Peter Vidmar, who took a position with the U.S. Olympic team. Vidmar, it turned out, had a record of anti-gay political positions.  Here is how USA Today reported the Vidmar story: They said that when the Chicago Tribune broke the story that Vidmar had been an activist against civil rights for gay people ,“reaction was nearly immediate—and almost entire negative—within the USOC.” Please note the immediate, negative reaction came from within the US Olympic Committee, because ADF claims otherwise. 
Olympians, former and current, said Vidmar was supposed to represent all people and that his activist role in denying some people rights made him unfit for the job. Vidmar resigned his position almost immediately.  ADF used this case to substantiate his claim that “if efforts to redefine marriage through the law are successful, orthodox Christians will be subject to persecution.”
There are numerous problems with this. First, Vidmar was NOT an orthodox Christian, he was a member of the Mormon sect, which most religious right churches would call a cult and non-orthodox. This includes most supporters of ADF and readers of Baptist Press, which may be why they left out the fact that Vidmar was a Mormon. Second, what is meant by persecution? No one attacked Vidmar, denied him any of his rights, threatened him physically, wanted the state to arrest him, etc. Individuals within, and some without, the USOC did nothing more than express their First Amendment right to free speech and criticized the selection of an anti-rights activist to this position. Vidmar then resigned.

Apparently the ADF thinks that free speech is persecution, implying that any criticism of them is persecution. This is how they exaggerate “persecution” to make it fit where it doesn’t fit. There is NO persecution of Christians in America. There are Christians who pretend they are persecuted, who play the victim card with the slightest provocation, but there is no real persecution of Christians. Now, these Christian may want laws to persecute others, such as Mormon polygamists, or gays, but the law does not persecute them for being Christian.

Also note that it was Vidmar’s anti-gay views in general that upset people. ADF pretends this how gay marriage persecutes “orthodox Christians” because Vidmar was an activist in the campaign to strip gay couples of the right to marry in California. But that law was overturned and doesn’t currently exist. It did not exist when Vidmar was hired, it did not exist when he resigned. He may be criticized because of his views on marriage rights, but marriage law did not “persecute” him.
Here are some other examples: A photography company in New Mexico was hired to take photos at a same-sex commitment ceremony. They refused and ran into the state’s anti-discrimination laws. New Mexico did not then, nor does it now, have marriage equality. Anti-discrimination laws are an entirely different set of laws and do NOT require marriage equality to be in place in order to have this impact. Instead of talking about how anti-discrimination laws are what they are whining about, ADF instead pretends this is about marriage equality.
In Vermont, an inn refused to host a same-sex wedding. Like New Mexico, this was a violation of anti-discrimination laws. Unlike New Mexico, Vermont did allow same sex marriage. But what got the inn into trouble was NOT the marriage law but the anti-discrimination law.  They would NOT have been in trouble if Vermont merely had marriage equality; it took the anti-discrimination laws to create an issue. So again, it was NOT about marriage equality.
ADF claimed: “In New Jersey, the state has vigorously prosecuted a Methodist group for not allowing a same-sex couple to use its facilities for (sic) civil union ceremony.” This is another distorted, and dishonest, description of the facts. New Jersey, which does not allow gay marriage, did not prosecute a Methodist group. They removed a tax exemption, for a very specific reason, and it did not involve a church. 
The situation was that the Methodist group owned a pavilion on a beachfront, which was used by the public for various functions. The property in question was never tax exempt until 1989 when New Jersey passed the Green Acres Program to encourage private land owners to make their property available for public recreational usage. In return for a tax exemption property owners would make the property in question available to the public, there were no exceptions that said the public didn’t include gay people.

When a the issue came up of a same-sex couple renting the open-air facilities the owners suddenly had a change of heart about making it available “to the public.” They basically told the state that they no longer would abide by the terms on which the pavilion had been made tax-exempt in the first place. Property owners with the tax exemptions file to renew them every three years. The owners did that and found their exemption for the pavilion was denied. All the other properties that they applied for exemptions had those exemptions renewed. That is the full extent of the “vigorous” prosecution.

It should be remembered that had this been a church, New Jersey law would still allow it to discriminate and it would still remain tax-exempt, as is the case with all religious worship places.
ADF says that a “Virginia municipality’s human-rights commission ordered a video-duplication business to copy two documentaries promoting homosexual behavior, even though the business owner said that producing the material would violate his religious and ethical values.” Virginia does not have marriage equality. Again a city anti-discrimination ordinance was involved and there was nothing in the case that would be different because of marriage equality, if it existed there.

I also note that when Christian fundamentalists claim something is “promoting homosexual behavior,” they almost always mean something that normal people do not mean. A video that argued that gay people had the same rights as everyone else would, in their mind, constitute promotion of homosexual behavior. In fact, the case was about a woman who went to a public service video store and asked them to duplicate a DVD of a gay rights rally, which is not the same thing as “promoting homosexual behavior.”
This illustrates the selective use of principles by ADF as well. The law, which was passed by the Arlington city council, states that that it was unlawful to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability in places of public accommodation.” The law later added sexual orientation. The ADF appears quite happy with all the other anti-discrimination clauses. They are NOT defending the freedom of association of private businesses. The only right they are interested is the right to treat gay people, and only gay people, badly.
ADF also reran the debunked lies about “adoption agencies being forced to close in Boston, Washington, DC, and Illinois “rather than place adoptive children with same-sex couples in violation of their religious beliefs.” This is an out and out lie.

In all three places, the organization Catholic Charities was taking tax funds to place for adoption, children who were in state. They were recipients of tax money and were acting as agents for the state. They were told that if they wanted to continue to receive tax funds they would need to comply with anti-discrimination rules that properly apply to government agencies. No state agency should have the right to discriminate against the people who are forced to pay for its existence.

In all three cases, Catholic Charities said they would rather discriminate against gay people than receive tax funds, which is their right. But they also then said they would close, since they needed public support to stay afloat. If they needed government funding to operate, they are, for all practical purposes, an agent of the state and NO LONGER operating as a private, religious charity.
It was widely reported that in Massachusetts, when Catholic Charities made a big stink and closed, that a Mormon adoption agency continued to operate and was quite free to discriminate against gay couples, according to the dictates of their church leadership. But they were privately funded and not acting as an agent of the state.
These cases were about how tax monies may or may not be used. And it was about how agents of the state must treat the people who are forced to fund their organization. It was about anti-discrimination laws and tax funding; it was not about gay marriage per se.
None of the examples offered by the hysterical ADF actually involves an infringement of religious freedom related to gay marriage. Even if we define “religious freedom” as widely as they do, which is inconsistent with the definition of religious freedom in every other area of law, none of the cases were about gay marriage. ADF purposely confuses people by using examples of anti-discrimination laws and then pretending it was about gay marriage.  That some of the examples they use are in states where gay marriage is illegal proves this is not about gay marriage.

What ADF dishonestly does, is claim the issue is about religious freedom and gay marriage, but then brings up issues of public services and anti-discrimination laws instead. These are not the same thing. They offer a litany of examples that apply to the latter category and no examples that apply to the former, even as they pretend to be talking exclusively about the former. In marketing, this is called bait and switch, and considered highly unethical and deceptive. In politics it is the same thing.


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