There was a small kerfuffle a few days ago over some remarks by Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean about the New York Court of Appeals ruling that the prohibition of same sex marriage doesn’t violate the state’s Constitution. According to Dean:
“As Democrats, we believe that every American has a right to equal protection under the law and to live in dignity. And we must respect the right of every family to live in dignity with equal rights, responsibilities, and protections under the law.
Today’s decision by the New York Court of Appeals, which relies on outdated and bigoted notions about families, is deeply disappointing, but it does not end the effort to achieve this goal.”
This was the title of a post by Virginia blogger Shaun Kenney (who, as it turns out, is the campaign manager for Colorado Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, sponsor of the Federal “Marriage Amendment;” hat tip to Michael):
“Your Marriage is Outdated and Bigoted”
In plain English, what Mr. Dean said was “outdated and bigoted” are “notions about families,” and not anyone’s marriage, or even any particular kind of marriage. But that is not the interesting part, so I will set it aside.
I have said on numerous occasions on this blog that labeling the view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman as “bigoted” is unhelpful and unfair. There are many people who experience a genuine conflict between their strongly held definition of marriage as this specific relationship, and their equally strong desire to not hurt their gay relatives, friends and neighbors. They are searching for a resolution to this very real conflict, and assuming that they are motivated by bigotry is neither accurate nor productive.
In our conversation on his blog, Shaun Kenney tried repeatedly to get me to condemn Dean’s remarks as hateful. What I was, and am, willing to say is that I would not use the term “bigoted.” What I would say about the notions to which he refers is that they are “narrow and exclusionary.”
This is not, as Shaun would have it, because I think that narrow and exclusionary is a nicer way of saying bigoted. There certainly are bigoted notions (and people) in this debate, and I will use that term to describe them when it is clearly appropriate. Narrow and exclusionary are merely descriptive, and are to the best of my ability an articulation of what Shaun himself has said about the family, here.
What I am finding interesting is this: Shaun and others on the blog who share his views about family are both defending their own definition of the family as narrow and exclusionary:
Mike: Personally, I have no problem with having my views of marriage described as narrow and exclusionary (the only difference between saying “narrow and exclusionary” and saying “bigoted” is that the word “bigot” implies blind acceptance of some belief, whereas “narrow and exclusionary” merely implies shortsightedness). I will freely admit that my views of marriage are narrow and exclusionary the same way that mathematical principles are narrow and exclusionary. If 2+2=4, then it does NOT equal any other number narrow and exclusionary).
And insisting that this has essentially the same meaning as bigoted:
David: That’s why I said I would use different language. You expended a great deal of energy a few threads back explaining and defending your definition of family as narrow (limited to a very specific form) and exclusionary (excluding families that don’t meet that standard). I can’t, therefore, understand why you would take exception to my saying so, as if I’ve insulted you.
Shaun: So you agree with Dean’s sentiment, but disagree with how he said it?
If those who feel driven to enshrine their exclusionary definition of family in our Constitution are admitting, even insisting, that their own words are the semantic equivalent of bigotry, what can this mean?
A little help, anyone?