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« Free Speech or Fraud? The RantsWhat's In A Name? »

Sixth and Ninth
2006.07.11 (Tue) 21:22

Some years back, Two Percenter Jeff had a date. He picked a good bar in Manhattan, and told his date to meet him at Sixth and Ninth. After a shower and a shave, Jeff hopped on the PATH train from Hoboken, got off at the Ninth Street station, ran up the stairs, got to the corner...and found no beautiful girl waiting for him.

A Miscommunication

He waited for a half hour. He called her apartment — no answer. She didn't have a cell phone. Finally, Jeff's cell rang; his date was calling from a payphone at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Fourteenth Street, where she had discovered to her dismay that Ninth Avenue went no further south.

Jeff patiently explained that he had told her to meet at Sixth and Ninth. His date reiterated that Ninth didn't go below Fourteenth, so how could it cross Sixth? Spelling it out, Jeff said: "No, Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street. I said Sixth and Ninth!"

Jeff grew up just outside of Manhattan, and had lived in the area all his life. To him, it was natural to give a Manhattan intersection as avenue first, street last — as far as he knew, that's just how it was done. His date was from the Midwest, and didn't see it that way. (For you romantics out there, don't worry — it all got straightened out in the end.) But the problem here was one of simple miscommunication, because Jeff and his date weren't starting from the same basic ground rules.

There is a point to this story.

Ed Brayton has a quick post up regarding the religious take on gay marriage. One particular passage caught our attention, and got us to thinking:

There is authentic value and beauty in the committment of two people who love each other and share all of the burdens and responsibilities that come with that commitment, but that is ignored completely by those who fight against gay marriage.
The Pope has branded gay unions an expression of "anarchic freedom" but said he wanted to focus on the positives, not negatives.

"The family is itself based primarily on a deep interpersonal relationship between husband and wife, sustained by affection and mutual understanding," the 79-year-old said, before hundreds of fireworks burst into the sky.

But this completely ignores the reality that there are millions of families around the world that are based in an identical fashion on a deep interpersonal relationship between husband and husband, or wife and wife, sustained by affection and mutual understanding. Does the Pope really believe that only heterosexuals are capable of such relationships, or of sustaining affection and mutual understanding? Apparently so.

Of course, we agree with Ed completely on this issue. However, looking at this from the other side, we also think we understand the point behind the apparent vitriol spewed by the anti-gay crowd, even though we don't agree with that point at all. The point has to do with what we'll call "ground-floor perceptions" — the a priori assumptions that humans make, upon which they base all of their subsequent analysis and conclusions. In simplistic terms, we're talking about whether you automatically assume the avenue is first and the street is last...or the other way around.

You see, the problem as we see it is: those who oppose gay marriage on religious principles don't see "gay" as an adjective, like "black" or "Jewish" or "fat" or "brunette." If they did — if "gay" was just another contextual adjective to them — then sure, the honest and fair-minded ones would see the utter absurdity in saying something like "gays don't deserve the privilege of marriage." Because, quite simply, it would be exactly equivalent to saying "blacks/Jews/fat people/brunettes don't deserve the privilege of marriage." And even the devoutly religious folks can recognize that inconsequential characteristics (some of which, until recently, weren't considered inconsequential) have nothing to do with a person's ability to bear the rights and responsibilities of a committed monogamous relationship. So if "gay" is just another label like "black," "Jewish," "fat" or "brunette," there really isn't much to argue about.

But therein lies the problem: that's not the starting point for those who oppose gay marriage. The point, to many of them, is that "gay" is a conscious decision, a deviation, even a sin or a crime. It is an action, not an adjective. In other words, their ground-floor perception is that "being gay" is like "drowning kindergarteners" or "eating babies" or "raping grandmothers." And in that case, saying "someone who is gay doesn't deserve the privilege of marriage" is equivalent to saying "someone who drowns kindergarteners/eats babies/rapes grandmothers doesn't deserve the privilege of marriage." And when you think about it that way, even people who advocate gay marriage might actually agree with such a statement. Yes, people who do the things described above deserve the right to marry, but most people seem to agree that they all exhibit abhorrent behavior, and that society would be better off without them. As such, they tend to attract a kind of "fuck 'em" attitude from many people. And that's the same way that the religiosos view "being gay."

It's a basic problem of ground-floor perception. We gay marriage advocates are simply looking at the obvious facts, using logic and reason to analyze them, applying compassion and a sense of mutual beneficence, and coming to an obvious conclusion; that conclusion being that there's no more reason to restrict a gay person's civil liberties than there is to restrict a black person's, a Jew's, a fat person's, or a brunette's. But the religiosos don't see the same "obvious" facts in the first place, which is why they can't help but come to an entirely different conclusion.

We're thinking that what we really need to concentrate on is getting those basic facts recognized. Both sides of this argument need to start from the same "square one." Without that initial common ground, we'll always just be talking past one another, like Jeff and his date, neither of whom could understand why the other was unable to comprehend simple English directions.

But that leads us to the ultimate question: how do we explain, patiently and kindly, how their perceptions are just completely incorrect from the get-go? How do you alter someone's ground-floor perceptions when everything you offer them is filtered through those very same perceptions? Metaphorically, how do you get them to Sixth and Ninth, when they can't understand that avenues come first and streets come second? It's a tough question, and it's made tougher by the fact that the assumptions of most of the anti-gay crowd are rooted in that most secure and socially unimpeachable of cultural institutions: religion. Frankly, we aren't sure of the answer. We just hope that, despite our suspicions, the answer isn't "you can't."


— • —
[  Filed under: % Greatest Hits  % Religion  % Two Percent Toons  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/357

Comments (8)

Brian, 2006.07.11 (Tue) 22:24 [Link] »

Excellent post. I give it a B+. Maybe an A-. it's obvious y'all put some work into this one. It's _good_.

But you kinda veer off at the end. You went from recognizing that both sides are coming at the problem from different points of view (bravo) to saying

"But that leads us to the ultimate question: how do we explain, patiently and kindly, how their perceptions are just completely incorrect from the get-go?"

Which is - if I may - the problem. The religous don't 'think' they are correct, it's known deep down in their hearts that they are.

So you come at the problem in a good way and then veer off at the last second. Which is fine - religion is y'all's hobby horse and that's okay - but it kinda misses the point of seeing that your opposition has a different perspective.

It's almost as if you yourself are blinded - for all the brilliance of your insight - by your own preconceptions. Which is a very human thing to do.



Glintir, 2006.07.12 (Wed) 18:44 [Link] »

Brian: Deciding at the end of the article that their beliefs are as deeply held as the religiosos doesn't mean they veered off. They simply acknowledged the gap, and wondered if those other guys can be made to change. This is too basic a belief any sort of "meeting in the middle".

2%: I think if it is possible to get the religiosos to back off the perversion statement, it will require you to get them to back of the concept that being gay is a choice. The only way I can see that being possible it getting them to see if they can make themselves "be gay". If they can't, then why would other people be able to do so. Or be able to stop being gay for that matter.

I'm not sure that gap can be bridged for the same religious reasons. Trying, even for perspective's sake to make yourself "gay for a month", would be a perversion of god's will in their minds.

Ironclad self delusion.



Pool Guy, 2006.07.12 (Wed) 19:16 [Link] »

I like Glintir's challenge to the "gay is a choice" crowd to demonstrate someone who is heterosexual "choosing" to be gay for a while. I think I could develop a great sitcom spec script from that.

One of the things that is overlooked here is that marriage is actually two things in this type of discussion, and to conflate them loses the nuances of each.

First, a marriage is a legal status that brings into play certain legal advantages (survivor benefits, hospital privileges, etc.) and disadvantages (community property in divorce, etc.) to the participants. This is from a state-specific, religion-free perspective. These rights are the same whether you are Catholic, Muslim, or atheist.

Second, marriage is a sacrament in most religions. To be married in a given religion confers a special religious status to the participants, but no legal rights of any kind. If a couple went through a Catholic wedding ceremony but never obtained a marriage license from the state, the state would view them as two single people.

Since this country is not a theocracy (yet, knock wood), the religious objection to gay marriage has no currency in the legal meaning.

I suspect (with no proof) that a majority of gays would accept letting the religious wackos keep possession of the word marriage if they were allowed to enter into unions that conferred on them all the legal rights that states confer on "married" couples. Plus, there are some religions that are open to all couples regardless of color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.



The Two Percent Company, 2006.07.12 (Wed) 22:16 [Link] »

[We wrote this before we read Glintir's and Pool Guy's comments, so we may overlap what they've said a little, but we still wanted to get this down. — Ed.]

Of course we think that our perceptions are correct and that the religosos' perceptions are incorrect. That's why we hold our opinions, and not theirs. But are we blinded by our preconceptions, or informed by them? We assert the latter, though we know that the anti-gay folks would say the same about their own opinions. So, to cut to the chase, we'll present our case for why our views are correct, why theirs are not, and why we very consciously ended the post above the way we did.

In our post, we were illustrating how we think we understand the religiosos' position; but we were in no way implying that the anti-gay folks are even "a little right," or that we should engage in discussion with them to "meet in the middle." That is absolutely not what we believe. Understanding where they're coming from is key if we are to have a discussion with them. But the discussion that needs to take place is a discussion aimed at getting them to see that they are wrong, that their view lacks a basic compassion for their fellow human beings, and that they are denying liberties to people when granting those liberties would in no way infringe on their own rights. At the end of our post, we were hoping out loud that such a discussion was possible, and that it might be carried out diplomatically, but — and here's the sticking point — it can't be a compromise. There is no compromise that both protects the civil liberties of all people and allows the religiosos to continue to infringe on those same civil liberties. They are welcome to believe whatever they want about gays, but their belief must end when it comes to stripping away the civil liberties of other citizens.

What makes our opinion different from theirs? After all, we have our opinion on how things "should be" and they have theirs — why is ours "more valid"? The answer here is very simple, as far as we're concerned: it's because our view protects the rights of all people, and because it is applied logically and consistently, even if we happen to peripherally bear an emotional bias (peripherally meaning it doesn't enter into our decision, despite the fact that it agrees with our conclusion). We find it hard to believe that any rational person (which, after all, is our intended audience on this site) would deem our position inferior to — or even not superior to — a position that is irrationally biased against any group of people. Empirically, and for the common good, our position is a more valid position to take, in the world in which we live. We have absolutely no problem saying that, because our position protects everybody equally, and theirs unjustifiably singles out particular groups for inclusion or exclusion.

The "preconception" that leads us to conclude that gay people should have all the rights and privileges that all other people enjoy is that granting egalitarian civil liberties to all people is the most important job of the social compact civilization has constructed. Period. If anyone thinks that's incorrect, they are free to argue their case. However, we really don't see how anyone can rationally and logically come to any contradicting conclusion. So while we recognize that each side is coming at this from a different point of view, that in no way means that both points of view are equally valid.

Let's look at the base starting point for our opinions. You don't have to read our site for very long to know the principles that make up that starting point. First and foremost, and we can't stress this enough, we value egalitarian civil liberties for all people. To us, that's the single most important issue — guaranteeing civil liberties, no matter what we may personally think of the specific group or action being protected. It's equally important to make sure that we protect these freedoms all the way up until the point where protecting a given freedom would infringe on the guarantee of another person's freedom.

But a second strong point that we hold fast to is: faith-based beliefs cannot be allowed to trump fact-based beliefs. So, that means that you are free to believe whatever you want to believe, but the moment that your beliefs trample over reality, they must take a back seat to the facts.

Creationism provides a good example of both of these views in action. Anyone is perfectly welcome to believe that the earth was created 10,000 years ago, even though that flatly contradicts the known facts. However, when they start to push to have their faith taught in public schools, they are then trying to infringe on the rights of others. Of course, they would maintain that not teaching creationism infringes on their religious rights. This is where our second tenet comes in — faith-based beliefs must take a back seat to the facts. As such, our view protects the right of the creationists to believe in creationism all the way up until the point where that right would infringe on the rights of others to be taught the scientifically supported facts — supported by the evidence, that is — that contradict creationism. So yes — that's our starting premise. It's a rational, logical and consistent line that we draw, and it protects the rights of everyone better than any other system we're aware of.

Now let's look at the starting premise of someone who opposes gay marriage, as we discussed in our post. Someone who believes in the religious viewpoint outlined in our post believes in civil liberties only for people they consider to be "good," but not for those they consider to be "bad." By extension, they have no problem infringing on the rights of those "bad" people. Such a stance is clearly not looking out for the rights of all people. And far from being rational, logical and consistent, their faith-based beliefs are based on a contradictory, nonsensical book, and their own distaste and discomfort. The premise that this leaves them with is "the bible is right, and gays are bad." Both of these beliefs are faith-based, and both of them trample all over civil liberties.

To be clear, it isn't specifically their belief that "gays are bad" that is the problem — they are welcome to believe that, even though it is a faith-based belief. The problem is their desire to trample over the civil liberties of anyone that they deem to be "bad." And unlike the defamation of granny rapers who, rationally, are bad for society, the rationale for calling gays "bad" is rooted not in logic and reason, but in faith-based beliefs and xenophobic tendencies. So, just as in the creationist example above, people should be free to believe that gays are "bad," but the moment they want to use this belief to infringe on the rights of others, their faith-based belief must take a back seat to reality.

In addition, it must be pointed out to them that allowing gays to marry in no way infringes on their own rights. To date, not one person has ever provided a compelling reason why gay marriage damages any other people.

Heck, let's look at an eerily similar example. If we wanted to craft a position like theirs, but with an opposite slant, we'd say that "Christians shouldn't be allowed to marry." When pressed, we'd argue that Christianity is among the most destructive elements in American society, has been tearing this country apart in the political and social arena, and that, when married, Christians have more children per person than any other social group, all of whom are at great risk of growing up Christian themselves (we're making our statistics up, here, but really, so are they!). We'd also point out that if we don't allow them to marry, they aren't supposed to have sex (by their own rules) and hence can't reproduce. So, hey, we don't like Christians, and as such, we have no problem infringing on their right to marry. Sure, we personally think our argument is slightly more logical than theirs is about gays, but it is clearly flawed on many levels. Most notably, it assumes that all Christians are "out to get us" and hence are a threat to us somehow. And that's our hypothetical faith-based belief. That's the same general assumption that is made by the anti-gay crowd about gays — that their mere existence is somehow a threat, and that allowing them to be included in the "institution of marriage" would somehow tarnish and ruin all of the "straight" marriages out there. It's pure nonsense.

So are they wrong? We think so. That's why we said so. We believe we understand where they're coming from, but we still think both their ground-floor perceptions and their conclusions are wrong. If we didn't think they were wrong...we'd be them.



ed, 2006.07.15 (Sat) 06:10 [Link] »

As a linguist, I wonder if there'd be any difference if English had two forms of copula, as many other languages do; one for permanent or inherent qualities, and one for temporary or non-fixed states. This is the difference between "George Bush is a human" (sic) and "George Bush is the president". The second is temporary. Spanish uses the forms soy and estoy to express exactly this difference; does anyone know if there's a difference in which form is used for homosexuality (or heterosexuality) in Spanish?



Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2006.07.15 (Sat) 12:32 [Link] »

Man, that's an excellent question, ed. Any native Spanish speakers out there who know the answer?

I wonder if language itself is used as a form of discrimination in Spanish-speaking societies, with pro-gay rights folks using soy and anti-gay rights folks using estoy. It would be a subtle but telling point.



M@, 2006.07.20 (Thu) 17:23 [Link] »

Very good argument. All of which makes excellent sense. And an interesting question about the Spanish language. Every time I've heard someone ask if someone is gay in Spanish, or tell someone that someone else is gay, it has always been, in my experience, "Eres gay?" or "Es gay," respectively. In other words, always the permanent [i]Ser[/i] form.



M@, 2006.07.20 (Thu) 17:29 [Link] »

Very good argument. All of which makes excellent sense. And an interesting question about the Spanish language. Every time I've heard someone ask if someone is gay in Spanish, or tell someone that someone else is gay, it has always been, in my experience, "Eres gay?" or "Es gay," respectively. In other words, always the permanent [i]Ser[/i] form.




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