Dumb arguments against same-sex marriage don’t hide bigotry

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You know what I admire about bigots? And I’m not referring to the merely prejudiced, mutter-out-of-the-corner-of-their-mouth bigots, but the real wackos, the warped, scary, neo-Nazi, open Klansman, proudly sign-their-name haters.

You know what’s kinda great about them?

At least they’re candid. No pussyfooting around for them. They state their hate boldly, cast their slurs loudly and only then try to back it up with whatever false theories they believe support their irrational hatreds.

For everyone else, it’s the other way around. They timidly roll out their specious argument first, as if that were the important part, the crucial logic that made up their impartial minds, and led to their subsequent negative opinion, an unfortunate by-product.

“Gosh, I’d love to end the permanent legal limbo and semi-serfdom that millions of Hispanics living in the United States endure, but gosh-darn it, their entry was ILLEGAL, so I find myself forced to insist they all be loaded onto cattle cars and sent back to what will always be their true home.”

And when you try to call them out, and ask, for instance, what other misdemeanors this laudable passion for the law forces them to view as eternally unforgiveable — Speeding? Tax evasion? — they just stare at you blankly. Because they are unable to look up at the puppeteer pulling their strings. It’s easy to view hatred as evil, but it’s really a kind of willed ignorance. Since a measure of cowardice is also involved, being bigoted requires you to advocate dumb arguments in an attempt to hide your loathsome beliefs.

We saw this on full display this week in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, as attorneys from Wisconsin and Indiana tried to justify their bans on gay marriage.

The facts are simple: Gays make no worse spouses or parents than anyone else. But an argument must be made, and since the “We hate them,” and “They wreck straight marriage” tacks have finally been hooted down as too embarrassing, the states claim that 1) it’s better for children to be raised by two parents, and those parents generally are straight so 2) gay marriage should be illegal.

The first is true, sort of, though a gross simplification. But aren’t gay parents also two people? In a not-so-deft sleight of hand, the focus is put on the number, since the true concern — the sexuality of the couple — is a nonstarter. So the talk was of vague cultural norms, though Judge Richard Posner saw through that smokescreen.

When Wisconsin’s assistant attorney general cited “tradition,” Posner shot back: “It’s based on hate” and the “history of rather savage discrimination against homosexuals.”

Related Judge’s questions suggest gay marriage coming to Wis. and Ind. Indiana same-sex marriage ban debated in appeals court

While die-hard bigots spout invective, those trying to be subtle attempt a kind of magic act. You distract the audience’s attention fluttering one hand while the other lays the key card. Zealots say, “Oh no, it isn’t about fearing gays at all. It’s about respecting my religion, which orders me to oppress gays (even though I ignore lots of other stuff my religion orders me to do and could ignore this too if I didn’t hate gays so much”).

They leave off that last part.

Similarly, anti-Semitism, which hardly needs a faux reason to stir, is having a field day with the Israeli crisis in Gaza. Their logic is: Israel does bad stuff, therefore Jews, who support Israel, are fair game. You see that, and almost expect it, say, in a French mob burning a Jewish store. But I noticed it this week in the letters section of The New York Times, from a surprising author.

“The best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-state resolution to the Palestinian question,” wrote … no, wait for it. It’s too ironic to reveal immediately.

“Israel’s patrons abroad.” Hmm. He doesn’t mean the fundamentalist Christians and far-right pundits who offer knee-jerk approval of whatever Israel does. Can’t be them: what’s their connection to anti-Semitism? Then who? Oh, right! “Patrons abroad” means Jews, as if many weren’t deeply ambivalent about Israel and eager to remedy this situation (and notice how the mystery writer says nothing about the Palestinians, as if they have no say in their destiny at all, which gives you a hint that the passion people feel about this is not entirely fueled by actual Middle Eastern reality).

The author is the Rev. Bruce M. Shipman, the Episcopal chaplain at Yale, which had trouble admitting Jews before Israel existed.

Here’s where hate-first bigots and their rationalizing cousins merge: Both groups love to pin blame for their hatred on their victims. Not my fault; if only you were different then I wouldn’t be forced to feel this way. It’s a dumb argument, but bigotry does that.

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