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March 29, 2013

Rush Limbaugh: The Gay Marriage Issue is Lost

Wow. Big statement.

Limbaugh's diagnosis about how it was lost is wrong. He says it's because of language -- traditional marriage proponents began speaking of "traditional marriage," which then allowed/advanced the term "gay marriage," which then created a semiotic space in people's minds that there was a general category of "marriage" and then two varieties of it beneath that, and since they're all marriage, well, it's unfair to discriminate against one type.

That's just wrong.* You know I think people have to be wary of the "When you've got a hammer, all the world looks like a nail" thing. Everyone does this. The AMA, for example, will issue papers calling for the banning of guns because guns are a "unacceptable health risk." We each have our preferred prism by which we examine complex things.

Ever talk to an engineer about a political or social issue? They give you an engineering answer.

Rush Limbaugh is a guy who works with words so his preferred prism is "language."

But come on. The sort of people who are primarily interested in words and their power are:

1. extremely political people

2. idiots who just like to parse words because they enjoy wasting your time with semantic games; being a nitwit over the meanings of words in everyday conversation is their idea of a crossword puzzle (sorry, but there's a special place in hell for all the endless liberal word-parsing during the Clinton Impeachment matter)

3. people who read and/or write a lot

You could fill one state, maybe two, with those sorts of people. I've said it before: this country is basically dumb. Dumb people do not sweat the meanings of words. They're barely even listening to them.

I think the reason for the gay marriage issue being lost (if it is lost) is multivariable. For one thing, gays have the right allies. They work in the media disproportionately, and they know a lot of people in the media. And there's a weirdly-strong alliance of urban liberal women and gays.

For another thing, people want to think well of themselves. "Bullying" does not feel right to them. If they are given the choice between what feels like a bullying position and non-bullying one, they will choose the latter almost every time.

I think the gay marriage issue has relied far too much on the idea of an official governmental disapproval of gays which then in turn gives pretext and justification for a social disapproval of gays. I think the anti-gay-marriage forces were too close to this idea-- I think this is the one the public disagrees with, the idea that the government should, or that society needs, some sort of an official position disapproving of the sexual choices of gay people.

I think people find this bullying. I think people see gays as a minority who actually doesn't have too much control over whom they're attracted to. A fat person may be able to strenuously fight against his inclination to grow fat, but that doesn't mean he was born thin and just "chose" to be fat, picking freely between the two. And while it is true that a gay person could either refrain from sex or try to re-orient his sexuality, it's a bit implausible that that this merely a choice. It may be a choice, but it's not a free one; obviously, I think, a person is oriented how they're oriented. Sure, one could fight that, but it's certainly swimming hard upstream.

I mean, I think most people intuitively get that gays and lesbians seem like gays and lesbians. Most of the time you don't go, "What? Him?!!?" Most of the time, you're pretty sure if someone's gay. Which sure makes it seem intrinsic. (Though I acknowledge it may not be; "gay" behavior may be learned and imitated. Sure seems intrinsic, though, at least to the casual glance.)

Anyway, point is, the gay marriage issue actually bundles two different issues.

1. Whether gays should "get married just like anyone else"

2. Whether gays should be subject to official governmental disapproval and the related social disapproval which flows from that/is justified by that, as many take government to be the arbiter of values

It's Number 2 that most people who are supporting gay marriage are really interested in. I don't think people care all that much about Number 1. I think most gay supporters of gay marriage care less about Number 1 than Number 2.

I think if we really wanted to stop gay marriage per se we should have split off Number 1 from Number 2 and made it plain we were okay with Number 2, too. But I don't think we did, because I think many people on the anti-gay-marriage (Number 1) side were also anti-Number-2 (anti-"mainstreaming" of homosexuality, as they'd call it).

Trouble is, for that side, it's not enough people against Number 2. It's like 35% (just guessing, don't ask me to cite a wild-ass guess).

So, the public, to register its general support for the idea that gays shouldn't get so much grief (concept number 2), signs on to gay marriage (concept number 1).

That's why I think we lost. Because we packaged an issue which could have won with one that was doomed, and made them a package deal. And the gay marriage side took an issue which frankly I think most people don't favor-- gay marriage -- but packaged it with an idea most people do, that gays should be basically let alone to do be gay, without so much shouting about it.

Straight up, I bet you'd the anti-gay-marriage side of things would still win, politically, but only if it were unconnected to the poison pawn. If our "side" offered some way to generally bless gay coupling as None of the State's, or Society's, Business, while still keeping marriage a traditional man-and-woman affair, we might have won. That is, if we offered a middle path, sans gay marriage itself, the public would take that compromise.

But we really didn't. We collectively bet we could win on the easier one and on the harder one at the same time, and the public rejected us on the harder one, so it rejected us on both.

* Actually it occurs to me I way overstated on "That's just wrong." Certainly words do matter and people grow conditioned to feel certain ways by how words are used and, importantly, what other words we associate with certain words. The words "intolerant" and "bigoted," used frequently in proximity to a word, will produce the standard Pavlovian linkage.

But I think it's glib to blame this all on words, or, I should say, I think it's glib to say "Our chief mistake was one of terminology." While words and messaging matter, surely gut reaction and philosophy matter more.

Caveat: You know, I'm sitting here talking about how the issue is lost as a political matter and a commenter notes that in most places where it's been put to a vote, it's lost. It's only been enacted democratically in a couple of states. The rest have been judge-imposed.

The commenter says, It's lost because the elites disagree with the public and the elites will have their say.

That's actually true. All this stuff about "gay marriage losing" is true, sort of, if you assume the younger voters don't change their minds, and we're talking about the issue being lost in 2036. As of now, the anti-gay-marriage side is either politically viable or the politically-winning side of it.

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posted by Ace at 06:06 PM

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