On the way up to my boyfriend’s place this weekend I was listening to the audiobook of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which I’ve read and listened to several times so I mostly revisit just to hear Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward read. They could recite the periodic table of elements and I’d still listen.
Earlier this morning I was going through email, RSS, Facebook and Twitter feeds (thank you, HootSuite) and came across an article on Upworthy about The Top 8 Ways To Be ‘Traditionally Married’ According To The Bible. It’s that infographic that’s been going around the Internet for months, and is actually a pretty concise description of what a traditional, “biblical” marriage looks like—according to the Bible.
But as I opened the page, the following bubble popped up…
What exactly do global warming and same-sex marriage have to do with each other? I don’t really need to explain my stance on same-sex marriage, but when it comes to global warming my opinion is fairly nuanced. Just as same-sex marriage is a complex issue that can’t be distilled down to “agree” or “disagree,” global warming isn’t as simple as everyone makes it out to be.
While I agree that the earth is warming, I don’t think that human activity is 100% responsible. There are many plausible explanations for the trends we’re observing, such as increased solar activity (a theory backed by CERN scientists concerned about charged subatomic particles from outer space) or geomagnetic reversal (which is a rather more frightening prospect than global warming).
To be clear, I think we should be doing more to keep our air clean and not pollute. It doesn’t make sense to use the water in your own backyard as a sewer, and we have future generations to think about. Plus, interplanetary travel isn’t yet possible and we have limited resources on the earth, so why spend money you don’t have?
But it bothered me that I was only given two choices to a question I didn’t entire agree with. If I went with the affirmative, I was agreeing with the idea that same-sex marriage should be legal and that humans are responsible for global warming trends. If I went with the negative, I was saying that there are other forces at work besides human activity and that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be legal. It’s one of those “gotcha!” tactics, such as when politicians sneak piggybacked legislation into bills. The addition of a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to an otherwise unnoteworthy defense spending bill is one such example.
There are other examples of how this tactic is used to trap people into agreeing or disagreeing with certain positions, but it illustrates how emotional appeal instead of intellectual argument is employed. On the issue of same-sex marriage, conservatives voters are being caged into supporting the denial of equal treatment of the GLBT community. They hear things like, “If gay marriage is legalized, your children will be taught about homosexuality in school!” which is code for “Your children will be taught how to be homosexuals!”, as if in addition to the safe sex and AIDS prevention curriculum in health class they’ll also receive tips on how to properly fellate a penis and cruise for men in a gay bar. A Christian may not agree with the majority that homosexuality is wrong, but with the looming spectre of the “gay agenda” and the demonization of homosexuality they may not see that they have a choice.
The Daisy ad from Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign that effectively won him the election is an example of how conservatives are using scare tactics and emotional appeal (pathos) to cloud people’s judgment…
In fact, most of the conservative efforts to pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage appear to be taken from this iconic minute-long commercial. It appeals to a primal fear in human—that of some harm coming to children. With the threat of the Cold War and nuclear holocaust, the juxtaposition of the girl plucking daisies with the mushroom cloud was a frightening reality for voters in that election.
In one of his essays, David Sedaris illustrates the power of guilt by association:
As we pulled into the station, I recalled an afternoon 10 years earlier. I’d been riding the Chicago El with my sister, Amy, who was getting off two or three stops ahead of me. The doors opened. And, as she stepped out of the crowded car, she turned around to yell, “So long, David. Good luck beating that rape charge.” Everyone on board had turned to stare at me. Some seemed curious, some seemed frightened, but the overwhelming majority appeared to hate me with a ferocity I had never before encountered. “That’s my sister,” I said. “She likes to joke around.” I laughed and smiled, but it did no good. Every gesture made me appear more guilty. And I wound up getting off at the next stop rather than continue riding alongside people who thought of me as a rapist.
There was no evidence that he was a rapist, but all it took was the mere suggestion that he might be to convince a car full of strangers that he was the most vile human being on earth.
In the same way, conservative anti-gay groups have employed this subtle but effective approach in demonizing gay rights. With the allegation that homosexuality is eroding the moral fiber of our country and that it puts children and families at risk, it becomes very difficult to overcome such claims because of the passionate emotions those images evoke. And, as we know, emotions can make people irrational. We’ve seen this in nearly thirty different state campaigns to ban same-sex marriage, and it’s worked—overwhelmingly and inexorably.
So are you the kind of person who believes that global warming exists and gay people should have the freedom to get married?