The newer, gentler bigotry

"I'm polite to abominations."

“I’m polite to abominations.” *wink!*

“Hello. I think you’re great just the way you are. I have friends who are like you. So I have nothing against people like you. But because of the love of Jesus, I can’t do business with you, because you’re you. I love you very much and wish you all the best, but it is my personal belief that I must deny services and rights to people like you, because Jesus.”

If someone said something like that to you, my guess is you’d think something along the lines of, “What a load of condescending, bigoted horseshit.”

Well, welcome to the new bigotry. And welcome one of its most recent defenders, William Saletan of Slate.com.

Is everyone who opposes gay marriage a bigot? If a photographer declines to participate in a same-sex wedding, should she be held legally liable, on that basis alone, for discrimination?

Both questions are an easy “yes”. Let me go a little further and say this: in about 10 years you’re gonna look back on this article and cringe that you even asked these questions as if there were any doubt about the answer. Don’t believe me? Replace “gay” with”interracial”. Feel that twinge of embarrassment at the mere thought of it? Yep. It’s coming for you in a few years, that humiliation at the thought that you could have said such a thing in public. Just wait.

I don’t think so.

Saletan 10 years from now is gonna feel like shit.

I like all three of these writers. I was a best man at a same-sex wedding 23 years ago, and I was a fan of gay marriage even before that.

He has gay friends! And my racist acquaintances have black friends. It proves nothing.

But I’m disturbed by what I see today. We’re stereotyping and vilifying opponents of gay marriage the way we’ve seen gay people stereotyped and vilified. This is a deeply personal moral issue.

Who banned gay marriage opponents from marrying, or passed laws making it legal to discriminate against them? No one, that’s who. So they haven’t been vilified in the way gay people were. Duh.

On Wednesday, Friedersdorf challenged Stern’s characterization of the dissenters. Friedersdorf quoted from the photographer’s  petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which gave her account of the events leading to her conviction for discrimination. The email exchange between the photographer, Elaine Huguenin, and the prospective lesbian client, Vanessa Willock, didn’t seem hateful:

[From Willock] We are researching potential photographers for our commitment ceremony on September 15, 2007 in Taos, NM. This is a same-gender ceremony. If you are open to helping us celebrate our day we’d like to receive pricing information.

[From Huguenin] Hello Vanessa, As a company, we photograph traditional weddings, engagements, seniors, and several other things such as political photographs and singer’s portfolios.

[From Willock] Hi Elaine,

Thanks for your response below of September 21, 2006. I’m a bit confused, however, by the wording of your response. Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?

[From Huguenin] Hello Vanessa,

Sorry if our last response was a confusing one. Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day.

Take that exact same conversation, but replace “same sex” with “interracial”. Still sound like an argument worth defending?

But here’s the thing. This exchange DOES sound hateful. The fact that the hate is gussied up with “Have a nice day!” doesn’t change it. “We don’t serve niggers” doesn’t suddenly lose its bigotry if it’s served with flowers and a smile.

Friedersdorf went on to quote the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which found Huguenin guilty of discrimination: “Ms. Willock thought that Ms. Elaine Huguenin’s response was an expression of hatred.” Friedersdorf didn’t see hatred in Huguenin’s words. He also pointed out that according to her petition,

the Huguenins’ photography business does serve gay and lesbian clients, just not same-sex weddings. Insofar as a photographer can distinguish between discriminating against a class of client and a type of event—there is, perhaps, a limit—their business does so: “The Huguenins gladly serve gays and lesbians—by, for example, providing them with portrait photography—whenever doing so would not require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.”

To me, that’s a prima facie case that Huguenin’s decision wasn’t driven by hatred or by animus against gay people.

I hate to be repetitive, but Mr. Saletan is also being repetitive. “They happily served blacks, but not if they’re marrying whites.” Does that sound like prima facie evidence that the person is not bigoted? I mean, even remotely? Is that a statement you would ever defend?

I feel sorry for Future Saletan.

On the evidence we have, this description of Huguenin’s motives and effects is inaccurate. She claims that she and her husband, who share the photography business, “gladly serve gays and lesbians.” Is there any evidence of a case in which a gay couple came to the Huguenins for any service other than a marital commitment ceremony and was turned away?

You’re just padding your word count at this point. You made your point already. If it’s polite, then it’s not bigoted. If only certain services are denied, but not all, then it’s not bigoted. I’m getting tired of explaining why this is utter horseshit.

It’s true that Huguenin is drawing a distinction between gay and straight couples. But she’s also drawing a distinction between portraiture and weddings. In analyzing her motives and effects, we have to consider both distinctions.

Because the best way to maintain discrimination and bigotry is to distract your audience with irrelevant distinctions.

Why does Stern attribute bigotry to Huguenin?

Because he’s not an asshole.

But maybe the rest of us need to broaden our experience, too. Maybe we need to talk to people who accept homosexuality as an orientation but believe marriage should be reserved for couples capable of procreation, at least in theory.

No. We don’t. Ya know why? Because those people don’t exist. No one actually believes marriage should be reserved to couples capable of procreation. Not in theory or in practice or in anything else. No one believes that. Think about this for two fucking seconds, Mr. Saletan. Is anyone proposing we ban infertile people from marrying? No? Then no one actually believes that. Period.

People SAY they believe that, but that’s a lie. Their actions expose them. If they really believed it, they would oppose infertile marriages. But no one does.

Hmmmm. Why are they lying? What could they be covering up? What could their real beliefs be? You know, the ones that they’re afraid to say in public.

Gee, I wonder.

At least old fashioned bigotry was honest. The newer, friendlier bigotry is disingenuous and smarmy. It’s putting on the play of being polite and understanding while actively striving to be precisely the opposite. It treats people like fools who can’t see through a plastic smile and a pat on the head. And it passive-aggressively plays the victim whenever criticized.

No, Mr. Saletan. The bigots are not the victims. There is no equivalence between the way gays are treated and the way Christian bigots are treated. Not then, not now, and not 10 years in the future, when you will be horribly embarrassed that you ever said this. Of course, by then, there will be an even newer form of bigotry you can defend. Saletan in 20 years weeps.

One response to “The newer, gentler bigotry

  1. Pingback: The New Bigotry, Part 2 | Riffing Religion

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