November 6, 2004

Spinning the election: it's all about religion.

I've been watching the post-election news analysis shows and trying to catch up with my paper and on-line reading, and though I'm seeing a lot of material, it's awfully repetitious. Exactly how does a single message, a single explanation for a complex event, get framed and spread so quickly? Sure, there were some polls, but the exit polls that seem to provide the fuel for the analysis were wrong in predicting a big Kerry win, and, in any event, someone had to predetermine which choices to put on those exit polls, and the "moral values" option that got picked by so many people doesn't necessarily mean what those who picked that option meant to say. Now, pundits are purporting to describe the state of mind of millions of human beings, and they've swooped down on religion, specifically fundamentalist Christian religion, and even more specifically, antipathy toward gay people.

This explanation seems to be appealing to those who are disappointed that Kerry lost because it is a way of saying: there's nothing wrong with us, we lost because you are bad people. Folded into that idea is an assumption that antipathy toward gay people is an outrage, but antipathy toward fundamentalist Christians is completely acceptable. Folded even more deeply into that is an assumption that unreadiness to accept gay marriage equals bigotry toward gay persons and an assumption that Christians with traditionalist attitudes adhere to a literal, Biblical form of Christianity.

The wide margins by which the gay marriage referenda passed in all of the states where it was on the ballot, including the usually socially liberal Oregon, shows that there is a wide range of persons who aren't ready to accept gay marriage. And, frankly, it was not that many years ago that the strongest proponents of gay rights were hostile to the gay marriage movement and were very critical of Andrew Sullivan in particular for pushing this issue instead of a more socially and politically left agenda. It was not very long ago that clever gay rights lawyers tried to think of ways to prevent gay marriage proponents from setting the gay rights agenda. It seems as though everyone has forgotten the real history of the gay rights movement.

Being against gay marriage is itself a complex matter that can channel all sorts of thoughts. Some people are just trying to stop courts from imposing it on the country; they may simply think it is the sort of question that needs to work through the political process more slowly. Some people just haven't gotten past the traditional definition of marriage. I've talked to some people who are not particularly religious and don't seem to care about any fundamentalist religious beliefs who just repeat "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman." It seems obvious to them and impervious to more complicated arguments. I think over time that will change. I, myself, favor the recognition of gay marriage. But I certainly don't think those who mean to thwart the judicial recognition of a gay marriage right are necessarily or even usually expressing hatred toward gay persons. Demonizing your opponent -- which includes 57% of Oregonians -- should marginalize you. And yet somehow this Bush-voters-are-religious-bigots meme has pervaded the post-election commentary. Can we please get a grip?

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