Posted by: brian | December 19, 2008

Obama, Rick Warren, and the gays – a followup

I promise I’ll avoid name-calling this time. Well, I’ll try.

Here’s a little something from Thomas Jefferson to start us off:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

Or, more colloquially, your right to extend your fist is unobstructed up to the point that it comes into contact with my nose.

Let me make this clear: Rick Warren is on the wrong side of the gay marriage issue. Our desire for equal treatment does not infringe on his right to hold whatever belief system he chooses. His desire to impose those beliefs on everyone, whether they hold the same beliefs, different beliefs, or no beliefs at all, does infringe on our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I’ll be honest, I think it would be awesome if we could have an inauguration ceremony without the superstitious mumbo-jumbo. But that’s not going to happen.

The outrage expressed by most of the LGBT community in this instance illustrates a simplistic view of the world, where it’s easy to sort everyone based on an us-vs-them dichotomy. In their worldview, only one issue matters: gay marriage. There are no other problems in the world, and this single issue establishes the criteria by which every public figure is judged: If you agree with us on gay marriage, you’re a good person. If you disagree with us, or express anything but disdain for those who disagree with us, you are the enemy, and you must be marginalized, disenfranchised, and demonized. This all-or-nothing, my-way-or-the-highway approach polarizes the discussion, and generates ill will on both sides. It is counterproductive, and it highlights the extremes on both sides while making little or no progress toward a solution. It also illustrates a distressing lack of the tolerance that they claim to hold so dear.

The reality is that none of us agrees with anyone on everything. But we set aside our differences when we work together toward a common goal. Obama stressed that when he pointed out that he wants to find common ground, even with those he disagrees with on some issues, because we all need to work together toward a large number of goals – some common, some not. During one of the debates, on the question of abortion, he demonstrated that position. He pointed out that everyone would like to see fewer abortions, and that this common goal should bring both sides of the issue together to discuss how to do so – through education, counseling, and offering alternatives like adoption – while ensuring the legal availability of abortion for those who choose it. The point is, when it comes to promoting environmental sustainability, eliminating poverty, and working to stop the spread of AIDS, we should work with everyone who shares those goals – including Rick Warren. When it comes to fighting for gay rights, providing adequate sex education, and keeping abortion safe, legal and rare, we should work with everyone who shares those goals.

Social progress is slow, and it depends in large part on humanizing everyone involved. By painting the opposition as a caricature of single-minded excess, we make it easier to demonize them, rather than humanize them. And hey, if they ain’t human, fuck ’em, right? But if we see each person as fully human, full of the contradictions and differences that condition entails, it is easier for us to understand them. And once we understand them, we can come to mutual understanding that, hopefully, benefits everyone. I call it “pragmatic idealism.”



  1. Good post. I thik a lot of progressives who voted for Obama forgte that the guy is almost a serial paragmatist. And whether one likes it or not, a good percentage of the american polulation (read voters) agrees with Rick Warren. And I think Obama The Uniter does not want to piss them off either.

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