Tag Archives: values

The Power of Civil Discourse: Strengthening Marriage

25 Oct

This is the story of two men who had radically opposing views. By making an effort, and engaging in a real conversation, they came to an understanding that shifted the course of their relationship and of an organizational mission. Thanks to regular TSM reader Bruce Kestelman for pointing me to their tale.

Jonathan Rauch is a well-known political activist, speaker, and writer. He is also a gay man and a staunch advocate for marriage equality; foes have called him “the most formidable and persuasive voice for same-sex marriage.” David Blankenhorn is a conservative fathers’ rights advocate and the founder and president of the Institute for American Values. He has been a strong advocate of “mother-father marriage” and a vocal opponent of equality. The two men have naturally been long aware of each other and have traded barbs in the press. Something fundamental began to shift in their interaction in 2004.

They shared the stage at a 2004 promoting Rauch’s book, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. Blankenhorn intended to make his usual (flawed) pitch for marriage as a procreational institution but got caught up in his emotions and engaged in some nasty attacks on Rauch. Shockingly, he called Rauch the next day to apologize, something Rauch says had never happened before. They began talking and over the course of years realized that fundamentally they shared a goal: making marriage a stronger and more viable institution in the United States.

Through their dialogue and growing friendship, Rauch learned the value of finding common ground with an opponent (if possible). Blankenhorn underwent an even more fundamental shift, and has changed his position on marriage. While he still believes in the value of “traditional” marriage, he sees the value in sharing basic civil rights to provide a solid foundation to the institution he values. In June of this year, he published a passionate editorial endorsing marriage equality. That move has cost his organization donors and Board members, but he firmly believes it was right.

There are a couple of valuable lessons here. First, it’s helpful to listen to what your perceived opponents are really saying. Finding common ground may result in real dialogue and create an opportunity to change hearts and minds. (That’s not always possible, of course. Some people will hold onto their positions without thought or care. Discussions with such people become much like the legendary time-waste of teaching a pig to sing. A second — and very valuable — lesson for the LGBT community is the power of visibility. Blankenhorn changed his mind because he got to know a gay man and came to realize that his position was untenable given its impact on his friend. Fear breeds in ignorance; knowledge is power.

Bigot of the Week Award: July 20, Boy Scouts of America

20 Jul

Bigot of the Week

Thank you to my friend and LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. This week the Boy Scouts of American burrowed all the way back to the 1950s to embrace a false America and ignore the rights of an entire segment of the U.S. population. The organization, aptly founded in the waning of the Victorian Era, opted to maintain their restriction against LGBT Scouts and Scout leaders. The Scouts’ national spokesman, Deron (I’m afraid of the gays) Smith, told The Associated Press that an 11-member special committee, formed discreetly by top Scout leaders in 2010, came to the conclusion that the exclusion policy “is absolutely the best policy.” REALLY? Best for whom?

The decision was unanimous and was announced by the group’s media wing. It cited parent concerns and tradition as key factors in upholding bias.

The committee included a diversity of perspectives and opinions. The review included forthright and candid conversation and extensive research and evaluations – both from within Scouting and from outside the organization. The committee’s work and conclusion is that this policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members, thereby allowing Scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it is doing to serve more youth.

I don’t think the Scouts know what most of those words mean. Diversity? Candid? Research? Service? If having a hate-the-gays tea with Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher fits those words, maybe. How else could they have come to such an odious conclusion a decade into the 21st Century? The review was shrouded in secrecy. None of the panelists were named publicly, the meetings were secret, and the process was never disclosed. The lack of transparency reinforces the image of a secretive group uninterested in the nation which it hypothetically serves. For a group that purports to create tomorrow’s leaders, hiding behind “beliefs and perspectives of … members” is cowardly at best. Exactly what type of leaders are they hoping to foster?

Some adult Scouts had put pressure on leadership. Eagle Scout and journalist Naka Nathaniel renounced his rank in a public statement last month. Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, the Iowa college student with two lesbian mothers who famously testified for marriage equality, collected tens of thousands of signatures in support of a policy change. He delivered them to the Scouts’ annual meeting to no avail.

Given the improvements for LGBT rights in the past decade, many were hopeful that the Scouts would recognize their error. Protections against sexual orientation discrimination have increased significantly. Marriage equality exists in six states and the District of Columbia; many more have civil union laws. President Obama’s recent support of marriage equality has helped shift the national conversation, and recent polls show all-time high support for gay rights across the country. While the Scouts re-endorsed discrimination, the Episcopal Church adopted a liturgy for same-sex unions and approved ordination of transgender priests. Overall support for transgender rights has increased, and the fully inclusive Girl Scouts accept lesbian and transgender members and leaders.  Even the founding branch of the Boy Scouts, Britain’s Scout Association, refuses to discriminate on sexual orientation. The Scouts have turned a deaf ear and a bigoted blind eye to the conversation.

More importantly, the Boy Scouts have sent a dangerous message to America’s youth. By maintaining the ban they reinforce two horrific stereotypes: that gay kids are somehow of lesser value and that LGBT adults are somehow worse stewards of youth. Study upon study shows that the sexual orientation of an adult is not a factor in abuse of children — just ask Penn State or the Catholic Church. More significantly, in the wake of the worst year for LGBT-based bullying (and consequent suicides) on record, the Scouts have told bullies that they are justified and kids who differ from “acceptable” norms that they deserve what they get. The Scouting oath includes

To help other people at all times

It’s a shame the Boy Scouts of America have chosen to return to their Victorian roots rather than live up to their principles. Is there a merit badge for hypocrisy?

Election 2012: Compare the Candidates with Your Own Positions

3 Jan

Let the voter beware!

As the nation prepares to have the Republican slate of Presidential candidates become even more confusing with today’s Iowa Caucuses, TSM has found a useful tool for understanding where all the hopefuls stand on eleven key issues. This very useful matching tool presents a simple question (as it might be framed in a debate) and then gives a number of possible answers. After selecting the best match for each topic, the user is presented with a top three match. The candidates included are the seven active Republicans (Bachmann, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, Romney, Santorum) and President Obama. This provides one with the opportunity not just to see where the Republicans stand, but to see just how different our President is than those who would compete with him.

As with any tool, this one has its flaws, but they are minor given how clearly it illustrates the intentions of the candidates. TSM’s biggest objection is the heavy focus on things that have cropped up in recent budget battles (taxes, Medicare, Social Security, Defense) at the expense of any mention of job creation and the limited presentation of civil rights (marriage equality, but nothing on reproductive choice (talk about misogyny) or freedom of speech and assembly). Based on the way the tool works, this is probably a result of needing clear statements from all the candidates on any issue presented, but it still leaves some big questions about all eight included hopefuls. The other challenge  also arises from the way the answers are provided. In at least three cases, we were unable to pick a single answer that matched our preferred position and had to select “None of the above” (For example, the question on immigration I checked “none of the above” because all of the options were blatantly racist, as none of the options regarding marriage equality were acceptable). This is because the options given are real answers from the candidates. If your answer isn’t there, none of them would be a perfect match. It is easy, however, to highlight each candidate’s stand on each issue for more information.

Come November, we’ll have to choose between President Obama and one of the sailors on the Republican ship of fools. There will be a lot of noise and confusion between now and then. Let’s be careful to remember where the candidates really stand on the important issues.

Click here to take the quiz yourself.

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