"Just Because" Doesn't Cut It

Today I learned I am a terrorist. Imagine my surprise.

This compounded the surprise I felt when I learned that the future of our country is in jeopardy because someday I might have the right to marry a man.

Whew. Glad these things are being cleared up because I was totally unaware of them. Thanks Rick Santorum for so eloquently illustrating in the following remarks on the Senate floor just why some people are suggesting that supporters of the marriage amendment are intolerant.

"I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance," he said shortly before the vote. "Isn't that the ultimate homeland security standing up and defending marriage?" Read the whole story here: Yahoo! News - Senate Scuttles Gay Marriage Amendment

Homeland security is about fighting terrorists, so if gay marriage is an affront to homeland security, then the rhetorical suggestion is I must be some sort of terrorist. Given Santorum's history on this topic, he's far too savvy to have used such a rhetorical flourish without intending exactly what the words suggest.

Well, we homos have come a long way baby. Years ago we were stereotyped as swishy effeminates, but today we’ve become butch freedom fighters apparently hell-bent on destroying our country with our six-pack abs, gym-toned muscles, and willingness to move into transitional neighborhoods to work our "queer eye" renovating magic as we increase property values for all the straight couples who follow us pioneers. Guess Tom Ridge will need to change the color-coded threat alert to include a little mauve if more states start sanctioning gay marriage.

I normally stay away from politically-tinged commentary on this blog because its readers includes a very diverse mix of clients, colleagues, family, friends, and people I've never met. But today I reached a breaking point on the need to comment. And my thoughts are actually less tied to the personal affront I feel about assertions like Santorum's (the illogic of which speaks for itself) and more to the character of elected leaders and the rhetorical constructs they are using.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I can barely bring myself to watch the news or read the paper. So many issues are being framed in the most divisive, polarizing language so that each party can "solidify its base." No sooner does George Bush or John Kerry say something then their respective war rooms fire up the fax machines and email distribution lists and launch their weapons of mass distortion and confusion.

This isn’'t dialogue. This isn't even debate. And it surely is not democracy, something we supposedly are good enough at here in the land of stars and stripes that we often feel compelled to lecture others on how inadequately they do it in their own homelands.

Is this the very best we are capable of being? Is this all we can expect or hope for from the people we are supposed to view as our leaders? Can we not even have civil conversations about difficult topics with the understanding that only by respecting contrary and alternative points of views, even those that we might find illogical, ill-informed, or even repugnant, that we might arrive at some place where we make a decision that advances human rights and dignity? Doesn’t part of leadership involve convening and creating community among diverse parties, engaging them in an exploration of the common good as opposed to blatantly appealing to the starkest level of self-interest imaginable?

While I believe the federal marriage amendment is misguided for many reasons, I can also understand why others (including some of you reading right now) might believe it is the right thing to do. The ability to have informed, civil discourse around difficult issues must be one of the hallmarks of a free country and a leading democracy. We should be able to debate issues passionately while remaining respectful of those who hold alternative views. But we aren't even given the chance. Our leaders don't model such dialogue for us, nor do they ask us to engage in the conversation.

This issue reflects an all-too common trend I see at various levels of government, corporate, and nonprofit leadership: the just because syndrome. Sometimes it’s expressed in the form of a "don't worry your pretty little heads about stuff you don't know nuthin' about, we've got it covered." Other times, it's articulated as "Don't question us. We're at the top, and we know best." And most insidious to me is when it takes the form of "Because we said so."

How is it that gay marriage will destroy our country? Because we said so. Can you give me specific examples given the appalling rate of divorce among heterosexual couples? It just will. Just because.

Just because doesn’t cut it.

Just as in every child-parent relationship when the child’s intellectual development and passive acceptance of authority reaches a point where the boy or girl no longer will accept an unqualified and unsubstantiated “just because,” so must an informed citizenry refuse to accept such a disrespectful position from its chosen leaders at any level of any organization.

I am not a child, and more importantly, the government is not my parent. Just because is not acceptable to this citizen of this supposed greatest democracy.

Why not?

Because the cause simply is not just.


Anonymous said...

Well said. The rhetorical dance the right seems to be doing lately (is Kerry Catholic? Then he's going to bow to the Pope, and do we want that? Oh, he doesn't bow to the Pope? Then he's not a GOOD Catholic, so he's a hypocrite for keeping his spiritual convictions separate from his civic actions) seems primarily focused on conflating one's sense of civic responsibility with one's willingness or unwillingness to sit in judgment of others on issues that are eminently personal, spiritual, and moral. I'm not arguing for absolute relativism in the public sphere (in fact, it's my opinion that if the conservative factions want to throw more-Christian-than-thou stones, they should themselves stop working on Sundays or supporting businesses that do, stop coveting any material possessions, never get divorced, stop watching "Bachelor" reality shows, etc. Those aren't my values, per se, but the Venn diagram of people who point fingers at amoral "terrorists" like gay couples and those who patronize strip clubs --at least in the Bible belt--has a great deal of overlap. But that's another rant).

What I am saying is that this amendment, like so much of the "moral" agenda the right is pushing in this election year, is simply not an appropriate use of our legislators' time, or our money as taxpayers. The benefits you note of having stable gay couples as a vital part of the community are just the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion, whether you're taking a mercenary position (lots of taxes paid, no kids in school) or a social one (monogamy facilitates community activity and investment of time, etc.).

It's beneath our greatest governmental institutions to have these epithets tossed around by our "leaders." But, what can you expect when the Vice President uses the "f" word on the Senate floor?

Keep thinking and writing! --Betsy Boyd-Flynn

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey -

I applaud your courage in speaking out on the subject of distortion and confusion used by our political leaders to further their own interests, especially as it relates to the gay marriage amendment. The more I learn about best practices in association governance, the more I see how far our country's leadership strays from best practices in governing our country. Decisions are not based on knowledge, but rather, on a basis of fear, misunderstanding, and intolerance. Thank you for so eloquently getting to the heart of what's most disturbing about the debate on the federal marriage amendment...the fact that this isn't a debate at all. Until the shouting dies down, I fear the truth won't have a chance of being heard. Once we find a way to let go of what we think we know, and open ourselves to learning what we don't know, we can begin to appreciate life in ways we never before imagined!

Dawn Daly

Kristi Graves said...

Amen, Jeff. Amen. I often wonder how much longer the citizens of this country, members of our associations, stockholders in our companies, employees of our organizations, will continue to accept this behavior from our leaders. Thank you for writing this.