I came across an article in the Economist this morning that Slovakia is probably going to have a referendum soon (next few weeks) about outlawing gay marriage. Croatia did that last year, and there are a couple of other EU countries leaning that direction. I found the article to be more staunchly opinionated than is the norm for the magazine, but that isn’t the point. Like any other article about a “hot button” issue, there are hundreds of comments, and I read through the first quarter of them or so – no surprises, apart from the general civility. The ones I read through were primarily Slovaks and other eastern Europeans defending the move, with some criticism in return.
What bothered me about the article, and what bothers me about most news reporting on controversial issues generally, is that it seemed like the article was attempting to spin the LGBT community as the “losers” of this referendum. That is, at least half the article was written in a tone that reflected the idea this is a bigoted and backward piece of legislation and its passing would heap injustice on the persecuted LGBT community of Slovakia. I’m exaggerating a little bit, mainly through word choice. What was interesting, though, is many Slovaks had commented in return that the LGBT community in Slovakia is not persecuted, and in fact that there are many legal protections for them, as there are in other places.
In other words, I’m exaggerating about an exaggeration. The title of this post is an exaggeration, and if that wasn’t obvious at the beginning, I hope it is now. The real issue here is not the legislation. Rather, the issue is that when it comes to controversial issues, there is a marked tendency, especially on both sides of the media, to spin issues like this in terms of winners and losers. In the States, for example, when a state decides to define marriage as between a man and a woman, the LGBTQIA+whatever it is community loses. On the other hand, when a state decides not to limit marriage to just men with women, the “defenders of traditional family” or whatever they’re calling themselves these days lose. There’s no way for everyone to win. Generally speaking, that’s the nature of judicial law, so it’s not a complete surprise – what does remain surprising to me, though perhaps it shouldn’t, is our general insistence as a culture to make what other people do our problem.
I’m not taking any stances here. I have an opinion about what ought to constitute marriage, just like I have opinions on many other things. But remember how I mentioned that it’s these articles on controversial issues that tend to have so many more comments in the threads than others? I don’t know if it’s that we believe commenting on a thread will sway someone to our point of view, whether it releases pent-up tension over political issues, or what, but I have to ask, what’s the point of it?
Sometimes I wonder whether we’ve taken “freedom of speech” too far. Freedom of speech does not necessarily mean obligation to speak. Obligation to speak comes when there is an actual injustice being done – the fact we’ve reduced injustice to things like offense and disagreement does an injustice to the concept itself. Everyone doesn’t need to know what I think about gay marriage, and in fact I can count on one hand the number of people who do. I don’t mean to say clam up about these issues and never talk about them – but instead of launching into a tirade against gender nonconformity when a transgender kid throws herself in front of a semi truck, perhaps we should mourn the fact she felt that suicide was the only answer to her problems. I don’t like the word “tolerance” because it connotes putting up with something, which is a pretty negative way of interacting with someone whose views or lifestyle you disagree with. I prefer “respect,” which affords basic human dignity and is backed by at least decency if not love.