Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tim Pawlenty, Same-Sex Marriage, and 'Respectful Disagreements'

The good folks over at ThinkProgress have a pretty compelling video up this week of GOP presidential hopeful and vanilla ice cream spokesman Tim Pawlenty attempting, and roundly failing, to answer a question about same-sex marriage while speaking at the Iowa State Fair.

During the question and answer portion of Pawlenty's 'Soap Box' speech, 17-year-old Gabe Aderhold, who identified himself as a 'member of the GLBT community,' accused Pawlenty of, among other things, not standing for members of the GLBT community, and treating him as a second-class citizen. Take a look:

Notice that at no point in his defense of 'traditional marriage' does Pawlenty actually offer an even half-way coherent reason for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. His reasoning is about as vague and bland as, well, Tim Pawlenty himself:
"The relationship between a man and a woman in a traditional marriage is important to our country, our society, our culture. I think it should remain elevated, not just in our words, but under our laws – that's why I've supported laws, in fact have authored laws, to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman.”
While Pawlenty has alluded to his evangelical Christianity while trying to justifying his stance on same-sex marriage, he has never been able to satisfactorily explain the threat he feels such marriages to pose beyond the "obvious reasons." Here's about as coherent an explanation as he's offered:
“I think society devalues traditional marriage by saying all other domestic relationships are the same as traditional marriage, you then dilute and devalue traditional marriage.”
This is, of course, hogwash. If Pawlenty and other conservatives were truly concerned about the devaluation of traditional marriage, there are any number of things (like divorce and The Bachelorette) that pose a greater threat to the institution of marriage than opening the doors for same-sex nuptials. 
But, for obvious reasons, this doesn't seem to be an argument that Tim Pawlenty is interested in having. Just as in the clip above, in this second quote Pawlenty completely misrepresents the argument at hand, and in the process still somehow manages to sound decidedly less than compelling.

Pawlenty's attempt at rhetorical sleight-of-hand relies on his line about "all other domestic relationships," a meaningless phrase which Pawlenty echoed again in the clip above. While Pawlenty is a little more subtle than other conservatives with his implications, by attempting to move the discussion beyond committed, loving, long-term relationships between two individuals (you know, marriage), he opens the door to the imaginary bedroom boogie-men of conservative nightmares. Although he stops short of comparing same-sex relations to bestiality (don't worry, Rick Santorum, we haven't forgotten about you), Pawlenty's ploy obviously implies that, beyond what you may think of as 'marriage,' there are a whole host of liberal, non-traditional, and almost certainly immoral types of domestic relationships which God-fearing citizens are better off knowing nothing about, beyond that they should be feared and forbidden. Again, hogwash.

But underneath Pawlenty's attempts at redefining the discussion is the simple fact that he cannot produce a compelling reason to prohibit same-sex marriages. I grant that it might be somewhat unfair to expect truly dynamic disputation with the wow-factor of a paper bag, but Pawlenty's ultimate rejoinder, after being repeatedly schooled by Aderhold, is "We will just have a respectful disagreement."

Relying on relativism to defend one's stance against same-sex marriage is to be expected, but appeal to a simple difference of opinion cannot form the legal basis for denying whole sections of our citizenry the rights, benefits, and dignity afforded by state-recognized marriages. At no point has Tim Pawlenty, or any of the other GOP presidential hopefuls, offered anything even approximating a compelling legal reason for prohibiting same-sex marriages. Couple this failure with the failure to present a similarly compelling moral or ethical reason ("[T]raditional marriage is important to our country." Please.) and you've got a campaign platform as ubiquitous as it is indefensible.

To respect someone should require, at the very least, the respect of that person's right. As long as the question "Do you think I a a second-class citizen" is allowed to hover in the air, unanswered, there can be no room for 'respectful' disagreements on same-sex marriage. By not answering Aderhold's final question, indeed, by advocating against justice and equality for all people, Pawlenty has demonstrated this disagreement to be anything but respectful.

Adding...It looks like Tim Pawlenty has just dropped out of the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Sorry, T-Paw, but better luck if and when you get some better politics!

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