Thursday, June 23, 2011

David Tyree and NOM: Deconstructing the Latest Arguments against Marriage Equality

As New York legislators continue to haggle about whether to recognize the civil rights of LGBT citizens in the area of marriage, anyone following the debates will know that one of the spokespersons the anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage has pushed into the limelight to make its case now is a former member of the New York Giants, David Tyree.  I had decided to ignore Tyree and his case against gay marriage up to now, because it's, frankly, not in the least compelling or intelligent.

But since NOM continues to push Tyree forward as a scintillating new spokesperson for "traditional" family values, and since the media have continued to fawn over Tyree and to act as if the inane, bias-laden drivel falling from his mouth is worth reporting about, I'd like to take notice of his "arguments" against same-sex marriage.  In particular, I'd like to zero in on two of his recent assertions that, in my view, reveal both how insubstantial the case now being made by proponents of "traditional" marriage has become, and how driven by anti-gay prejudice and animosity it ultimately is.

First, as this Salon summary by Mary Elizabeth Williams of Tuesday's discussion of Tyree's views on the morning show "The View" notes, Tyree has stated,

You can't teach something you don't have. Two men will never be able to show a woman how to be a woman.

And, second, several days ago, Tyree spoke with CNN reporter Kyra Phillips re: his opposition to same-sex marriage.  This article by David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement site comments on that interview and has a clip of the interview.  Around the 5:06 mark, Phillips asks Tyree to explain a central contention of his argument: namely, that "anarchy" will ensue if society permits same-sex marriage, since same-sex marriage is "unnatural."  

Tyree responds,

If you look at what, you know a man and a woman, a marriage, what, what, was the original intent of a marriage is to procreate, is to, is to spawn off family, and to continue to uh, you know, to be the reflection of, of God in that sense of, of creation and multiplication and being fruitful so that's how it's  unnatural . . . .

At which point Phillips asks Tyree,

What about infertile couples?  Infertile couples, uh, have children all the time.  Is that unnatural?

And, after a moment of stunned silence, Tyree replies,

How does that?  How does that?  What is?  That actually, that has no bearing, that makes no sense, that man and woman are still coming together to raise a child which actually paints a nuclear family.

Tyree, of course, never answers Phillips' question.  Because he can't do so.  He can't do so because he can't process it.  He's never given a thought to the fact that easily ascertained empirical data that can be found anywhere he looks in our society quickly overturn his premise about marriage and procreation, and about what will happen if we permit same-sex couples to marry.  As Badash notes--understatement of the century--"Tyree . . . evidently, doesn’t understand what the definition of 'infertile couples' is."

And so why do I isolate those two "arguments" in a string of drivel about the biblical foundations of our society and what God intends for our society and how altering any jot or tittle of what God dictates in my version of the bible for our society will lead to anarchy and how two men and two women can't possibly raise children adequately because their arrangement is unnatural and  God made marriage for procreation so that we can "spawn off" children and "paint" nuclear families and engage in creation and multiplication?

I do so for this reason: in both of these significant observations, Tyree reveals the real hand of many of those who oppose marriage equality (and who want LGBT people to remain closeted) in American society today.  The opposition to marriage equality and to recognition of the full humanity (and full human rights) of LGBT people in our society today stems from outright, unvarnished prejudice against those who are gay and lesbian.  And against gay men in particular.  It stems from fear of gay men among heterosexual men who imagine that letting gay men out of their stigmatized places will undermine heterosexual men's domination of women and of our culture in general.

It's interesting to note that in the first observation I highlight above, Tyree focuses on the danger posed by two men raising a daughter together.  What's behind that choice?  

In the first place, I'd say it clearly reveals the fixation of Tyree and his allies on gay men, as opposed to gay women.  The real fear lying behind the hysteria about marriage equality is a fear of open, unapologetic gay men enjoying a full range of human rights.

And I'd go a step further with this analysis and propose that Tyree's anti-gay male prejudice is so strong, so blinding, that he hasn't even stopped to think much at all about the obvious, strong rejoinders one can immediately make to his claims, which blow them out of the water.  For instance, as an African-American male, he himself is rooted in a culture in which the role of forceful women has been exceptionally strong for many generations in the rearing of male children.  If, following Tyree's contention that two men can't show a daughter how to be a woman, we conclude that a woman can likewise not show a man how to be a man, then African-American culture is in deep trouble.

If strong, forceful, principled women can't raise boys into strong, forceful, principled men, then black culture seems to have no future at all.  Because this is how things have been arranged for generations in African-American culture, for a variety of historical and cultural reasons: the onus of raising children, of producing good men, has for generations been on the shoulders of black women far more than on the shoulders of black men.  Black men, who are (and have historically often been) frequently removed from the parenting process.

And American literature is full of testimonies by both black and white men to the valuable influence exerted in their lives by the powerful, courageous, compassionate black women who turned them into men.  With little to no assistance at all from any man anywhere.

Tyree either doesn't know his history--our history--and culture at all, or he's simply so fixated on the threat he imagines openly gay men pose to his and others' masculinity, that he can't see the obvious disconnect between his silly argument that two men can't adequately raise a daughter, and the experience of millions of African-American men throughout history that proves his argument to be an astonishingly dumb canard.

Prejudice blinds.  It makes us stupid. 

Likewise with his total inability to process another obvious argument citing empirical evidence, which quickly devastates his argument about what will happen if we permit "unnatural" non-procreative couples to marry: when Kyra Phillips points out that we already marry non-procreative heterosexual couples and anarchy doesn't ensue, nature is not unstrung, Tyree has no response.

It's clear from his fumbling response, which quickly launches into yet another mantra about paints and multiplication and spawning off, that he has simply never given any thought to the fact that infertile heterosexual couples have long since been marrying without producing the dire social consequences he predicts if we allow non-procreative couples to marry.  He hasn't given any thought at all to what is already the case--and what is not hard to ascertain, if one simply looks around oneself--because he hasn't had to think about these issues.

He hasn't had to do so because his argument is not driven, ultimately, by a concern to protect marriage or to safeguard society from anarchy as we lose our biblical moorings.  It's not driven by the facts.  It's certainly not driven by any desire to learn about and understand the lives of a stigmatized minority.

It's motivated first and foremost by fear and prejudice: of gay men.  Of two men loving one another and declaring that love for God and the world to see.

That's the anarchy he fears.

And David Tyree may well be right.  His world, the world of heterosexual male domination shored up by selectively chosen religious warrants (like the time-honored use of the story of biblical story of Noah to support white supremacy) and bogus appeals to natural law and reason, may well fall apart if that happens.  But many other folks' worlds won't disintegrate when marriage equality eventually becomes the norm in this and other countries.

And the world is a bigger place than the world of David Tyree and other heterosexual men.  It comprises many different kinds of people.  People who, in civilized societies, commit ourselves to live in harmony with each other even when we're different and don't always see eye to eye.  Civilized societies commit themselves to extend rights and not take them away, particularly when one group within a society imagines it has overweening power and privilege that ought to abrogate the rights of a group it despises.

Civilized societies aim at such an extension of rights to vulnerable minority groups--as American society finally did with African Americans in the 1960s--because permitting a majority to override and yank rights away from a targeted minority is harmful to the whole society.  I'm sorry that as an African-American male Tyree has not recognized this essential fact about American democracy and about his own history.

He might be a more credible example of admirable manhood, and a stronger and more compelling spokesman for the concerns to shore up marriage that he claims lie behind his crusade, if he did so.

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