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Someone recently asked me what about Dan Savage’s comments were false. I don’t have time to catalog all of them here, right now, as I’m in a full-court press toward finals week. However, I’d like to tackle one now.

“People often point out that they can’t help it with the anti-gay bullying because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in [First] Timothy, it says right there in Romans…that being gay is wrong.”

Dan Savage

How is Dan defining “gay bullying”? I’m going to step out on a limb here and say that this is at least directed toward those who maintain that marriage is only legitimately engaged in by two adults who are of different genders. But is that  bullying just because a restriction is placed on a certain behavior?

To bully someone is to “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” Insisting on heterosexual marriage as an institution to the exclusion of others is not, by the very definition, bullying. It’s nice rhetoric, the type that politicians and right-wing crazies use often. If we can demonize the other side, it is thought, we can win the culture war!

But it’s not as simple as all that. Mr. Savage would do well to look at Jerry Falwell’s playbook and realize that this sort of rhetoric only fosters hatred by the other side. Given the way that many in the Religious Right have discussed homosexuality over the years, I think Savage has a bone to pick. But the problem in his communication is that instead of opting for representing the other side fairly, he calls any dissent “bullying.” That’s not only false–it’s resorting to the same sort of tactic that the fundies he rails against use.

Fighting fire with fire may be tempting, but it doesn’t work. I don’t write this because I have some sort of third way, moral high ground. I write this way because I’m tired of watching people from both sides of this debate (and many, many other debates) make the same mistakes ad nauseum. I’m not proposing we hold hands and sing around a campfire. I’m proposing we engage others as adults and not as children, lashing out just because we’ve been on the receiving end.

Taking a stand that something is outside of the bounds of proper human conduct isn’t de facto bullying. To state thus is empty rhetoric and beneath someone of Dan’s capability as a writer and speaker. I’m not surprised given some of the things Dan’s done in the past (like licking doorknobs…google it), but I am disappointed.

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