Playing the same-sex marriage card

Playing the same-sex marriage card February 27, 2013

Over the weekend, the better half stirred up quite a hornet’s nest for a post noting that some in the media aren’t the slightest bit interested in covering the same-sex marriage debate with any degree of impartiality or nuance. The verdict she reached is damning, and that conclusion can be reached simply by accurately quoting journalists about why they don’t bother quoting gay marriage opponents.

In any event, this lack of nuance and unwillingness to dig a little deeper tends to make a hash out of even the most basic reportage on the issue. And so we have this report from the Baltimore Sun, “‘Superman’ author’s gay rights opposition prompts local boycott.” The gist of the story is that DC Comics recently hired Orson Scott Card to write a new Superman series. Card also happens to be a practicing Mormon and a board member at the National Organization for Marriage. One comic book store in Baltimore, citing Card’s opposition to gay marriage, won’t sell the series. Here’s how the Sun introduces Card and characterizes his views:

Card, who is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, has campaigned vigorously against gay marriage. Opinion pieces the author has written have linked same-sex marriage to the end of civilization.

“[M]arriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy,” he wrote in 2008 in the Mormon Times.

More than 14,000 people have signed an online petition asking the company to drop Card.

“We need to let DC Comics know they can’t support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens,” wrote the petition’s creator, All Out, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. “By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts, you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate.”

The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide. In November, Maryland, Maine and Washington voters approved referendums legalizing same-sex marriages, making a total of nine states and the District of Columbia that allow them.

First, saying Card is “well-known” is a bit of an understatement. He’s a legend in the world of science fiction. When NPR polled 60,000 people on what their 100 favorite science fiction novels were, Ender’s Game came in third behind Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Published in 1985, Ender’s Game is about a future where, facing the annihilation of humanity, child soldiers are conscripted to fight a war against insectoid aliens.The book largely revolves around the moral implications of that terrifying scenario, and aside from being deeply resonant with a popular audience, Card’s mediation on what happens to your essential humanity when you are forced to kill for survival landed it on the reading list that the commandant recommends for the entire Marine Corps. Now Card can be excitable — he once wrote he would work to “destroy” any government that redefined marriage. But on balance, he’s hardly a fringe character, nor are his views outside the mainstream.

I understand that it’s in the interest of gay marriage advocates to make anyone who vocally opposes their agenda subject to a blizzard of negative press, but the Sun‘s report is premised on pretty thin gruel. The justification is that one local comic book store saying they won’t carry the Card-authored Superman series, and an internet petition with 14,000 signatures. There’s also the obviously loaded language — “The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide.” (Hmm. I was unaware that Card was opposed to ‘equality.’) And in a spectacular bit of editorial judgment, the article is also paired on line with a TMZ-esque video report about a comic book store owner in Dallas who is uncritically quoted as saying Card is a “bigot,” fond of “hate speech,” and “venomously anti-gay.”

The article also quotes another Baltimore comic book store owner saying he will carry the Card series, and getting 14,000 signatures for an online petition isn’t exactly evidence of a popular groundswell. And so this makes this Card article one giant missed opportunity to provide any balance. For instance, Card is good friends with acclaimed folk musician Janis Ian, who identifies as a lesbian. Just for being friends with Card, she has been subject to a lot of torches and pitchforks and it prompted her to write this a few years ago:

Let me say first that I consider Scott a close friend; the time we don’t have together physically, we make up through the heart. If I had to lean on someone, or needed an ear, I would think of him. And if you’ve read my autobiography, you’ll know that in a time of great trouble, he was very, very, good to me.

By the way, the gay community was nowhere to be seen when I was at my lowest.

Scott does get very passionate about things. Sometimes you have to read his words pretty carefully to get the whole drift. And on this subject, he’s been misquoted and mis-read a lot. But I can’t personally recall seeing anything nasty that he’s written about being gay per se, and I’d want to know he wrote it, rather than taking the chance on a misquote.

Given that he’s a devout Mormon, of course he doesn’t think gay marriage is a good thing. Let’s face it – a lot of people feel that way! His article … speaks more to the courts and the separation of church and state than my own relationship with my partner – or for that matter, Scott’s other gay friends.

And speaking of my partner… Scott has never treated my relationship, or my partner, with anything but the utmost respect. We’ve been welcomed into his home, invited to his childrens’ weddings, sent announcements of births and deaths – all to both of us, as a family unit. His children regard us as a family unit, and I’ve never heard or felt the slightest breath of censure from any one of them.

Scott’s also a Republican, while I’m a Democrat – and we manage to discuss our differences over the table without ever getting loud or crazy. Personally, I think if more people did that, the world would be a better place.

It goes on. Indeed, the world would also be a better place if the media would try to understand why some people oppose same-sex marriage instead of seizing on minor culture clashes to attack them. It would have also been interesting to discuss Card’s opinions in the context of the Mormon church’s recent actions, considering that Card is a big booster of his religion. The LDS have made a major public push urging compassion in discussions about gay issues, and have said same-sex attraction is not a sin. The LDS church is also working with lawmakers in Utah to pass a law protecting gays from discrimination. I understand that the church’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage means that many people will still consider Mormons ‘anti-gay,’ but the full story, with all the angles, should be included.

There are also much larger questions surrounding the private beliefs of public artists. Roman Polanski raped a teenager, and yet I don’t see efforts to stop showing Chinatown. Allen Ginsburg was associated with and publicly defended NAMBLA, yet he remains a counterculture hero. An inquiry into why some beliefs disqualify artistic expression while others don’t would be a pretty interesting issue to explore.

Alas, I have a suspicion the Orson Scott Card controversy is just heating up. That’s because the $110 million movie version of Ender’s Game, starring Ben Kinglsey and Harrison Ford, is slated to be released this fall. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the producers are already bracing for an anti-Card campaign. Before that happens, it would be nice if someone took a much closer and more evenhanded look at where Card, popular culture, and the same-sex marriage debate intersect. The Baltimore Sun‘s piece was sensational and one-sided, but there is a fascinating story to be told. If written the right way, it could lead to greater understanding rather than exaggerating and exacerbating the conflict.

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16 responses to “Playing the same-sex marriage card”

  1. Oh the beauty of irony. I just put down a copy of one of Cards books (Earthfall, the fourth in the Homecoming series), and one of the main characters is not only gay but portrayed in an incredibly sympathetic way!

    As with most thongs regarding us Mormons, people wold rather read things about us that confirm their prejudices (literally pre-judgements) than listen to or read what Mormons say, write or read.

    • Not just Mormons, we’re witnessing a new religious faith (liberal secularism) that is based on propagating hate and reducing all social issues (which are upheld by many faiths, cultures, places, time periods) to claims of a sectarian war against Christians/Mormons/Orthodox Jews. It’s a modern day crusade to them.

  2. This buzz about card has been around a while. Here is a DKos diary advocating boycotting Card in April 2011:

    And a quote directly from Card concerning his views of gay people:

    This applies also to the polity, the citizens at large. Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society,

    I would regard this as fringe. And not just ‘a bit excitable’ but actively hostile.

    As for boycotts, a simple search turns up several comic book stores boycotting. Here is a discussion from one retailer on the subject, with links to other stories:

    Since this is a trade publication for the industry, and has at least two lengthy stories, the boycott is apparently a bigger issue than your local paper realizes.

    • An inquiry into why some beliefs disqualify artistic expression while others don’t would be a pretty interesting issue to explore.

      Is there any evidence that the people promoting the boycott of Card’s work also opposed boycotting Polanski’s work? I mean, can a particular candidate for hypocrisy be identified for an interview about that?

    • Dalea – To be scrupulously fair, Card had this to say, later, about the “laws against homosexuality should remain on the books” quote:
      “This essay was published in February of 1990, in the following context: The Supreme Court had declared in 1986 (Bowers v. Hardwick) that a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy even in the privacy of one’s own home was constitutional. I was also writing this essay to a conservative Mormon audience that at the time would have felt no interest in decriminalizing homosexual acts. In that context, my call to “leave the laws on the books” was simply recognizing the law at that time, and my call to not enforce it except in flagrant cases was actually, within that context, a liberal and tolerant view — for which I was roundly criticized in conservative Mormon circles as being “pro-gay.” Those who now use this essay to attack me as a “homophobe” deceptively ignore the context and treat the essay as if I had written it yesterday afternoon. That is absurd — now that the law has changed (the decision was overturned in 2003) I have no interest in criminalizing homosexual acts and would never call for such a thing, any more than I wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books. But I stand by the main points of this essay, which concerns matters internal to the Mormon Church.”

      Of course, ‘not calling for’ criminalizing homosexuality is a tad different from ‘opposing’ it. And he did very explicitly call for such laws to be enforced in “flagrant” cases.

  3. Just another example of how the much of the mainstream media has become a loudspeaker and propagandizer for everything gay by filling their news pages with stories clearly designed to advance the gay agenda.

  4. This seems to me part of the wider culture war…which I now see as a civil war without guns…in an unravelling America. The tactics “LGBT’s” use, they learned from feminists, who learned them from Blacks. What starts out as a heartfelt and rationl plea for decency turns into a vengeful demand for supremacy in which there is only win-lose and opponents can only be morally corrupt, to be defeated by any means.

    Journalism, the so-called “profession”, thrives on ramping up conflict; it only serves to heighten these battles and provoke cartoonishly bad attitudes and behaviors. I currently have more respect for prostitutes than I have for most journalists. I am not kidding.

    It has pained me to see my fellow gays (I reject the sexual Yugoslavia of “LBGT”) turn into the very people they profess to hate and fear: self-righteous and deafly dogmatic zealots intent on imposing their cause du jour on everyone around them, whether they want it or not. It is true that inside every victims lies a tyrant.

  5. Its tempting to dismiss this article as biased, and I suppose it is. After all, comic book fans -not “some” comic book fans – are outraged, and “public” outrage is “growing”. Apparently, gay rights advocates are now the public and the rest of us are copied liver. The story begins and ends with plenty of outrage. Now, as a baby boomer, I’ve seen outage grow into a thriving cottage industry in this country, so maybe I’m jaded.

    But when you lay the quotes side by side, the pro-ssm commenters come across as obsessed ninnies, book burners of the first order. The anti comments are thoughtful and reasonable. They separated the work in question from the artist’s personal opinions. They seem to respect the boundaries between ideology and art. Its not like Superman will be crusading against gay marriage. So if by the quotes presented, the article was advocating for ssm, I think it failed.

    For what its worth, I like Card, but really like Zenna Henderson, who I only learned in recent years was Mormon. Her books and stories about the People were great stuff.

  6. Few stories have the capacity to anger me. This one does. “Some comic outlets have no trouble carrying stocking Card’s work?” Please. That “some” is so misleading as to be libellous. The most egregious class of error is cited in your article: Card may actually like LGBT’s but just not like the some of the technical consequences of marriage redefinition. The separation of those two views should have been the article’s counter, not just the watered down quote suggesting a “little bit of PC police issue”. I’m just waiting for future spin on some friendly facist book burnings. Sheesh…

  7. The Boston, Ma. area is over 50% Catholic. Gays on the other hand are 2-5% of the area’s population..
    But this Thurs morning the Boston Globe’s major headlined on the right upper, front page story was, you guessed it, more Gay “marriage ” propaganda. Although the Globe put a picture of the pope on the left of its front page, the story of the pope’s history shattering resignation was relegated to page 3.
    As more and more local people drop the Globe one wonders if Globe editors have a suicide wish for its newspaper or if its editors are looking to curry favor with their handlers in NY in preparation for the day they will need to be begging the Times to hire them as the Globe is bought by someone who isn’t interested in being anyone’s propaganda outlet.

  8. “Scott’s also a Republican, while I’m a Democrat”
    I know this comes from a letter by a friend, but I suppose even friends can be wrong. Orson Scott Card considers himself a Kennedy Democrat. Yes, he has praised and voted for Republican and criticized Democrat Presidents. Locally, however, he says he has voted for more Democrats while registered as one. I guess in today’s world that makes him an independent if anything.

  9. I’m going to do something rare here for me, and actually be serious in writing about this:
    Orson Scott Card, his views, etc. are not news. Not to people who’ve paid attention to his writings over the years.
    How do I know? I help run an internet roleplaying game based on “Ender’s Game” – and for as long as I’ve been associated with the game, as a player (so since 2005) and as an admin, we’ve had to make note that his views are not our views. They’ve long since crossed into directly impacting his writing of fiction, to the fiction’s detriment, and depressingly often the question among “Enderverse” fans is not “Have you quit reading what OSC puts out?” but “When did you finally give up?” (Often, the reasoning is less because of his views – any reader of science fiction learns to separate the works from the viewpoints of their authors pretty quickly – and more because the quality of his work has declined, steadily and sometimes sharply, over the years.)
    In short…The journalism here is weird. Is the story Orson Scott Card’s views? Or is it that people are just now realizing those views?

  10. missing from the article: If those signing the petition actually read comic books.

    OSCard is one of the best sci fi writers around and well known in geekdom, but except for a post-apocolyptic Salt Lake city short story series, his LDS beliefs are rarely echoed in his works (green themes, yes, LDS theology no).
    And, as Taylor points out in the comments, OSCard has portrayed gays and same sex love sympathetically in some of his works.

    • Never read “The Memory of Earth” series? (Which some point-missing LDS denounced for “plaigiarizing” the Book of Mormon.)