In this latest round of Agora, Constantinos E. Scaros and Dan Georgakas discuss and debate whether the backlash against anti-gay sentiment in the United States is a bit over-the-top.
SCAROS PRESENTS HIS POINT OF VIEW:
Dan, I have absolutely no problem with same-sex relationships or marriage. There is not a shred of evidence by the medical or psychological community that defines homosexuality as “abnormal.” Therefore, strictly from a legal aspect, it is a matter of choice. That the vast majority of people are heterosexual is no different than saying the vast majority of people would rather put chocolate syrup on their ice cream sundae than mustard – but it doesn’t mean those who’d rather put mustard should be ostracized for doing so.
If homosexuality, then, is not a medical or psychological abnormality, then we have to turn to the primary reason for opposing it: morality rooted in religion. But, just as in our society there exists freedom to practice religion, there exists the freedom not to practice it, too. Which is why same-sex relationships, interracial relationships, and divorce are legal, and rightfully so – even if by some interpretations the Bible and other Christian or non-Christian scriptures condemn them – and why slavery, polygamy, and death by stoning are illegal, even though the Bible and other scriptures do not.
But we have also seen over the past couple of years – particularly after President Obama famously changed his position on gay marriage, from opposition to vigorous support – what I call “gay galvanization”: same-sex marriage, and, to a wider extent, the acceptance of homosexuals in society as equals has flourished at warp speed, that in the blink of an eye even the slightest criticism of homosexuality is immediately treated with the same contempt as are comments of racism or anti-Semitism.
Let’s take the Michael Sam incident. The University of Missouri player was recently drafted by the St. Louis Rams, and this fall will become the first openly gay person to play in the National Football League (NFL). Naturally, the media hovered over the story like flies at a seaside taverna. And when he was chosen, overcome by exuberant emotion, his kissed his boyfriend, Vito Camissano, on the mouth. A side note, Sam is black and Camissano is white.
Turning the clock back to the 1950s when television was making its debut as a consumer product in American households, had a just-drafted football player kissed his girlfriend on television – no matter if they were both of the same race – it would have seemed too risqué. After all, the Fifties was when all the commotion was made about Elvis appearing on television and…gasp…gyrating his hips! “The dance of the devil!” cried out a nation trapped inside the box (and I don’t mean the television).
In the Sixties or Seventies, the man-woman kiss would have been more acceptable, so long as they were both of the same race (see Al Gore deep-kissing wife Tipper at the 2000 Democratic Convention). But an interracial kiss? Well, that would have been taboo – except for one thing: the naysayers would not be able to explain why they hated seeing that, just that they did.
But in 2014, the Sam-Camissano kiss is about neither liplocking nor racism – it is about homosexuality. And that’s what prompted reactions by current and former NFL players. Derrick Ward, a retired NFL running back, tweeted in response: “Man U got little kids lookin at the draft. I can’t believe ESPN even allowed that to happen.” He says he, and his family, have received death threats since then. Death threats?! Are we living among the Taliban?
Don Jones, a safety for the Miami Dolphins, was a bit more judgmental, tweeting that the kiss was “horrible” and exclaiming “OMG.” But it was the Dolphins, I think, who went too far: they made Jones pay a fine and undergo sensitivity training. Jones issued a lengthy public apology, far more verbose and remorseful than dozens of other professional athletes who commit real atrocities – like assault, sexual harassment, and worse.
Granted, Ward and Jones may have no explanation for their comments, other than that – just as to the interracial-couple bashers of yesteryear, it simply doesn’t “look” right to them. A far more compelling reason, however, is America’s super-majority religion: Bible-centered Christianity. Simply put, there is a good case to be made that most Americans at their core believe that God, as written in the Bible, has decreed that homosexuality is a sin.
Again, I am not part of that crowd. But even as I disagree with that conclusion, I respect the believers’ rights to profess it. And so I wonder: by rushing in one fell swoop to erase any evidence of gay-bashing overnight, are we trampling upon another important fundamental right – freedom of religion?
Either the Bible ought to be condemned – as were the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis – or if not, then people need to respect the rights of others to follow it.
And even beyond religion, back to the person who thinks a man kissing a man is as unpleasant to the eye as seeing an ice cream sundae drizzled with mustard: to what extent is that beholder prohibited from exclaiming: “eww, that’s disgusting!”? The answer is not as easy as it seems. What do you think?
Dino, you ask two important questions. How acceptable has homosexuality become in contemporary America and what is the status of free speech?
Michael Sam became the first player to be drafted into the NFL who has openly stated his homosexuality. He was so exuberant when he was selected, he kissed his lover. If his lover were a woman, there would have been no additional media attention.
Since the time when the gay rights movement of the1960s began to politically challenge American homophobia in that era, acceptance or at least tolerance of homosexuality has become ever stronger, particularly among young people. Nonetheless, some Americans would have been more comfortable if Sam had not kissed Vito Camissano in public. Activists, however, thought: free at last. As you note, still other Americans thought the public kissing was horrible and sinful.
You quote the negative reactions of Derrick Ward and Don Jones, who each issued a public statement condemning what they considered outrageous behavior. They certainly had every right to express their views, but choosing to present those views as public discourse guaranteed different consequences than speaking informally with friends, family, or coreligionists.
Ward wrote that he didn’t believe the ESPN should have allowed the event to be recorded. That suggests that ESPN should act as a censor. If ESPN can censor a kiss, what other images does he think ESPN has the authority to censor?
The death threats received by Ward reveals a problem of a social media where people can hide their identity and thus evade taking responsibility for their words. This corrodes the nature of free speech in America as such threats are intended to intimidate people from speaking their mind. Surely our billion-dollar media systems ought to have figured out a way to trace such messages to their source.
The situation for Don Jones is of a different nature. By tweeting his positions, he, too, voluntarily initiated public discourse. The response of his employer, the Miami Dolphins, however, is extremely troubling. Jones was fined and ordered to undergo sensitivity training. I don’t know of any legal justification for such actions. The idea of being fined or otherwise punished for expressing one’s views is exactly what the writers of the First Amendment sought to prevent.
Sensitivity training can be helpful, but making it compulsory casts a shadow on Jones’ subsequent apology. Did he truly have second thoughts about what he had said or did he just need to placate his employer? Anyone originally disposed to similar views would almost certainly conclude Jones had been forced into “political correctness.”
That Sam is “black” and Camissano is “white” is another consideration. I have no idea of the racial attitudes of Ward or Jones. But racism may affect the thinking of some of their supporters.
People upset by the Sam-Camissano kiss need to ask themselves what is so offensive about people expressing their mutual affection? People upset by the comments of Ward and Jones need to remember that the essence of freedom of speech is to guarantee the freedom of others to express views one may personally condemn. And all of us need to think twice about the consequences of instantly placing our emotional reactions on social media.
To paraphrase a beloved song: a kiss is just a kiss. As times go by, the fundamental things apply. The world will always welcome lovers. I think we would all benefit from an America with less hissing and more kissing.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?