Monday, July 18, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

The New York Times' Clyde Haberman attempts to put a balanced spin on the decision by a New York town clerk to resign rather than have to issue gay wedding licenses, but he ignores a few contradictions, IMHO, to do so.

Here's the gist of the story:
As usual, Laura L. Fotusky attended Sunday morning services at Union Center Christian Church, which she described as “a nondenominational, Bible-preaching church” in Union Center, N.Y., a town about seven miles northwest of Binghamton. Her life is about to change significantly. But on Sunday Ms. Fotusky described herself as at peace.

“I don’t really have any regrets,” she in a telephone interview. “I feel like I did what I needed to do.”

What she did was to announce her resignation as the town clerk of nearby Barker. Her religious beliefs, Ms. Fotusky said, made it impossible for her in good conscience to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Her last day in a job that she has held for four years is Thursday, three days before New York’s same-sex marriage law goes into effect.

“In Acts 5:29,” she wrote to the Barker town board last week, “it states, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ ” And it is clear to her, she said, that the Bible defines marriage as solely the union of a man and a woman.

As best as can be determined, hers was the first resignation of conscience since the New York law was passed last month. It wasn’t the last. On Thursday, Rosemary Centi, the town clerk in Guilderland, N.Y., outside Albany, said she would stop presiding over wedding ceremonies (a function that Ms. Fotusky does not perform in Barker).

Ms. Centi said she would continue as clerk, and would issue marriage licenses to everyone who was eligible, but she could no longer be Guilderland’s marriage officer. As a Roman Catholic, she said, she felt that she could not perform the actual rituals for same-sex couples.
Haberman offers Fotusky and Centi some fairly generous cover for their decisions in his post, painting them both as nice people who just happen to have strong opinions:
Undoubtedly, some will denounce these women as bigots. But others will find them admirable for standing by their beliefs.
Now here's the thing. I would respect Ms. Fotusky's solution to handling the conflict between her conscience and what the law would begin asking of her, if she had refused to comment in the press about it. If she wasn't taking advantage of others' interest in her decision to broadcast opinions that she must understand will lessen the joy felt by gay couples around the state and to proselytize (with Fotusky's later comments such as “We’re just trusting God” and “The Lord’s going to provide for me and take care of me” and "We ought to obey God rather than men," she is clearly using the attention her resignation brought her to promote her own faith.) In this context, that is a political act, and as such opens her up to political feedback. Had she not wanted such feedback, she could have simply answered "No Comment."

But she didn't, so here goes:

In her position as Clerk I am sure Ms. Fotusky has seen at least a few couples applying for marriage licenses that she thought were ill-advised to tie the knot, and yet she knew to keep such thoughts to herself and do her job. Perhaps she thought one couple was too emotionally young to understand what they were undertaking or some indication that one of the spouses was abusive and the other should run or some couple where the much, much younger one was clearly in it only for the money. I'm sure Ms. Fotusky, if she's like every other persons on the planet, had opinions about such unions.

And like every other person on the planet, she is entitled to her opinions. But whether she's admirable for standing up for her beliefs or not does not negate whether her actions reveal bigotry. And that's what bugged me about Haberman's framing here:
Undoubtedly, some will denounce these women as bigots. But others will find them admirable for standing by their beliefs.
It's not either/or. One can, in general, have admiration for people who stand by their beliefs (Haberman paints Fotusky as a hero for "putting her money where her mouth is") and yet still differentiate certain actions as evidence of bigotry.
"A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs."
To be so obstinately devoted to one's religious prejudices that you're willing to exhibit intolerance in such a public way seems a perfect description of someone who resigns rather than do their job over gay marriage licenses. Ms. Fotusky gives one clue as to what it would have meant for her to stay on and issue gay marriage licenses. Discussing her job as clerk she noted:
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I loved it. I loved the challenge, and loved meeting people, and loved being friendly to people. So I’m going to miss that.”
To be friendly to the gay people who would begin applying for marriage licenses was apparently asking too much of Ms. Fotusky.

Again, had Fotusky simply resigned without grandstanding, I'd be more willing to accept Haberman's second assessment that her actions were admirable. I don't expect everyone to share my opinions, but I can't agree that standing by bigoted beliefs is all that admirable in any context.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shut up and get married.

7/18/2011 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

heh!

7/18/2011 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous John Armstrong said...

It always amazes me how selective Christians are in their reading of the Bible. Why didn't Ms. Fotusky quit last summer when NY legalized no-fault divorce? The New testament is a lot clearer on that issue than it is on same sex marriage.

7/18/2011 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Possibly because New York law didn't ask her to participate in that. As for keeping her mouth shut when people she thought might be unsuited for marriage applied for licenses, her opinion that they were not likely to succeed in the marriage does not in itself mean that the marriage violates her beliefs. And the comment about being friendly to gay people wanting to get married is a bit disingenuous, don't you think? It might be something she enjoys about the job, but it isn't the job itself.

7/20/2011 03:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Possibly because New York law didn't ask her to participate in that

Not quite sure I understand your point there. Could you elaborate?

As for keeping her mouth shut when people she thought might be unsuited for marriage applied for licenses, her opinion that they were not likely to succeed in the marriage does not in itself mean that the marriage violates her beliefs.

Fair enough, so long as you mean religious beliefs (I would assume she believes an abusive spouse is a bad thing). But that still leaves her wide open for political feedback for grandstanding about her religious beliefs, rather than resigning quietly.

And the comment about being friendly to gay people wanting to get married is a bit disingenuous, don't you think?

It might be incorrect, but it's not disingenuous. She noted also in the article she took the job and then campaigned for it once her first appointed term was over, not so much because she was desperate for the money but because she wanted a new challenge in her life ("I needed my brain stretched"). In other words, what she enjoyed about the job was why she was drawn to it.

Again, I could be wrong about her willingness to be friendly to gay marriage applicants. She offers nothing of apology to the New Yorkers her actions insult, though.

7/20/2011 08:13:00 AM  

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