April 7, 2009

Hyperbole (UPDATED)

Naturally, social conservatives are upset about the Vermont Legislature's action this morning, implementing (by democratic means) same-sex marriage in that state. While I can't say I think their legal tactics are wise or well-considered, one such group, Liberty Counsel, can usually be relied upon to offer tasty hyperbole:
By redefining marriage, the Vermont legislature removed the cornerstone of society and the foundation of government. The consequences will rest on their shoulders and upon those passive objectors who know what to do but lack the courage to stand against this form of tyranny.
Eugene Volokh, better than I, points out that a Legislature of duly-elected representatives passing a law that extends rights to people who previously did not have them is hardly a suitable target for the pejorative label "tyranny." Our friends at Liberty Counsel are, of course, using the word "tyranny" to mean "a decision that we really, really do not like." The dictionary definition of that word is, apparently, irrelevant.

Time, of course, will show whether or not "the cornerstone of society and the foundation of government" have been removed from Vermont. But what I am really curious about is this: what exactly are "those passive objectors who know what to do but lack the courage" supposed to be doing? What is it that they "know what to do but lack the courage" to actually do? I want to honor the "principle of charity" referenced in my quote of the moment, so I'll stipulate that Liberty Counsel is not calling for violence here.

My guess is actually that what Vermonters who object to this action by their Legislature ought to do, according to Liberty Counsel's quoted call to action, is give money to Liberty Counsel. Otherwise, all the sins of those gay married people having all that gay married sex will be upon your heads!

But really, hyperbole sits very poorly here. At worst, you can say that the Legislature acted unwisely. But this is not tyranny. A tyrant, by definition, is an autocrat. A popularly-elected Legislature is, by definition, not tyrannical. If the voters of Vermont object to this action by their Legislature, they are free to remove their representatives from office and elect in their place legislators who will reverse today's action. The elections are in one year -- let's see how the incumbents do in 2010.

In the meantime, I for one would appreciate a toning-down of all of this "collapse of the pillars of civilization" rhetoric. When SSM advocates lost Prop. 8 here in California, I was upset that my side didn't win, but I found a way to pick up the pieces of my political ego, suggest a plan for moving forward to realize our goals in light of what had happened, and I didn't go crying into my beer or howling at the moon. The other side of the debate should show some similar dignity when they suffer reverses.

Because they're going to have to get used to more results like this in the future.

UPDATED: Apparently, Liberty Counsel's prose was too purple to withstand analysis; it has retracted its earlier statement and issued one using somewhat more temperate language.

1 comment:

trumwill said...

Vermont is a particularly odd choice because they're the state that acted democratically. The only area in which I do agree with conservatives on the issue is that I don't think that gay marriage should be imposed by the courts and Vermont's the one state that went about it the right way.