We gather here today to parse the meaning of "boo."
Not "boo" as in the greeting of ghosts and goblins but, rather, "boo" as in the chorus that drowned the bigot Rick Santorum last week after he defended his opposition to gay marriage before an audience of college students in Concord, N.H. Santorum took the same header into non sequitur and illogic that gay marriage opponents often take, i.e., if we legalize this, then we must also legalize polygamy.
It is a line of “thinking” which conveniently ignores a glaring fact. Namely, that there is not and never has been a large culture of people who felt biologically driven toward polygamous behavior, much less who seek social sanction for it. Santorum raises a classic straw man argument, tries to win the debate by stoking fear of what has not and will not happen.
And as you watched him washed from the podium by that song of opprobrium (i.e., “boo”), there was to it a certain sense of last stand, last ditch, last bitter dregs of resistance before the coming of a change that now feels inevitable as the dawn. The former senator and would-be president tried to minimize the question by noting the youth of his questioners — “I’m surprised I got a gay marriage question at a college crowd,” he quipped. “Really, that’s a shock to me.” — but in so doing, he manages to simultaneously make and miss the point.
There is an absolute historical pattern to the bigotry of social conservatives. They rally using terms of moral Armageddon against the freedoms sought by some despised or condescended to Other, whether that be a woman wanting to work outside the home, a Jew seeking to join the country club, an African American trying to get home on a city bus. Then the freedoms are won, and people — even socially conservative ones — realize the world kept spinning after all. Armageddon did not come. Only change.
The point is that change is usually spearheaded by the young. They are the ones who are quickest and most likely to reject lame arguments built of straw and fear. So while Santorum tries to laugh off the youth of those pressing him about gay marriage, he might be well advised to ponder the deeper implications thereof.
A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found support for marriage equality on the rise among all age groups, but noted that the support is highest among the young. Among those born after 1980, 53 percent approve (as opposed to 39 percent who do not).
Santorum seems to believe the children will grow out of their foolishness. Actually, the truth is probably closer to what the songwriter said: “I believe the children are our future.” Consider that prominent conservative blogger Meghan McCain, who is not yet 30, dubbed Santorum’s views “dated” and “gross.”
The trend lines are clear. As children, even children of the right, now find it hard to fathom there was ever a time women could not work outside the home or Jews were banned from the country club, so will there come a day when they will marvel that once upon a time, gay people could not be married.
The future is coming and not all the frothing and spewing of people like the bigot Santorum can deter it. Or, to put that another way:
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.