Playing the same-sex marriage card

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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