Civil discourse has long been regarded as a necessary component of a well-functioning democracy. But a New York Times reporter believes that value should be abandoned in relations with those who disagree with him on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Josh Barro claimed that those who oppose redefining marriage to include same-sex unions are "unworthy of respect" and he is justified in being uncivil toward them in a Twitter debate with Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
The debate began when Barro tweeted on July 23 that "anti-LBGT attitudes" should be "ruthlessly" stamped out. Several conservative publications noticed the tweet and wrote about it (see here and here). They pointed out that in 2012 a gunman did try to "stamp out" the traditional marriage supporters at Family Research Council. Barro clarified that by "stamp out" he did not mean to "off people," but "we should make anti-LGBT views shameful like segregation."
On July 26, Anderson, who writes and speaks often in defense of the traditional definition of marriage, tagged Barro saying that "we may disagree, but no need to be uncivil." To which Barro responded with the argument that segregationists should not be shown respect. He also described the expectation of civility in political discourse as "ridiculous."
In a couple of different replies, Anderson argued that it is possible and preferable for those with disagreements to show respect for one another. Even those with deeply flawed thinking, such as segregationists, are deserving of respect due to the "innate human dignity" of every person, he added.
Here is some that exchange:
@RyanT_Anderson why would you expect me to be civil toward you? You devote your life to promoting anti-gay public policies.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 26, 2014
@RyanT_Anderson obviously some policy views render people unworthy of respect. you just don't like where I'm drawing the line.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 26, 2014
@RyanT_Anderson we should treat all people with respect? obviously not. should we treat segregationists with respect?— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 26, 2014
Anderson wrote about the exchange for a July 29 op-ed for The Daily Signal.
"Leave aside the dismissive way he refers to policy arguments for why marriage should be the union of a man and woman as 'anti-gay' (much like liberals deride pro-lifers as 'anti-choice' and welfare reformers as 'anti-poor')," he said. "The larger problem is that one of the country's leading policy wonks and correspondent for The New York Times thinks that some people are 'unworthy of respect.' Not that some ideas are unworthy of respect, but that the people are."
The Twitter debate also included a debate about the definition of marriage. Anderson has co-authored a book and several articles (here, here and here, for instance) presenting a case against changing marriage to include same-sex couples. The debate over marriage is not a debate about "equality," Anderson says, because to know whether two things are equal, you first need to know what they are; so the debate over marriage is, at its core, a debate about what marriage is.
Barro argued that marriage is whatever government says it is. If that is true, Anderson responded, then "government could never define marriage wrongly," so the real question is "how should government define it, based on what it is."
"That's part of our disagreement. You think the state creates marriage, I think the state recognizes marriage, based on human nature," Anderson added.
In February 2013, a Washington Post reporter expressed similar, though less extreme, views as Barro. Patrick Pexton, the Post's public editor at the time, wrote about an exchange between a reader and an unnamed reporter over why the Post does not present the views of traditional marriage supporters.
After the reader complained that the reporter was "demeaning conservatives as 'haters,'" the reporter did not deny the allegation but, like Barro, made a comparison to racism.
"As for accuracy, should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn't marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn't be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right?" he replied. "Of course I have a bias. I have a bias toward fairness. The true conservative would have the same bias. The true conservative would want the government out of people's bedrooms, and religion out of government."
In response, Pexton wrote that he shares the reporters sentiments about those opposed to same-sex marriage, nonetheless, "the Post should do a better job of understanding and conveying to readers, with detachment and objectivity, the beliefs and the fears of social conservatives."
Similarly, in 2004, the public editor of The New York Times, Daniel Okrent, wrote an article titled, "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?" with the lede, "Of course it is."
Okrent singled out gay marriage in particular as demonstrating NYT's liberal bias.
"But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading," he wrote.