Slipping up on the slippery slope

Bryan Cones| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Having posted on what I think is overheated and, in the final analysis, completely counterproductive rhetoric on abortion, I ran across an instance of an overzealous concern for the slippery slope that I think has the same effect. The two Catholic bishops of North Carolina are encouraging Catholics to oppose an anti-bullying bill pending passage in the state legislature because it might lead to same-sex marriage--a big leap in the minds of many.

The bishops point out that the law mentions sexual orientation and gender identity as categories of people who might suffer bullying, and go on to argue that the "categories" section of the bill (which includes race, national origin, disabilitiy, and so forth) be removed altogether because similar inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity have been used in court cases to legalize same-sex marriage. To their credit, the bishops insist that they are against bullying, including bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (You can read their Web alert here.)

Now, I'm not saying that I think the bishops are crazy. It's certainly true that proponents of same-sex marriage have used non-discrimination laws in the arguments to courts. Their fundamental argument is, after all, that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is discriminatory.

At the same time, I think the bishops underestimate the effect on public opinion that their position may have. If people read in a likely unnuanced newspaper account that the state's Catholic bishops oppose a section of anti-violence legislation just because it names sexual orientation and gender identity, I think it's likely that they'll think the bishops are nuts, especially since we're talking about bullying kids here, and kids perceived to be gay or who identify that way are victimized a lot.

To my mind the likely outcome is not only that the language will remain but that the bishops may undermine their positions in the future on more central issues because they're seen as either hung up or just unreasonable on this issue, just as I think intemperate rhetoric about abortion turns off people who might otherwise be your allies on the issue.

In this case it might be better to come out in favor of an anti-bullying bill that includes the language in question, which they certainly could do, and leave the same-sex marriage fight for another day.

And now I wait patiently to be eviscerated...