As everyone with a computer or cellphone knows, Phil Robertson has been suspended from appearing in the A&E series Duck Dynasty as a result of anti-LGBT statements he made in an interview with GQ magazine. The explosive response to the various stages of this process have been as varied as they have been expected.
The LGBT community was outraged by the statements. Christians who operate from a dogma-first position and Bible literalists jumped to his defense. In the middle of this process, A&E reacted quickly and decisively to Robertson’s statements. Amid all of the vitriol and bluster, this is the great victory. A&E made the business decision (and regardless of the personal positions of the the members of the great corporate hierarchy, it is still a business decision) that it was in the best interest of the network, their advertising revenue and their audience to not have someone in a high profile position on their most successful series who publicly espouses this kind of belief.
This is a huge win for equal rights. Really, it is. Typically this kind of scenario has required a much lengthier growing outrage over an individual’s actions or comments before action is taken. Then, it has often been a talk show apology tour with a perfectly crafted non-apology and then a return to business as usual. This situation is excitingly unique. This time, it is not the LGBT community having to continually attempt to shift the status quo. This series of events shows that the status quo is actually changing. A&E knew what the overwhelming public response would be an acted almost immediately. This time, the might and weight of advocates for equality was deemed stronger from the get go.
This has thrown a particular set of conservative religious individuals for a complete loop. This time they lost so fast they are finally in the position of fighting the uphill battle that the rest of us have fought so many times. They have to convince the rest of us that he should not be ridiculed for his position and that A&E would be better off having him. It has led to a debate that we have been dancing around for quite some time and blown it wide open.
Conservative leaders are calling it an infringement of his freedom of speech or his freedom of religion. This is a last ditch effort to ignore a fact that has been rising into the marketplace of ideas for some time – a complete literal interpretation of the Bible includes tenets that are at times racist, misogynistic, homophobic or completely ludicrous.
A literal Bible reading was used to deny women the vote, African-American equality and interracial marriage. It is still used in support of anti-marriage equality legislation as a losing battle is fought against equality in marriage. When it comes to LGBT rights and issues it is finally, painfully becoming clear that the majority of our modern society does not see this as acceptable.
This has led some to a ludicrous reinterpretation of the first amendment to include a great deal of wishful thinking. The right to free speech still does not include the right to speak without any reaction. Once again, for the umpteenth time, you get to say whatever you want, that is your right, and then the rest of us get to tell you what we think about it. If your speech is hateful, bigoted, insane or just stupid – we get to tell you that. You can say whatever you want, wherever you want, but the rest of us can treat you like the unwashed lunatic in the town square wearing the sandwich board that says the unicorns are returning to enslave us all. Your right. Then our right.
Telling you we don’t agree with what your religion thinks, or more specifically how you interpret and apply what you think your religion thinks (that’s a convoluted way to happily acknowledge that many Christians do not practice their faith this way or hold such beliefs) is not impinging on the free exercise of your religion. You get to assemble and worship. You get to believe absolutely anything you want. You get to interact with your creator or the billions of aliens Xenu brought to earth in any way you choose. However, if your religion holds beliefs that deny the equality of all human beings, when you articulate those beliefs in public you are going to be mocked and derided for the bigoted aspects of your faith. But you get to keep articulating them. You just may learn, as Mr. Robertson did, that your platform for sharing them is diminished or removed completely. There is no right to exercise your freedom of religion before an audience. If no one wants to hear it, no one has to listen.
Above and beyond that, when you express a belief as “not my opinion, but God’s” it does not make it more valid, nor is it an excuse to hide behind. Whether your opinion is from Allah, Buddha, Jesus, L. Ron Hubbard or the fancy faeries that flit about the meadows of Stonehenge, when you speak it – it’s your opinion. You don’t get to shrug and say “it’s not up to me.” Opinions aren’t fact. The right to any opinion does not come with the right to ensure that opinion is agreed with or respected in any way. Not only that, you can and will suffer the consequences if you express an opinion the rest of society finds abhorrent. I can tell you that I think people taste delicious, and everyone I know has the right to stop attending my dinner parties.
Opinion, speech, reaction, consequences. We get to judge each other’s opinions, speech and even religion when it is expressed as a part of the public, pop culture, political or social media dialogue.
To those who have said “who cares what he thinks?”, it is our history of reacting loudly and strongly with ever-growing support to castigate anyone in a high profile position in the public eye who acts or speaks with bigotry toward the LGBT community that helped us arrive at this moment where A&E knew what the response would be and made a decision to take Mr. Robertson’s platform away and denounce their association with him. Expressing outrage leads to change. Making an example of every example brings us closer and closer to a time when bigots have the good sense to keep their bigotry to themselves or inside a diminishing circle of like-minded individuals. We win by making it clear it is not okay every single time it happens.
And finally, a brilliant and perfect example of an historically acceptable bigoted opinion in judgment of a minority group in our nation was met with swift and decisive reaction. Well done A&E. For those who find the reaction to and consequences of Mr. Robertson’s ignorant and judgmental religion-based opinion head spinning, I hope you don’t have vertigo because the head spinning has just begun.
One final serious thought – what was GQ doing interviewing anyone from Duck Dynasty in the first place?