When somebody says something out loud, exercising their right to free speech, and then somebody disagrees with that person out loud, the second person is ALSO exercising their right to free speech, correct?
So, why do many conversations seem to go something like this…
1) Person A: I do not like bacon.
2) Person B: Really? Bacon is delicious.
3) Person A: Hey man! I’ve got free speech!
Line 3 is a red herring, and does absolutely nothing helpful for the conversation. People tend to call Line 2 “backlash” and “intolerance” and even “oppression” and all sorts of nonsense. And then, whereas we were once talking about the relative deliciousness of bacon, now we are all of a sudden talking about the right to speak freely.
So, line 4 should now be -
4) Person B: Yep, you sure do. So do I. So, do you want to continue talking about bacon or what?
When the conversation is magnified from bacon to same-sex marriage, the emotional investment increases, but the progress of the conversation should look just the same.
1) Person A: I think same-sex marriage is wrong.
2) Person B: Really? That’s discrimination.
Now Person A has a choice, and what they decide will either advance the conversation or shut it down. It could look like this…
3) Person A: I don’t see it as discrimination, because … (insert reasoning for this position).
At that point, we are having a conversation! Hooray for us! Respect, graciousness, rationality, and all that good stuff.
However, lately it looks more like this…
3) Person A: I’m just using my right to free speech.
As if Person B wasn’t? In response to this, Person B now has a choice. They could follow the red herring. This diverts all the attention away from the question at hand and pretty much shuts down any chance of meaningful dialogue. Free speech is not the issue; same-sex marriage is.
I believe that Person B should now avoid any reference whatsoever to free speech and advance the conversation. Person B’s avoidance of the red herring may very well advance the conversation, if Person A is willing to come along.
4) Person B: I know we do. So, I think denying same-sex couples the right to be married is discrimination. So tell me why you think it isn't.
The conversation can indeed be salvaged. I still believe (though my faith is faltering) that human beings can actually have substantive and meaningful conversations with each other regarding issues about which we disagree, especially if those conversations are held in the context of a loving and respectful relationship, rather than an anonymous online forum or other public media outlet.
If you disagree with my take on this conversation, I promise you I will not characterize your response as “backlash” or “intolerance” or “oppression” and hope you don’t characterize mine as such. Those are strong words, and need to be reserved for appropriate situations.
To be clear, I am not saying that one should never use such words, but rather that the time to use them must be limited. If what I am saying is oppressive or intolerant, by all means tell me and show me how it is so. It is not oppressive to simply disagree with somebody; it is oppressive to deny somebody their rights. And a person calling another person's opinion "oppressive" is not automatically oppressive in and of itself.
The culture of easily accessible mass communication may have altered our capacity for respectful dialogue, but I hope that we haven't lost it completely.
To tell you the truth, I don't really like bacon all that much. And ... go ...