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Pyle: Reaching for the evil button is all too easy

Published July 11, 2014 5:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

My father, who would have made a heck of a newspaper editor, was a heck of a public servant instead. As I began my career in a business that exists to look over the shoulder of his business, he imparted one bit of advice.

Never attribute to evil intent behavior that can be explained by foolishness. (Actually, he probably used a much stronger expression than "foolishness." Still.)

Such thinking served him well when he, as a city official in a town a long way from here, was called to explain his hiring practices to an official body concerned with equal employment opportunities.

He took his Hispanic deputy, his African-American secretary and his own polio-stricken body down a long flight of stairs to tell the members of the committee that he was sure their choice of a meeting site in the basement of a building without an elevator was an error. That it was not, he was confident, an intentional obstacle to the attendance of, as he described himself, an overweight cripple.

He carried the day with his suggestion that any flaws in his hiring record — which could well exist — should be seen as errors and oversights, not deliberate discrimination.

I don't think my father would have liked the World Congress of Families very much. Bunch of self-appointed, holier-than-thou busybodies, I can hear him say, from around the globe who are to gather in Salt Lake City next year to congratulate themselves on how they — and only they — understand what kind of "families" are worthy of the name.

But I think he also would have dissented from the Southern Poverty Law Center's designation of the WCF as an anti-gay "hate group." Because, like nearly everybody else, WCF members are less likely to be evil than just mistaken.

Those who never heard of same-sex marriage, then rushed to oppose it, are certainly entitled to be confused, given how fast the rest of the civilized world has turn its battleship from looking at homosexuality as something that flat doesn't exist, to something that is undermining our way of life, to something that is normal.

Reaching for the evil button is easy, but often counterproductive.

If it works, you might convince a lot of folks, even bring the government in on your side.

But if it doesn't — if you can't get the evil label to stick — it will backfire on you.

So many gay people, and same-sex couples raising kids, have come out and been bold enough to take to the streets and to the courts that we are forced to see that they are, in so many ways, just like us.

Same-sex couples also have an advantage that other victimized groups — say, black people or immigrants — don't have. They really are us.

They are people we cannot so easily shun or demean because, as comedian George Carlin once said about the growing acceptance of men with long hair, so many of us have one or two of them in our families.

And those who try to marginalize our children, uncles and cousins — as the World Congress of Families does — see their efforts, and the designation of being evil, fly back into their own faces.

They get designated as hate groups.

So they put their fingers in their ears and sing "Polly Wolly Doodle" really loud so they won't hear themselves being called hateful. Or anything else.

The battle for marriage equality is virtually won. The matter now, as explained by conservative pundit Ross Douthat in The New York Times, is negotiating the terms of surrender.

Those terms should be generous. No hate labels. No mockery. Take it a little easy on the baker who doesn't want to make a wedding cake with two grooms. These lost and frightened people are our neighbors, and our relatives, too.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, doesn't hate anyone. Except his junior high school gym teacher.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate