Projecting the Demons Within

The flabbergasted outrage of marriage equality opponents persists in the wake of Bourke v. Beshear. This time, the anger comes from Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin, the Republican primary challenger of incumbent Mitch McConnell.

Speaking on the "Christ-centered" Janet Mefferd show, Bevin repeated anti-equality rhetoric that should be familiar to just about everybody by now:

There is no way that one individual, regardless of what precedent they're trying to use or what they're trying to point to as an argument for doing so. There's no reason whatsoever that one person can disregard the entire will of 4 million citizens of a sovereign state.

Bevin's comments are plainly inaccurate on two counts. First, federal judges have long had the power to strike down state laws, no matter how popular they may be, where they violate the U.S. Constitution. The Supremacy Clause was part of the original Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868, and the process of incorporation has been observed and enforced since the early 20th Century. The ability of federal judges to invalidate unconstitutional state laws is not, and has not been for a very long time, a debated or controversial issue.

Second, the marriage laws challenged in the case of Bourke v. Beshear, and subsequently declared unconstitutional by Judge John Heyburn, are not, in any way, "the entire will of 4 million citizens." It is true that in 2004, voters approved Section 233A of the Kentucky Constitution by a large majority. But the Amendment received only 1.2 million votes. In 2004, the population of Kentucky was estimated to be 4.15 million (Bevin got something right!), but there were only 2.83 million registered voters at the time. And only 59% of those registered voters even cast a ballot for or against Amendment 233A. So "the entire will" of the sovereign state of Kentucky really means the opinion of about 29% of its citizens.

Exaggeration and pandering are the specialty of politicians like Bevin. You can't hold his rhetoric to any kind of standard for accuracy or honesty. That would be unfair, and would put him at a distinct disadvantage to his primary opponent, who argues that paying full-time workers a mere $20,000 a year would be economically disastrous.

But Bevin's next comment on the radio show departs from the usual election-season hyperbole into pure, illogical nonsense. Said he:

If it’s all right to have same-sex marriages, why not define a marriage—because at the end of the day a lot of this ends up being taxes and who can visit who in the hospital and there’s other repercussions and things that come with it—so a person may want to define themselves as being married to one of their children so that they can then in fact pass on certain things to that child financially and otherwise.

Matt Bevin has nine children. Surely he knows that he, as their parent, is already entitled to visit them in the hospital - even the adopted ones. Assuming for just a moment that anyone would actually try to marry their child, doing so for the purposes of health care would simply be redundant.

And as for "passing on" things to children, parents already have that right, too. They don't even have to have a will to do that! The state makes sure that real estate and personal property automatically make it into the hands of children if their parents have passed, by statute, since pretty much forever. There would never, ever be a need for a parent to marry their own child for the purposes of passing on property or financial resources - at least not in the state of Kentucky.

Marriage equality opponents have a peculiar habit of screaming "slippery slope!" any time they don't get their way. Ignoring completely the necessary marital prerequisites of personhood and consent, they frequently and for many years have dreamed of scenarios in which people will marry their pets. Waiting until now to spout fears of incestuous unions seems like kind of an oversight on their part. But gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for a decade now, and shockingly that state still prohibits both bestiality and incest. When, exactly, will the sinister shoe drop?

What seems much more likely than the supposed slippery slopes of animal rape and parent-child unions is that marriage equality opponents may be suffering from a well-known psychological defense mechanism:

Projection: the attribution of one's own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects; especially :  the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.

I will admit that I'm no psychologist. But luckily psychologists have written books that we can read, so I have read a few of their books. One particular observation by Erik Erikson seems apropros:

Judiciousness in its widest sense is a frame of mind which is tolerant of differences...[i]ts opposite is prejudice, an outlook characterized by prejudged values and dogmatic divisions; here everything seems to be clearly delineated and compartmentalized, and this by "nature," wherefore it must stay forever the way it always has been...permitting the projection of everything that feels alien within one's own heart unto some vague enemy outside --- a mechanism which makes for a certain limited stability and standardization, until a catastrophe endangers the whole brittle structure of preconceptions.

Childhood and Society 416 (1950).

Only Matt Bevin can know what feels alien within his heart. But what the rest of us know is that the only people who are suggesting things like bestiality and incest in the great societal debate of marriage equality are opponents such as he.