In a newspaper interview Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged respect and sensitivity in the debate over same-sex marriage. When asked her own views on the subject, however, she ducked the question.
"This is an issue that can be debated and can be discussed in our country with respect for every human being," Rice told the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C. "When we get into difficult debates about social policy, we get into difficult debates that touch people’s lives. The only thing that I ask is that Americans do it with a kind of sensitivity that real individuals and real human beings are involved here."
Maybe it can be debated "with respect for every human being." But in some sense, if you ask me, it’s our humanity that’s being debated in the first place. Like Jon Stewart said, it’s not about whether you believe same-sex couples should be able to marry each other. It’s about whether you believe that gay people are part of the human condition. It’s about whether we are people and whether we are equal to other people and should be treated as such.
That there’s a need for that debate signifies a deficit of dignity and respect. Like I’ve said before, you can’t respect someone you neither see nor treat as an equal, and you probably won’t afford them much dignity either. At best, you’ll have contempt for them because you see them and treat them as less than. If that contempt is tinged with benevolence, then it might look like and even feel like respect, but it’s not. And the first time the other person forgets that, you’ll remind them.
And sometimes that’s what I think all this talk of dignity and respect is really about. We’re supposed to respect the people who are debating our humanity, and treat them with dignity while they decide whether we’re people or not and whether we deserve to be treated as such.