The Tale of the Box Turtle
January 9th, 2006
It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right… Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife.1
Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Tex) speech at the Heritage Foundation stirred a hornet’s nest after this excerpt appeared in the Washington Post. Angrily denounced from all sides, these few words became just one more example for many of how far some people will go to denigrate gays and lesbians in their push for marriage rights.
It turns out that Sen. Cornyn didn’t actually say those words. The Post didn’t send a reporter to cover the event, but instead quoted from an advance copy of the speech from Sen. Cornyn’s office. If a reporter had attended the speech, he might have noticed that when Sen. Cornyn came to that part of the speech, he decided those phrases were inappropriate and skipped them.2 But with his office releasing the prepared text and the Post picking it up, the damage was done.
While Sen. Cornyn deserves credit for dropping this line, it’s clear that someone on his staff thought it was pretty clever. But it is hardly original. Many others have imagined a whole menagerie of bestial couplings that would come about if marriage equality became the law of the land:
- Bill O’Reilly, during a shouting match with a guest, confessed his love for a duck: “The people who want to marry a duck can come in, all right. …If I want to marry a duck… I have a right to marry the duck, alright? … And leave my house to a duck.”3
- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa), in describing marriage as being between a man and a woman, added, “It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be”.4
- Rev. Jimmy Swaggart thought that politicians who supported marriage equality “all oughta have to marry a pig and live with him forever.”5
- After considering his options, Bill O’Reilly apparently changed his mind and decided to forsake his duck for a goat: “…Somebody’s gonna come in and say, ‘I wanna marry the goat.’ You’ll see it; I guarantee you’ll see it.”6
One thing is certain — these snappy comparisons make great talking points. Such emotionally-laden statements get noticed pretty quickly. But since we’re really only talking about consenting adults who want to marry each other, comments like these are also irrelevant.
It often seems that facts are irrelevant, unless someone finds it convenient to invoke The Authority Of Science to back up their arguments. If you can cite Medical research, psychological studies, sociological statistics, or scientific surveys, then you’re not just spouting some arbitrary opinion. Suddenly, you’re an expert – or at least you have the experts on your side. And we all want the experts to be with us, not against us.
The problem comes when people claim experts are saying something the’re not really saying – or when the so-called “experts” themselves aren’t what they appear to be. That’s when people start throwing around statistics like:
|You can learn more about the “average lifespan for gay men” here.
You can learn more about the “eight other sexual partners per years” here.
You can learn more about “gays molesting children” here.
- The average lifespan for gay men is 41,7
- Gay couples manage to squeeze in an average of eight other sexual partners per year,8
- Gay men are seventeen times more likely to molest children than straight men.9
You’ve probably heard these claims or others like them before. But how accurate are they? And in this age of pithy sound bites, does anybody care?
It turns out that for folks who place such a high value on virtue, honesty is too often in short supply. It has become commonplace to misuse legitimate scientific research, taking it out of context and claiming that it means something the researchers never intended. This tactic works very well because the people doing it rarely get caught. The press rarely notices it, the pundits won’t call your attention to it (they’re often repeating these “facts” themselves) and nobody has time to read the source material that gay-rights opponents claim to be quoting.
Meanwhile the lowly box turtle plods along, utterly unaware of the uproar around him.
I don’t know how the box turtle got dragged into all of this, but I feel sorry for him. My sympathies are naturally drawn to anyone who is picked on for no good reason. When turtles are threatened, their instinct is to retreat inside their shells for protection — much as I did when I was a teenager. I could have used some defending back then. What’s more, I could have used some reliable information when I was older but still in the closet. I could also have used some help after I came out of the closet and had to deal with other people’s misperceptions of me.
It can be a very confusing and scary world out there, but there’s one thing the box turtle is sure of: he can only move forward when he peeks his head out of his shell. I guess you could say that Sen. Cornyn’s attributed remarks filled me with the desire to take care of my own inner box turtle.
But this web site is not about me. It’s about you. Whether you are a parent who just found out your son or daughter is gay, whether you are a pastor or a teacher trying to find out the truth behind what you’ve read, whether you’re an ordinary citizen looking for reliable information to put into a letter to your local newspaper or political representative, or whether you’re a teenager feeling alone as you try to sort out who you are and whether you can live up to other people’s expectations, this site is for you. And if you’re already out, proud, and on the front lines of the battle for gay rights, this site is for you too.
The purpose of this web site is to provide you with reliable information backed by the best available evidence. I hope to dispel some of the false information that is out there, and clearly show where it came from. I hope to call attention to the tactics used by so many who hold tremendous sway in this country. And I hope to do all of this in a way that respects everyone’s religious, moral and political beliefs.
This last point is important because no matter how you feel about gays and lesbians, any set of beliefs that are based on false information is inevitably weakened. A house built on sand, no matter how well constructed, will always fail sooner or later. Rock-solid facts make for a much better foundation, and this is true wherever you stand on the issues.
So here we are, defending the box turtle’s honor in the best way we know how. It is the truth, after all, which will set him free.
2.“From Senator John Cornyn’s press secretary: ‘For what it’s worth, Sen. Cornyn did not, in his speech to the Heritage Foundation, use the ‘box turtles’ quote. The Post was given a copy of remarks ‘as prepared,’ but Sen. Cornyn did not like that passage, and did not use it. The Post, which did not attend the speech, reported the quote nonetheless. Sen. Cornyn said that he did not think that statement appropriate, that’s why he didn’t use it. I’ve advised the Post of this fact.”’ (Sullivan, Andrew. The Daily Dish. (July 12, 2004) http://www.andrewsullivan.com/index.php?dish_inc=archives/2004_07_11_dish_archive.html, accessed August 9, 2004.)
3. Bill O’Reilly, “The O’Reilly Factor.” Fox News Channel. (November 18, 2003 broadcast).
4. “Excerpt from Santorum Interview”. Associated Press (April 23, 2003 ). Available online at http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2003-04-23-santorum-excerpt_x.htm, accessed August 11, 2005.
5. “Swaggart’s rant at gays violated broadcast code, Canadian watchdog says.” Toronto Star (June 15, 2005): F2 .
6. Bill O’Reilly, “The Radio Factor With Bill O’Reilly.” Westwood One Radio. (April 13, 2005 broadcast).
7. Cameron, Paul. Brochure, “Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do.” (Colorado Springs, CO: Family Research Institute, 1999). Available online at http://www.familyresearchinst.org/FRI_EduPamplet3.html, accessed August 9, 2005.
8. Fagan, Amy. “Study finds gay unions brief.” Washington Times (July 11, 2003). Available online at http://www.washtimes.com/national/20030711-121254-3711r.htm.
9. Larry Burtoft, Setting the record Straight: What Research Really Says About the Social Consequences of Homosexuality (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, 1994): 64-67.