A decent man of deep religious beliefs came to Aspen last week to relax with friends and family and to celebrate some of his religion’s most joyous and holy days. It was Vice President Mike Pence, his religion is Christianity and he was here for Christmas week.
The locals taunted and hated on him.
There were several stories, but one stands out. A next-door neighbor of the house where Pence was a guest wrapped a stone column on their boundary with a big banner reading “Make America Gay Again.”
Three of the four words of the banner were objectionable to me. First, the word “make” seems coercive. Are we supposed to “make” people be gay?
Second, “America” seems overbroad. Are we really supposed to make all of “America” gay?
Third, the word “again” is inaccurate. Was there a time in the past when America was gay? Is this another of those unreported stories from the Obama administration that’s finally leaking out?
As for the other word in the banner, “gay,” that’s the one to which I don’t object. I think people who are gay in the sexual sense or any other should not be discriminated against.
I don’t even care whom people marry, or what. If it rings your bell to receive a government certificate for what you do in your bedroom with a man, woman, animal, electrical device or inanimate object, I won’t stand in your way.
But just as I won’t stop you from getting the government label that you want, I expect you not to stop me from having the religious beliefs that I want.
You can force the government to let you marry whomever or whatever, but you can’t force me to bake the cake.
That’s where Pence ran afoul of the local thought police. His religious belief is that marriage is something for a man and a woman. His belief is not radical. It is shared by a majority of the world, and was the belief just a few years ago of then-President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and never-to-be President Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But to some people, that particular religious belief is not acceptable. Those holding it need persecuting.
Those people demand that Pence bake their cake.
They’re not trying to persuade Pence or anyone else to change their beliefs. They’re just taunting, hating and bullying them for their beliefs. Because that evidently feels good.
So they made their banner and put it in Pence’s face. What it lacked in rhetorical skill it made up for in being provocative, or so they thought. Their stunt was picked up by the local newspaper, which trumpeted it into big news. Even national so-called media picked up the so-called story as a “resistance” moment.
It would have been fake news if only it had been news at all. Pence himself apparently shrugged it off. His Secret Service agents simply stated to the banner-makers who tromped around looking for a confrontation, “We’re not here to control your free speech rights.”
But the provocateurs did succeed in provoking. They provoked the longest and ugliest online commentary I’ve ever seen in The Aspen Times, on both sides.
The sheriff’s department appeared at Pence’s house because, I’m guessing, the banner-makers called them to witness or worsen the outcome they’d hoped for. I’m further guessing, but don’t know, that the banner violated some law or covenant — Aspen is a tightly regulated place — but the sheriff decided not to enforce those laws. He said instead, “This town had a history of irreverence when it came to our visitors.”
I’d like to think his decision was an exercise of good judgment in erring on the side of free speech, the same good judgment that Pence exercised. But his decision probably just reflected his personal politics. This is the sheriff, after all, who has publicly declared the nation’s chief law enforcement officer — the U.S. attorney general appointed by Pence’s boss — “one of the most racist people in government.”
So there was plenty of ugly on both sides. But not by Pence or his people. Like the class act that they are, they kept their cool throughout and didn’t rise to the bait.
I’m left with a thought experiment. Imagine the visitor had been Vice President Tim Kaine in a Clinton presidency. Imagine that a person of sincere belief put up a banner at Kaine’s house saying “Make America Straight Again.”
Would the local and national media have celebrated that stunt? Would the sheriff have allowed the banner to remain as an exercise of free speech? Would Kaine have just shrugged it off?
I have advice to both sides in this. My advice is that taunting, hatred and bullying may feel good but does not persuade anyone of anything. Except that you’re a taunting, hateful and bullying person.
(Published in the Aspen Times on Jan. 7, 2018 at https://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/glenn-k-beaton-aspen-oozes-hate-while-pence-celebrates-christmas/)