Invariably Perkins spews misinformation. Sadly, his statements often go unchallenged. Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to go on TV and make claims that have absolutely no support without bullshit being called. But that’s not the world we live in, which is why people like Perkins are interviewed at all.
So bravo to CNN’s Brooke Baldwin for not allowing her on-air time with Perkins to be monopolized by his baseless rhetoric. On May 24, Baldwin interviewed Perkins regarding President Obama and Colin Powell declaring that they were cool with marriage equality.
Perkins is, unsurprisingly, not happy about two prominent black men saying such things. After all, the largely white evangelical right wing that Perkins speaks for tries very hard to bond with black religious leaders through a mutual dislike of homosexuals. In fact, the first thing Perkins mentions to Baldwin is that he’s in D.C. with a bunch of pissed-off black pastors. He says, “A lot of these African-American pastors are saying look, ‘Marriage is very clearly described in the Bible.’ The president has basically drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘Hey, are you gonna cross it?’ And these pastors are gonna cross it.”
Perkins goes on to say it doesn’t matter what Obama said because Americans are squarely against him on this issue “based on the polling data.”
Baldwin then points out that, actually, the most recent polling data puts support for marriage equality at 53 percent. “Most people in the country don’t agree with you,” she says. Perkins dismisses it all outright. The only number that really matters, he says, is 30: the number of states that have passed antigay marriage amendments.
Except that isn’t the only number that matters. The lesbian and gay civil-rights movement is moving so rapidly that the number of people who support equality rises daily. Were we to “do over” many of the statewide votes that resulted in antigay “victories,” we wouldn’t win them all, mind you, but the number of people voting against equality would be much lower. So when Perkins points to the number 30, he’s staking his claim on a moving target.
I’m no Nate Silver, but it’s important to look at who votes in many of these elections. Marriage equality brings out people with strong feelings. Especially on the antigay side. The voice that isn’t counted, however, belongs to the “don’t-give-a-shits,” sometimes referred to in classier circles as the “moveable middle.” I strongly suspect that folks who don’t feel like they have any skin in this game (literally) would be much more inclined to tell a pollster that marriage equality should be legal than rush out on their lunch break to their polling place to fill out a ballot.
The most telling part of the Baldwin/Perkins exchange is when she asks him if he’s ever been in the home of a married gay couple. He says no. She then asks what he would say to such a couple re: his views that their marriage harms society. Perkins dodges the question, basically saying that this issue is about public policy, not people. If this sounds strange, it should. After all, without people you wouldn’t be able to make, nor would you need to make, public policy. It’s just that Perkins doesn’t count lesbians and gays as people.
D’Anne Witkowski has been gay for pay since 2003. She’s a freelance writer and poet. When she’s not taking on the creeps of the world, she reviews rock ’n’ roll shows in Detroit with her twin sister.