Mom and dad taught me that being a sore winner was even worse than being a sore loser. So now that all the rainbow dust has started to settle from last week’s Supreme Court decision and the celebrating is winding down, I feel like I should respond to all my friends out there who were disappointed, saddened, or even angered by nationwide marriage equality – not to gloat or harass (sore winner), but to be conciliatory, or at least try to assure you that we’re not all the horrible monsters bent on persecuting the crap out of Christians that many would have you believe.
Along with everyone else who was celebrating, Chris and I were thrilled at this big step forward in advancing equal rights for a marginalized group in society. But for me, on a personal and practical (and kinda selfish) level, the decision also affords me peace of mind. The various tragic stories of the treatment of same-sex married couples in states that didn’t recognize same-sex marriage horrified me. If, for instance, God forbid, something were to happen to Chris while we were travelling in another state and he ended up in the hospital, I would probably actually lose my mind if I weren’t allowed to see him, to be there for him, to hold him, to comfort him, just because the state didn’t recognize me as his family. In light of last week’s decision, I feel better about our legal rights, protections, and recourse in those kinds of situations.
With these thoughts in mind, I must admit that I was at first impatient and annoyed at your posts expressing sadness, disappointment and anger at Friday’s decision. I was sorely tempted to respond in indignation. Did you not want me to have the right to visit Chris in the hospital? How could you want to refuse us the right to marry without knowing us? Without knowing the thousands of other same-sex couples in healthy, stable marriages, many raising well-adjusted, happy kids? How could you make pronouncements on the nature of our relationships, and the rights and protections we do or don’t deserve, without substantial first-hand experience with the people in those relationships?
Of course, the response I can already hear from you is that this isn’t about our relationships, it’s about the institution of marriage, an institution that’s foundational for a stable society. By “redefining” what marriage is, by changing its nature and function in society, we’re threatening society’s stability. And then my response would be that marriage has never really functioned in the way you portray it, never really served the purpose you say it’s always served, and that by expanding marriage we’re making society stronger. And then you’d respond again, and then I’d respond, and eventually a heated argument would ensue, joined by others, somebody would start calling people names, and finally Hitler would be brought up and then all sorts of blocking and unfriending would occur.
I really didn’t want to mar what was a day of rejoicing with snarky online arguments. Actually, I don’t want to mar any day with that kind of snarky online argument. So my message here isn’t a rehashing of all the reasons we should support same-sex marriage. Rather, I wanted to address the “issues surrounding the issue.” I saw a lot of posts about what the decision really means and what we in the LGBTQ+ community are really after, and most of what was said was inaccurate (in some cases) or just plain wrong (in most cases). I feel the need to respond to this kind of misinformation, even if you likely won’t find my response convincing (or even read this response at all). But I’ll try to respond in a way that takes into account the issue from your point of view in the context of your beliefs.
Of course, understanding someone’s point of view does not mean agreeing with them, or even necessarily finding some sort of common ground. We obviously have fundamentally different views on the issue; I believe that the affirming of same-sex relationships and marriage is a large step in the right direction toward making the world a more just and loving place, while you believe such affirmation is a leap in the wrong direction, toward making the world more corrupt and less stable. For most of us, no amount of discussion, debate, or argument is going to change our minds on where we stand. We’re just going to have to figure out a way to continue living together in relative peace, even as we continue to nudge, push, pull, and drag church and society in completely opposite directions on this issue.
However, I can recognize that where you stand stems from your faith and religious beliefs, and not from hate for the LGBTQ+ community. I know this because I used to be one of you, I used to belong to a conservative Christian community and had the same views on this issue as you do, stemming from a desire to be faithful to my God, not from any hate in my heart. I also know this because I know you, and I know what loving people you are. And the fact that I think you are very, very wrong on this issue does not mean I suddenly believe you to be unloving.
I can also empathize with the disappointment you’re feeling right now, and not just because I used to believe the same as you do, but because of the setbacks and defeats we in the LGBTQ+ community have also suffered. I’ve felt similar kinds of anger and sadness when, for example, states voted to amend their constitutions just to prohibit people of the same gender from marrying each other. I know what it is to be frustrated that certain groups seem to be hijacking your town, city, state, country, and even church and taking it down the wrong path. It totally sucks and I really am truly sorry you feel that way.
Even more than anger and sadness, I saw a lot of fear and concern in your tweets and posts. So many of you were predicting a maelstrom of coming religious persecution. I think most of my LGBTQ+ companions and allies feel that this is really just a lot of bluster to paint the LGBTQ+ community as a group of scheming, malicious individuals out to destroy decent, God-fearin’ folk. And certainly there are people out there using these dire predictions as a way to make us seem super horrible. But I also know that much of the fear and concern is genuine. It’s understandable that you might be a little fearful. You hold what, in many places, is considered to be a very unpopular opinion (though there are still many, many areas in the U.S. where supporting same-sex marriage is the unpopular opinion).
We in the LGBTQ+ community are quite familiar with having unpopular opinions and fearing persecution. Just 15 to 20 years ago, we were the unpopular kids. People advocating for same-sex marriage were called perverts, sickos, and much worse (just as you’re sometimes called bigots and haters nowadays). In many places today, we’re still called those things. Back then we feared being sent to jail, fired from our jobs, and kicked out of our homes just for living out our belief that same-sex relationships were right and healthy for us. And still today, in many places LGBTQ+ people fear being fired, refused services, or kicked out of housing merely because they identify as LGBTQ+. Even in our supposedly super accepting society, there’s only a few places in the U.S. where I feel safe and comfortable holding Chris’s hand in public.
All of this is to say that I can empathize with your fear of persecution. However, I also feel that you have much less to fear than many of you seem to think. First of all, the idea that, “Well now that we have same-sex marriage our right to the freedom of defining marriage the way we want is in jeopardy,” creates a false dichotomy. Legalized same-sex marriage does not have to mean that everybody must now sanction same-sex marriages (with churches and pastors being forced to perform same-sex weddings, etc.). We can have both legal same-sex marriages and the right not to sanction such unions. Actually, that IS what we have right now.
Of course, the more precise fear isn’t what the law is now, but that the LGBTQ+ community will now push to alter the legal landscape so that people who do not sanction same-sex marriage will have a very difficult time of it, that our real reason for pushing for same-sex marriage and other legal protections is to eventually force everyone to accept us, whether they like it or not!
First, let me say there are a whole host of reasons for wanting marriage, other than to persecute Christians into loving the gays. The legal protections in the event of an emergency, as I mentioned above, are hugely important to us. Also, so that our kids aren’t taken from us, so that we can take care of our spouses even after death, etc. This isn’t just about having super fun weddings.
Second, I can assure you that I personally do not want to legally force or coerce Christians into supporting same-sex marriage. I fully support your rights to preach against same-sex relationships in your homes, in your churches, and especially in the public square. And most LGBTQ+ persons that I know similarly support such rights. The ACLU, for instance, an organization that fully supports us and in turn is supported by us (and many LGBTQ+ individuals work for that organization), represents Westboro Baptist Church in its fight for free speech rights, so they can say awful things about us. There are plenty of LGBTQ+ folk out there who support very strong protections for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
I do realize that a lot of times when you speak up about your position, you are often attacked with accusations of bigot or hater or worse. That, in many arenas, there’s such antipathy displayed against those who would voice their views against same-sex marriage that you feel you’re being forced into silence. I would suggest that, for most of us, such vehemently negative responses aren’t a reaction merely to the beliefs you hold, but because many who hold those same beliefs have acted on them in very hurtful ways. Not only have we in the LGBTQ+ community been cast out of our churches, but we’ve been kicked out of our homes and families, ostracized by our friends, called much worse names than bigot, and have been physically beaten, and in some cases killed. Not to mention, there are people who would take our children away from us if they could, deny us the ability to visit our dying spouses in the hospital, and refuse to rent us an apartment. All of this in the name of the belief that identifying as LGBTQ+ is wrong, that being in a same-sex relationship is wrong. So you can see why we might react emotionally to these opinions.
Yes, it is a mistake to assume that all Christians who oppose same-sex marriage act on their beliefs in this harmful manner, and we in the LGBTQ community need to understand that not every Christian who teaches that same-sex relationships are sin is full of vile hatred. And we should try to keep this in mind when discussing the issue with you all, so that we can more often respond with calmness and grace. But in return, we’d like you to understand that our emotionally visceral responses and reactions concerning this issue stem from the pain that has been, and continues to be, inflicted on us because of our beliefs and “lifestyle,” not just because we want to force everyone to like us. In other words, for most of us, this isn’t about forcing our beliefs on you, rather it’s about our reaction to the perception (and all too often the reality) that you’re forcing your beliefs and lifestyle on us.
“Ah,” I hear you say, “but if you’re supposedly not trying to impose your beliefs on us, then why are you forcing us to bake cakes and take pictures for your weddings?” And here we finally get to the real heart of the current debate surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, which is non-discrimination laws, not same-sex marriage. I do understand how you might view these non-discrimination cases as indication of a movement to force you into seeing things our way. But again, our push for non-discrimination laws isn’t about making YOU do something, it’s about protecting ourselves. It’s about living without the fear that we can be fired from our jobs, kicked out of our homes, or refused services just because we identify as LGBTQ+, or just because we’re in a relationship with, or married to, someone of the same gender.
I have to say that I find the idea that Christianity requires Christians to refuse to sell items or provide services for use in a same-sex wedding a bit strange. I mean, isn’t a Hindu wedding, that literally calls on other gods, just as idolatrous as a same-sex wedding supposedly is? Then why haven’t I heard of Christians taking a stand against religious non-discrimination laws by refusing to bake a cake for a Hindu wedding? If Christianity requires Christian clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, then shouldn’t Christian civil servants also be required to refuse to issue a building permit for a Buddhist temple, or an assembly permit for an atheist gathering? What about a Christian architect who designs a Hindu temple? Or a Christian car dealer who sells a van to a mosque? Why are these instances of “participation in idolatry” OK, but not “participation” in a same-sex wedding by selling a cake or issuing a license? There are inconsistencies and hypocrisies here that seem to point to a certain animus directed at the LGBTQ+ community, rather just “trying to live according to my beliefs.”
The issue of not baking cakes for weddings aside, I get your concern for being able to believe, preach, teach, and live according to your beliefs. If it’s any consolation, no legal scholar of repute, either liberal or conservative, could envision a scenario where the Supreme Court would uphold a law that forces a church to sanction and perform same-sex marriages or prohibits them from calling same-sex relationships sin. Laws that would treat churches that prohibit same-sex marriage differently than churches that sanction same-sex marriage by allowing benefits to one but not the other (such as tax exemptions) would similarly never pass constitutional muster. Even churches that prohibit interracial marriage, which is far more unpopular than prohibiting same-sex marriage, are not refused the benefits enjoyed by churches who do not forbid them.
And even more important than the legal arguments is that, as I mentioned above, we’re not actually out to take away anyone’s freedom to worship, preach, and teach as they please. I know it’s rather convenient and comforting to believe that we are, to see us as “the bad guys” out to destroy you, because then you don’t have to deal with the messy idea that good people can still significantly disagree on very important issues. We certainly do the same thing to you all, and for the same reasons. But I think it would do us all a world of good if both sides worked harder to resist the temptation to vilify the other.
None of this is to say that there aren’t significant non-discrimination issues that we’ll be arguing about and working out in the future. How non-discrimination laws should apply to church-affiliated universities and charities, for instance, will likely be the subject of many court and legislative battles. But, in the midst of these fights, as we try to keep in mind that you all are genuinely concerned about your religious freedoms, even if we disagree about the extent to which religious freedom extends, we also ask that you keep in mind that we are genuinely concerned about our rights to live according to our beliefs, even if you disagree about the extent to which those rights should be protected.
Finally, even as I write “we’re not out do to this” or “we don’t really think that,” I know that there are people in the LGBTQ+ community who are out to do this or who really do think that. I’m sure there are people who hate Christians, who really would like to abridge religious freedoms such that Christians are forced to sanction same-sex marriage in their churches, who call you things like bigot and are otherwise cruel to you simply because they’re mean fucks. Just like there are Christians out there who really are bigoted, who really do hate individuals that identify as LGBTQ+, who would rather see us put in jail or worse, and who really do still call us all sorts of horrid names. Such fanatics on either side are not representative of their group as a whole, even if they do get a disproportionate amount of media attention because they make for a much better story than “Rational People Calmly Discuss Their Disagreements and Differences.”
Anyway, that’s all I had to say. Basically, I get that you, well most of you anyway, don’t hate us LGBTQ+ folk and I hope that you in turn understand that we, well most of us anyway, don’t hate you Christians who hold same-sex relationships to be a sin and that we’re not out to get you. I am more than certain that last week’s Supreme Court decision wasn’t the end of this issue, by a long shot. And there will be continued online discussion, argument, fighting, (virtual) screaming and shouting, etc. in the future. There’s a lot of emotion involved on this issue, so getting angry and upset is natural, I suppose, and it’s probably better to vent by getting snarky online than to, say, punch someone in the face. So I won’t be that guy who constantly tells everyone to calm down. But I am suggesting that we all resist the urge to turn this into a fight between the good guys and the evil empire, to make those who would disagree with us into horrible monsters. This isn’t Lord of the Rings. The “other side” isn’t an orc horde from the deep out to destroy you and all of humanity. They’re human beings, same as you. Just something to keep in mind.