Homophobe? Anti-gay? None of the above?


Writing in The Atlantic, Brandon Ambrosino has some serious misgivings about broad-brushing opponents of marriage equality and defining them all as homophobic and anti-gay.

As a gay man, I found myself disappointed with this definition—that anyone with any sort of moral reservations about gay marriage is by definition anti-gay. If Raushenbush is right, then that means my parents are anti-gay, many of my religious friends (of all faiths) are anti-gay, the Pope is anti-gay, and—yes, we’ll go here—first-century, Jewish theologian Jesus is anti-gay. That’s despite the fact that while some religious people don’t support gay marriage in a sacramental sense, many of them are in favor of same-sex civil unions and full rights for the parties involved. To be sure, most gay people, myself included, won’t be satisfied until our loving, monogamous relationships are graced with the word “marriage.” But it’s important to recall that many religious individuals do support strong civil rights for the gay members of their communities.

It’s a longish piece which he obviously put a lot of thought into, and he makes some points worthy of consideration. On the other hand, he also published an earlier article in The Atlantic, entitled “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University,” and I can’t help but wonder how much his thinking is colored by whatever background led him to Lib U in the first place.

His main thesis is that people have complex reasons for opposing gay marriage, and not everyone who does so wants gays to be imprisoned or assaulted or otherwise physically harmed.

I would argue that an essential feature of the term “homophobia” must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community. Simply having reservations about gay marriage might be anti-gay marriage, but if the reservations are articulated in a respectful way, I see no reason to dismiss the person holding those reservations as anti-gay people. In other words, I think it’s quite possible for marriage-equality opponents to have flawed reasoning without necessarily having flawed character.

Or in other words, it’s possible for some people to oppose equal rights for gays, and still be good people in other ways. By tarring everyone with the same brush (he suggests), we may be harming the gay rights movement by being excessively judgmental. We who support gay rights ought to be more accommodating towards those who oppose gay marriage but are not overtly hostile towards gays. We need to distinguish somehow between the good homophobes and the bad homophobes.

If it’s “anti-gay” to question the arguments of marriage-equality advocates, and if the word “homophobic” is exhausted on me or on polite dissenters, then what should we call someone who beats up gay people, or prefers not to hire them? Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination. Our language ought to reflect that distinction.

It’s an argument that sounds like an argument in favor of tolerance, but for me it falls flat. When you advocate the idea that certain individuals belong in a special category of people with reduced rights, you are advocating direct harm to those individuals. Yes, we can make some kind of distinction between those who literally throw stones at gays and those who merely oppress them by passing laws against their basic human rights, but we can reasonably express that distinction just by calling the former “violently” anti-gay. The latter are still anti-gay, no matter how complex their reasons, because they are actively advocating direct harm to homosexuals.

A lot of people fail to recognize that denying equality to gays is genuinely harmful, but that’s because a lot of people assume that gays don’t deserve equality. Granted, they might not express it or think of it in precisely those terms, but that’s the assumption. Gays have been oppressed and suppressed for so long that the whole idea of gay love, commitment, and marriage strikes people as something novel and unheard of, as if allowing gays to marry would be the invention of something entirely new, instead of merely allowing them to enjoy the same rights and privileges as everyone else.

To truly appreciate the harm inherent in denying marriage equality to gays, just imagine imposing the same restriction on any other group. Imagine if gentiles began saying that Jews should not be allowed to marry, and began circulating petitions to amend state and federal constitutions to define marriage as the union of two gentiles. How long before all such advocates were branded as anti-semitic, regardless of how nice they were in church or of how complex their reasons for supporting that kind of discrimination?

Of course, that’s obviously wrong, because it singles out the Jews and takes away the right to marry. We assume that they ought to be entitled to marry, and that by forbidding it, we are robbing them of what is rightfully theirs. But many of us, including possibly Brandon, don’t make the same assumption about gays. People like Brandon seem to be making a distinction between those who want to overtly harm gays, and those who merely are reluctant to give gays some new privilege they’re not really entitled to.

That’s the harm right there. That’s what’s homophobic about opposing gay marriage: it advocates the idea that gays are a special group who are explicitly NOT entitled to marry one another the way members of any other group can. And homophobes honestly believe that they are entitled to make that distinction, which is why they need to be confronted about the fact that they’re making it. If we do not, if we implicitly agree that they are entitled to make this discriminatory distinction, we only reinforce the problem.

Yes, we can be tolerant and respectful towards those who, for whatever reason, resist the idea of gay marriage. But tolerance is for people, first and foremost. Tolerance for ideas comes second, and it’s not automatic. We tolerate people by granting them the same rights and privileges we claim for ourselves, but when we express ideas that reject the rights of others, then we ought to be accountable.

So with due respect to Brandon, I must disagree with his ideas. People who reject the rights of homosexuals, and who actively or passively work against full equality for gays, are homophobic, and need to be called to account for it. Even if they themselves are gay.

Comments

  1. sumdum says

    His main thesis is that people have complex reasons for opposing gay marriage

    I don’t find “because my religion says so” or “because it’s icky” to be very complex.

  2. says

    This just sounds like a tone argument to me, that people arguing against marriage equality shouldn’t be called out on either their motivations or the real-world consequences of their position simply because they’re being polite. As is typical, Ambrosino has decided to scold the minority he belongs, to point out how unfair and hurtful they’re being to those who agree with the oppressive majority (who are, not coincidentally, his friends and family).

    If my primary ethical obligation to my neighbor is to allow and affirm his moral agency, so long as it does not lead him to commit acts of violence, then what happens when I take away his right to peacefully disagree with me?

    And here’s the double standard. Simply calling someone “anti-gay” for arguing in favor of anti-gay policies literally takes away his rights and makes me no better, morally, than the loudest, rankest bigot.

  3. says

    that anyone with any sort of moral reservations about gay marriage is by definition anti-gay.

    Yes; if someone has ‘moral reservations’ about treating gay people like anyone else, they are by definition anti-gay. That’s what being anti-gay means: treating people as though they are inferior and deserve fewer rights because they’re gay.

    If Raushenbush is right, then that means my parents are anti-gay, many of my religious friends (of all faiths) are anti-gay, the Pope is anti-gay, and—yes, we’ll go here—first-century, Jewish theologian Jesus is anti-gay.

    Well, I don’t know your parents, but if you’re at Liberty U it’s a pretty good bet they’re anti-gay, and likewise with your religious friends (who I strongly suspect are mostly flavors of christian). The pope is definitely anti-gay, I can’t see where anyone would question that, and first-century Jewish theologians in general were pretty damn anti-gay, so if there was a prominent one named Yeshua, I don’t doubt that he would have been too, although the only things directly attributed to him that would imply it is the bit about the law not changing, and christians usually ignore that one.

    That’s despite the fact that while some religious people don’t support gay marriage in a sacramental sense, many of them are in favor of same-sex civil unions and full rights for the parties involved.

    No, they aren’t. Right now, the form of union recognized by the civil government is called ‘marriage’, and no other form of civil union present or proposed is equivalent.

    To be sure, most gay people, myself included, won’t be satisfied until our loving, monogamous relationships are graced with the word “marriage.”

    And yet you continue to believe that the people who work to deny that to you are somehow not opposed to your interests.

  4. Otto Tellick says

    I would second Dalillama, Schmott Guy’s point about Jesus himself being effectively (scrupulously?) silent on the topic of homosexuality.

    In fact, I’d be grateful if anyone here could provide some “expert exegesis” about Matthew 19:12… (NRSV:) “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth…” (the KJV is more explicit: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb…”)

    I’m curious whether that passage should be understood as referring exclusively to men who have been born without a penis… (If so, I have to wonder how common that is in reality, relative to the odds of being homosexual.)

    Or could/should this rather be taken as referring to any men who, owing to their nature from birth, simply do not have sex with women?

  5. etseq97 says

    He’s a self-loathing gay “orthodox” christian who also claims that his christian identity is more important than his sexuality because, wait for it, Queer Theory has proven that gay identity is a repressive “social construction” only recently invented by late capitalism as a means of social control and discipline. How he reconciles a complete misreading of Foucault with orthodox christianity would require several humanities dissertations to tease out. Since I think Queer Theory has as much validity as theology, I’ll stick to good old fashioned enlightenment reason and empiricism to justify my conclusion that he’s a gay Uncle Tom who loves his christian Massa.

  6. says

    It means that some men haven’t got a sex drive to speak of (asexuals come in other genders too but patriarchal religion’s not much on caring), and god like them because they’re not horndogs. Thus, if you too want to be loved by god as much as they are, you should castrate yourself.

  7. says

    If you say you have no problem with black people, but do not think they should be allowed to get married, you are a racist.

    If you say you have no problem with Jewish people, but do not think they should be allowed to have a Jewish wedding, you are an anti-Semite.

    If you say you have no problem with gay people, but do not think they should be allowed to get married, you are…?

    Yes, I think the answer is as simple as that.

  8. says

    Speaking from personal experience, I was not in favor of gay marriage as of 5 years ago. It was mostly because I had not given it much thought, but, still, I would say that my past self was homophobic. What is bothering me is that, as Deacon says, he thinks people have complex reasons, but yet he can’t seem to realize that terms such as “homophobe” can likewise be complex (or, rather, can be used to cover multiple degrees of such an attitude). He’s treating the term like a one-size-fits-all, when it doesn’t have to be that way. Deacon already addressed this, though, so I really do not need to say more.

  9. thascius says

    @4-I don’t think there’s any serious Biblical scholarship that equates the word “eunuch” to “homosexual.” The modern concept of homosexuals-people whose primary sexual interest is in their own gender-did not exist when the Christian scriptures were written. They were (presumably) aware of homosexual behavior, though the only mentions of it in the New Testament were by Paul (or someone writing in Paul’s name). In Greco-Roman society it was acceptable for men to have both male and female partners, something the Jews generally strongly disapproved of, and Christian writers in the 2nd century and later seemed to have followed the Jewish line of thinking. The notion that men who had sex with other men were “unmanly” in some way was not part of the Greco-Roman view of homosexual behavior. The verse you refer to was when Jesus’ disciples commented that it was better not to marry, and Jesus replied that not everyone could accept that-only those who were “eunuchs” either by birth, because they had been made that way, or renounced marriage for God’s kingdom.

  10. Tecolata says

    Exactly, Leo. Not every racist is a KKK lyncher. Some just talk about how “those people” just can’t get jobs. Or cross the street when they see a black teen.
    Some homophobes attack gay men and rape lesbians. Some just find us icky.
    These are differences but both all bigotry.

    To say someone does not deserve the rights you take for granted for yourself is bigotry. Period.

  11. John Horstman says

    I would argue that an essential feature of the term “homophobia” must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community.

    He’s only considering de jure discrimination to be covered under the term ‘homophobia'; de facto discrimination is something else. I don’t buy this argument with respect to racism (e.g. stop and frisk is racist), and I likewise don’t buy it with respect to homophobia.

  12. noxiousnan says

    Simply having reservations about gay marriage might be anti-gay marriage, but if the reservations are articulated in a respectful way, I see no reason to dismiss the person holding those reservations as anti-gay people.

    I disagree on multiple levels. 1 – They are clearly anti-gay sentiments as already described by others here better than I could, 2 – They are also anti-equality sentiments. (I might be inclined to agree with the author if he were referring to people who had reservations about SSM but supported it anyway for the sake of equality,) and 3 – Respectful dissent is the most dangerous kind. It is more persuasive than obnoxious or violent dissent, on any subject matter, and should not be casually acquiesced to. I do respond (respectfully) to those who respectfully dissent yet claim they are not phobic, but what I tell them is to expect their actions to be interpreted as hateful because that’s how it feels when someone seeks to treat another as a second class individual. I tell them to put aside their feelings of persecution and to rightly expect them when they persecute others.

    Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination.

    Disagreement is not the same as discrimination, but supporting inequality is.

  13. Vicki says

    The only non-homophobic argument I can think of against gay people marrying is some variation of “marriage is inherently patriarchal, so I am not going to get married, and would advise everyone else not to either, regardless of the gender of their partners.” (A heterosexual friend of mine was hesitant to get married because, as she put it, “then I’d have to be a wife,” with all the cultural baggage that carries.) But that’s not an argument against marriage equality, it’s an argument that regardless of the law, nobody should get married: marriage may well be inherently patriarchal, but that’s at least as much a problem in a heterosexual relationship. You may or may not want to get married, but that doesn’t give anyone else the right to say “marriage is inherently problematic, but you can go ahead as long as the person you get into this problematic structure with is of the approved gender.”

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