28 Distinct Takes on Gay Marriage and Stigma

Reader correspondence underscores the variety of opinion on the issue.
Steve 2.0/Flickr

For now, it's time to end our inquiry into same-sex marriage, its opponents, and whether they ought to be stigmatized. (Previous installments are here, here, here, and here.) What follows are a selection of responses from folks who read those articles. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write. Know that there were too many interesting letters to include them all. I tried to capture the range of opinion in these excerpts:

* * *

S.L writes:

I am in favor of stigmatizing opponents of gay rights ... I grew up in the deep South and saw how effective stigmatization was for African-Americans in the struggle against racial prejudice. We can make discrimination illegal but we cannot legislate "hearts and minds." Vilifying a public expression of racial prejudice relegated it to a more private sphere and progress ensued. Now it's our turn to use the same technique to push for an overdue equality, so that younger gay people can't be fired as I was. The sea-change for gay rights may be happening at light speed but it is still tenuous. In 2014, any gay couple can travel to New York or California and marry; the Obama Administration has ordered the IRS to treat them as married. But what happens if a Republican wins in 2016 and rescinds that order? You may believe that he house of cards is falling in favor of gay people but no one knows appellate courts will rule. Stigmatizing opponents is one weapon we still have in our arsenal to make discrimination more difficult.

* * *

Evan writes:

I'm a 28-year-old gay man. I currently live in England but I was brought up in a very conservative community in the States where I wasn't allowed to express my sexuality. My father is a minister and I was brought up to view marriage as a sacred ordinance established by God for procreation and companionship. This is a view I still hold.

It can be extremely difficult for those of us with strong religious convictions to talk about our views without being pigeon-holed or even ostracised. My own sexuality places me in a difficult position as most people assume I support gay marriage. Even my partner has a hard time seeing how I manage to hold such a view in light of who I am. But what I see in the biological compatibility of a man and a woman is more than enough to prove to me that the marriage relationship as Christianity has conceived of it makes sense.

One day I hope to be in a civil partnership and to adopt children and I believe that all people, regardless of their sexuality, should be afforded the same rights under the law. But, for me, marriage is uniquely heterosexual in nature. I suppose what I say may seem pedantic; am I just playing a word game? Perhaps some would see it that way, but language is important. Words matter and 'marriage' goes beyond legal rights to represent the special relationship between Christ and the Church that is imaged in the union of a man and a woman. As imperfect as that union always is, the symbol holds. Two men or two women can never represent that mystical concept.

As I say, I have a hard balance to maintain between my own sexuality, my desire for a family, my views on equality under the law, and my religious beliefs. But I wouldn't change anything about that balance. The difficulty and the complexity is real; it's life. I just wish others in our society were so willing to live with complexity instead of trying (often by force) to iron everything out into an anodyne homogeneity.

* * *

Matthew writes:

I am Catholic, and I accept the church's teachings on sex—that homosexual sex, along with many other common sexual practices, is sinful. You obviously understand the distinction between holding such a belief and hating gay people, so I will not try to explain it. A growing number of homosexuals and their allies actively reject this distinction, though. In their view, homosexuality is a positive good that is just about the most central part of one's identity, and a person who believes that homosexuality is sinful has utterly rejected them as a person. Of course this is incorrect, but it is believed more and more.

Do you honestly think that such people who see traditional religious belief as a challenge to and repudiation of their core identity are going to be inclined toward tolerance? They have taken a sin and made it a point of pride, and thereby set themselves directly in opposition to God. According to the Gospels, Herod's wife had John the Baptist beheaded because he had criticized Herod's divorce and remarriage. There is something about moral condemnation of one's actions that inspires not-so-tolerant responses, all the more so when one is proud of the actions. People try very hard to convince themselves that sin is not sin, but there is always at least some small part of the soul that realizes that it is, and moral condemnation hurts because it touches that part of the soul.

It's true that gay sex is just one among many common sexual behaviors that orthodox Christians deem sinful. But let's not kid ourselves. If the average Christian reacted to knowledge that a man is gay in the same way that they react to the knowledge that a man masturbates, then non-religious gays would give about as much thought to religious believers as non-religious masturbators do. Instead, the average religious believer feels and perpetuates much stronger stigmas against gay sex. I don't think every Christian's attitude toward gays is bigoted or intolerant, but I do think anti-gay bigotry remains common in American religious communities, and that, rather than labeling gay sex as sinful, explains the backlash.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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