28 Distinct Takes on Gay Marriage and Stigma

Reader correspondence underscores the variety of opinion on the issue.
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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

* * *

Eric writes:

While most sins are things that are commonly agreed on to be bad for society because they are harmful to some group of people in some way, homosexuality is not at all harmful. In fact, loving sexual relationships between adults are essential to creating a good society; these are the basis for the families that many gay-marriage opponents seem to find so important. The love between two people of the same gender provides no worse basis for a family than that of people of opposite genders. This makes homosexuality quite a strange "sin" indeed.

I think it is important, when debating any issue, to try to understand the others' point of view, to put yourself in their shoes. As Mina points out, some gay-marriage opponents try to do this by imagining themselves being gay, which they simply cannot do. Rather, they simply imagine their straight selves being sexually attracted to someone of the same gender. As Mina says, this makes them feel gross or strange, and they use this to bolster their views that being gay is an abomination.

As a straight person, to imagine what it must be like to be gay, I rather imagine that my straight self lives in a world that is 90 percent gay. In this world, gay marriage is the norm, and straight marriage is illegal. Furthermore, many gay people in this world consider romantic love between two people of opposite genders to be a sin. "God created people as two different genders for a reason!" they say. Most of these people do not hate straight people, since everyone is a person and has the right not to be hated, but they do think that straight people are a little wrong.

Now imagine that you, as a straight person, live in this world. You've fallen in love with a person of the opposite gender—if you have a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend in the real world that you love dearly, imagine him or her as this person. You love this person dearly, but most people see this love as wrong. You are not allowed to show your love to the world by getting married, and furthermore many people tell you that your love is a sin. You know they are only trying to help you, that they really care about you and want you to be happy, but you can't change the way you feel. "Why is it wrong for me to love this person?" you ask. "Why is your love sacred, but my love wrong? Why would God create me to love people of the opposite gender if it's a sin? Does God hate me?"

This is what I imagine it to be like for a gay person living in today's society. I think it is especially difficult for gay people who are part of a religious group who teaches that being gay is a sin. It's hard not only because they are surrounded by people who think that there is something wrong about them, but also because if God created them to be gay, and being gay is a sin, then what does that mean about how God sees them? It is not surprising that many gay people choose to leave the church.

I am a Christian, but unlike many Christians, I recognize that the Bible is a book written by people. While there is a great amount of wisdom contained in the Bible, some of that wisdom was for another time and place, and some of it may never have been too wise at all. Jesus was a man who was constantly questioning the teachings of scripture and comparing them with his own values. We see this in Mark 3:1-6, where Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. This was unlawful according to the scripture at the time, and the Pharisees are ready to catch Jesus on this point. He heals the man anyway, and asks "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" When looking at the issue of homosexuality, I think we need to be more like Jesus than like the Pharisees.

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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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