A 23-Year-Old Gay-Marriage Opponent Explains Herself

Correspondence from a reader with traditional Christian beliefs
Flickr/Kumon

Our inquiry into whether gay-marriage opponents ought to be punished in their professional lives may benefit from some correspondence from folks on both sides. Stay tuned for a thoughtful email from a reader who thinks I've got it all wrong. For now, meet Mina, who describes herself as a 23-year-old African-American college student, "a strong Christian who believes in the Biblical definition of marriage." An opponent of gay marriage, she takes exception to the people who've likened her to an anti-black racist. She sent me two notes, and while the first is a bit vague as to her actual beliefs, perhaps it will help us get to know her:

It's so rare for me to see gay marriage supporters saying the things you have said, and I desperately wish more gay marriage supporters would say those things. You understand that being opposed to gay marriage does not necessarily stem from hate. Very few people seem to understand that, and I am so sick and tired of my beliefs always being misunderstood. It seems like gay marriage supporters never actually take the time to understand traditional marriage supporters. We're all automatically labeled as "homophobes," and that's an excuse they use to stop listening to anything we have to say. 

If only they listened, they would understand that we're not the evil, hateful bigots they think we are. Please keep making these points to gay marriage supporters. I never, ever take the time to write an email to a famous opinion columnist like this, but I felt the need to write this one to you because of how incredibly important it is for gay marriage supporters to stop misunderstanding, misjudging, and trying to stigmatize us traditional marriage supporters. Many gay marriage supporters make traditional marriage supporters like me feel hated and feared, and I sometimes have to hide my beliefs in a closet. Ironically, this is what they think I do to gay people. The hypocrisy will go on and on until more people speak out against it. 

I responded by asking if she would offer a bit more detail to readers curious about her beliefs (about gays generally and gay marriage specifically). She did. As a secular, gay-marriage supporter, I obviously disagree with much of what she has to say, and believe that it's important, for society and for gays, to fight hard for marriage equality. But that isn't the issue before us. What I'd ask of readers, as you peruse her note, is to imagine this 23-year-old African-American woman graduating, founding a company, making a significant contribution in her chosen field, and being appointed to a c-suite leadership position. Should society impose a stigma that strips her of that position if she still believes as follows?
Political opinion: I am undecided about whether or not the federal government should establish marriage as between one man and woman, or separate itself from marriage altogether. I almost want to say that I do support government "getting out of marriage" and not defining it any particular way, but I need to do more research on how that would practically work out.
 
Personal opinion: I am not in favor of gay marriage. There are a lot of people who do support it, and I have read and heard their opinions so many times. I am aware of the fact that many of them think that if someone does not approve of gay marriage, that means they are a bigoted person who hates anyone who is different from them. This is a gigantic misconception and it's absolutely crucial that this misconception is erased, because it's overwhelming. Sure, there are some traditional marriage supporters who do dislike gay people. They imagine the idea of themselves kissing a person of the same sex, and that's gross to them because they don't have those attractions, so they see gay people and automatically think "gross," "strange," etc. I wish they would calm down with the knee-jerk reaction and understand that gay people are not some kind of strange, alternate, not-quite-human species. Gay people are just people. I don't see gay people as different; I see them as fellow human beings who happen to have different feelings and different opinions than I have.
 
"Opinions" is key there. It's not just that gay people have different feelings of attraction. They also have different opinions than I have on what marriage is and where it came from. Gay people, and straight people who support gay marriage, believe that marriage is something created by humankind. Government does play a big role in marriage, after all. (And like I said earlier, I'm not sure that's a good idea.) However, I have a different opinion. I believe that God, who created all people, has His own intention for what marriage is supposed to be. I believe He deliberately created two inherently different, non-interchangeable types of humans so that one of each could permanently join together and start a family. In both Testaments, the Bible mentions that homosexual behavior is a sin- and in more places than I have room to mention, the Bible shows pictures of marriage, romance, and sex as things that are all wrapped up in God's amazing design ... and His design was intended for couples made up of one of each sex. My point is that when I say I am not in favor of gay marriage, I'm not trying to create my own definition of marriage based on what I do and do not think is "gross," and based on which groups of people I do or do not "hate." All of that is a misconception. The reality is that I am trying to show others God's picture.
 
When I say "homosexual behavior is a sin," people who react with "that's hateful" don't understand what sin is and why it's important to speak out against it. My belief is that sin is anything that goes against God's design and His rules. People who don't believe in sin obviously do not see anything wrong with homosexual behavior and they don't know why people like me speak out against it, so their reasoning is that what I say must come from hatred.
 
But if I hated all sinners, I'd hate myself.
 
There are lots of sins that exist, and in fact, everyone in the whole world has sinned. When either side of the gay marriage debate focuses only on homosexuality, they miss the bigger picture. I hope that non-Christians understand that the reason we Christians openly voice our opposition to sin is that our desire to be forgiven of our own sins is the reason we became Christians in the first place. We see sin as something that separates us from God, and we see Jesus  as the one who took the punishment for our sins and saved us.
 
We can't be silent about that; we must tell other people. We can't explain who Jesus is and why His death is so important without also explaining what sin is.
 
Everyone sins. Everyone has an innate desire to sin, unfortunately. Some people's innate desire is for homosexuality. I understand when gay people say that they can't help having those feelings. I understand that hearing "you can change if you pray and try hard over time" is extremely difficult. Maybe we Christians haven't talked enough about how we believe that everyone is a work in progress, including ourselves. Whoever chooses to believe in the Biblical definition of sin is choosing a sometimes difficult life of putting God ahead of themselves and their own desires.
 
I don't want to give the impression that it's only gay people who must learn to control their desires, and straight people are okay. I'm sorry for all the times that Christians have given that impression. Like I said before, I see gay people as people. They are just people who sin in a different way than I do.
 
My beliefs don't come from hatred and an arrogant desire to feel superior. And many traditional marriage supporters have beliefs similar to mine. Yes, there are hateful traditional marriage supporters, but there are also traditional supporters who sincerely do not hate at all. Yes, we try to convince others to believe what we believe, but that's because our beliefs are so important to us that we feel it would be wrong and clique-like to keep them only to ourselves. I wish that more gay marriage supporters would not automatically think of us as "hateful bigots" who are trying to "brainwash" other people into believing what we believe simply for the sake of becoming one of us, to add to our numbers and to make us feel superior. It's not about us.
 
It's about God.
 
I'm not trying to be mean to gay people. I instead want to reach out to gay people, and all other people. Let's agree to talk to each other politely, and respectfully disagree about our different beliefs.
Is it enough, for those who disagree with this perspective, to forcefully critique it, as I would recommend? Or should society stigmatize this young woman as a bigot and punish her professionally for the mix of attitudes and beliefs expressed above? As you decide, recall that her position will certainly lose, even without stigma.
 
Email on this topic from any perspective is encouraged. My email address is below.
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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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