John Corvino debates the word:
[T]here’s a difference between identifying [homophobic] bigotry, on the one hand, and labeling any and all people who disagree with us as bigots, on the other. Such labeling tends to function as a conversation-stopper, cutting us off from the “moveable middle” and ultimately harming our progress.
Agreed. Prejudice is complicated. It can exist in the human psyche alongside genuine compassion. No one is defined by hate any more than anyone is defined by love - or at least, that's what my faith teaches me. David Link has a brilliant addition to John's arguments here. Money quote:
Many people who don’t support same-sex marriage are not bigots, and it does not help us to use the epithet promiscuously. John tries to tease out a more helpful definition of “bigot” than dictionaries provide, and moves the ball downfield a bit. But he sets himself a hard task.
That struck home for me when a rabbi (whose name I did not catch) testified against the New Jersey bill, and asked the legislators to think about the fate of an “innocent lonely child” who is adopted by a same-sex married couple. His testimony is at the 8:18 mark in Blue Jersey’s live blog.
The unadorned words do not capture the rabbi’s deep, fearful concern for this hypothetical child. I obviously can’t speak about what moved this man. But listening to him, it is tragically clear that there is no room at all in his world for the simple possibility that such a child might not be lonely in a loving home headed by a gay couple, or that the child could thrive and have a wonderful life.
The irony is that by eliminating such a possibility from his imagination, he may be preventing some real child that tangible benefit. It is this moral editing this internal censorship of good possibilities that exempts some people from being called bigots.
I can’t really imagine how anyone could do that suppress from their consciousness a fellow human being’s decency or happiness or value. But it is something necessary (if not sufficient) for prejudice to prevail. I don’t think this rabbi wishes us harm; but it is just not within him to see us as blessed. His cramped view of the world takes something essential away from us.