May 23, 2015

If You're Not Gay, Why Do You Care About Gay Rights?

English: Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Logo. HRC...
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Logo. HRC is one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equal rights organizations in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I receive more questions from readers than I'll ever have time to answer, but I like to try answer those that seem to come up again and again. One that I've received fairly often is the question contained in the title of this post. It usually comes up after I've shared some pro-LGBT news or criticized anti-LGBT bigotry here or on social media. Fortunately, this is an easy one to answer.

I am not motivated solely by my own self-interest, and so I am able to care about the welfare of persons other than myself. I care about LGBT rights because I support equality and oppose religiously-motivated bigotry in all its forms. I support same-sex marriage because it is a necessary step toward equality. Same-sex couples deserve the same rights under the law as opposite-sex couples. I see it as both a church-state issue and a matter of civil rights. I do not want my secular government restricting the rights of anyone on the basis of religious dogma.

Not long ago, I had an interesting interaction with a straight White Christian man who asked me this question. Adopting the principle of charity, I assumed he was a decent guy who might be confused on the subject of LGBT rights but was generally inclined to support equality in other contexts. I said something like, "I support equal rights for LGBT persons for the same reason you support equal rights for Black people." I was promptly informed that I was wrong because he supported no such thing. No equality for Blacks, women, immigrants, atheists, and so on. I made an incorrect assumption about the degree to which he valued equal rights for others and was mistaken. Lesson learned.

For most of us, at least for most of the atheists I have encountered, I think it is fair to say that we are capable of and willing to care about people other than ourselves. One does not have to be a woman to care about maintaining reproductive rights for women, and one does not have to be Black to care about the racial disparities in criminal sentencing. And clearly, one does not have to be LGBT to support full equality for LGBT persons.

And speaking of same-sex marriage and equal rights, congratulations to Ireland for getting it right before the United States does! I'm hoping we will come to our senses and join you soon, but I fear that may still be some time off. I think we still need to persuade the Christian majority that controls too much of our country to do the right thing.

Update: Well, that didn't take long! Same-sex marriage is now legal throughout the U.S. in spite of some sadly backward pockets of opposition.
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