Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage is Bigotry

Many opponents of same-sex marriage, including Rick Warren, do not perceive themselves as bigoted in the least. For many of us, their desire to ban same-sex marriage is prima facie evidence of intolerance. Who is right, and how does religious belief complicate the situation?

Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

In most contexts, opposing something means that someone holds unfavorable attitudes toward it. In the case of activists, one may oppose something in the sense of trying to change it. But in the context around same-sex marriage, opposition takes on a more specific meaning.

"Opposing same-sex marriage" in this context refers to not merely to one's attitudes, or even the desire to change something, but also to legislation. Opponents of same-sex marriage seek to prevent it from occurring through legal means. They favor a definition of marriage that restricts it to something that a man and a woman do. They commonly refer to this as necessary to protect "the traditional definition of marriage." Regardless, they want to ban same-sex marriage.

This means that the statement "Ted opposes same-sex marriage" is equivalent to "Ted believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman and favors a legal ban on same-sex marriage."

Does Opposing Same-Sex Marriage Make One a Bigot?

Before responding, consider the following:

  • Does opposing African American marriage (i.e., defining marriage as between two whites and seeking to prevent two consenting African Americans from being married on the grounds that they are African American) make one a bigot?
I think we can all agree that someone who opposed African American marriage is indeed a bigot. The real question is why. Could it be because we recognize that two consenting African American adults who wish to marry are no less deserving than two consenting white adults? Could it be because we have learned something since the civil rights movement whereby someone campaigning against African American marriage today would rightly be viewed as a racist?

How about a different example?

  • Does opposing atheist marriage (i.e., defining marriage as between two theists and seeking to prevent two consenting atheists from being married on the grounds that they are atheists) make one a bigot?
Is this question any more difficult to answer than the previous example regarding African Americans? If so, why? Perhaps defining marriage as an agreement before some sort of god means that those who do not accept the reality of such a god have no business being married. Even as we might be tempted to pursue such a line of argument, I think that most of us realize that we are most interested in marriage in the secular and contractual sense.

So does opposing same-sex marriage (i.e., defining marriage as between a man and a woman and seeking to prevent two consenting adults from being married on the grounds that they are of the same sex) make one a bigot? Yes, it appears that it does.

Religion Enters And Things Get Messy

There is a reason that the debate over same-sex marriage has not gone away yet, and no, it is not simple homophobia. The reason is religion. You see, when opposition to same-sex marriage is clothed in religious garb, those who would normally recognize the inherent bigotry get nervous. They do not want to be perceived as being intolerant to religion (even as religion is intolerant of all sorts of things).

To call someone a bigot for campaigning against same-sex marriage is one thing; to call someone a bigot for doing what the think their "holy" book tells them to do is something else. Or at least, that is how many people feel. We are so used to treating religious belief with kid gloves that many of us do not feel comfortable looking beyond it to the bigotry it shields. Who knows, we might even be called bigots ourselves!

When opponents of same-sex marriage introduce religion into their arguments, they obfuscate the real issue (i.e., their bigotry) to those who are convinced that religion must remain immune to criticism. This is one reason why atheists can be useful allies for those in the LGBT community.

When religion enters the debate, those who want to ban same-sex marriage end up calling the rest of us bigots. Why? Because we have the nerve to expect them to treat people equally! Imagine that.