Saturday, December 14, 2013

Does Being Anti-Gay Marriage Make You Anti-Gay: A Response to Brandon Ambrosino

In The Atlantic yesterday, Brandon Ambrosino, an author and an individual who I respect, deeply disappointed me with his article “Beingagainst gay marriage doesn't make you a homophobe: some people just aren't’t sureabout marriage equality – but their reasoning isn’t necessarily a reflection oftheir character”. The article has been retweeted by the likes of Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson as well as many others within the conservative wing of Christianity, and for good reason, as it is a reformulation, by a gay man, of the typical religious cliché “love the sinner hate the sin”.

     Fair warning, I come at the issue of LGBT equality from a legal perspective, I am after all, a law student. But at the same time, I recognize the larger social and religious fight for full equality for LGBT people, and I have often fought for LGBT equality within the religious/cultural realm. Even with full legal equality, the socio-cultural norms within a community impact the way that gay and lesbian couples feel about their relationship. For example, marriage for same-sex couples has been legal in Canada since 2005, yet my husband and I still encountered social bigotry and disgust when we lived in the Niagara region of Ontario. Just because marriage is legal for same-sex couples doesn't mean that a same-sex couples marriage magically becomes equal to a heterosexual marriage. Legally? Yes. But because marriage is a cultural institution, to be truly equal, LGBT advocates must fight the religious and cultural beliefs that stigmatize same-sex marriages.

     Now back to Brandon’s article. And before I start on the main thrust of the piece (that you can be anti-marriage equality and not anti-gay), I want to address an argument that he makes. First, he says that if “homophobic” is used to argue against those who do not believe in marriage equality, then “what should we call someone who beats up gay people, or prefers not to hire them? Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination. Our language ought to reflect that distinction”. Brandon argues as if these things are mutually exclusive, but I would beg to differ. The latter is the same as the former; the only difference is that the latter is an outward manifestation through action of an animus towards gay people. For example, someone may be a racist and believe that black people are inferior, yet not beat up black people or discriminate against them in employment. But they are still are a racist. Just because they do not manifest their racism through action does not mean that they are not racist. Just because you will hire women, yet believe that women are inferior to men, does not make you less misogynistic. The same thing with homophobia and anti-gay bigotry.

     So why do I take issue with the main thrust of Brandon’s article? Because, as I said, he has walked into the idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin”. In this context, one’s sexual orientation is not what is bad. A Christian can still “love” a gay person. But the conduct associated with that gay person – their marriage - is “less than” and is the action that is “hated”. Conservative Christians do not believe that marriage can be between two people of the same-sex, because they religiously believe that God made marriage for people of the opposite-sex. This isn’t anti-gay, Brandon exclaims, because these people are not opposing gay people, they are opposing calling the relationship “marriage”. Even in the secular context, he claims, those individuals are not opposing gay people – they are opposing a relationship in which natural procreation is not feasible.  

     I feel that Brandon’s analysis here is lacking, mainly because he doesn’t seem to analyze the place that marriage has in our culture. Marriage is not just a religious sacrament or a legal status in which “procreation” or “what God intended” can be the determining factors; instead it is a cultural norm that has become the pinnacle of what it means to be in a relationship. All other relationship regimes are below marriage. Is that a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. But it cannot be denied that marriage is THE status within our broader culture that signifies commitment, love, partnership, family, and for many, religious obedience. We don’t see people in movies getting “civil unioned” or “domestic partnershiped”, we see them getting married, and we understand WHAT that means. Love songs are not written in hope of cohabitation, they are an expression of deep love to lead to marriage. To take someone’s justifications for marriage outside of the broader culture in which that person exists doesn’t allow us to truly analyze that person’s position. We are not isolated entities whose views are solely shaped within ourselves; our perspectives are shaped by our interactions with others.

     But how does this comport with harboring animus towards gay people? I think Brandon would agree that a relationship status for same-sex couples such as “civil unions” demeans those relationships within our broader culture. That has been, in fact, the entire thrust of the legal push against civil unions. But that wasn’t his argument. His argument was that if you are anti-marriage for same-sex couples, you are not therefore anti-gay, you are only anti-gay marriage. But this argument fails to acknowledge how an individual often manifests the ideas of commitment, love, and religious value to the outside world. They get married. Thus, if an individual believes that same-sex people are not deserving of marriage rights, they are attacking the individual themselves because they are saying that that person cannot reach the level of commitment, love, and religious value in their relationship that a heterosexual person can in their relationship. Remember, a marriage is not an isolated entity, it is a cultural entity made up of individuals; individuals who have sexual orientations. To the people who are anti-gay marriage, there is something “different” something “better” in a heterosexual relationship than in a homosexual relationship, based upon the identity of the persons IN that marriage.

     Finally, Brandon assumes that if you are a bigot, then you are, by necessity, a bad person. Yet is this an accurate assumption? Can a racist, homophobe, misogynist, etc. be a good person outside of these areas? Yes. Does harboring such beliefs and values impugn a person’s character? Yes. But that fact doesn’t necessarily make them overall a bad person. This is one area where I do believe that our community needs work. We rush to call out those who are anti-marriage equality as bad people. But, as Brandon said, that is more nuanced, and not always true. Homophobic? Anti-gay? Bigots? Yes. Bad people? Not necessarily.

     Overall, I enjoyed Brandon’s article as it gave me something to think about, but at the same time, I found that it gave another quiver in the arrow of people like my parents who can say “we love our gay son and his “partner”, but they are not married”. Because he didn’t address the deeper cultural ramifications of what marriage means, Brandon was able to make the distinction between being anti-marriage and anti-gay. A conclusion that was, in my opinion, just another formulation of love the sinner, hate the sin.

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