Animus and the gay marriage debate

10.25.2012, 7:24 PM

In a NYTs op-ed earlier this year I wrote:

And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus.

That sentence got me into a heap of trouble with many good people who oppose gay marriage.  I was told many times, often in quite passionate terms, that this statement is factually untrue; that opposition to gay marriage typically stems from sincere religious belief that cannot be fairly described as animus; that opposing gay marriage is fundamentally about supporting marriage, not thinking ill of gay people or wishing them harm;  and that, in general, arguing against gay marriage has little if any connection to arguing against gay people or against homosexual conduct per se.

Well, this is a serious discussion, and I am still seriously thinking about these very strong responses from good people to what I wrote.

Further, I know that one incident does not prove much.  But this incident from Maryland the other day did manage to get my attention:

A Maryland pastor who suggested supporters of same-sex marriage deserve to  die refuses to back down  from his vehemently anti-gay statements.  Rev. Robert Anderson, of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., made  the remark at a town hall meeting last week about the upcoming vote on Question  6, the referendum challenging the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage. “Those who practice such things are worthy of death,” Anderson said. “If we  don’t vote against it, then we are approving these things that are worthy of  death.” Anderson says he was simply quoting scripture. “That’s not my words,” he told NBC Washington. “That’s from Romans Chapter 1 written by the  Apostle Paul himself.” He explained that same-sex marriage supporters — not just gay people — are  worthy of death because “they are promoting the lifestyle and they are promoting what same-sex marriage is all about, and that is what we are standing  against.”

But Pastor Anderson’s comments aren’t really what got my attention.  What got my attention was the response from the executive director of the main group in Maryland opposing gay marriage. He said:

“Any attempt to imply that Dr. Anderson’s reading of scripture was a call to  harm gays and lesbians is false and serves as a distraction from the real issues  of the campaign.”

Hmmm.  Guy on a public panel quoting the Bible says homosexuals are worthy of death, and that the gay marriage question is “all about” that very thing that God says is worthy of death.  And yet none of this should be viewed by anyone as “a call to harm gays and lesbians”; and overall, we’re to understand that opposing gay marriage (which is the “real issue”) is not, is absolutely not, about being opposed to gay persons. All clear now?

31 Responses to “Animus and the gay marriage debate”

  1. Karen says:

    Well, this blog post certainly makes it look like it’s all about animus (there are loons on both sides), but I’m for the defense of marriage and not because of religious beliefs or animus. We cannot be clumped together so I don’t see what the point is other than yes, there are loons and animus on both sides.

  2. Diane M says:

    I have a hard time when someone claims to be a Christian and then says such hate-filled things. I wish there was a way to call him something else – an anti-Christian.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    “I’m for the defense of marriage and not because of religious beliefs or animus. We cannot be clumped together so I don’t see what the point is other than yes, there are loons and animus on both sides.”

    But you can’t just dismiss that many who agree with you are acting out of animus. Acknowledging that–insted of saying there is animus on all sides–shows you are serious. It also means taking responsbility when you random post comments from anti-SSM sites.

  4. Roger says:

    Thank you, David, for posting this. Unfortunately, such comments are not rare, and they can often be found espoused in NOM blogs and by persons associated with NOM. Similar comments have been made during the Minnesota, Washington, and Maine campaigns. Jeremy Hooper at the GoodAsYou blog and Alvin McCuen at Holy Bullies frequently report on these people.

  5. Roger says:

    Karen, there is nothing remotely comparable on the pro-ssm side. No one on our side has called for the death of those who oppose marriage equality. No one. It is a libel to suggest otherwise.

    That does not mean that lots of us have called opponents of equal rights bigots and backward and other names, but nearly always in response to attacks on gay people.

  6. Karen says:

    “But you can’t just dismiss that many who agree with you are acting out of animus”

    Just as you cannot dismiss that many who want to redefine marriage really want marriage to come to an end altogether. Need links?

  7. Karen says:

    No one on our side has called for the death of those who oppose marriage equality
    Well, yea, that’s just crazy talk I agree but then there are still loons (on your side) who believe opposition to the redefinition of marriage deserves death (

    As I said, loons on both sides.

  8. admin says:

    Because it is evening, and our moderators won’t be able to police this with all the attention it deserves because they are not in the office – I am going to request that everyone be especially committed to civility when commenting – as this is the sort of post where passions run high.

    If this proves too difficult, I will close comments for the night and re-open them tomorrow.

  9. JHW says:

    Karen: Those supporters of same-sex marriage who are skeptical about marriage as an institution tend to be among the least enthusiastic supporters of the campaign for marriage equality. They’ll say things like, “Sure, I’m against discrimination, but I don’t think gaining entry into a bad institution is worth prioritizing.” They rarely if ever support same-sex marriage as a means to ending marriage; if anything, they worry that same-sex marriage will institutionalize it further.

    On the other hand, anti-gay bigots who oppose same-sex marriage oppose same-sex marriage precisely because it embodies the civil equality of gays and lesbians and our relationships. That’s the whole point.

    For what it’s worth, as an initial matter I reject your suggestion that doubts about marriage as an institution are remotely morally comparable to suggesting that gays and lesbians, and our supporters, are worthy of death.

  10. Kevin says:

    Says Karen:

    “….but I’m for the defense of marriage and not because of religious beliefs or animus.”

    Yes but if you insist that the issue be decided by popular vote, you are throwing your lot in with those who hate gay people. There is no way to achieve voting majorities without capturing the gay haters and religionists. That’s why NOM’s ads are so obviously aimed at homophobes and religionists during election season: they need their votes!

    What’s your response to this? People who oppose legal same-sex marriage overwhelmingly insist it be decided by the people, not “black-robed tyrants” or rogue legislators. Yet you can’t rely solely on the non-homophobic, non-religious anti-SSM voter, to win a majority.

    Describe why it’s ok to not personally be anti-gay but it is ok to cobble together a voting majority that includes those people.

  11. Karen says:

    On the other hand, anti-gay bigots who oppose same-sex marriage oppose same-sex marriage precisely because it embodies the civil equality of gays and lesbians and our relationships. That’s the whole point.”

    So, that means you think someone like me is an “anti-gay biogt”?

    Those supporters of same-sex marriage who are skeptical about marriage as an institution tend to be among the least enthusiastic supporters of the campaign for marriage equality

    Do you have any evidence to back this up?

  12. Karen says:


  13. Karen: I certainly agree that people can oppose gay marriage without opposing gay people. I know that’s true. And I didn’t post this to prove or suggest otherwise. It’s just that when people insist so strongly that anti-gay animus is not a meaningful, significant part of the picture — that’s where I have to part company with them.

    And yes, there are zealots and harsh words on both sides — agreed. I will say, however, that I was a nationally prominent opponent of gay marriage for a number of years, as you know, and no one ever said, to my knowledge, that I was worthy of death or doomed to damnation, and I never feared for my physical safety. I am only speaking for myself, of course.

  14. Karen says:

    Kevin, if you have been following what I’ve been saying here (for years now) I don’t give a rats [rear] about the law. The law is and will always be seriously flawed in matters of family. If it came to vote, I’d vote for the defense of marriage. I’ve explained why on many many previous discussions and it has nothing to do the aminus. I’m now past my 3 comment limit and I know I’m an easy, irresistible target but I have to play by the rules as the admin requested. That’s it for tonight.

    edited by the moderator

  15. JHW says:

    Karen: No. I’m talking about those opponents of same-sex marriage who are actually anti-gay bigots, not about all opponents of same-sex marriage.

    I’ve read the Beyond Marriage statement. Its whole point is lack of enthusiasm about the campaign for marriage equality, which has consistently stayed away from the sort of campaign for recognizing diverse family structures they are arguing for. I know that many commentators have cited it as support for their claim that same-sex marriage would undermine marriage, but such commentators are mainly showing that they do not understand the nature of the internal debate within the gay and lesbian community about same-sex marriage, and that they are not familiar with the work and advocacy of the co-authors.

  16. The current anti-equality enterprise is largely one choreographed bu the US Conference of Catholic Bishops with some help from Opus Dei. The underlying reason that this even exists is the Pope’s pronouncement of 2003 on homosexual unions.

    Aside from opposing any form of legalized union, the Pope opposes adoption. In that regard, the Pope claims that gays “do violence” to the children whom they adopt. That’s the exact language that he used. Hard to imagine what the purpose for the Regnerus endeavor was, huh?

    That is hate speech by any definition. Some people accept the doctrine that the Pope is infallible. When that kind of animus comes from he who is arguably the holiest man in the world, that tends to shape the anti-equality debate. Anything goes.

  17. Greg Popcak says:

    This thread is among the things that make one go hmmm…

    I admit that it is truly unfortunate that so much base support for traditional marriage is rooted in anti-gay animus, but what is often unacknowledged is how much of the fight for “marriage equality” is rooted in religious hatred and bigotry. (Paging Mr David Cary Hart. Please pick up the white courtesy phone… Dan Brown is on the line.)

    Before anyone accuses me of being incendiary, I believe it was David Blankenhorn, himself, who pointed out in The Future of Marriage that, historically, most of those who favor gay marriage now wanted to destroy marriage altogether as a repressive, patriarchal, religious institution only a decade or so ago. The push for gay marriage is not so much a new direction for anti-traditional marriage groups but a new tactic. If marriage can be redefined into meaninglessness, then…mission accomplished.

    Another point along these lines is that even on this blog it is virtually impossible to advance a purely sociological or historical argument in favor of traditional marriage without being labelled a theocrat or religious zealot, accused of proselytism of the worst kind and treated like one is seeking to impose Christianist sharia on the world. And this, mind you, is when a purely secular, sociological or historical argument is advanced. It seems unfathomable to anti-traditional marriage folks that reason could possibly have anything to say against their position and the only thing that could ever motivate someone to say otherwise is religious animus. In the inimitable words of Seth Meyers, “Really?!?”

    May I suggest that instead of making an issue out the stupidity, ignorance and animus that, frankly, defines most of the groundlings on either side of this issue, that we focus on educating our respective groups on the logical, reasonable cases that can be made from social science, history and the rest. (After all, for every ignorant, backwater preacher you can dig up I can raise you an Angela McCaskill. Finger pointing is a zero-sum game that breeds nothing but self-righteousness.)

    Hatred is rooted in ignorance. Knowledge defeats both. Finger pointing does nothing. Silence (or ignore) the bigots on both sides and let the most reasonable argument win.

  18. Greg Popcak:

    For the record, the Pope’s 2003 pronouncement is on the Vatican’s website. I have irrefutable proof of Opus Dei’s involvement in the campaign.

  19. Greg Popcak:

    I have to use my third post because this moronic discussion software is neither threaded nor editable. Please name one person campaigning in opposition to equal marriage who has a reasonable or even responsible point of view. The guy leading the campaigns (Frank Schubert) believes in the Ten Commandments by selective observation. Did you know that there are really only nine? That whole thing about “bearing false witness” was a typo.

  20. Kevin says:

    Karen, I’m not “targeting” you but trying to understand an important issue related to the legalized same-sex marriage debate. There seems to have developed a sideshow, where anti-gay marriage people are bristling at the notion that they are anti-gay or homophobic. They insist their motives aren’t anti-gay. In other words, they want to advocate a public policy that marginalizes gay people, in very tangible ways, but they don’t want to be called out for it. It’s eating one’s cake and having it, too.

    But they very consistently insist that the issue be decided by popular vote. That methodology, rather than letting the courts decide or legislators decide, is informed by the knowledge that many homophobic people will vote against legal same-sex marriage. I don’t think these votes on amending states constitutions to bar gay people from marriage would pass without the help of homophobic voters.

    Perhaps you’re the wrong person to ask. I was trying to get a read from someone who opposes equal marriage rights for gay people, insists it’s not because he or she is motivated by anti-gay sentiment, but also insists that the way to resolve the issue is popular vote.

    In case it’s still not clear, the leaders of the anti-gay marriage movement made a conscious decision that their path to victory involved popular voting (even though we elect legislators to craft our public policy). Why did they choose popular vote, rather than, say letting judges decide the constitutionality of laws barring gay people from marrying, or letting elected legislators decide? Could it be that the privacy of the voting booth permits the unaccountable expression of homophobia crucial to denying gay people equal legal rights as straight people? If a person insists that the issue be decided by popular vote, is it really accurate to say one is not anti-gay, if your side encourages, and relies on, people who ARE anti-gay to take your side on the issue?

  21. Kevin:

    It is not the privacy of the voting booth that they are counting on. Rather, it is the fact that voters will not be as well informed as either legislators or jurists – each of whom have several (hopefully) disinterested staffers or clerks who provide the relevant facts without positional refinement.

    Citizens voting against equal marriage are likely doing so based on what they think are the consequences of marriage equality in contrast to what they actually are. On a daily basis, I am blogging about the misinformation and inaccurate implications perpetrated by NOM. I have the time to do so while the average voter has job, spouse and kids that consume every waking moment I also have the training and experience to do so.

  22. admin says:

    All – Because this blog is filling up, I am going to begin enforcing the 3 comment rule. I let everything up until now stand – but moving forward.

  23. Kevin says:

    “….what is often unacknowledged is how much of the fight for “marriage equality” is rooted in religious hatred and bigotry”

    David, you have got to be kidding. Resentment of religious groups trying to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us is hardly hatred. It’s resentment, the response to unfair action. Catholic leadership is quite vocal in its opposition to legal marriage rights for gay people. Individuals opposed to legal same-sex marriage happily pronounce their positions are emanating from biblical imperative, even though the Bible makes no mention of same-sex marriage, nor provides any instructions to modify legal codes according to biblical rules and regulations.

    Many religions want to bless same-sex marriages. Are they religions of a lesser God? Do their religious beliefs not count?

    “….even on this blog it is virtually impossible to advance a purely sociological or historical argument in favor of traditional marriage without being labelled a theocrat or religious zealot”

    First, I doubt you’ve been labeled anything that wasn’t accurate or relevant, as the administrators seem to cast a cold eye on such labels. Second, I can speak only for myself but if you know of a non-homophobic, non-religious reason for why the country should use sexual orientation to determine who may marry, I would love to hear it. Warning: your reason, or reasons, will be subjected to scrutiny in the form of logic, fairness, legal acceptability and probably some other hurdles that readers think of!

  24. Matthew Kaal says:

    I’ll speak up for Greg, there are often times on this blog when I’ve tried to engage in discussions about how worldviews and philosophy shape our views of the good and morality, only to be told that I’m only trying to advance my religion under the guise of philosophy.

    That can get really frustrating, and I imagine such presumptions are why many traditionalists and conservatives on this site have assumed that there is no point trying to share their reasoning – because they’ve already been labeled anti-gay. I can’t say I blame them.

    To respond to David’s post – the failure of Maryland’s pro-traditional marriage leaders to condemn Andersen for completely missing the point of the new testament, and construing it to hatefully condemn others, is a failure of leadership.

  25. Peter Hoh says:

    Greg Popcak wrote: what is often unacknowledged is how much of the fight for “marriage equality” is rooted in religious hatred and bigotry.

    In my denomination, the push for marriage equity came from people who grew up in the church — pastor’s kids, in particular — for whom sexual orientation was not something that drove them away from their faith and their church.

    I have a friend who has been active in LBGT rights for the past 20 years. According to him, the “traditional” LBGT activists were slow to get on the marriage bandwagon. In fact, there was considerable resistance to the idea.

    Somewhere in the archives of this blog, there’s a post by Elizabeth in which she quotes some academic LGBT theorist who complains that this marriage thing is going to marginalize those in his or her community who don’t want to conform to the heteronormative framework of marriage — or something like that.

  26. Diane M says:

    I get frustrated by a lot of things in this debate.

    First we have a guy who’s calling out his community for not standing up against really nasty homophobia. So, you know, let’s criticize him. And then let’s get into a debate insulting anyone who doesn’t believe in same sex marriage. Because then everyone will want to stand up for what’s right.

    Then there’s the anti-religious comments. Blaming the Catholic church is an old tradition in American politics, but it’s not a good one. One of the big problems in our modern society is the way we’re turning into a split nation. Grouping all religious people, even all evangelicals together is a form of prejudice. It makes it hard for us to see that they don’t agree on all issues.

    Then there’s the constant refrain that there can’t possibly be a non-homophobic, non-religious reason against gay marriage. Now I don’t think that there’s a good argument against gay marriage, but I think there might be reasons someone else believes that aren’t homophobic or religious.

    Aside from fairness, I think/hope it is more effective to argue against the reasons someone presents than to tell them that they must be homophobic or belong to a bad religion.

  27. Karen says:

    I agree with you Roger. It would be in NOM’s and everyone’s best interest to condem this kind of rhetoric and disassociate themselves from it. I would never want to be affiliated with any org that defended this mindset. This is no better than supporting groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.

  28. admin says:

    Roger – your comment was taken down for incivility. Please follow our civility guidelines even when referring to people not directly involved in this conversation.


    Complaints about moderation of our civility policy are not allowed – your comment to that effect has been removed. This is your warning.

  29. Roger says:

    The difference between the comments David Blankenhorn has condemned here and the rare instances of mentally disturbed individuals (such as the young man who attacked the Family Research Council) is that these come from officials of a campaign. They are not random individuals, they are part of a campaign and are likely on the payroll of the National Organization for Marriage, which is the principal supporter of the group opposing the Maryland question 6.

  30. fannie says:

    Greg says:

    “(After all, for every ignorant, backwater preacher you can dig up I can raise you an Angela McCaskill.)”

    Okay, but the problems with that iffy moral equation are that:

    (a) Many LGBT advocates and the main pro-SSM organization in Marlyand have called for McCaskill’s reinstatement, whereas the main anti-SSM organization in Maryland couldn’t even bring himself to condemn the pastor’s statement.

    (b) A person in a position of moral authority claiming that it’s some sort of moral, absolute truth that an entire group of people is “worthy of death” is…. slightly more problematic than a woman being placed on paid administrative leave and eventually reinstated.

    I mean, many of us can agree that Angela McCaskill shouldn’t be fired for her political position if she’s able to do her job well, but pulling out her experience like it’s some sort of “this is totally worse” trump card really trivializes this pastor’s hate speech- religiously-motivated hate speech that, by the way, is not rare.

    So, when you further suggest that pretty much most of your political opponents are motivated by “religious hatred and bigotry,” you would do better to understand why many of us, in fact, find some aspects of some religions- like this pastor’s- to be incredibly frightening, eliminationist, and hostile.

  31. nobody.really says:

    Law prof Tobias Barrington Wolff writes about the challenge of maintaining civil discourse when discussing ideas that are personally demeaning. For example, Wolff says —

    there is this seeming willingness on the part of antigay advocates to go around calling LGBT people unfit parents, and to expect to be treated with courtesy in response. I’ve been doing this for a dozen years, and I have to tell you, in very personal terms: I’m getting a little tired of being courteous in response to this kind of argument.

    * * *

    I’ll just say quickly: One can refuse to engage with these arguments and the people who make them, which is a choice that some LGBT scholars make and is a choice that has obvious costs associated with it. One can continue engaging in a collegial fashion, which is the choice that I have made for most of my career, but carries serious individual costs. Or one can engage with a somewhat sharper- edged critique of the nature of the arguments that are being made, which is part of what, of course, I am doing today, which has its own set of costs and disruptions of the normal collegial atmosphere about it. I acknowledge that.

    But I think that the impact upon the individual dignity of LGBT scholars from having to confront these ugly, ugly arguments over and over again is something that needs to be acknowledged as one of the central, central dynamics that warrants attention in conversations about these issues.