Last month, Family Scholars reader Teresa asked me:
Barry, Anna J, can you help tease this out a bit more, for me, regarding ssm. Is the position opposing ssm, which I profess, existentially a bigoted position?
I answered at the time, but the comment thread ran out almost before anyone responded to me. So I thought I’d reopen the discussion, using the answer I gave Teresa (although I’ve edited somewhat).
So, Teresa, to answer your question: Yes. I think your position unjustly treats the needs and wants of lgbt people as less important than those of others, which is my definition of a bigoted position.
But let me rush to say that’s not to say that you’re a bigot, a hateful person, or acting out of spite or out of “yuk.” From the little I’ve seen of you online, you seem like a lovely person, not at all hateful.
I don’t know if you’re a bigot or not personally, because I don’t know you that well. But if you do have some bigoted attitudes that you need to fight against, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Nor do I think that makes you any different from me. Or from most people. Surely we all have some prejudices and bigotries inside that we have to work on.
History makes it clear that good, sincere people who are not hateful, can nonetheless hold bigoted positions. It’s impossible to look at the history of (for example) anti-semitism without finding plenty of genuinely kind people, people who really did have Jewish friends, nonetheless advocating things like “exclusive” clubs.
I think that one thing we should admit to is that being a nice person, a non-hateful person, a loving person, a genuinely good person, does not make us immune from holding bigoted positions.
When it comes to public policy, bigotry isn’t a personal flaw; it’s a social atmosphere.
In the social atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s, everyone was so used to believing that Jews didn’t need to be treated equally that even good, kind, loving people had a hard time seeing why it was wrong for places like country clubs to have rules against Jewish members.
In the 1970s, it was a radical position to be opposed to laws that made gay sex illegal. For most of the 20th century, police routinely raided and shut down gay bars and nightclubs, and amazingly few people could see that it was wrong to do that. The reason people had trouble seeing it is not that people in the 20th century were stupid, or mean, or hateful. My grandparents, for example, were not stupid or mean or hateful. But they were raised from birth in an atmosphere gave them little reason to question such practices.
But those practices were, nonetheless, bigoted public policy.
So when I say that being against legal SSM is a bigoted policy, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that those who oppose SSM are bigots (no more so than anyone else, anyhow); I’m not denying that they are frequently smart, loving, and kind people.
I do think, however, that legal inequality for same-sex couples is a policy that only makes sense to so many smart, loving, kind people because we were all raised in a society in which discrimination against lgbt people has been the norm. Being raised in that society has obscured our vision. In a society in which most people are raised from birth to think of lgbt people as equal to everyone else – a society much like the US will be in a quarter-century, I suspect – legal inequality will seem like the strange and unjust policy it is.
I know that by even bringing this up, I will be accused of trying to shut down discussion, of being a bully, of trying to emotionally blackmail people, etc.. I don’t think those are fair accusations. I’m just someone who thinks that bigotry is an important issue that should be discussed, not ignored.