Why Straddling the Fence on LGBT Issues Doesn’t Work: Andrew Marin’s Response to Dan Savage

Yesterday, I posted about a Dan Savage book review in today’s New York Times that criticized the Marin Foundation.

Andrew Marin‘s goal is to bridge the gap between the LGBT and Christian communities, but along the way, he strategically chooses not to answer questions like “Do you think homosexuality is a sin?” “Do you think that gays and lesbians are born that way?” and “Can an LGBT person ‘change’?”

While I don’t care about the answer to the first one, the other two are non-negotiable to me. There are right and wrong answers to those questions and to not answer them so as to straddle the fence is a cop-out.

That was the gist of what Savage said in his piece:

[Author Jeff] Chu goes easy on Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the country, despite the harm the group does to vulnerable gays and lesbians, particularly gay children. He gives an approving nod to the sneakily homophobic Marin Foundation, an evangelical group that shows up at gay pride parades holding signs that say, “We’re sorry!” and offering hugs to paradegoers who have been harmed by religion. But Andrew Marin, the group’s founder and public face, has urged his followers to target Christian teenagers struggling with “same-sex attraction” because they’re easier to talk out of being gay. Marin has refused to say that gay sex isn’t a sin, and he seems to believe that gay people can change their sexual orientation. The more you learn about the Marin Foundation, the more it looks like Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition: God hates you — now with hugs! Chu blasts [Metropolitan Community Church], but Marin gets a pass.

Today, Marin responded to those charges (emphasis his):

Dan and I have two completely different philosophical approaches to social change; both with the same goal — that everyone, regardless of orientation, gender, race, color, creed or religious affiliation (or not), will be able to live safe, loved, dignified and cherished lives. I feel the crossroad lies in the view of what is deemed as an “acceptable medium of engagement.” This is not a new debate throughout the world’s history.

In other words, this is like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Marin goes on to suggest Savage is taking a route of “revenge” by attacking the method of someone who goes down a different path than he does toward the same goal… and that it’s “segregation” to exclude those who believe being gay is a choice and that sexuality can change. (Both are Marin’s words, not mine.)

Ugh… great opportunity, but awful response. (Sorry, Andrew.)

There can be no middle ground when it comes to civil rights, which is what the LGBT community is fighting for. It sounds all well and good to hold hands with your oppressors until you realize their ultimate goal is to keep you second-class citizens. For way too long, evangelical Christians have been using the rhetoric of “we love gay people; we respect gay people” while simultaneously working to make sure they can’t get married, can’t adopt children, and can’t get anti-discrimination protection in the workplace.

Their intentions are irrelevant when the product they’re pushing is bigotry. It’s even worse when they support programs to “change” one’s sexual orientation… out of love, of course.

Marin had the opportunity to answer the easy questions. He could’ve said, “Being gay is not a choice.” Hell, I’m sure deep down he believes that, too.

But he didn’t. He just doubled-down on why he doesn’t answer the big questions:

This is why The Marin Foundation doesn’t answer yes/no questions. Because for us, the importance is not on the “correct” answer; it’s on relating to our shared humanity to do life and love better regardless of how you answer any of those close-ended questions.

Cop. Out.

Look, Marin isn’t anti-gay or homophobic. He has plenty of testimonials on his post talking about what a nice guy he is… but we just saw a story last week by a gay man talking about how nice Jerry Falwell was — I’m sure James Dobson and Rick Warren could elicit the same words from certain gay people — but no one would mistake Falwell or Dobson or Warren of being a friend to the LGBT community, and Marin makes a mistake when he uses testimonials to suggest Savage is wrong.

If he wanted to show Savage was wrong, all he would have to do is say, “Savage is wrong. I would never try to talk someone out of being gay and I know gay people can’t change their sexual orientation.”

He never did that. He never even came close.

We don’t need more Christians who say they love LGBT people but don’t actively challenge evangelicals when they’re wrong. We have enough of them and they haven’t helped.

What we need are Christians who have the courage to tell their pastors and other church leaders they’re wrong when it comes to their beliefs about the gay community.

They’re wrong about one’s sexual orientation being a choice.

They’re wrong about homosexual acts being worse than heterosexual acts.

They’re wrong about gay marriage leading down a slippery slope to some other kind of union no one is talking about.

They’re wrong about gay parents not being fit to raise children.

They’re wrong about the government forcing them to accept gay marriage in their churches.

They’re wrong about gay relationships being somehow less worthy than straight ones.

It’s so ridiculously easy to say all that and young Christians everywhere are leaving their churches because they know there’s no nuance when it comes to answering those questions — their pastors are wrong and stubborn and that’s not a combination that’s going to change anytime soon.

If Marin said, “I know those church leaders are wrong, but I’m working to change their minds,” it’d be easier to support what he does. But instead, he suggests that the Christian leaders also have a point worth listening to.

They don’t. They never have. And if more Christians would come right out and say that, we might get somewhere.

Interestingly, one of the testimonials says that the claim of Marin “believing that gay people can change” isn’t true at all. But Marin never says it himself. So I can understand why Savage would level that charge — along with others — at him. Until Marin publicly states where he stands on the “big questions,” there’s nothing wrong with people assuming the worst. Most Christians have never given us a good reason to think they really have the best interests of the LGBT community in mind, so why would we start giving them the benefit of the doubt now when they shy away from stating the obvious?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.