Yesterday we talked about how no matter how often Christians who opposes gay rights claim they don’t hate gay people, their actions still hurt gay people. On some level, then, it doesn’t matter whether these Christians actually hate gay people or not. But let’s go ahead and explore that question, shall we? Can a person oppose another person’s rights without hating that person? In other words, can a person oppose another person’s rights for some reason other than hate?
After all, Christians who oppose gay rights argue that they’re not opposing marriage equality because they dislike someone, but rather because God has ordained that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. In other words, opposing marriage equality has nothing to do with what they think of gay people, hate or no, and everything to do with, well, how God set things up to be. Let’s explore this further, shall we?
In order to truly examine this question, I’m going to bring in two outside examples: racism and sexism. Hang with me here, because I think these examples are critically important to understanding what’s going on here.
Supporters of patriarchy, southern slaveholders, and modern Christian anti-gay-marriage advocates hold something in common: each opposes the rights of a specific group of people in the name of how God set things up to be, and each claims not to hate this group, but to actually have its best interests at heart. As I examine these claims, bear in mind the question we’re asking here: Is it possible to oppose a group’s rights without “hating” that group?
The Christian Patriarchy movement holds that women need extra protection and care, and that God has therefore declared that each woman should be under a man’s authority. This is why I was told that I needed to obey my father and follow what he told me, even when I was an adult. My father and all others who have come under the sway of the Christian Patriarchy movement would insist that they don’t hate women, they just honestly think women are better off, safer, happier, and more secure when they remain under the protection and guidance of a god-given male protector. It’s not about depriving women of their rights or hating them, it’s about adhering to the way God set things up to be.
Similarly, many slave holders in the antebellum South believed that black people were incapable of caring for themselves, that without white guidance they would resort to “savagry,” and that with white guidance and control they could enter into at least a semblance of godly “civilization.” These slaveholders insisted that they didn’t hate black people – they just honestly believed that black people were physically, mentally, and spiritually better off as slaves to good, caring masters. They believed that God had created an ordered world in which the races with darker skin where to work for and in turn be protected by the races with lighter skin. In other words, they opposed black people having equal rights not because they “hated” black people, but rather because, well, this was how God had set things up to be, and was best for everyone.
Today, Christians who oppose gay rights say that they don’t hate gay people, they just really honestly believe that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman. They’ll say that it’s not that they want to “stick it to gay people,” it’s just that one-man, one-woman marriage is the natural order of things, is the way God set things up, is the most healthy situation for society. It’s not that they hate gay people, it’s just that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman, and that a society will collapse and everyone will be worse off if this timely truth is ignored. In other words, opposing marriage equality, and gay rights in general, is actually what is best for gay people as well as for the entire society. It’s just how things are supposed to be, how God intended for them to be. It’s not about hate.
If we give these three groups the benefit of the doubt, we begin to see that maybe we can take Christians who oppose gay rights at their word when they say they don’t hate gay people. In other words, it is possible to oppose some other group having equal rights without for some reason other than hate.
Except for one thing.
See, in each case the conversation shouldn’t end there. The next question is “why.” Why are women to be under male authority? Why are black people better off in slavery? Why is gay marriage in opposition to God’s plan? And if you get right down to it, you start to see that the reasons aren’t so pretty.
Christian Patriarchy holds that women are weaker, more impressionable, less firm, and more easily led astray than men. Slave owners in the antebellum South believed that black people were less able to make good decisions, less smart, and less hard working than white people. However you slice it, neither supporters of Christian Patriarchy nor southern slave owners hold (held) a very favorable view of those they deprive of rights. They may claim not to hate them, but they most certainly think of them as inferior. Does thinking another group inferior constitute hate? I suppose in the end it depends on how you define “hate.”
But now let’s turn away from these two examples, and focus specifically on the reasons why many Christians oppose marriage equality. My argument so far is that while you can technically oppose another group having equal rights for reasons besides hate, those reasons themselves are generally highly problematic – such as seeing women as emotionally weaker, or black people as less capable of a good work ethic.
When you start asking opponents of gay marriage why marriage is only to be between a man and a woman, and why gay marriage has to be shut out, you start getting somewhere. You start hearing that homosexuality is disordered, or a perversion, or that being gay is a “sinful lifestyle.” God thinks it’s wrong. It’s a sin. You will probably even start hearing how gay people are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to abuse children, and on and on. That homosexuality is sinful, a disease of sorts.
Here is where we start to see a bit of a divergence from our examples involving race and sex. After all, the supporter of Christian Patriarchy (claims) not to see being a woman as sinful in and of itself, and many antebellum supporters of slavery would have claimed that there was nothing wrong with being black. Each saw the marginalized group as inferior and weaker, etc, but did not see womanness or blackness as sinful or wrong (again, giving them the benefit of the doubt). Opponents of marriage equality, though, generally see “being gay” as sinful and “an abomination.” Only by ceasing to be gay (or in some churches, by being celibate and thus refraining from acting out on one’s gayness) can a gay person cease to be sinful. In the case of gay people, then, it’s not a case of seeing another group as inferior intellectually or emotionally, but rather seeing another group as inherently sinful.
Anyway, the point I’m making here is that when a Christian says “I don’t hate gay people, I just think marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman,” it almost never stops there. What’s almost certainly hiding behind all of that is the belief that homosexuality is inherently sinful, a deviation, a perversion that needs to be cured. So that brings us to our next question.
Can you think homosexuality is a perversion, a “sinful lifestyle,” and yet not hate gay people?
Growing up, I was told that you could. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was the mantra of the Christianity I grew up in. The idea was that you could believe that homosexuality was a perversion that needed to be cured, and yet not hate gay people – and in fact love them. But is this the case?
The problem with this is that it sees someone’s sexuality as somehow separate from them as a person. But it’s not. A person’s sexuality is a part of who they are, and a very integral part at that. You can turn this around with a thought experiment: Could you hate heterosexuality, but love heterosexuals? I don’t think so. I’m not trying to reduce gay people to their sexuality or anything, all I’m saying is that someone’s sexuality is an integral part of who they are, not something that can be separated out from them and hated independently.
Here, let me illustrate what I mean with the help of a movie I love dearly, How To Train Your Dragon. Background: Dragons regularly attack a medieval Viking village, so the villagers train from infancy to fight dragons, and the tough Viking chieftain is not pleased with his scrawny nerdy son’s lack of dragon fighting abilities. This exchange is the one I find so pertinent:
Here’s a transcription, but you really should watch the clip to hear it with its original inflection:
Father: “If you ever want to get out there to fight dragons, you need to stop all [gestures to his son] this.”
Son: “But you just pointed to all of me.”
Father: “Yes, that’s it! Stop being all of you.”
I feel like that’s what happens when someone says they can hate homosexuality but love the gay person. You can’t hate who a person is and still claim to love them. You just can’t. That’s not love. It’s just not.
Christians who oppose marriage equality aren’t simply opposing gay rights because they believe God has set marriage up to only be between a man and a woman, but also because they believe that homosexuality itself is disordered. And as much as they claim to be able to “love the sinner, hate the sin” or, in other words, “love the gay person, hate homosexuality,” I honestly don’t think that’s possible.