There has been a hurricane of changes over the past decade or so as it concerns acceptance of sexual minorities. It was not that long ago that acceptance of sexual minorities was not very strong in any sector of our society – except among those sexual minorities themselves. Now all the information I have seen indicates that such acceptance is growing in all sectors of our society.
Because this change has happened so fast, I am not sure we have done an adequate job of looking at why attitudes towards sexual minorities have changed so fast. I suspect that the reasons for these changes are multifaceted. Clearly as individuals met more sexual minorities, this humanized them in critical ways and persuaded individuals to be more sympathetic to them. It is also likely a factor that acceptance of sexual minorities grew because cultural elites began to accept them more easily and began to spread their ideas about acceptance more broadly. Finally, acceptance of sexual minorities can be seen as the natural evolution of a trend of accepting groups that have previously been marginalized (i.e. racial minorities, women).
I do not deny any of these possible reasons for the growing acceptance of sexual minorities. But I want to offer another possibility. A recent article of mine will supply some data to support my theory. My contention is this: that some of the growth of support for sexual minorities has emerged due to the strengthening of hatred towards conservative Christians. When I say strengthening I do not necessarily mean increasing since another recent article of mine indicates that the level of Christianophobia in our society has not dramatically increased. But that work also indicates that Christianophobia has increased among cultural elites. This strengthening of anti-Christian animosity among the most culturally powerful in our society may also translate into support for sexual minorities.
The reason why this relationship of sexual minorities support/hatred of Christians may exist is conservative Christians are known for their unwillingness to support sexual minorities. If someone hates conservative Christians, then they may also disregard how those Christians feel about an issue such as acceptance of sexual minorities. In fact, they may figure that if conservative Christians do not accept sexual minorities, then those Christians must be wrong. They may also conclude that a society where there is high acceptance of sexual minorities may be a society that is more toxic to conservative Christians. Thus their antipathy towards conservative Christians may provide them with motivation to support sexual minorities.
But this is just speculation unless there is some data to back it up, and there is that data. I apologize if these next two paragraphs are a little technical. In my article, I used a national survey that asked respondents to rank, on a 0 to 100 scale, how much they like gays, the transgendered, Christian fundamentalists, Christians in general, Muslims and Jews. I determined whether a respondent’s score was either a standard deviation above or a standard deviation below the average of the ratings of all the groups the respondent was asked about. I then used regression analysis to see the relationship of these attitudes on a variety of different measures of questions about the rights of sexual minorities.
The basic accepted explanation is that people who are sympathetic to sexual minorities develop hostility towards conservative Christians because those Christians do not support sexual minorities. Indeed I found that the most powerful consistent predictor of support of the rights of sexual minorities is whether someone has positive feelings towards them. But even when I control for the rankings of sexual minorities, the respondents’ attitude towards fundamentalist Christian is still a significant predictor towards support for the rights of sexual minorities. This tells me that there is more than sympathy towards sexual minorities that is shaping support for them. In addition to that sympathy, hostility towards conservative Christians also seems to matter and it matters even when I controlled for how much the respondents like sexual minorities.
Let me see if I can show what this looks like with less technical statistical measures. I created a sample of individuals who ranked sexual minorities (gays or transgendered) lower than their average rankings of all the groups. So we have a group that is not especially sympathetic to sexual minorities. In fact to varying degrees, I would argue that this is a group of respondents with some degree of disregard of sexual minorities. In that group I separated those who ranked fundamentalist Christians a standard deviation lower than the average ranking of all groups (let’s call them anti-fundamentalists) and those who did not. Among the anti-fundamentalists who are not sympathetic to gays, 53.9 percent of them supported same-sex marriage. Among the others not sympathetic to gays, only 30.2% supported same-sex marriage.
This difference was also reflected when I looked at other measures of the rights of sexual minorities. For example, when looking at whether businesses should have to serve same-sex weddings, 47.1 percent of the anti-fundamentalists would exempt businesses from serving those weddings, while 74.8 percent of the rest of the subgroup would exempt those businesses. As it concerns transgendered individuals and bathrooms, 41.2 percent of the anti-fundamentalists contend that individuals should use the bathroom of their birth while 74.4 percent of the rest of those who did not rank the transgender higher than average believe that transgendered individuals should have to use the bathroom of their birth. There are two other measures of the rights of sexual minorities, as you can see in the article, but the results are basically the same as these three measures.My results indicate that even among those who do not particularly like sexual minorities, they are more likely to support their rights if they do not like conservative Christians. What is interesting is that this was not the case when I looked at the respondents’ attitudes towards Muslim or Jews. Not liking Muslims or Jews is not related to supporting the rights of sexual minorities. These results are uniquely tied to whether or not the respondents do not like conservative Christians. So the idea that these results are due to a general antipathy towards religion simply does not hold up.
These results also do not seem to be due to some other factor as I controlled for other social and demographic measures. Feel free to look at the article to see what other measures were controlled. It is always possible that there is some other variable that I should control but either could not or did not include. But I am pretty confident that this unique finding of animosity towards conservative Christians, but not other religious groups, is connected to support of sexual minorities.
Perhaps there is an alternate theory that explains my findings. But until I hear that theory I am sticking with the story that there are some people who because of their hatred of conservative Christians, support the rights of sexual minorities. It is not the most powerful explanation of support for sexual minorities, but neither is it insignificant. I think this finding is significant because it offers a new possible explanation of support for same-sex marriage – one that previous researchers have ignored.
One of the implications of this research is that it is very possible that sexual minorities benefit from animosity aimed towards conservative Christians. Of course sexual minorities also have to endure extra problems because conservative Christians are the subpopulation less supportive of their lifestyle, but there is a real possibility that they benefit more from their social conflict with conservative Christians than they lose. Usually social conflict is costly to both groups that are fighting each other. But it is possible that one group can benefit from the conflict if they can use that conflict to gain other allies. I believe this is what has occurred in the culture war to the benefit of sexual minorities and to the detriment of conservative Christians.
This explanation can also be used to understand some of the efforts to punish Christian businesses, schools and organizations that do not subscribe to the new sexuality values. Much of the new fights in the arena of the rights of sexual minorities seem to be less about granting those individuals their rights and more about making sure organizations, including those run by conservative Christians, actively support sexual minorities. The political libertarian basis for sexual minority rights has given way to a more aggressive stance towards dissenters from the new norms of sexuality.
This movement away from a “live and let live” perspective makes perfect sense if a significant portion of support for sexual minorities is tied to an antipathy towards conservative Christians. This antipathy can lead some individuals to look towards using the new freedoms granted towards sexual minorities to punish conservative Christians. My work on Christianophobia indicates that those with this type of religious bigotry tend to have an unrealistic expectation that conservative Christians are trying to set up a theocracy. Thus, a significant minority of those who support sexual minorities may want to use that support to control Christians as a measure of perceived self-defense.
I hope this research provides more insight into the nature of the culture war dividing our society. That war appears to have concluded with the victors being those seeking to promote progressive sexuality and the losers those attempting to defend traditional notions of sexuality. If that is true, then my research indicates that among the victors are those who are motivated more by anti-Christian hostility than affection for sexual minorities.
Update: I wondered if I should do this update but to say the oblivious, it is not a sound rhetoric strategy to rebut the existence of Christianophobia with anti-Christian dehumanizing stereotypes. Come on people, have at least a modicum of self-awareness. As to the study what has to be explained is why the relationships of anti-Christian hostility and support of sexual minorities persists even after controlling for affinity towards sexual minorities. Thus explanations based on sympathy towards sexual minorities due to the mistreatment of Christians does not hold water. Complaining about how awful Christians are, even if those complaints are accurate, do not address the fact pattern of the research. There must be some other explanation and I think my argument of symbolic hostility makes a lot of sense.