Marriage equality supporters are waiting with bated breath to hear what, if anything, the Supreme Court will do with regards to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.
The tide of public opinion has turned decidedly in favor of marriage equality, with 55% of Americans now saying they support allowing same-sex couples to marry. Just yesterdayWednesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski became the third Republican Senator to endorse same-sex marriage. But what about the 40% who don’t support same-sex marriage? Exit polls from the 2012 election show that, by and large, the staunchest opposition to marriage equality comes from older people, non-college-educated whites, and evangelical Christians. How do the evangelical Christians who oppose marriage equality feel about the dramatic shift in support for gay rights?
Samantha Bee, correspondent for The Daily Show, had a hilarious satirical spot this week on the “bigotry” and “bullying” that some evangelical Christians feel they receive at the hands of LGBT supporters. In it, she highlights that many evangelical Christians feel bullied or judged by the LGBT community and supporters because of their staunch opposition to same-sex marriage and gay rights, a claim that Samantha Bee easily eviscerates with her wit. Watch here:
Apparently, those who perpetuate homophobia don’t enjoy being called out on their bigotry. And that’s understandable; it can be painful to be called out on your own bigotry and privilege. But the idea that there is a groundswell of oppression aimed at evangelical Christians is not only unfounded, but shows a complete lack of awareness about the way that oppression works.
The religious right has claimed that by allowing same-sex couples to marry, we are persecuting Christians. Many of those who oppose same-sex marriage claim that though they oppose allowing same-sex couples the right to marry, they are not bigots. How convenient for them. Hate the sin, love the sinner, right? Maybe you even have a gay friend, right? But that doesn’t erase the fact that you support the legal discrimination of people based on sexual orientation. The only reason that these evangelical Christians oppose marriage equality is because this particular group of people is gay. That is bigotry, plain and simple.
The Defense of Marriage Act prohibits same-sex couples, even if legally married in their own respective states, from enjoying the same legal privileges and benefits that straight married couples receive. It states that the federal government only recognizes heterosexual marriages as legitimate marriages, and only straight married couples are entitled to the federal benefits that go along with being legally married. That is blatant discrimination. That is the government infringing upon the rights of an entire group of people based on the solely on their sexual orientation.
On the other hand, we have evangelical Christians like Peter Sprig loudly proclaiming that they are being oppressed by LGBT supporters and the "gay agenda" because of their faith. Let’s be clear about something; religious persecution is real, and it is pervasive in this country. Muslims have been targeted, discriminated against, persecuted, and monitored relentlessly by the government because of their faith and Middle-Eastern descent. But some evangelical Christians feel oppressed because it’s no longer fashionable to damn an entire group of people to Hell? Please.
Christians are not a minority that need protection. Far from it. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 77% of Americans identify as Christians. That is an astoundingly large majority. What’s more, 37% of those Christians specifically identify as born-again evangelical Christians. Contrast that with a 2012 Gallup poll that found 3.4% of Americans belong to the LGBT community. That is a minority. These evangelical Christians are not barred from marrying the person they love. They do not risk losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are not subject to random acts of violence on a daily basis. There is no basis for their cries of bullying and oppression except that their feelings are hurt when they are called out for supporting and perpetuating bigotry and intolerance.
As Samantha Bee humorously notes in her bit, it’s impossible to find LGBT attacks on evangelical Christians because they simply do not exist. What Sprig and others like him are up in arms about is the fact that now, for the first time in American history, support for gay rights is in the majority. The evangelical Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are on the wrong side of this issue and the wrong side of history, and they hate it.
It is a common misconception that bigotry only exists in outright derogatory epithets, and it's true that those statements are a stark embodiment of bigotry. When we hear someone use a racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic epithet, we are easily able to identify that comment as bigoted. But bigotry works in far more complex and latent ways, and that is partially why it is so enduring. Bigotry is a state of mind, a cultural framework of intolerance and discrimination, based on the idea that your way of life is the only valid way of life. To be bigoted is to verbally spew hatred, yes, but it is also to maintain that you and your identity-based groups are better, purer, more legitimate than others. For a group that actively derides giving same-sex couples “special rights,” it is actually opponents of marriage equality who are claiming special rights; they claim that only their kind of marriage is worthy of legal recognition and all others are invalid. There’s no other word to describe that but bigotry.
Perhaps the Supreme Court will do the constitutional (and many would argue moral) thing and overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as Proposition 8, as both clearly infringe upon the rights of same-sex couples and discriminates against them because of their sexuality. But even if DOMA and Prop 8 aren't overturned, and even if same-sex marriage is still banned nationwide, the seismic shift in public opinion means that same-sex marriage is inevitable. It means that those who propagate homophobia and contribute to a culture that denigrates and stigmatizes same-sex couples will be labeled bigots. And they should expect to be, because in the end, they are supporting policies that actively discriminate against same-sex couples and perpetuate a culture of bigotry and intolerance.