After Cardinal Timothy Dolan claimed the Church was not anti-gay even if the bishops opposed marriage equality, critics rejected this assertion on the basis you cannot separate marriage and LGBT prejudice. Now, Brandon Ambrosino writes in The Atlantic trying to parse out more precisely the key question: “Does being against gay marriage make someone anti-gay?”
Ambrosino identifies himself as a gay man and proponent of marriage equality, but rejects the notion that opposing equal marriage means someone is anti-gay. Trying to clarify what exactly is meant by terms like “anti-gay” or “homophobic,” he writes:
“I would argue that an essential feature of the term ‘homophobia’ must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community. Simply having reservations about gay marriage might be anti-gay marriage, but if the reservations are articulated in a respectful way, I see no reason to dismiss the person holding those reservations as anti-gay people. In other words, I think it’s quite possible for marriage-equality opponents to have flawed reasoning without necessarily having flawed character…”
Ambrosino admits that marriage equality is a “no-brainer” for him, but millions of Americans are currently challenged by the issue and reflecting on it alongside their professed values. Instead of stifling thought and discussion, LGBT advocates should be encouraging it in respectful ways for the following reason:
“It’s true that as an LGBT person, I am Otherized against the sexual norm. But at the same time, I have an ethical obligation to my Other—the people unlike me—as well. On this issue, my Others include conservatives, fundamentalists, and more than a few folks from the square states. If my primary ethical obligation to my neighbor is to allow and affirm his moral agency, so long as it does not lead him to commit acts of violence, then what happens when I take away his right to peacefully disagree with me?”
I attended a more traditional Catholic college, so much of my social network consists of conservative-leaning peers. In the same evening, I have attended prayer vigils for marriage rights in Maryland and met up for drinks with staffers at organizations actively working against LGBT rights. This week, friends have shared Ambrosino’s article extensively on Facebook, which has caused me to wonder why it resonated with those younger Catholics who oppose marriage rights.
First, being labeled as prejudiced is highly undesirable. Just as the bishops and others are rightly criticized for their hyperbolic and harmful remarks, I suggest both sides of the marriage debate are tired of highly-charged, partisan language. More practically, blanketing anti-marriage equality people with the “anti-gay” label can lead to unnecessary barriers when the issue is discussed and stifle progress.
Second, many people who do not support marriage equality do support LGBT people in other ways. So much of the LGBT movement’s success has been from personal relationships and stories which reveal God’s love and grace, shattering pre-existing prejudices. Young adult Catholics who oppose equal marriage are often completely accepting of their family members’ and friends’ sexual orientations, and in many cases even of same-gender relationships. Opposing marriage rights does not preclude support for non-discrimination laws, and these friends have joined me in advocating for acceptance of LGBT people within Catholic communities.
Third, the motivations of many younger opponents of marriage equality often do not have anything to do with same gender couples. While admittedly their efforts help stop same-gender marriage rights, some younger and conservative Catholics are really focused on repairing families and marriages. Opposing marriage equality, a subset of the wider agenda, gets tacked on. They do not yet see the powerful witness same-gender couples and their families have in this movement, but that does not mean that God’s love will not shatter their misconceptions soon. Certainly, their reasoning is far more about rational thinking than personal animus towards gay people as Ambrosino pointed out above.
Having written previously that bishops should ask themselves how much damage they wish to cause as marriage equality inevitably spreads, the same question could be posed to those LGBT advocates who use harmful terms like “homophobic” or “anti-gay” for people undeserving of such names. We all should turn to Pope Francis in asking ourselves: who are we to judge?
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry