Does Opposing Marriage Equality Mean A Person Is Anti-Gay Too?

Brandon Ambrosino

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

8 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    I agree. Opposition to equal marriage does not necessarily equate to being anti – gay. That should be obvious – there exists a sizeable proportion of the gay community who themselves are opposed to it in principle, with reasons ranging from the usual insistence that the possibility of procreation justifies special treatment for opposite – sex marriage, to much more radical positions: traditional marriage is a grossly patriarchal institution discriminatory to women, which we should not be imitating, or the argument that Christians should be inspired by the model of Jesus, who encouraged his followers to leave their families: the model of “family” exhibited by the disciples has more in common with modern gay friendship networks, than it does with the Western nuclear family.

    “Homophobia” and “anti – gay” are ugly, emotive terms that are sometimes thrown about too freely, resulting in justifiable counter accusations that those using them are anti-Christian, and exhibiting their own form of hatred.

    However, it is undeniable that much of the opposition is indeed based on prejudice, in it’s correct sense of making judgements about others on the basis of unwarranted assumptions and stereotypes.

  2. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    Opposition to marriage equality can never be separated from anti-gay prejudice. To see why, swap demographic groups, and then notice how obvious, vile, and unrelenting such prejudice always is.

    It takes absurd linguistic contortions for apologists like Brandon Ambrosino — and Bob Shine — to “parse” whether being against people’s rights is being against those people. Here’s some of their very own logic, from prior decades. “I don’t hate African-American people, but they shouldn’t live in my neighborhood.” “I don’t oppose Chinese-Americans, but I won’t take classes with them.” “I don’t think less of Latino Americans, I just refuse to work with them.”

    Ambrosino claims that being anti-gay requires having animus toward gay people, but that denying same-gender couples access to the 1,138 federal marriage-related federal programs is not anti-gay, it’s merely “having reservations.” This is no different than saying, “I don’t object to female colleagues, I just want them to work at another university.” It’s no different than saying, “I am not bigoted toward native Americans, I just have reservations about them leaving their reservations.”

    How does Ambrosino justify such oppression? For him, it’s easy. The trick, he argues, is to oppress people “respectfully.”

    To illustrate how badly such phony respect always fails, try explaining to a Jewish friend that you don’t think he’s different or inferior, but you also won’t let him join your country club. Be sure to ask him whether your body demeanor, choice of words, and tone of voice adequately convey you respectfulness. Emphasize that rights which other people always expect — and always get — simply aren’t available to Jews, and then quickly explain that you mean no disrespect, and you intend no disrespect.

    Ambrosino describes people who behave this way as having flawed “reasoning” but not flawed “character.” So be sure to explain to every Hebrew person you can that your logic is broken, but that your anti-Semitic character is just fine and dandy.

    Ambrosino chases his own flawed logic by explaining that opposing rights for gay people and opposing the people themselves is a “natural outgrowth of an internal distinction.” He says that one can “ideologically” oppose a person’s nature, but still “love and affirm” that person. So let’s try it. Try “ideologically” opposing a Frenchman’s culture, while insisting how much you love everything else about him. Try “ideologically” opposing a Australian’s accent, while remaining adamant that, except for the way she always sounds, nothing else is wrong with her (as far as you know).

    Ambrosino insists that such distinctions are “misguided” but not “malicious.” But at what point does misguidedness become malicious? When you refuse to promote a subordinate because you distinguish between her skin color and yours, has your distinction become malicious? Has it maligned her? At what point does her career’s impairment result from your malignancy? Ever? Never? What is that point? How is it measured? When does it kick in?

    Ambrosino grants every bigot the authority and permission to hold such attitudes, saying that every oppressed person has “an ethical obligation” to “affirm the moral agency” of those bigots, so long as it does not lead to “violence.”

    But what is violence?

    Denying children access to the food they need to succeed in school does violence to their bodies, their health, and their chance for a career. Denying a badly needed pension to an elderly spouse who has no other income late in life does violence to that spouse’s financial security, and the ability to survive. Denying immigration to a partner does violence to that person’s most important human relationship, their dignity, and their psyche. When oppressors justify such violence with attitudes they admit are “misguided” — but also claim are not “malicious” — then that’s a distinction without a difference.

    Recall the racist’s excuse that he assaulted people not because he’s malicious, but only because he’s misguided, which he says is perfectly legitimate, excusable, and just. Meet such a racist and encourage him to attack you. As you recover in the hospital — if you recover at all — ask yourself at what point his misguided views became malicious toward you.

    Shine argues that admitting that an anti-marriage-equality people are, in fact, anti-gay leads to “unnecessary” barriers and “stifles” progress. But denying that anti-gay people are anti-gay does nothing to reduce barriers, and does nothing to advance progress. Try telling that racist that he’s not a racist, but that he nevertheless needs to stop doing racist things. Tell him he’s not a racist, but he just has to stop being one. He will never understand, and there will be no progress. One can hardly blame him, given the idiocy of the suggestion that he has to stop being the thing which you say he isn’t.

    Shine also argues that people who oppose human rights for LGBT people nonetheless support other niceties instead. Oh, what a relief! He also argues that opposing marriage rights does not prevent a person from supporting other non-discrimination laws. That’s no different than telling your Jewish friend that you support the housing and employment laws which protect him, but you still won’t let him join your country club.

    Lastly, Shine claims that opposition to marriage equality has nothing to do with opposition to same-gender couples. He’s wrong. Opposition to marriage equality is always directed at same-gender couples. It is directed only at them. It was invented solely to ban their marriages. They are the only victims of such oppression. The suffering they endure is solely because of who they are. It is impossible to argue that the victims of marriage inequality are not same-gender couples. If not them, then who?

    Shine thinks that younger opponents of equality are blind to same-gender couples, and bear them no malice. Really? When the only people victimized by such opposition are all same-gender couples, and are only same-gender couples, no one can contend that the resulting malice isn’t directed at them.

    Shine excuses opposition to same-gender marriage rights by saying the real purpose is just “repairing families and marriages” and that denial of marriage rights merely gets “tacked on” accidentally. Whether it’s tacked, nailed, or welded, it’s still oppression, it’s still aimed only at same-gender couples, and it’s aimed always at same-gender couples. If young arch-conservatives truly bear same-gender couples no malice, then they must drop that part of their platform. Shine alleges that such young conservatives’ “reasoning is far more about rational thinking than personal animus towards gay people.” No, it isn’t. There is no rational thinking whatsoever in the decision to deny equal rights to other people. This has been proven multiple times in state and federal courtrooms. Same-gender marriage bans are routinely declared unconstitutional because the “rational basis” that our justice system requires for such prejudice simply does not exist.

    Ambrosino and Shine argue that LGBT advocates should never apply a label such as “homophobic” or “anti-gay” to people who are “undeserving” of such labels. Well, of course. But that’s neither the issue, nor the problem. The real question is why anyone would excuse homophobic, anti-gay bigots who insist that rights which they have automatically must always be denied to others who are equally deserving of them.

      • Tom Kaun
        Tom Kaun says:

        I do think there is still some room to disagree when it comes to legal marriage vs. sacramental marriage–although the ice is very thin. Legally, marriage should be available as widely as possible, which also means supporting other forms of marriage, e.g. polygamy. Ascribing malice and arch-conservatism to young people who oppose or are unsure about same-sex marriage seems harsh.

        • Ned Flaherty
          Ned Flaherty says:

          Tom Kaun:

          If you discovered that I’d spent the last 20 years trolling the halls of Congress lobbying for a statute to specifically make you an outlaw, would that feel harsh to you?

          If I ran a lobbying firm committed to denying you the rights everyone else has, would that seem harsh to you?

          If I collected cash nationwide from people urging me to vilify you and yours, would you see that as harsh?

          If the purpose of such lobbying were not to benefit anyone at all, but solely to oppress you, would you think that’s harsh?

          People of any age who deny the human rights of others, for no good reason at all, are, indeed, malicious and arch-conservative. That might not be their intent at the outset, but the violence they do to other people’s lives is, indeed malicious.

          Yes, I know they blame their maliciousness on ignorance, fear, and religion. But that’ never an excuse.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    My jaw dropped when I saw Bob Shine’s name attached to this piece, since I’ve admired virtually everything he’s ever written here. As an abstruse arcane intellectual training exercise — like a law school drill for arguing both sides of a controversial case, with no regard for underlying moral issues — it might be explainable. But in our real world of real harms, real hurts, and real prejudice directed against a whole class of human beings, such an abstruse technical argument completely collapses. Whaddup, Bob? Were you just having a bad day — or is this a position which you personally affirm?

  4. Lynne Miller
    Lynne Miller says:

    there are lgbt people as well as straight people who feel that marriage is an outmoded and unnecessary institution. there are lgbt people who want no part of something that is so identified as straight – “imitating the opposition.” there are many reasons one might object to gay marriage without being anti-gay.

    • Ned Flaherty
      Ned Flaherty says:

      No, there are no reasons to oppose same-gender marriage without opposing same-gender people.

      Every objection to anyone else’s same-gender marriage is always an objection to some people having the same human rights and civil rights as everyone else.

      People are free to think that marriage is outmoded or unnecessary, and not marry, just as LGBT people who fear imitating non-LGBT people also are free to not marry. All those folks should, simply, not marry. But none of them have any right to deny marriage to other couples — same-gender or mixed-gender.

      You argue that people who don’t want marriage for themselves are entitled to block the marriages of others. If you don’t see the injustice in that, then would you also let those who favor marriage pass laws forcing everyone to marry, like it or not? No, of course not.


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