A reader disagrees with me:
Andrew, you may not like calling opponents of same-sex marriage “bigots” – and doing so may not be in the best interests of gay marriage – but it doesn’t change the reality: they are bigots. If your goal is advocacy or politics or politeness, then I can understand avoiding the word, “bigot” to describe them. But if your goal is truth, then I think it is unavoidable.
They believe their relationships are better than ours – deserving of special recognition. That means they must also believe that THEY are better than us. Why? Because they have that special something that allows them to get married in the first place. We don’t, because we are gay. Once married, they are nurtured in their relationships, growing in ways that they believe are unavailable to us. We are not allowed marriage because we are lesser. Having been denied the benefits of marriage, we fall even further behind. They may not wish to admit that they hold these beliefs. We must force them to do so.
Being a bigot doesn’t make you a monster, but it does put you on the wrong side of history. You don’t have the right to imagine that you would have hid runaway slaves in 1860 or marched with Dr. King a hundred years later. That’s because you are standing with the bigots today. That’s because you are one.
I think it’s possible to be merely leery of change in such an important social institution – a small-c conservative predisposition that is not interchangeable with bigotry. But as the years go by and the actual benefits of this reform deepen and the negative impact proves to be a chimera, then you do find a residue of bigotry that is indeed bigotry. Think of the evolution of an honest, decent man like David Blankenhorn and the rigid, permanent anti-gay agenda of Robbie George. Abroad, the pure hatred is much more visible (see above).
But even then, for purely strategic reasons, I prefer not to cast out heretics with that word, and work on persuading them to be converts. I once described the goal of Virtually Normal – written at a time when marriage equality was still a joke to many – as getting past the dynamic of one side yelling perverts and the other side yelling bigots. That has some emotional satisfaction for both sides, but it achieves nothing, and closes dialogue, rather than opening it. And dialogue is what supporters of marriage equality should always want – because our arguments are so much better. Another reader backs me up:
I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that not every opponent of gay marriage is a bigot. The problem is that I don’t think there is a simple binary between good people who respect gay people and therefore accept marriage equality and evil people who wish to take away the fundamental right of a loving couple to marry.
While I don’t detect animus – a required component in my own personal definition of “bigotry” – in every argument opposing gay marriage, I do detect a certain condescension, and more often than not, an inability to understand the subject at hand. Is Maggie Gallagher a bigot for opposing gay marriage? No. I do think she has certain prejudices that prevent her from seeing the fundamental equality between male-male love, female-female love, and male-female love. Is Ben Carson a bigot for opposing gay marriage? Not necessarily for that reason. But the guy did compare homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality in one sentence. I had no problem with Johns Hopkins disinviting him from speaking at graduation.
Of course, this says nothing of the many casual bigots, the dudes who can’t stand a fag, who also happen to support gay marriage. It was possible to think or even say the word “nigger” and still support desegregation.
People are usually much more complicated that one word “bigot” can convey.
(Photo: Unknown anti-gay activist hits Russia’s gay and LGBT rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev (C) during unauthorized gay rights activists rally in cental Moscow on May 25, 2013. Moscow city authorities on May 15 turned down demands for a gay rights rally, but Alexeyev said he would fight a ban in court. By Andrey Svitailo/AFP/Getty.)