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May 15, 2012

Rapid Response: Confronting Cries of Bigotry

For the last few weeks, the topic of same-sex marriage has raged in the U.S. With President Barack Obama becoming the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage(SSM), SSM proponents have derided the decision of an overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters to ratify a state amendment affirming the conjugal definition of marriage, defined and explained by Princeton professor Robert George, an expert on marriage and the law, as:

[T]he union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.1 


North Carolina isn’t the only battleground. The Colorado state legislature narrowly  shot down repeated attempts to pass a civil unions bill this week, despite a 2006 state referendum also affirming the biblical view of marriage.

Bigot: A Lazy, Misused Argument

How do SSM advocates respond to this? If recent news articles, blogs, and tweets are any indication, SSM advocates dismiss pro-marriage advocates as “bigots.” Commenters on online stories and blogs have used barbs like: “It is really very clear. If you are a bigot, a racist, rich, or a republican you will vote for the ammendment [sic]. If you have ethics, humility, are rationale, are caring, have a vision, (and are probably a democrat) you will vote against the ammedment [sic].”

Major new organizations and their op-ed contributors have stooped to the same level. One piece in the Los Angeles Times ran with the headline: “ Obama, gay marriage and a win for bigotry in N.C.

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, a bigot is: “a person with strong and prejudiced views who will not listen to the opinion of others.” But the way it’s used by SSM proponents, one would think it simply meant failing to fall in line behind the name-caller on issues he considers to be non-negotiable (such as same-sex marriage). But this shows why name-calling is such a poor way to argue a cause. It avoids any serious discussion of the topic and seeks to stymie debate with cheap personal attacks.

Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t About Civil Rights

A common refrain from SSM opponents is that votes against legalizing SSM are tantamount to Jim Crow laws or laws restricting interracial marriages. This is a civil rights issue, many  say. But legalizing SSM would create a whole new set of rights, not level the playing field. Consider these points:

  • Currently, gays and lesbians have the right to marry and can freely exercise that right, as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex who is not a sibling or already married. If marriage is redefined to only include a nebulous idea of love and devotion, then also justifiable are relationships currently excluded from marriage: fathers marrying daughters; owners marrying their pets; husbands marrying several women. SSM advocates do not decry these restrictions as civil rights violations, so why do they make an exception for same-sex marriage?
  • Under the law, gays and lesbians already have all of the rights that non-homosexuals have. They have the right to hospital visitation, including non-relatives in their will, etc. What they are asking for is not equal rights but special rights that privilege them above other citizens.
  • States should not promote marriage for the purpose of sanctioning someone’s particular kind of love, but for the purpose of promoting the kinds of relationships in which the state has a compelling interest. Dozens of studies prove that man/woman marriage has a significant positive effect on society — economically and in the raising of children. We have no similar evidence for SSM. If there is any benefit of SSM, it is to the people who are in it. Traditional conjugal marriage benefits all of society.
  • Many African Americans,  even those who marched in the civil rights demonstrations of the 1950s and and ‘60s, don’t consider SSM a civil rights issue. Sexual inclinations are not the same as race, and it is both offensive and self-serving of the GLBT community to hijack the centuries-long battle for racial equality.

  • Commentators’ comparison of traditional marriage-affirming legislation with racist interracial marriage bans don’t stand up to logic, Summit speaker Francis Beckwith wrote in 2010. Interracial marriage bans placed additional, external restrictions to the one, universally-accepted criterion for marriage: partners were of the opposite sex. In that same vein, same-sex marriage would externally alter the already-understood definition of marriage. Affirming the man/woman definition of marriage places no extra limitations on marriage, like interracial marriage bans did.

  • As Ryan T. Anderson points out, using the term “ban” when describing the 32 states that have passed ballot initiatives affirming the conjugal view of marriage is disingenuous. Same-sex marriage can’t be banned in these states because it never existed in the first place. These ballot initiatives define marriage, as Anderson says. And proponents of the traditional view of marriage must improve in defining the issues and the language. The heart of the whole same-sex marriage debate rests with the question, what is marriage: the recognized institution for child rearing and family, or a mere declaration of emotional love? Once same-sex marriage is legalized, individuals and institutions will be forced to recognize it as well, regardless of their religious objections. The weight of bureaucracy, tax policy, and the courts will bear down on pastors, churches, and individual lay people, forcing them to recognize SSM or pay a price. As an example, one needs to look no further than the recent HHS mandate.

When Faced with Accusations of Bigotry, SSM Opponents Must Remain Winsome

Certainly our obligation is to proclaim and demonstrate truth. But when discussing this issue, especially in light of likely being labeled a bigot, our interlocutors must know us by a spirit of winsomeness and a recognition that those with whom we disagree are still image-bearers who likely have much invested emotionally in the debate.

Here are some points to remember:

  • To truly be winsome, Christians should acknowledge that we too have failed in upholding a proper view of marriage. Rampant divorce and cohabitation have demonstrated we don’t always hold marriage in the esteem it deserves. Nor have we practiced it well in recent history. Christians are sexually broken too, and we ought to share the kindness of the Gospel by acknowledging it restores all sexual brokenness, not just the politically incorrect brokenness. Other cultural conditions that attempt to redefine marriage include:

    • No-fault divorce

    • Rampant pornography

    • Misunderstanding of the civil role of marriage (i.e., to produce children)

    • Misunderstanding the role of contraception/divorcing the notion of sex from that of procreation

  • Ultimately, same-sex marriage has a wrong view of the person, saying that inclinations = identity, which demands behavior. The Gospel doesn’t view these three as part of the same package. The whole point of the Gospel is that our fallen inclinations are not who we are. The Gospel frees us to chase after the humanity—and society—God intended for us.

Here’s How to Say It

Replies to the attack: “You’re a bigot.”      

  • “I’m sorry that you feel you have to call names instead of making an argument. It’s true that there are bigots in the world but just because you call someone that name doesn’t mean it is true.”

  • “A bigot is a person with strong and prejudiced views who will not listen to the opinion of others. Are you willing to listen openly to my point of view? If not, then who is really the bigot here?”

Replies to the attack: “You just want to take away my rights.”

  • “Specifically, what rights do I have under the law at the present time that you do not also have?”

  • “Actually, I don’t want to take anything from you at all, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to. What I want to prevent is your claiming special rights and privileges for yourself just because of who you’re attracted to sexually.”

Replies to the attack: “I suppose you would have opposed blacks and whites being able to marry as well.”

  • “Your analogy is a false one. The laws that are unjust are the ones that prevent people from marrying someone of the opposite sex because of their characteristics, for example a black man not being permitted to marry a white woman just because the man is black. No one is telling a gay man that because of his same sex attraction he is not permitted to marry someone of the opposite sex.”

  • “I don’t appreciate being called a racist just because I don’t support your point of view. Hundreds of thousands of people fought and died for the right of people with dark skin to be considered fully human. Isn’t it a little pretentious and self-serving to try to hijack that history for yourself based on who you’re attracted to sexually?”


Don’t Forget the Four Basic Questions

As a reminder, there are four basic questions you want to ask when someone is giving a point of view you suspect is biased or untrue:

  • What do you mean by that?

  • How do you know that is true?

  • Where do you get your information?

  • What happens if you’re wrong?

Further Reading


*Editor’s Note: While this article is fairly lengthy, it gives an outstanding overview of the legal questions implicit in the debate over marriage and an excellent defense for affirming the tradition (or conjugal) view of marriage in law.


1. Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson (2010), “What is Marriage?” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, p. 246.


This post has earned 7 Comments so far.

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  • May 20, 2012 // 05:21 am //  # 
    shadowspring's avatar shadowspring

    But you ARE being bigots!  You have no standing to deny civil rights to people who don’t follow your religion, they way you interpret it. Christians once used scripture to “prove” that deaf people and epileptics were “demon-possessed” and to justify enslaving African-Americans, and they had scripture to back them up.  Your wanting to deny gay people legal protections is no different.  You are denying the commands of Christ to support your fear of those who are different.  It is bigotry.  You are bigots.

  • May 21, 2012 // 07:52 pm //  # 
    Kathy Baldock's avatar Kathy Baldock

    Same sex couples ARE denied rights. Civil rights. Since 1967, marriage is a civil right. Not for the creation of children, but for the mutual emotional comfort of one another. This was reaffirmed by the SCOTUS in 1978. Further, in 2001, it was determined that NO group may withhold the rights of another group based on moral disapproval or religious convictions. UNLESS, the state has a compelling interest to do so.
    We have redefined the role of women in the marriage contract both Biblically and legally. We have redefined the worth (3/5) of people of color within culture with the expansion of equal rights to both these classes of people. THANK GOD!
    All the studies about marriage being a benefit to society, family and children are extended to the context of same sex couples. Sorry, but the time to present contrary evidence was in Prop 8 and there was no evidence. In fact, some of the testifiers against SSM had to admit that they had NO evidence on this matter.
    THe ban on black/white marriages was lifted under the Equal Rights Clause of the 14th amendment that viewed a person as a person worthy of civil rights. This will also in time extend to same sex attracted people.
    Same sex attraction is not an “inclination” or “behavior”, it is a normal variation of human sexuality. This was settled in 1973 and reaffirmed over and over EVEN BY EXODUS INTERENATIONAL, yet the Evangelical and Baptist communities seems to not have gotten the 40 year old message.
    Your retorts are NOT the responses I would expect to hear from a servant/Christian: I would expect to hear them on a junior high playground.
    No one is asking for SPECIAL RIGHTS. THe glbt community is asking for equal rights to be extended to them just as we have with other citizens.
    Civil rights are NOT a subject of refutation for faith communities. We do not extend rights according the what the Bible says; we have a Constitution for that purpose. It is ABUNDANTLY clear that the glbt community is being denied civil rights. It is similar to civil rights for people of color—it is equal protection for ALL citizen. The glbt community has already been determined to be a CLASS of people. This will be tried in the SCOTUS.
    Christians have become the oppressors and withholders of civil rights from another groups of citizens. Isaiah 58 is CLEAR to fight injustice and oppression.
    This issue is causing glbt people and those that love and support them to LEAVE churches. Telling a person they cannot be a gay Christian, does not make them not gay, in all likelihood, it will make them not Christian.
    I would not label most Christians “bigots” but I would say they are ill informed, not aware of their own Constitution and its position to the Bible, and basing their dogma of “disgust’ rather than real Biblical principles.
    We hold “rules” over people who are not in our club, yet we won’t let them near our club to even check it out. Silly.
    I spoke to a Summit pastor in December and TRIED to bring my insights, but the deaf ears are firmly in place. Get out of your black hole of information. Sexual orientation is IMMUTABLE.  If you understood that, you would be forced to say “okay, what else have I gotten wrong in this issue?” And when you are around enough glbt Christians that exhibit the fruits of the spirit and their orientation is fixed, you may be forced again to say “what else have I gotten wrong?”
    Be brave and go to where the oppressed are and hear their cry and listen, don’t tell, listen. i did exactly that 7 years ago and I was devastated that I had been been for so long part of the oppression.  I rarely use the term “bigot”, but I do say ‘oppressors”. You, leadership, are guilty of fighting against the civil rights of fellow US citizens and I would say you are crummy Americans and prideful Christians. Love your neighbor and love does no harm—you are doing GREAT harm to people and the the church itself.

  • May 23, 2012 // 10:16 am //  # 
    Les's avatar Les

    Well…since “Sexual orientation is IMMUTABLE” then I guess we better throw out ALL laws that discriminate and allow pedophiles the right to marry children (who are old enough to “consent” of course). We MUST have “equal rights” so do not discriminate against ANYONE.  I suppose we should let close family relatives marry as well?
    And what is the bisexuals’ orientation “fixed” on?  speaking of that group…I guess we better allow them to marry whomever they love as well…does that mean two men and a lady or two women and a man or….??

    If you want to use the Bible…then use all of it. From beginning to end it is clear that marriage and family is a man and a woman. Jesus said a man should leave his Mother and Father and cling to his wife. Homosexuality is also a sin. Why would a government condone sin?

  • June 10, 2012 // 11:07 am //  # 
    David's avatar David

    Unfortunately for conservatives, marriage is currently “a nebulous idea of love and devotion.” Rush Limbaugh and his four marriages, Kim Kardashian and her 72-hour marriage, marriage chapels in Las Vegas. Etc. A heterosexual couple can run out and get married and then divorced as many times as they want, to different people, have as many affairs as they can get away with within those marriages, and are afforded the right to do so by society and by our federal government (that has no business being in the business of marriage). A homosexual couple that has been together 51 years doesn’t even have the right to get divorced once.

    I prefer the Merriam-Webster definition of bigotry: “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

    We are TRYING to reason with you. We are TRYING to hear your fears and concerns and address them as gently and respectfully as possible given the nature with which many Christians have talked about us in the GLBT community. (Well, some of us are.) You resort to these glib talking points designed to shut down the situation and make yourselves the arbiters of morality and human sexuality.

    You argument relies on the logical fallacy of the slippery slope. If same-sex marriage is legalized, the only thing that will happen is that gay people will be able to marry. There will be no plague of locusts. Children will not be recruited into the “gay lifestyle” (any more than they’re currently being recruited into the “heterosexual lifestyle”), although they will probably be taught that gay people exist in school and that they have every right to exist and pursue happiness as anyone else in this supposedly free country of ours.

    Your argument also relies on mob mentality—truth in numbers. And it is a civil rights issue, because it’s a human rights issue. Heterosexuals DO have rights that homosexuals currently do not have, and as we saw in the Proposition 8 trials there is no rational reason for continuing to deny them those rights “other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians” (U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals).

    Fundamentally, however, you’re attempting to legislate and enshrine a particular theology through these efforts, which goes against the doctrine of Separation of Church and State. There is no argument against same-sex marriage other than religious appeal—that is, that “God says it’s wrong.” And that’s not a reason. “God says it’s wrong” is how millions of people were tortured and burned at the stake for heresy (i.e., disagreeing with a minority who placed themselves above other human beings in “speaking for God”). It’s how thousands of women and girls are now being oppressed in Muslim countries for the crime of going to school and getting an education.

    If anything, the blood of untold numbers of human beings throughout history cries out for this nonsense, this prejudice and discrimination, to cease.

  • June 10, 2012 // 07:45 pm //  # 
    Les's avatar Les

    David, you are correct in pointing out about the Limbaughs and Kardashians…I do not worship or idolize them. However, just because certain people have failed at keeping their vows does not mean we just change the whole ballgame and redefine the terms!
    There are laws concerning marriage and whom should be able to marry whom for good and obvious reasons and reasons that are beneficial to the well being of family and government because they have been the foundation of civilizations.
    The catch phrase “slippery slope”  is so overly used anymore but it is absolutely correct…first homosexuals just wanted “civil unions” so we gave into that. it wasn’t enough now they demand marriage. Unions gave them the benefits they wanted. “Nope…not enough. Gotta have more”.
    while we’re on this subject…the homosexual lobby includes “bisexuals and transvestites or transgendered”. So…homosexuals are allowed to marry then bisexuals will want the same rights to “marry whom they love” and if they love two people of opposite genders at the same time why will they not be able to marry both?
    And tell me…just what “official US Government document” IS the “separation of church and state” found?
    The argument is not about “hatred and intolerance” and full of “bigotry”...if so, then we have been living in hatred for 300 yrs…our grandparents and great grand parents must have been “bigots” too? it is not “hateful” to have rules and laws that protect society. I have no hatred for ANYone. That is a very hurtful term to place on someone and you cause more animosity by calling people bigots. This is America and we are losing freedoms left and right…we need to start working together or we will lose what we have left.

  • August 19, 2012 // 11:18 pm //  # 
    Sierra's avatar Sierra

    The approach of this article was very intriguing to me. Another of the articles, “The Bible Condemns a Lot––Why Focus on Homosexuality?” by Albert Mohler, really caught my attention as well because a lot of individuals fail to realize that Christians are not bigoted, close-minded, judgmental or hateful toward the homosexual population.
    The article really highlighted what so many people miss: that Christians do not intentionally target the homosexual population or only focus on the sins those individuals commit, instead of condemning others as strongly. The truth of the matter is that it is a widely debated topic, a hot one that people will not relent with, therefore it must be discussed. This is why it is most brought up in recent times, and of course Christians have their beliefs to defend, just as homosexuals believe they have their liberties to defend.
    How is it wrong and hateful to defend our beliefs, the very thing we live for, while it is justifiable for homosexuals to defend theirs without being called judgmental for opposing the Christians? As Christians, we are called to limit all sin, including our own. We are not specifically targeting any one sin because we know all sin is considered equal in the eyes of God. And believe me, we all do things God considers wrong. However, we can not be expected to blatantly condone the carrying out of any sin and that is where the line is drawn. There are no polls or voting measures declaring whether lying, stealing, or any other sin should be declared legal. Just homosexuality. Therefore, Christians are at liberty and right to vote against and oppose something that God called us to.
    It is true, there are organizations of Christians out there that advertise blatantly that “God hates fags.” They could not be further from the truth. God loves them the homosexual population, he loves everyone. But he hates the sin that separates humans from him, and that is what he considers homosexuality, among other things. I am truly sorry for the hurt that many Christians have caused with their careless words and unthoughtful judgments. However, we do have our views that we will stand by, seeing as we have the liberty to express them.

  • August 22, 2012 // 10:55 am //  # 
    Beth Wilson's avatar Beth Wilson

    There exists an inherent power disparity in marriage, addressed obliquely in Genesis and elsewhere in the Bible, in that the husband is not bound physically to the care of the unborn and the infant as the wife is. Biology emphasizes the power disparity in the greater size and strength of males compared to females, but that is not all there is to it. The power disparity in the continuum of male-female relationships allows the male to rule over the female by threat of leaving during a time when the wife is bound to the care of the children and unable to fulfill provision responsibilities. 

    Leaving carries real danger to the woman and children, due to their relative dependency of situation. 

    Marriage is designed as a balance of power—to keep the less attached males involved in the lives of their children, protecting, providing, training.  It has huge inherent economic benefits in the division of labor.

    The bearing of children and the relative dependency involved in taking proper care of them has been filtered out of the conversation, because we typically bear fewer children now than in the past.  The time of dependency is shorter in most marriages than it used to be. Marriage provides a shelter that protects that time of relative dependency, and gives children a proper start in life.  When families had eleven or twelve children, the wife was either pregnant or nursing for most of her adult life.  And the children’s survival depended both upon her direct care and her husband’s provision.

    Children’s survival is STILL dependent upon marriage of the parents, but our society has obscured that truth through improper divorce laws and a utilitarian view of sex as a mere source of pleasure without inherent responsibilities.  We face numerous difficulties because of that societal failure.  A profound human sense of permanence and worth has been lost, because relationships are so temporary.

    Marriage tells the child that the parents value him or her enough to stay together for the sake of providing and caring for the family, and that love is a lasting matter that involves the will as well as the emotions—that their intention is to always be there together for the children—no matter what happens in the outside world! 

    The natural childbearing phenomenon within marriage produces a natural power disparity within the relationship, and marriage is God’s antidote to that disparity, and it works. 

    Same gender unions do not carry that same sort of power disparity, and do not inherently mean the same thing or need the same antidote.  It is not that hatred is the reason for disavowing same sex marriage, but that society does not have the authority to define marriage.  God and biology and define it.

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