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.

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.

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


  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.
  2. 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.