Anti-gay Arguments We Don’t Bother With (And Should): Part 5

Gabriel Arana

March 3rd, 2009

This is the final post in a five-part a series about anti-gay arguments that get the short shrift in public debate. We examine them here. Readers are encouraged to contribute to the discussion below.

#5: If you pass pro-gay legislation, pastors and private citizens will not be able to voice opposing views.

This falls into the category of arguments that scare people with invented consequences (“You might not have a problem with gay marriage, but do you want to have your rights taken away?”). Anti-marriage advocates in California effectively used this argument to frame Prop. 8 as a referendum on the civil rights of preachers to express anti-gay views instead of what it was — an attempt to overrule judicial protections for gay people.

It was surprisingly how unthinkingly people debated the measure in these terms. The women on The View discussed this as if it were a natural consequence of voting down the marriage amendment. Sherri Shepherd said she voted for Prop. 8 because she respects her pastor and doesn’t want him jailed for speaking out against homosexuality. Barbara Walters was the only one to chime in and say that this consequence seemed “far fetched.” But it’s more than that: it’s blatantly untrue. One of the anti-Prop. 8 campaign’s many blunders was not responding to this charge.

Abortion was legalized decades ago, but this has not stopped anti-abortion activists from stating their views. This, however, isn’t entirely analogous. Certain anti-gay groups are afraid — or strategically instill fear — that if gays receive work protections and civil rights, those who oppose them will be sanctioned for speaking out, perhaps under “hate speech” laws like the ones adopted in many European countries. In the imagined scenario, a pastor decries homosexuality as immoral and is thrown in jail for it.

Such a thing is more plausible in places like Germany, where certain types of speech — i.e. “hate speech” — are banned. But the U.S. is unique among other Western nations in its broad application of “freedom of speech.” Here, you can say hateful things toward minority groups. Groups whose views the general public finds appalling — such as NAMBLA, the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church — have the right to have their voices heard. The limit on free speech here is that you cannot say things that create a “clear and present danger” to public safety. For example, inciting a riot, directing an enraged mob to murder gays, or screaming “fire” in a crowded theater (when there is no fire) are not protected speech acts.

Adopting gay marriage — or passing any other pro-gay legislation, for that matter — does not change the legal standard of what constitutes free speech, a deeply rooted principle of American law. It might, if attitudes change over time, help relegate anti-gay views to the periphery of public discourse, but this is a social consequence, not a legal one. There is no connection between allowing gay marriage and people losing their right to freedom of speech.

Under Prop. 8, pastors would also not be forced to marry gay people. At issue was the civil right of marriage. In the same way you can have a “men only” club, a church can refuse to perform gay marriages.

Post script: The discussions this series have spawned have been thought-provoking, sometimes heated. We at Box Turtle Bulletin thank you all for sharing your ideas, which make clear the intellectual vibrancy and depth of our readership. A parting thought: a string of comments on one of the posts brought up the question of how effective reasoned argumentation is in changing people’s views. For committed anti-gay activists, commitment to ideology may trump reason. Others on the fence may be more open to the arguments we have dealt with here. The larger question is about how people and society change. It’s a broad question, but one thing I’m sure about is that when it comes to gay rights, one right answer is “too slowly.”


March 3rd, 2009

Amen! shame, wish all responses could be that short…

Timothy Kincaid

March 3rd, 2009

It might, if attitudes change over time, help relegate anti-gay views to the periphery of public discourse, but this is a social consequence, not a legal one.

But it is social change that anti-gays fear much more than legal change.


March 3rd, 2009

They have lied and demagoged the issue, but their fears are real.

If the general public rejects the idea that homosexuality is a sin in the same way it has rejected white superiority, then anti-gay people will fall outside the circle of accepted public behavior. Their pastors won’t go to jail, but they also won’t be on Larry King Live, or quoted in the newspapers.

They understand this and are fighting for their place in civil society.

I feel no sympathy for them, but I’m not sure what our response should be.

Jason D

March 3rd, 2009

the fact that they were able to mount a campaign to repeal gay marriage proves the opposite of their claim.

If legalized gay marriage made opposing it illegal, it would make the Prop 8 campaign impossible.


March 3rd, 2009

I agree, the heart of the issue is social change, not legal. However, the anti-gay movement always and only mentions the legal argument. I wonder why this is?

I think because of the important of legal marriage as a symbol. We pro-gays often forget, ignore, or just don’t know how important the symbol is. I think the heterosexists understand it better. UIf only 3% of CA voters had voted differently on Prop 8, CA would have symbolically become entirely pro-gay, even with 49% of voters against it. Heterosexism thrives and survives on being the majority view (their central belief being that homosexuality is wrong because 96% are heterosexual). If marriage equality, is legal, it will symbolize than anything else not acceptable. Maybe they’ll finally start seeing the parallels with the sexism and racism that all have the same social and legal pattern.

I’m also guessing that because hetersexist Americans tend to be extremely patriotic, they’ll feel they cannot morally attack homosexuality if the US supports it. Being against a US law is, in part, being against the US.


March 3rd, 2009

There was also the suggestion that kids will have to learn about Gay Marriage in Schools. I thought that was actually a bigger factor.

Richard Rush

March 3rd, 2009

While we can discuss whether the social or legal factors predominate, there is also at least one other factor, and our opponents will never talk about it in public. That factor is that anti-gay rhetoric is a cash-cow for their fund raising efforts.

If gays become completely accepted by society, the Religious Right organizations will need to find another enemy in order to fire up their gullible followers to send cash. I guess there is always abortion, but that issue is getting old and tired. They can’t go after the Jews anymore, and they probably won’t go after the Mormons at least as long as their alliance against the homos holds together. Then there is pornography, but that doesn’t really work either because they need an enemy with a face. Enemies work best when they are an identifiable minority, as opposed to just an issue. If your enemy has a face, you can hate them as well as characterize them as being out to persecute you.

If any of you regularly read the comments on articles at the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow website, you will see that the anti-homo articles generate, by far, the most comments. These people thrive on hate and delusions of persecution. In the Religious Right world the right to religious freedom literally includes their right to control every aspect of my life, and if I resist, then I am persecuting them.


March 3rd, 2009

Gabriel, I think the first four arguments were points that seemed too ridiculous to answer and probably weren’t addressed properly during the prop 8 campaign. However, I think this last argument was addressed, just a little too late. The protect marriage campaign used this argument to spread fear and it was effective. But I think this argument is not ridiculous, it is just false. The protect marriage campaign knew this was a lie. They cited irrelevant cases to make their claim and convinced people who were ignorant of the true context of those cases. Nowhere was this tactic more blatant than the argument that children would be taught about gay marriage in school. The CA section code they cited regarding marriage is part of the health care curriculum and promotes monogomy as a preventative measure for STDs. Monogamy is a preventative measure for STDs regardless of whether the context is a gay or straight marriage. It would be extremely negligent to not teach students that STDs can be avoided in a monogamous gay relationship, whether or not it is called marriage, as well as a heterosexual relationship. However, the protect marriage left out these details and chose to distort the truth.

The absurdity comes with people’s ability to take these arguments at face value….never questioning whether or not these arguments were true or whether or not there was a counter-argument.

Also, I’d like to say that I’ve really enjoyed these discussions. I think there have been a lot of good counter arguments.

David C.

March 3rd, 2009

There was also the suggestion that kids will have to learn about Gay Marriage in Schools. I thought that was actually a bigger factor. —occono

It was. The Yes on 8 campaign tested that particular message on focus groups and found it provoked one of the strongest reactions. That is why they kept hammering on it. The irony is of course that this is a kind of free speech issue: shouldn’t children hear about the other “valid” relationships that two individuals can form? Technically, it’s not “sex-ed”, so there may be some opt-out stuff that may not apply. Thus, children might “hear” of gay marriage, and that might accelerate the process of making homosexuality acceptable to mainstream society.

This is a classical pattern of the right: create fear that a right will be lost to their supporters but deny that right to their opponents in the process.

The religious right and others that are stridently against the advancement of gay rights don’t want to see homosexuality become accepted by society for the reasons pointed out by gordo and Richard Rush: the RR would not only look bad but would need to find another cash cow. They certainly would have lost a major objective in the Culture Wars. So, they lie and cheat to stay in the game, including trotting out this 1st Amendment scam.

The pro-prop 8 crowd used the false threat of abridgment of 1st amendment rights with great success because most Americans just don’t know what the Constitution of the United States actually says. Most anti-gay campaigns work because of ignorance, either about the law (which few actually understand) or gay people. Anti-gay fanatics realize this, and create the scariest boogeymen they can to spook their easily frightened and uncritically thinking followers into doing their bidding.

Fortunately, this is one of the easiest anti-gay arguments to refute.


March 4th, 2009

If this is part 5, where are the other 4 parts? why no easy to access links?


March 4th, 2009

On the ‘pastors being jailed’ issue – how many have you heard of being jailed for preaching against divorce?
And it seems to me the same argument applies on churches being sued for refusing marriages – the Catholic church flat out refuses to marry the divorced with no sanctions I’ve ever seen (or even heard of in right wing spam :).

Divorce also meets the criteria for an issue that many churches regard as wrong/sinful but they seen quite capable of distinguishing religious and civil law there. It makes me even more confused than usual about just what the grounding for their objections is.


March 9th, 2009

Yeah, because the KKK and Neo-Nazis have been eradicated thanks to laws prohibiting discrimination against Blacks and Jews.


March 9th, 2009

If this is part 5, where are the other 4 parts? why no easy to access links?

Oiii.. would be good to know too.

This series might actually prove to be good idea and be stickied to one of your side bars.

Maybe below contact us. Or in the ‘Featured Reports’ section.

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