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Does being anti-marriage make you a homophobe?

Timothy Kincaid

December 16th, 2013

Brandon Ambrosino, writing in the Atlantic, argues that being against gay marriage doesn’t make you a homophobe.

If it’s “anti-gay” to question the arguments of marriage-equality advocates, and if the word “homophobic” is exhausted on me or on polite dissenters, then what should we call someone who beats up gay people, or prefers not to hire them? Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination. Our language ought to reflect that distinction.

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. When we hastily label our opposition with terms like “anti-gay,” we make an unwarranted leap from the first description to the second.

Irrespective of the fact that this piece made anti-gay activists giddy, he’s right. It gains us no new converts by calling our opponents names, and (perhaps not too surprisingly) telling someone that they are your enemy often makes them so.

It is also true that there are some who oppose civil and/or religious gay marriage who do so not out of animus. It is entirely possible for someone to truly believe the disingenuous arguments about “the children needing opposite sex parents”. Or to support rights, but not quite be comfortable with the history and religious associations with the word marriage. Or to have stepped out of a time machine from 1994.

It is also true that there are many who do not favor same-sex marriage simply because they’ve not yet gotten used to the idea and it’s what everyone they know believes. We should be cautious not to conflate the not-yet-supporter with the wild-eyed opponent.

Yet, Ambrosino’s critics also have merit to their rebuttal. This debate is no longer novel nor is this a debate reserved to some ivory tower. It becomes increasing more difficult with each passing year to simultaneously hold to opposition to marriage equality while also being a person of good will and intent.

But I think it is still possible.

So, yes, I would agree with Ambrosino that being against gay marriage doesn’t make you a homophobe. But it does give you something in common with one.

Comments

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Hunter
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Just off the top of my head, name-calling does us no good. I get tired of reading comment threads that consist largely of snarling about the (insert favorite pejorative here) who want to take away our rights, or speculating on their own same-sex desires (and frankly, who cares?). Yeah, most of them deserve those names, but the name-calling itself says to a wider audience “I don’t have a valid rebuttal.”

On the other side of that, there are a lot of reasons for opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage, but underneath all those reasons is the idea that gays and lesbians and their relationships are somehow lesser and don’t deserve admission to a fundamental social institution. What those opponents are saying is “I don’t hate gay people, I just think they’re inferior.”

“Some of my best friends. . . .”

jerry
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

What if the question is changed? Does opposing interracial marriage make me a racist?

Hunter says that the underlying reason for opposing the legalization of same sex couples is that those relationships are inferior. Let’s explore that a bit.
If that is the case then it behooves the opponents of same sex marriage to offer up their daughters for our appraisal.

Rex Harley
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Strictly speaking, homophobia is already clearly defined. As with all phobias, it is defined by fear, not animus or malice. It just so happens that this fear often manifests as animus or malice, but these emotions are driven by fear.

People tend to fear things they don’t understand. You can say that being anti-marriage is not animus or malice, but that stance does real harm to gay people. Legal protections from finance to healthcare are denied by anti-marriage proponents and it’s impossible to know if the cause is malice or ignorance.

Homophobia is a word with meaning. I will continue to unapologetically call a rose a rose. Someone can deny they are homophobic, but if it’s explained to them why their view does real harm – then ignorance is no longer the issue. Then we know it’s animus or malice. Failing to call it out will let it fester.

TampaZeke
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

I don’t think a person who grew up in the South with kind, sweet, loving, compassionate racists would agree with you or him. I am one such person. I can assure you that there were, and are, very nice, very loving, very kind, very compassionate people who don’t believe that black people are as good as white people and that it’s perfectly fine to separate white institutions and services from those that serve black people. My parents and grandparents were, and still are, such people even though they are VERY offended when people call them racists for their deeply held, and according to them, “Bible-based” beliefs.

I see absolutely NO difference between that scenario and the one that we are talking about here that applies to homophobia/hetero-privilege.

TampaZeke
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

and by “you or him” I was referring to Timothy and Abrosino.

enough already
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Having been beaten by ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ christians, I have the right to say this:
Ambrosino is wrong.
Their sole motivation is hatred towards us. Their animus is hate driven. Their sole ‘fear’ is that we might get our human and civil rights back.
It’s really that simple.

Steve
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

He is someone so desperate for acceptance from his so-called “friends” and his ultra-religious family that he will defend and put up with anything they do and say just so they don’t shun him completely. Really pathetic.

Just because someone says that their opposition isn’t rooted in animus doesn’t make it true. That’s also what NOM and the FRC claim and it’s as much BS for them as it is with his “friends”.

Priya Lynn
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Ambrosino said “Disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination”.

Again with that tired old B.S.

Sure not all disagreement is discrimination, but some is. When you disagree with gays having the same rights as everyone else that is discrmination, case closed.

And homophobia can describe someone who bashes gays as well as someone who “merely” opposes marriage equality.

In the same way the word “thief” describes a child stealing a chocolate bar and Bernie Madoff, the word “homophobe” describes both of those afformentioned people. Just as some thiefs are worse than others some homophobes are worse than others, but that doesn’t mean both aren’t homophobic.

Chris McCoy
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Brandon Ambrosino wrote:

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.

There is a much older word than "homophobe" in the English language to describe these people.

Bigot : a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

Lucrece
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

You’re right. Straight supremacist is more appropriate to describe such people.

Jay
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

I agree with TampaZeke above. I had a very nice grandmother who claimed to have no animus against black people, but believed her Southern Baptist pastor who told her that God was against race-mixing. She was an ardent segregationist for that reason and was very resentful against Yankees who called her a racist. However, her insistence that she was not a racist did not make her less a racist.

People who would deny equal rights to gay people are anti-gay, regardless of whether they claim that they love gay people or, at least, don’t hate them.

There are, of course, levels of homophobia. A bigot who opposes gay marriage may not be quite so homophobic as someone who works actively to deny all civil rights to gay people rather than merely some civil rights; who in turn may not be quite so homophobic as people who want to kill gay men and lesbians. But it is only a matter of degree.

RexT
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

I have yet to meet or speak with a ‘Straight’ person about Marriage Equality, their claimed ‘position’ being ‘pro-gay’ while ‘anti gay-marriage,’ who has bothered to seriously consider what Marriage Equality really means. Not One. Their most common discomfort being the ‘word’ Marriage itself.

I have – however, moved many of these people beyond their ‘discomfort’ point, requesting they spend a bit of time engaged on the issue. The issue being the ‘civil’ aspect of marriage as it applies in the world today, here in the US. Those who have done so, DO step through their ‘fear’ of the word or whatever their ‘anti-marriage’ reason (fear it’s always a fear) may be, and their opinion shifts out of knowledge.

Many will Not spend time engaged, learning more, etc. They’re quite comfortable in their ‘Superior’ position of Straight. And they’re quite comfortable with their ‘Majority’ – Heterosexuals, being those who will ‘decide’ when, or if, while claiming to be ‘not anti-gay’ or not ‘homophobes’ –

They are homophobic, they are bigots, they are not superior nor are their relationships. And, they may think they are ‘pro-gay’ but they continue to hold on to their own self created superior position. The very attempt to ‘Define’ who we are, as though we are somehow different other than our sexual orientation which we all know is equally natural, comes from a false place of superiority. It’s not complicated. Two People, One Marriage, Equal Civil Rights.

Ashton
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

I feel like there is another question here that has not been asked: Do anti-gay and homophobia mean the same thing? I think that the answer is no (I’m more than open to other arguments). I would have thought that anti-gay was a larger category with homophobia within it. Ambrosino flips back and forth between the two terms in a way that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Am I wrong to think that maybe anti-gay could apply to many of these people while homophobe would not? Am I the only one who noticed this in the first place

Priya Lynn
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Ashton I think in theory one could be homophic (afraid of gays) and not oppose equality for gays but in practice that probably never happens.

Timothy Kincaid
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Ashton,

“Anti-gay” speaks to one’s positions or actions. For example, Brian Brown is an anti-gay activist. But (though it’s not the case with Brown) it is possible to oppose gay rights out of some motivation other than animus (confusion, misinformation, mindless adherence to tradition).

“Homophobe” speaks to one’s emotions, feelings, and motivations. One could be (as Priya Lynn noted) homophobic but still ideologically support equality. But generally homophobes are also anti-gay.

And there are, of course, those Rex noted who are neither anti-gay nor homophobic who simply haven’t thought the issue through or had anyone like Rex to explain it to them. As time goes on, this group becomes increasingly small in this country.

However, with the increasing globalization of this issue, we will see heroes in other countries who may not support marriage but will fight their hardest for civil recognition.

Or, in better examples, there are many countries where partner recognition is championed by people who oppose adoption. Considering that they are fighting for our cause, it’s hard to categorize them as either anti-gay or homophobic.

And ultimately, as Ambrosino noted, there’s little to be gained by calling them either.

CPT_Doom
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

To expand upon what jerry said above regarding interracial marriage, what about a different, perhaps more appropriate example: “Does being against eternal marriage make me anti-Mormon?” If I believe that Mormons should have the right to live their “lifestyle choice,” but don’t believe that “eternal marriage” should be equated to the “til-death-you-do-part” variety, is that a form of prejudice, or just a disagreement?

My answer to that is: if you want to have a philosophical discussion about the relative merits of each type of marriage, you’re not necessarily bigoted, but if you want to impose legal sanctions on Mormons so their marriages are not considered legally equal, you being prejudiced, bigoted, anti-Mormon.

Ryan
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

I think the last line Timothy wrote was the best, and dead-on. I would add that reservations about gay marriage CAN be articulated in a respectful way by those with no malice towards homosexuals, but increasingly that is an exceptionally rare scenario.

Gene in L.A.
December 17th, 2013 | LINK

Homophobia will never be stopped by not calling it homophobia. I will continue to point it out when I see it.

shofixti
December 18th, 2013 | LINK

Is the polite person anti-gay or is the rhetoric anti-gay?

Seems and easy distinction to get confused.

If you are at risk of being called homophobic for your public/published statements then you should not also seek to control the application of the term ‘homophobic’ – that’s a have your cake and eat it moment.

Homophobe – as an entire critique within a single word is weak, it must be linked to a larger statement and analysis.

Hue-Man
December 18th, 2013 | LINK

My problem isn’t with ideas or concepts but what happens when they’re translated into action.

By way of explanation, I believe that anyone who is a follower of organized religion is delusional. This is irrelevant until I turn my belief into action – denying religious people a job, telling them that they are less than human, burning down their church/temple/mosque, supporting legislation to take away their rights, including the ability to serve in the military, etc. (I think you catch my drift.)

Our language may not have a suitable word to describe people who engage in these types of actions against LGBT people. In the meantime, I’ll settle for “gay-haters” or “anti-gay bigots”.

Hunter
December 18th, 2013 | LINK

This just jumped out at me:

“I would argue that an essential feature of the term “homophobia” must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community.”

Regardless of the definition of the word “homophobia” (which Rex Harley quite succinctly noted above), what Ambrosino has done is to define the term to fit his argument, a common tactic on the anti-gay right (or the right in general, for that matter). As far as I’m concerned, that renders the rest of his comments worthless — it’s like the “definition” of marriage touted by the likes of — well, pretty much everyone who opposes same-sex marriage: the argument, such as it is, becomes completely circular. Consequently, to quote Gertrude Stein, there’s no there there.

TampaZeke
December 18th, 2013 | LINK

Would a Christian consider a person who believed that, Christians should be excluded from certain civil rights and institutions and promoted/agreed with/voted for laws that did just that, “anti-Christian”? I think it would be a fair assumption. So why are the rules always different ONLY for gay people?

Here’s the bottom line: Regardless of what white people think/believe/feel, they don’t get to define “racism” or determine what does and does not qualify; no matter what non-Jewish people think/believe/feel, they don’t get to define “antisemitism” or determine what does and does not qualify; no matter what straight people think/believe/feel, they don’t get to define “homophobia/anti-gay/hetero-privilege” or determine what does and does and does not qualify…

and these facts don’t change just because you can find a couple of people on the inside of a minority that will back you up in you thoughts/beliefs/feelings. “Ex-gays” are a perfect example of that.

enough already
December 18th, 2013 | LINK

I have to disagree with the belief it is not productive to label a bigot a bigot, a homophobe a homophobe, an anti-gay person anti-gay.

Qui tacet, consentire videtur.

shofixti
December 18th, 2013 | LINK

Great responses Hunter ant TZ.

I find that both popular feminist and manosphere circles (MRA mainly) that the “but I don’t feel any hate” argument against the labels misogyny and misandry to be very short sighted and inadequate. “But this is the real definition of the word” is a lame slice of rhetoric that always seeks to deny how a systemic critique gets applied.

The psychologist Dacher Keltner has a body of work (power approach paradigm) that may support the idea that you can process information shallowly, stereotype with ease and feel great about it when it protects or makes your connection to power, resource and privilege salient. You don’t need to feel either fear or hate to do things that have hateful consequences – so making these affective states (which are cultural practices in their own right) a mandatory part of being homophobic or sexist is weak.

“At least nine states have announced that they will not issue military identification cards to same-sex spouses at 114 Army and Air National Guard facilities, refusing to comply with Department of Defense policy” (NBC News)

That really screws with a lot of people’s lives and while it may be done in rapturous devotion to state’s rights, to an idealisation of family values, to a sincere and polite critique of marriage equality – the presence of absence of animus or fear does not discount the systemic production of homophobia in such refusals.

TampaZeke
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

I’m curious if Timothy and/or Ambrosino would consider Phil Robertson anti-gay. He says that he doesn’t disrespect anyone and that his opinions are the result of his age, his geography, his upbringing and his Christian faith. He seems like a genuinely nice guy (except for when it comes to homosexuals) who loves his family, his community and his faith. Millions of people and the entirety of the Fox News on-air talent are coming to his defense. Is it fair to call him “homophobic” or “anti-gay” or is he just another man with deeply held beliefs and an opinion that we disagree with? I’m absolutely certain that there are some gay people who would argue that he isn’t anti-gay but rather “pro-tradition”. A quick visit to GayPatriot will confirm this. So where does one draw the line on what measures up to “anti-gay” or “bigot”?

Priya Lynn
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

Zeke, Robertson has also come out with some racist remarks. Funny how people will try and convince you those who oppose gay rights aren’t always anti-gay but no one will try to convince you a person making anti-black remarks isn’t a racist. Always that double standard there.

Richard Rush
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

Can we all at least find some common ground in agreeing that Ken Hutcherson was a hateful homophobic anti-gay bigot?

Timothy Kincaid
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

“I’m curious if Timothy and/or Ambrosino would consider Phil Robertson anti-gay.”

I don’t know enough about him to have an opinion. He said some pretty nasty things, but I have no idea as to his activism.

As to whether he’s homophobic, again too little info to know. He sounds like he is, but I know that sometimes editing can be deceptive.

If I were guessing, I’d guess he’s both. But as I don’t know a lot about this guy (and am not interested enough to research) I’ll not guess.

Ben In Oakland
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

Here’s Roberston in a sermon from 2010.

“First they say, ‘There is no God. Get him out of your mind,'” he said in a rambling speech. “Then they bow down to birds, animals and reptiles, and each other. And the first thing you see coming out of them is gross sexual immorality. They will dishonor their bodies with one another, degrade each other. Uh, is that going on in the United States of America? Look around. God’s not there… And boy is there some immorality going on around here. Does it get worse?”

“Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions,” Robertson continued. “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

What do you call him? Anti-gay? antihuman? stupid? Obsessed with sex?

TampaZeke
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

That didn’t take long. TMZ’s Harvey Levin (a gay man) just Tweeted that Robertson isn’t anti-gay, he’s just religious. Levin’s argument in defense of Robertson is just another version of Ambrosino’s. It seems that anything short of physical violence or murder can be excused as not being “anti-gay” especially if it can be wrapped up in a cozy Christian, teflon blanket. Heck, I’ve actually read comments from gay people on GayPatriot excusing violence against and murder of gays. I don’t think there is a legitimate argument that being against civil/social equality for gay people isn’t anti-gay but rather to what degree are anti-equality people anti-gay.

Priya Lynn
December 19th, 2013 | LINK

“I don’t think there is a legitimate argument that being against civil/social equality for gay people isn’t anti-gay but rather to what degree are anti-equality people anti-gay.”

I agree.

Darina
December 20th, 2013 | LINK

Observation from the “time machine traveller” in the opposite direction (aka living in Eastern Europe): Ironically, ignorant people do tend to be “homophobic” as in “afraid of gay people/gayness”. :)

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