How Much Space Should we Leave for Homophobia?

I came across this article in the Advocate that lays out the following argument: since the majority of Americans don’t think think gay/lesbian intimacy is morally wrong or sinful (based on a 2010 poll), we now to need to allow for some discrimination and relinquish the ‘zero tolerance’ mind-set. In short, We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win.

The author argues that the assumptionusually sound, for a marginalized minorityis that you wont get an inch unless you demand a mile becomes false once the minority position reaches majority support. The reason for this is because, if you move the ‘moral deviant’ shoe onto the opponent’s foot, they are going to move the ‘civil rights violator’ shoe onto yours. People who insist gay/lesbian intimacy is sinful are counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.

The author suggests that dialog is more helpful than seeming unreasonable or unyielding. Our job is to open their eyes, not slap their face. He suggests that gays “accept legal exceptions that let religious organizations discriminate against gays whenever their doing so imposes a cost we can live with.”

My understanding is that this was the kind of thinking behind the ordinances in Salt Lake City. The Church supported them (and Mormons are quick to point this out when it comes to their church and gay rights), but the truth is the Church is actually exempt from the ordinances:

This chapter does not apply to a temporary or permanent residence facility operated by a nonprofit organization; a charitable organization; or a person in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, including any dormitory operated by a public or private educational institution, if the discrimination is based on sexual orientation or gender identity for reasons of personal modesty or privacy or in the furtherance of a religious organizations sincerely held religious beliefs.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the queer community in SLC basically decided that this was a cost they could live with. And although I’ve been one in the past to say that the Church supported the nondiscrimination ordinances, I’m going to dial back and say that the Church is actually supporting the “religious freedom” element of the ordinances and not the gay rights, per se — notwithstanding the Church’s PR speech afterward suggesting otherwise.

Last week, I engaged in a lengthy dialog here on MSP with APL, a gay Mormon man married to a woman who believes that homosexual intimacy is sinful and that only (woman + man) complement each other in the heavens. When I first questioned his beliefs, he suggested that I was silencing him (AKA slapping his face). I denied him this victimhood weapon by saying that if we live in a shared world, then beliefs in the public sphere that lend to public policy have to be allowed to be questioned and amended, which includes his beliefs as much as mine. He seemed to agree, but the dialog didn’t seem to go anywhere, since in the end, he believes his beliefs come from God or a space in which human reason and evidence cannot touch. He wants a church that can discriminate.

Ultimately, I don’t think there is a dichotomy between “opening eyes” and “slapping faces,” as the author of the article suggests. It’s not like a good person, which I believe APL to be, will eventually come around to thinking homosexual intimacy is not a sin simply because goodness and/or reasonableness win in the end. Plenty of good people will die believing homosexual intimacy is a sin long after there is gay marriage nationally. We should respect these people, which doesn’t mean we must respect or not question their hurtful beliefs that lead to hurtful actions. Eventually, reasonableness and dialog run their course (because policy must be put into place) and those who won’t open their eyes will get their faces slapped. It won’t be anyone’s fault but theirs, although we could try to limit the sting.

(Btw: I wouldn’t trust a poll at a federal level about a majority of Americans thinking anything. The country is so uneven on social matters that it’s probably safer to still “demand a mile to get an inch.”)

8 thoughts on “How Much Space Should we Leave for Homophobia?

  1. Re your 4th graf, iirc Gayle Ruzicka & Co. complained about exactly that: the LDS church somehow won praise for supporting ordinances that required it to do precisely nothing.

  2. The reason for this is because, if you move the moral deviant shoe onto the opponents foot, they are going to move the civil rights violator shoe onto yours. People who insist gay/lesbian intimacy is sinful are counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.

    Just looking at last week’s news, I’d say they aren’t waiting for someone to “hand them the victimhood weapon” — they’ll claim it regardless. However, it’s true that if Mormons civil rights ever get violated for real by the gay community, it would be a big PR coup in the church’s favor.

    Ultimately, I dont think there is a dichotomy between opening eyes and slapping faces, as the author of the article suggests.

    I agree. Greta Christina explained this point very well (with respect to both queer and atheist activism).

  3. Rauch’s advice might make sense in some other country, but here in America, there’s no escaping those folks who’re gonna play the victim card no matter how reasonably one goes about explaining differences in religious belief, political party, sexual orientation, or melanin levels. Or maybe Obama just needs to stop being such a militant black Muslim and give our Tea Partiers enough space for the better angels of their natures to soar. /snark

    These kinds of Goldilocks discussions about how to calibrate interaction with straight America seem kind of irrelevant compared to figuring out how to educate, organize and mobilize a politically naive and apathetic community.

    edit: wow, that sounded cranky, sorry. Also, I’d just add that I don’t think ‘the big ask’ makes any sense. What would be a current example of that tactic?

  4. I agree, they’re going to play the victim card whatever we do. I still think it’s important to be cautious about how you approach the issue, and to be sure that you are in fact being respectful to the person regardless of how you feel about their beliefs. Just because they’re going to say it no matter what we do, that doesn’t mean we should live up to their lies.

  5. Some folks say that the agitation for marriage equality is an example of “demanding a mile” … One of my disappointments with the No on 8 campaign was that it seemed like several of the folks on the payroll shared that belief.

  6. One of my disappointments with the No on 8 campaign was that it seemed like several of the folks on the payroll shared that belief.

    It’s not like we live in Sweden where the parliament voted same-sex marriage into law 200-20, and there is 75% public approval. It’s not always easy to “demand” even an inch. The problem I see with Rauch’s advice is that, on the ground, gay folks are already more accommodating than he gives them credit. The only people squirming about an “aggressive gay agenda” are those that should be squirming due to their inability to see the world as anything but a nest to hatch their own form of Christianity.

  7. Well, Chino, it looks like in the case of New York, Rauch’s kind of thinking is the kind of thinking that will make marriage equality happen. What do you say to that bit of realism?

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