The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage nationally whipped the Internet into a rainbow-colored whirlwind of hope and love. Supporters, gay, lesbian, and straight alike flocked to computers and mobile devices and the streets to share links and proudly display rainbow flags and profile pictures. History was made. It was a victory for the United States and humanity. But even amidst all the celebrating, it was hard to ignore the ever-present voices of discord.
Leading up to this decision and certainly after it, the question (now answered) of whether to support same-sex marriage has been a divisive issue. Everyone knows someone who opposes the idea for one reason or another. The most obvious examples of this are the conservative Christian zealots, who express hatred openly. I think reasonable people everywhere can agree that people who spout hatred are wrong, whatever their intent or denomination. More subtle and ultimately more manipulative, however, are those who ask us to “respect their opinion” as they respect ours.
Certain opponents of marriage equality try to cast the issue as merely one of opinion, rather than a moral difference. You’ll be able to recognize these people easily, because they are typically the first to speak out against equality while at the same time claiming that, as Christians, they love everyone. It’s just that, for them, God defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. It’s not that they have any problem with gay people (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s that God says (let’s not even get into where or how he supposedly says this) these people are unnatural and, based on the particular sect to which they adhere, may or may not be going to hell.
These supposed Christians then go on to say that this is merely their opinion. That they respect others, and expect theirs to be respected in return. That they have the right to believe their own religious beliefs. That any negative response accusing them of intolerance is an attack against religion.
How to respond? Hmm. Let’s see. How about…no. I mean, hell no.
The fundamental disconnect, here, is that these people see the issue of marriage equality as merely a matter of opinion. I see it as a moral issue. They don’t get, or refuse to acknowledge, that for most of us, the belief that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry is actually offensive. That it’s the same as thinking that Jim Crow laws should still exist. That’s right, Christians, that’s exactly what I’m saying: being against gay marriage is the same thing as being a racist. It’s the same kind of moral choice. They don’t believe this; they see themselves as having the moral high ground. So when supporters of marriage equality do get offended, the religious get offended back, and accuse us of attacking them.
Let me state things plainly, just in case I haven’t been clear enough: the belief that marriage should be a right reserved to heterosexuals is morally wrong. It’s akin to racism, sexism, or any other type of bigotry. And despite what certain Christians–Mormons, for example (we’ll leave the question of whether Mormons actually are Christians for another day)–will have you believe, it is okay to disapprove of people who think this way. In the same way that it’s okay, if not morally obligatory, to oppose racism, it’s okay and morally obligatory to defend the rights of gay people. In other words, if you’re against equality, I don’t respect your opinion, and I don’t have to.
That’s what great about this country, at the end of the day. We can all have our own opinions. Even opinions that are intolerant and wrong. But make no mistake: the fact that you have a legal right to believe anything you want, no matter how stupid, doesn’t require others to respect that opinion. Especially when the opinion in question is morally abhorrent.
Which is not to say that I condone hatred or intolerance of those who believe stupid things. I don’t. I’m just saying that people with opinions that a majority of society now finds morally reprehensible shouldn’t expect to be patted on the head for expressing them.
Respecting the opinions of others, respecting difference, is important, but there’s also a line that must be drawn. I will respect your opinion that Michael Bay is a fantastic movie director, even though I find his films vapid and ridiculous, because nobody’s life or rights or well being is in question when we discuss film directors. I won’t respect your opinion that gays or lesbians deserve less than equal rights than heterosexuals, because that opinion is harmful to others. I may defend your right to have that opinion, but I won’t respect it, and we won’t be friends. Them’s the breaks, kids. Opinions have consequences.