Anna Williams says (in her post ” Christians and LGBT Bullying “) that she was left uneasy by Austin Ruse’s post last week on the not-exactly-impoverished population of gays and lesbians in the U.S. This, I think, might have been prompted as much by a commenter’s uncharitable interpretation of what Austin said as by what he actually said. Reviewing a recent study of the relative wealth of gay individuals and couples, Austin concluded by remarking, “We should all be so discriminated against.” He was not, of course, saying anything at all about those respects in which gays and lesbians are mocked, bullied, abused, attacked, or otherwise subject to unjust treatment, be it verbal, social, or physical. He was referring primarily to their financial status, which is in many respects enviable, and secondarily to the growing and impressive cultural power of gays and lesbians in politics, the media, and the academy.
There is no question that it is an unfortunately common experience for homosexual men and women to be harassed and bullied. Those of us who are not guilty of such behavior are not obliged to atone for it. We are instead obliged to notice that it happens and to condemn it when it does. Anna is right that we have a “moral obligation to fight the mistreatment” of gays and lesbians. It is the same obligation we have to fight the mistreatment of anyone.
But Anna also pointedly added that gays and lesbians face “bigotry,” and later referred to “bullying and bigotry” as though everyone could agree on what she meant. But “bigotry” is a word that needs some serious unpacking, and I really don’t know what she meant, or what others might take her to mean. The most common use of “bigotry” lately is to describe those who oppose same-sex marriage, even if they express no further opinion whatsoever on homosexual conduct. It goes without saying, in this brave new world, that anyone who does express an opinion on homosexual conduct, expressing a negative moral judgment, even or especially a negative moral judgment founded on reasons of religious faith, is obviously a “bigot.”
To beat one’s breast about the widespread “bigotry” against gays and lesbians, in this environment, without saying more clearly just what it is that one is condemning—or “confessing” on behalf of an unjust “society”—is to surrender a great deal of the ground of moral judgment. The pressure is intense, and is applied from “above” by the elite cultural gatekeepers, to accede to the following propositions: To disapprove of same-sex marriage (or of same-sex relations generally) is to be a bigot. To be a bigot is to be a bully, or at least to approve tacitly of the bullying behavior of others, or to render altogether unbelievable one’s claims that one is opposed to bullying or harassment. Therefore there is one and only one “proof” of good intentions available to the guilty party, whose only offense has been to say “no” to same-sex marriage. And that is that one must now say “yes.” Or else, in the extreme but not uncommon charge from the gay left, one has the blood of Matthew Shepard on one’s hands, or one must “own” the suicides of complete strangers.
It is remarkable how much headway has been made with this morally and intellectually bankrupt argument. Some prominent conservative journalists, as well as various policy wonks who have opined on marriage, family, or cultural issues, have thrown in the towel, all in order, it seems, not to be called “bullying bigots” any longer. And it is amazing how rapidly some of them (thank goodness, not all) join the chorus of those who condemned them a moment ago, now in their turn condemning those who continue to hold the views they just abandoned.
By all means, let us join Anna in thinking hard about how Christians, Jews, and others can say “we love you” to our homosexual brethren, while saying “no” to the demand that we surrender all our moral judgments on the new altar of sensitivity. But let us, in the course of this important enterprise, remember that the mea culpa for sins of which one is not guilty does more harm than good.