Both Glenn Loury and Ann Althouse have gay sons. And, in this clip, both of them argue that we shouldn’t consider opposition to same-sex marriage to be akin to bigotry. Loury goes a few steps farther, in fact, and claims that a charge of bigotry really amounts to demagogic politics and that people who oppose same-sex marriage on religious or cultural grounds are morally serious and ought not to be dismissed out of hand.
But it’s never entirely clear why Loury and Althouse believe that the views these people espouse are so morally serious or why we ought to refrain from referring to their condemnation of homosexuality as bigotry. From listening to them, my sense is that their argument rests on the presumption that religious people are morally serious and, as such, they reflect on the tenets of their faiths before coming to their conclusions about matters like same-sex marriage.
That’s all well and good, if it’s true. But it doesn’t explain why we shouldn’t think of it as bigotry. That someone believes something to be true and arrives at his or her belief in a serious manner doesn’t exempt him or her from being challenged on that belief, especially when that belief might impact the lives of others.
Let’s go a few steps down the religious path and see what happens. After all, I attend a weekly religious service, I associate with many of my co-religionist, and I observe many of the strictures of my religion in my daily life. And my religion, Judaism, is one that seems to explicitly condemn homosexuality; indeed, it’s the Hebrew Bible to which people turn when they’re looking for a religious justification for their opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality more generally (even though the majority of these people don’t pay much attention to any of the other dictates of the Hebrew Bible).
But Jews are divided on the question of same-sex marriage, with most Orthodox authorities opposing it and most Reform authorities supporting it. Conservative authorities are divided, with some in support and some in opposition. The Hebrew Bible says that one should not lie with a man as one lies with a woman … but the Hebrew Bible also says, for example, that the death penalty should be employed as a punishment in hundreds of circumstances (from homicide to children who curse their parents) yet the vast majority of Jewish authorities oppose capital punishment. After much study and debate, religious authorities have found that the text can be read in more ways than one. And that’s why it seems to me that we can take issue with anyone who claims that their religion mandates their opposition to same-sex marriage or their condemnation of homosexuality. The Orthodox, after all, are not agitating for the ability to resume stoning their children.
In other words, Jews have options (and I presume that Christians and Muslims do too). Despite the injunction against homosexuality in Leviticus, there is no need for a Jew to join a congregation that condemns homosexuality or even makes gays and lesbians feel in any way unwelcome. And so, as a Jew, I gravitate toward congregations that are welcoming to gays and lesbians and toward rabbis who speak out in favor of equal rights and equal treatment.
Religions aren’t monolithic; if people really are involved in deep spiritual reflection on the matter of homosexuality, then they will surely be able to find an interpretation of their religious texts that allows for the kind of evolution that President Obama described. This doesn’t mean I’m not serious about practicing Judaism; it means I’m serious about finding a way to reconcile my belief in the teachings of Judaism with my belief that people should be treated equally. But, obviously, one must actually have both of these beliefs.
What do we call someone who either fails to consider the alternative teaching of his or her religion or rejects that teaching because it doesn’t lead to continued condemnation of gays and lesbians, someone — in other words — who doesn’t actually have both a religious belief and a belief in equality?
With apologies to Loury and Althouse, I think I have to call it bigotry.
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