Facebook friends will immediately flee and label me a bigot just for the title of this piece. Most of them will not read what we have to say because they can reach their conclusion simply on suspicion that we might be on the wrong side of marriage equality. A great irony is embedded in that fact. And it’s an irony we must understand.
The heart of the irony involves prejudice. According to the Oxford Dictionary, prejudice is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” Prejudice is the enemy of equality since it is an a priori judgment about someone just because of, say, the color of their skin, their religion, their gender or their sexual orientation. If you see an African American walking down the street and automatically think he must be a violent gangbanger, that’s prejudice. If you see a Muslim and think she’s a terrorist, that’s prejudice. If you oppose gay marriage and are immediately named a bigot, that’s prejudice.
Prejudice is wrong and very often ignorant, and Christians are often guilty of it. Have Christians been prejudiced against gays and lesbians? Absolutely. Do we need to repent of that prejudice? Absolutely. Every man and woman has been created in the image of God, and is deeply loved by him, regardless of his or her sense of sexual orientation. Christians have no right to mistreat gays and lesbians because we know that, apart from the grace of God, we are all guilty rebels before him—as guilty as anyone else anywhere else.
But now the tables have turned. Christians are the new targets of prejudice. If we oppose gay marriage, we are automatically bigots.
How did that happen?
The movement for marriage equality did two extremely clever things. First, it used the word “equality.” Who could be against equality? Only bigots. There it is—if you’re on the wrong side of “equality,” you must be a bigot.
A bigot is “a person who has very strong, unreasonable beliefs or opinions about race, religion or politics, and who will not listen to or accept the opinions of anyone who disagrees.” In other words, a bigot is someone who is strongly prejudiced. As soon as “equality” was introduced into the discussion, the quest for marriage equality was viewed alongside the Civil Rights Movement, women’s suffrage and so on. Anyone against such positions is simply wrong. End of story.
The second clever thing the movement did was to assume the conclusion in the premise (also known as “begging the question”). That is, by calling gay marriage “marriage,” the conclusion has already been reached. We are then only talking about whether gay marriage should be equal to heterosexual marriage. Once the conversation begins there, there’s no way for us to oppose the idea of gay marriage and win.
The real question is, “Should we redefine what marriage is?” That is the fundamental question, since marriage has traditionally been understood to be an exclusive union between a man and a woman, who are not directly related.
The movement for marriage equality was clever not to frame the discussion in terms of “changing the definition of marriage,” because that would surely meet greater resistance than pushing for “equality.” Instead, pushing for marriage equality already assumed the conclusion in the premise: a homosexual union is a marriage.