When I consider the plight of the homosexual, from the very beginning of his (or her) journey, at the very moment he discovers that his sexual attraction is not to the opposite sex but to his own, and that plain and simple he is not like others, to the consequent inner conflict that inevitably follows (which for many involves attempts to deny this realization and “be straight”), to that final moment of coming to accept his situation as seemingly unalterable, and finally — for many in this point in history — to that defining moment where he declares, both to himself and to the world, that his situation is not something he struggles with but rather who he is, that his lifestyle as a gay man is just as acceptable and normal as those of his “straight” counterparts, and because of this, he has every right as an American citizen to be treated equally as a gay man; when I consider all of this, then I must conclude that last Friday was for many a moment not only of profound historic but also profound personal significance.
For it can be said that the Supreme Court ruling was really not about rights at all but instead about human dignity. The White House agreed. Upon news of the decision, it responded, not with the exclamation “rights win!” but rather “love wins!” And based on the responses I have seen on social media by those in favor of the ruling, close friends and family members as well as distant acquaintances and complete strangers, this appears to be the consensus.
In a sense, this ruling represents the answer to the question that is raised the moment the homosexual begins his journey, which is not, “what are my rights?” but rather “who or what am I”? Am I acceptable, or am I something else? The highest court as well as the highest level of executive branch in the nation has responded, “You are loved. You are accepted. And you are deserving of the same dignity and respect as every other human being on the planet.”
As an orthodox Christian, there is part of me that rejoices in this historic moment, not because I am a supporter of gay marriage, but because I am a supporter of acceptance, equality and human dignity. What is often overlooked in this controversy, especially where religious faith and the question of human sexuality are concerned, is that the Christian faith is at its foundation a faith built upon human dignity. You will not necessarily get that from the media. On the contrary, if popular media is your only source, you would come to believe the Christian faith is no more than a set of rules used to include or exclude certain people groups, that it is a social club with a very strict membership policy based on personal conduct (enforced, I might add, by uptight, backward, ignorant and hateful individuals). But even a cursory understanding of the Christian faith, embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, should dispel such notions. This was the same Jesus who hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors and others whom the society of his day considered outcasts. The Christian message is perhaps best represented by these familiar words from the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Said differently, a person’s eligibility for total acceptance and love, before God as well as within society, is not based upon his moral conduct, or the moral status of his condition, but rather upon the unconditional love of the Creator. Through Jesus Christ, the concept of human dignity was firmly established.
Of course, this is not to suggest that the concept of human dignity can and could only come through Christian belief but rather to point out that in the Christian context, human dignity is not only not a foreign concept but also its very foundation. This is why our founding fathers, though they borrowed from the ideas of leading philosophers of their day, seeking to establish a nation based not on tyranny but on tolerance, did not have to go too far from their religious roots when they penned these historic words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
But if the battle for gay marriage is fundamentally a battle for human dignity, there is an irony to be found in recent events. And that is: Whereas our founding fathers recognized human dignity as an inalienable right, the supporter of gay marriage seeks to achieve that same human dignity conditionally. That is, he believes love, acceptance and respect of the homosexual as an individual can only be achieved through unanimous agreement with the homosexual’s own beliefs on human sexuality. I do not believe this point is completely understood by many, especially by those who have celebrated the recent Supreme Court ruling. But the distinction is vitally important, since it marks the difference between a society based on tolerance and one based on tyranny.
To elaborate, consider the civil rights movement. The Supreme Court decisions related to this movement established that discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was unlawful. In short, a individual cannot be treated differently based on who they are or what they believe. A man cannot be denied service at a local diner just because he is black, or just because he is homosexual. Neither can a woman be denied service just because she is a Christian. To do so would be to deny them the dignity they deserve as individuals, and also protects their rights in a free, tolerant society to believe what they believe without reprisal.
But discrimination does not require everyone to believe what the individual believes, nor does it require others to conform their beliefs to one’s own. For example, a Jewish rabbi declining to officiate a Muslim service is not discrimination. Neither is a Christian declining to participate in a New Age ceremony. The difference here should be obvious: Our right to believe and exercise those beliefs according to conscience is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
But when it comes to gay marriage, advocates tend to lose all perspective, expressly for the reason stated: If the only way to establish human dignity for the homosexual is unanimous agreement with his own beliefs on human sexuality, then any alternate views on human sexuality will be considered a threat to that dignity. Human dignity will be confused with thought conformity, as it was recently for the lesbian couple in Oregon who, upon discovering a bakery owner did not share the same views they did concerning human sexuality, and further discovering that it would be a violation of her conscience to participate in a ceremony endorsing their own views, instead of recognizing her right in a tolerant society to hold a different view and honoring the sacredness of conscience, they “felt depressed and questioned whether there was something inherently wrong with the sexual orientation [they were] born with” and “experienced extreme anger, outrage, embarrassment, exhaustion, frustration, intense sorrow and shame,” to the effect that they felt it necessary to punish the individual. And for what reason? This is the question each of us must answer ourselves. Was is really because the bakery owner hated homosexuals, or was it because she simply held a different view concerning human sexuality, and her endorsement of their own was a matter of conscience?
If your answer is, “It does not matter. Conscience or not, the bakery owner’s actions were hateful” then I am afraid you have only managed to prove the point we are making. Holding a different belief is not hateful. Hating someone is hateful. But the problem is: When we cannot distinguish between love and agreement, we will perceive every position that is in disagreement with our own as an act of hatred and aggression.
And this is the disturbing thing about the White House’s response to the Supreme Court ruling. To say “love wins,” is to suggest that anyone not in favor of the decision is on the side of hate. Is this really true? Is it really not possible to grant the homosexual love, respect and dignity without believing what they believe concerning human sexuality? Does love demand agreement? For my part, I would say that in a tolerant society where diverse views are respected, it does not. In fact, just the opposite is true.
And this applies not only to society at large but also to every social institution. I have been married now for over twenty years. In all those years, not once — except perhaps in a moment of extreme immaturity on my part — did I require my wife to agree with me in order to know she loved me, or for me to love her. But in our society today, it is becoming more and more common to label those who disagree with one’s own position as hateful. In truth, these are the seeds of a totalitarian society.
There is one thing I do affirm in the Supreme Court ruling, if not in what it actually achieves then at least in what it represents to many. And that is: It is time for us to allow the homosexual to take his (and her) rightful place in society. But in order for that to happen, to recognize the homosexual as a fully functioning, equal member of society, it means no longer allowing ourselves to portray him as the victim. Being a fully functioning member in a pluralistic society means recognizing your views, however deeply held, are not everyone else’s views, and also being comfortable with your own views being challenged.
As a Christian, I have to daily withstand the views that I hold deeply sacred not only challenged but viciously attacked on a regular basis. But I recognize this is the cost of living in a society based upon the free expression of ideas. My right to believe and freely exercise the beliefs I hold in this society presupposes I grant that same right to others.
Being a fully-functioning member in society also means that the presence of opposing viewpoints do not in any way diminish my own. The portrayal of the Oregon gay couple as so timid in their convictions that the mere presence of someone holding a different view caused such a downward emotional spiral may have helped win the lawsuit for sheer sympathy, but I would hate to think that this represents the typical homosexual and the strength of his convictions on gay marriage. By portraying the homosexual as unable to handle viewpoints on marriage different than his own, I suggest we ultimately undermine the respect and equality the homosexual seeks to achieve in our society.
Of course, none of this talk about the importance of differing viewpoints or the free exercise of beliefs in a pluralistic society may matter much to the individual that is convinced that the traditional view of marriage is inherently Evil. After all, if you believe that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples is on the side of Justice, and every other opinion is on the side of backward, ignorant and hateful Injustice, there is really not much to talk about. In this case, gay marriage should be fully enforced to the full extent of the law, and those who refuse to perform, participate in, or endorse it should be punished. If this is you, then you are fully in favor of the Supreme Court’s decision, because this is exactly what the Supreme Court Ruling means. And you should wear the multi-colored rainbow overlay on your Facebook photo with pride. Even so, it might be fitting to squeeze into that rainbow motif some form of symbol representing government tyranny, or perhaps at least intolerance. It may complete the picture.
As for me, I am for the homosexual. We may ultimately hold different views on matters of human sexuality, but I am for him (and her) in the love, acceptance equality and respect — in short, the human dignity — he deserves in this nation.
President Obama stated in his speech, “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.” I agree. And I look forward to that day, when the equality the President seeks is not achieved through the suppression of viewpoints unlike his, nor in the curtailment of religious liberties with which he does not agree, but rather in the embracing of ideologies of all people. Which is what makes this nation free, and also what makes it great.