We’re living in a wonderful age. An age of unparalleled tolerance and understanding for different cultures, worldviews, and sexual orientation. Even a decade ago, things were noticeably worse politically for the GLBT community. The year was 2003; Ron Howard regales audiences with the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. 50 Cent’s “In da Club” would cement itself as party anthem of the year. And a Republican President was living in the White House, elected by the mandate of evangelical Christians, who made it clear that the government should be run off of Biblical principles. Gay marriage didn’t become a major party issue in the United States for George W. Bush until his 2004 re-election campaign against Democratic hopeful John Kerry.
If you heard someone talking about gay marriage in 2003, it hadn’t become a politicized issue yet, and people were generally free to speak their mind without fear of being seen as politically incorrect. If asked about their opinion on gay marriage, the average person on the street could say things like “gay marriage is wrong” and suffer no consequences socially. They could even say “homosexuals are wrong” and by taking their opinion one step further, still be able to walk around without fear of being judged. It was a high point for bigots everywhere, to be sure. One did not have to justify their opposition to gay marriage. It simply did not have to be defended ten years ago.
But when the 2004 election came rolling around, gay marriage was suddenly a contested political pawn. Unheard of to some people, battle lines were quickly draw with Democrats to the left generally in favor of gay marriage and Republicans to the right typically against it. Suddenly, it was no longer acceptable to oppose gay marriage without giving a reason. It had to be justified in public in order to make a case about one’s political stance. And the argument that homosexuality was simply “wrong” wouldn’t cut it anymore. The proponents of gay marriage demanded more. So those opposed to gay marriage found support in the Bible for their bigotry. The rhetoric used by its opponents was pretty flimsy at the time, but thankfully for those debating against gay marriage, it didn’t have to be articulate; the Book of Deuteronomy. Of course, not everyone had the bravado of the Westboro Baptist Church, who, at the time were seen merely as a public nuisance and not a hate group. But for the most part, the opposition needed only to explain that homosexuality was an “abomination” and that was enough to get their point across.
But just as the dialogue had shifted with the 2004 election, the evolution of bigotry continued on. As states started to legalize gay marriage, the debate once again forced opponents to use a better argument than God hates Fags. So opponents would have to adapt, “The argument against gay marriage has nothing to do with Deuteronomy”, said opponents of gay marriage, “and no one ever said it did.” It turns out that the real argument in opposition to gay marriage come directly from the New Testament, in the Book of John. Jesus may have come to fulfill the Old Testament, as it is written in the book of Matthew, but he never said anything about the book of John. This argument didn’t keep states like Iowa or Massachusetts from legalizing gay marriage. Even then-Vice President Dick Cheney came out in favor of gay marriage when his daughter came out of the closet as a lesbian in 2007, bucking a major party trend for conservatives. But bigotry marches on.
The 2012 election comes up and in an attempt to boost the number of Republican voters who show up at the polls, state GOP caucuses endeavor to make gay marriage the hot-button issue. Faith communities all around the United States (including my home state of Minnesota) rally around this cause, both for and against gay marriage. Those against gay marriage no longer cite the Bible, but rather espouse Biblical principles, a covenant with God, or appeal to family values held up in Christian communities. And across the United States, all four gay marriage initiatives failed. A sobering moment for people who fervently believed God was on their side, only to rationalize that some, nameless, faceless Not-True-Christian betrayed their pact with their God.
And this is the evolution of bigotry. The ground that theists stand on when they try to deny reality always gives way to rational argument. Inch by inch, bigoted people have had to concede that their interpretation of the Book of Deuteronomy could have been wrong. That their interpretation of the book of John could have been wrong. That their understanding of the Bible and their Christian faith could have been wrong. The evolution of bigotry seems to indicate that while theists start out with very specific bigoted arguments against gay marriage (or stem cells, or evolution, or the big bang, or test tube babies, or lightning, or rainbows, or the Garden of Eden, or whatever it is that they insist their interpretation of the Bible tells them…) they are forced into more safe positions as they argue from ever more vague concepts.
The final evolution of bigotry comes when they divest themselves of any and all responsibility for their bigotry, past, present or future. Opposition to gay marriage no longer becomes a personal trait; it becomes a communal trait. People argue, “It’s about the community. We made an agreement with God that we wouldn’t allow gays and we need to keep that out of our community. It’s not up to anyone.” Gay marriage becomes a NIMBY issue. It’s no longer possible for the bigot to keep gay marriage at bay everywhere; a dyke has burst, flooding bigoted little towns all over with a tidal wave of progressiveness and every bigot rushes to hide their waterproof hatred of homosexuals or get swept away by the current.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this evolution is how fiercely some will disavow ever having been wrong earlier. “No, you didn’t understand me! I never argued against gay marriage from the Book of Deuteronomy! The argument against gay marriage was never about what it says in the Bible! It was always about unit cohesion! Family values! Christian Communities! It never has been anything to do with my personal beliefs!”