The City Winter 2013

Page 32


Paul D. Miller


et’s begin with a quote: “I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.” So spoke Representative John Lewis in 2003, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia and famous Civil Rights movement leader. In Lewis’ view, opposition to gay marriage can only be explained as bigotry. Lewis’ quote illustrates a broader problem in how we argue, what our arguments assume about truth and falsehood, and how we treat our opponents. Lewis’ contention is surprising because opponents of gay marriage generally do not rest their case on appeals to hatred. No one stands up and says “I dislike homosexuals and therefore believe they shouldn’t be allowed to marry.” Instead, advocates of traditional marriage advance a complex argument about the nature of marriage, the state’s interest in fostering family, the limitations of government, and the right of people in a democracy to privilege certain cultural institutions over others. Examples of these arguments are widespread; see, for example, the excellent discussion by Ron Sider in First Things in December 2010. Advocates of gay marriage rarely engage with their opponents’ actual arguments. Instead, they level the charge of bigotry. But note that the charge of bigotry is made in spite of what opponents of gay marriage actually say. In this sense, the movement for gay marriage is different from the Civil Rights movement, during which opponents were generally quite explicit about their dislike of African Americans. Today, advocates of gay marriage justify the charge of bigotry in one of two ways: either they claim that their opponents are 31