The burgeoning physical culture war over gay marriage (as evinced by a rowdy protest that almost looked like a riot at the LDS church’s Los Angeles temple and an older Christian woman being savagely harrassed in Palm Springs) is sobering and scary.
I’ve already explained my defense of barring “gay marriage” at length elsewhere on this blog, but today I have a more sympathetic thought about this culture war in mind.
The 2005 crossword puzzle documentary Wordplay is one of my favorite movies. As it celebrates the English language and the joy of being well educated in it, I’ve shown it several times to various high school classes and even in English 101. It enjoys the mark of a successful lesson: intelligent, serious students always love it, and truculent, lazy people tend to hate it.
One of the great puzzle solvers featured in the film is a man named Trip Payne. In one scene, Trip refers to his boyfriend as “dear,” then gives him a quick peck, the kind of chaste little kiss that any of us would feel comfortable giving to our mother. Invariably, any time I ever show this award-winning documentary about real-world linguistics to students, this scene elicits groans, laughs, and even crude comments.
Nobody would ever think of treating a racial minority this way. I honestly believe that racism is dead in our society. Sure, pockets of ignorance might still pulsate here and there, but then there are still some people out there who think the world is flat and that Star Trek V was a good movie. People might criticize or be leery of social mores that seem to condone, or even encourage, what the mainstream would view as anti-social criminal behavior, but that’s a far cry from assuming inherent inferiority, and you just don’t see public belittling of any racial minority just for being a racial minority. The very thought is unspeakable.
And yet, regardless of our views about law, religion, or family, almost every segment of our society is comfortable openly mocking gay people. I don’t like the word “homophobia,” because it’s inaccurate: nobody fears gay people. But, like racism, sexism, or ageism, there is a very deep current among us of scorning people based on a characteristic that should not make someone a pariah: sexual orientation. Of course, “orientationism” is a clumsy term, and I’d welcome any ideas for a better one.
I used to home teach a gay guy at my church. Did I ever mention that? He told me he stopped coming because, after he was baptized, people found out he was gay and shunned him. That had been in another part of toen, so I have no way of knowing how he’d truly been treated, but his conviction that he’d been judged was surely sincere. I didn’t address the sexuality issue directly; I figured that the first priority needed to be strengthening his knowledge and love of Jesus Christ through prayer and study, and that’s all we ever did. By the time he was coming out to church sometimes and feeling secure, we were both moving to new homes. As proof that our home teaching assignments are all too often not as deeply meaningful as they should be, we quickly lost touch.
I don’t know where that good brother is today, but I hope he has a firm foundation of faith in God, no matter what else is happening. Clearly, overwhelmed by a more dramatic desire to defend families, or perhaps by letting our social instincts get the better of our devotion to charity, we failed to communicate to him that first and foremost, he’s a beloved child of God, and that the restored gospel is a blessing.
Seven years ago, I was in a community theater play. By the time costumes were ready, the cast knew each other pretty well, and when we saw some of the goofy, though detailed and appropriate, outfits we’d be wearing, I thought I could score some quick brownie points with the other guys by sneering, “Those costumes are pretty gay.” The man next to me agreed, then a third cast member came up behind us and said, “Uh, guys…I am gay.”
I felt like scum. I apologized profusely for the rest of the production, and he was incredibly gracious about it, but I knew the damage was done. I was very, very wrong. Since then, I’ve tried to watch that ridiculous slang term, and discourage it among my students. I should probably attack it more fiercely than I do. If we truly oppose gay marriage because of religious principle rather than bigotry, and if we mean to extend a hand of love and fellowship to our offended gay friends, then using that term as an insult just has to stop.
Our message of love to a lot of gay people these days will most likely be rejected, because of this toxic cultural climate. But that’s no reason not to live true to the example of our Savior.