The Case for Gay Rights (Even If You Think It Is Sinful)

This post is pretty much exclusively for my Christian brothers and sisters in the United States. The rest of the first world has embraced the idea of a separation of church and state fairly well, including my own nation of Canada. The U.S. is the only developed country that has a significant portion of the population believing that one religion is entitled to rule over the others.

I stubbornly believe that there is absolutely no reason to refuse LGBT persons full legal rights including the rights of marriage. America proclaims itself to be the land of the free, the land where the only thing between you and the perfect life is your own effort because society will theoretically open up the possibilities for you. Of course the American Dream is a lie in general – there are lots of factors beyond simply the will of the individual – but that doesn’t mean the bit about freedom from discrimination is not a good goal to work toward. Americans are generally very proud of this core value even though there are many issues where there is a large disconnect between the theoretical value and putting it into practice (kinda like a lot of Christians).

One of those issues with a disconnect is same-sex union rights. The worst part is that most who oppose gay marriage have absolutely no political reason to do so. The closest is in the cartoon above: vague statements about how committed same-sex unions are destroying society while ignoring divorce, child and domestic abuse, and a range of other issues far too common in heterosexual marriages. It seems that they don’t realize the irony in these statements. They just want to hold on to those signs of Christendom where they are allowed to push their ethical ideals on others through force. If I am wrong and there is a real reason why it might be ok to deny same-sex union rights, please tell me, but I have never heard a single one.

Note what I am not saying. You, the churches, are free to consider it sinful. You don’t need to perform the marriages in your church or in any other way pretend that you think God blesses them. You are free to kick LGBT persons out of your churches. You are free to tell them that they are going to burn in Hell. Even the particularly-hateful like Westboro will still be entitled their free speech and freedom of religion. There’s no loss of religious freedom. The Christian majority has not been harmed other than perhaps their pride that they don’t get to tell non-Christians what to do anymore.

I’m not recommending hate speech or exclusion, of course, since I don’t think it’s in line with the teachings and example of Jesus who you claim to follow, but you would still be legally entitled to discriminate within your own religious bounds. You just can’t tell people who have never made the same commitment to live by Christian ethics that they must or you will take away their legal rights. The church’s job is to love people. This includes the people in the church as well as those outside. Yes, there is room for church discipline as described in Matthew 18 and elsewhere; I’m not saying that loving those in the church means ignoring issues. However, it does also mean getting involved in people’s lives, not just reciting what you think about something under the false claim that telling the truth – no matter how angrilly you tell it – is always the loving thing to do. Suppose the positions were switched and the church was treating your biggest issue as the ultimate sin: greed, lust, anger, judgementalism, whatever. With that said, though, yes you would still have the legal rights to treat LGBT persons as sub-human within your religious circles.

The state’s primary job, on the other hand, is to do the best it can for its citizens. That includes LGBT citizens. Even if you want to treat them less than human, it is the state’s job to treat all men and women as created equal. Contrary to the claims such as the comic above, there is absolutely no reason to believe that allowing same-sex union rights hurts themselves or anybody else. And it isn’t for lack of trying; conservatives have scraped together every study they can to try to show the cultural damage of same-sex unions and have come up with absolutely nothing conclusive. The state’s priority should be clear: even if the majority doesn’t like the minority, the minority should be protected. I think most Americans agree with this statement of equality… until it is applied to a minority group that they don’t like.

Last thing: If the issue is that you can’t stand the idea of the word “marriage” being applied to same-sex couples, how about Tony Campolo’s approach? He argues that the government should get out of the “marriage” game altogether, giving legal rights to any couple while the church can still provide the exclusive-to-religion “marriage.” Tony believes that homosexual activity is a sin, by the way, so he’s in line theologically with those who I am writing this post to. He just also recognizes that it isn’t particularly Christ-like to tell people outside of the church how they can and cannot live complete to the point of threatening Hell on any politician who wants to give them those rights. I personally think that’s probably unrealistic since whether we like it or not, marriage is something the state has controlled for a long time, but considering the majority of Americans still call themselves Christians, if it can happen anywhere it would be there. Whatever label you use, the state has to treat same-sex unions and opposite-sex unions equally.

I simply don’t see who loses by giving same-sex unions full legal rights. The state does its job of protecting citizens as equals. The church doesn’t lose anything, not even its rights to proclaim the sinfulness of homosexuality. Please stop fighting over this in the U.S. when most of the rest of the developed world has realized this obvious solution.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • This follows along the lines of Greg Boyd’s take as well. I’m on board with this. Thanks, Ryan!

    • Just a side note: I’m pretty certain that, until Constantine, there were PLENTY of cultural pressures around the early church where the society (and government) “taught” and “proclaimed” certain things that the early church would have found repugnant (you know… like Ceasar is God). As we approach a culture now that is post-Christendom, it should not surprised us that such cultural pressure is present and growing. The question should not be how we can compel the culture to be the way we want it to be, but more what we should do where we are in the culture that is around us. How do we remain faithful in our society? How do we speak truth in a world hidden in deception? What do we do to shine the light in dark places?

      AND…as I mentioned in my own article on Religious Freedom, we must be ready to bear the brunt of the inevitable. Even if what we are teaching, preaching, etc., is right and good and moral and ethical, if the culture around us disagrees, we can expect there to be consequences. We have become too comfortable here in the US of late, thinking that everyone agrees with us. This is no longer the case. Rather than continuing to prop up a failing and dying Christendom, the US church needs to shift focus towards being the faithful presence in the land rather than the impetus of empire.

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