Gay marriage. How did reading those two words make you feel? If you're like most Americans, you had a strong emotional reaction, positive or negative.
North Carolinas passage of Amendment One notwithstanding, national sentiment on gay marriage has moved from rejection toward acceptance at an unprecedented rate and shows no signs of slowing. This rapid evolution has inspired both sides to fight harder as those in favor gain new hope and momentum while those opposed dig in.
In 1996, only 27 percent of Americans favored gay marriage according to Gallup. Today, double that share (54 percent) are in favor, according to the poll. The tipping point to majority support in polling was crossed in 2010. Thirteen states and D.C. have legalized gay marriage while it was victorious at the ballot box for the first time in 2012, when voters, rather than courts or legislatures, in Maine, Maryland and Washington legalized the practice. More than any other major issue, beliefs on gay marriage are generational, due in large part to younger people having more familiarity with homosexuals and their desire for marriage equality, ascribing faces of friends to a difficult debate.
You're likely having an emotional reaction to those facts as well depending on your personal beliefs. But let's take a moment to check our emotions.
Begin by accepting that there are good, genuine, well-meaning people on both sides. Generally, those in favor of gay marriage are not trying to upend the moral fabric of America nor are those opposed attempting to impose bigoted views on everyone else. Gay marriage is a battle between differing moral codes and world views. Therein lies the fundamental problem.
When a Duke fan and a Carolina fan meet in a bar, they will disagree vehemently regarding the supremacy of their respective shade of blue, but they are speaking the same language and can understand the values and metrics the other is bringing to bear on the debate. Not so with gay marriage.
Folks in the gay marriage debate often talk past each other, invoking concepts that, to the other side, ring hollow and may even sound ridiculous. What does a non-Christian care what the Bible says? How is one who sees gay marriage as counter to their religious-moral code to understand an analogy to the civil rights movement?
Opponents of gay marriage most frequently base their view on morality derived from Christian teaching and interpretation of the Bible, considered the word of God. Without getting into a theological discussion, suffice it to say the Bible does contain verses easily interpreted as against homosexual acts. It also commands loving our neighbor and warns against being judgmental of others. While some opponents have unfortunately come across as less than loving over the course of this debate, their core belief is typically genuine and seen by them as being best for society, the family and individuals, not a belief borne out of hatred or bigotry.
Many of you are likely rolling your eyes at this point, but stick with me. This is an exercise in listening first.
Proponents of gay marriage generally see the issue as a no-brainer, black and white, open and shut case of basic equality and human rights. They are miffed that it's a debate at all and can't understand what all of the fuss is about. As the slogan goes, love equals love, and why should two men or two women who are in love and committed to each other not have the very same rights and benefits as a heterosexual couple?
Morality versus equality. Religion versus rights. These dichotomies have unsurprisingly proved intractable.
Respect must be restored around the gay marriage debate. Proponents have been looked down upon and judged by those preaching love on Sundays while opponents have been called backwards bigots by the very people demanding tolerance. The two sides will never fully see eye to eye. Their world views are too different. This is why we are all so fortunate to live in a democracy. All people should take their genuine beliefs on gay marriage to the voting booth without reproach. And all people should accept the outcome as democratically just, win or lose, until the next vote.
Gay marriage will be settled one day. In the mean time, let's not lose friends and offend our neighbors with a lack of respect and tolerance for differing viewpoints.