October 29, 2004

A Bigot By Any Other Name

A response to a friend's email claiming that racism is different from homophobia:

I never used the word “homophobia,” which is a bit precious, and puts a rather too-mild face on plain old bigotry. Of course, as I said, ignorance and fear are the creeks which feed the river of all bigotry, but "phobia" suggests a condition that you can merely avoid by avoiding the thing that causes it. But for people who actively seek to harm homosexuals, whether through direct violence, or through discriminative actions or legislation, well, mere “phobia” doesn’t describe them or their condition. Also, you know as well as I do that sexual orientation is exactly like race or gender in that it’s an innate quality or trait, and cannot be changed, although I don’t think it’s a strictly binary state – there is a whole spectrum, ranging in degrees from heterosexual through bisexual to homosexual. Intersex people are born with the genitalia of more than one gender, and their sexuality is similarly ambiguous, but you can’t blame them for their differences.

Religion, on the other hand, is a choice, and people frequently choose a different religion from the one they were born into, and sometimes change belief systems several times in their life. However, people’s religious beliefs are so strongly held and so personal that we have enshrined protection for them in our Constitution. Desire for religious freedom was one of the primary reasons the first colonies were established. Now, if we’re going to protect something that’s a choice, shouldn’t we protect something that’s equally personal, but is not a choice? It is wrong to discriminate against people because of who they are, and I cannot support it. I have met people who have experimented with different sexual partners, but I’ve never met anyone who has truly changed their underlying sexual orientation. Trying to be someone you’re not just ends up hurting everyone involved, and it is foolish to encourage people to pretend to be straight.

You wanted the “irreducible essence” of what marriage is, ergo my no-frills definition. I was only trying to come up with a legal definition, not an essay about the possible deeper aspects of a marriage relationship. Different people have different ideas about what marriage should be or can be, and I don’t think the government, which is what we were talking about, has any business quizzing people on how much in love they are with their partner, or how romantic it is, or any other personal questions. If I were not interested in having children, I’m not sure how much I’d be interested in getting married. I sometimes think that we as a society are unhappy in marriage because we expect it to be this amazing romantic sexy thing, and are disappointed when it’s hard work, and not lingerie and champagne all the time.

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