I’ve adding a brief summary of part 9 of Steve Greydanus’ series on marriage to my Marriage, sex, and history post, focusing on what he has to say about marriage in a society that no longer understands its nature. However, I thought what he had to say about the relationship between homosexuality and society was worth a post on its own.
…we shouldn’t easily dismiss the element of truth behind the terms homophobia and gay-bashing—especially since these distortions, and the failure of many to treat homosexuals with appropriate dignity, is also part of the context of our current difficulties.
Spontaneous feelings of aversion toward homosexual acts—feelings in themselves natural and in principle even healthy—are wrongly but easily extended to individuals who engage in such acts, or who are prone to them. Since those prone to such acts are few and thus weak, they are easily stigmatized by the majority.
Fear of stigma then causes others to fear to be associated with the stigmatized, either socially or, worse, by identification. Such pressures move many, particularly the vulnerable or insecure, to vigorous expressions and demonstrations of scorn for the ostracized population and their inclinations—bullying and contemptuous acts that reinforce their own identification with the acceptable majority.
Adolescents in the throes of the mysterious process of sexual maturing, intimidated by a world into which they have not yet been initiated and fearing ostracism above all, may be especially frightened of being implicated in, or even of developing, stigmatized inclinations. Parents likewise may fear not only the ostracism and unhappiness of their children, but also perhaps the emotional and social cost to themselves to have a child who may be stigmatized. Adults not paired off with a member of the opposite sex may be uncomfortable with how others could perceive them. And so on.
Any of these concerns and pressures can contribute to unjust hostility toward gays, in the process perpetuating and deepening the cycle of fear and hatred, all the more because of the lamentable human tendency to hate those we have wronged.
Homophobia, hatred and gay-bashing are contrary to human dignity and to the common good. Efforts to combat homophobia and gay-bashing have made real strides, partly through praiseworthy means, but also partly by promoting a false moral equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual indications and acts, by celebrating homosexuality as a positive good, and by stigmatizing not only gay-bashing but also moral disapproval of homosexual acts.
At the same time, individuals with same-sex attraction and in same-sex relationships continue to suffer bullying, hostility and the general stigma against their inclinations and acts. For all the gay-positive messages out there, they are sharply aware of the deep-rooted disapproval of their lifestyles. In some cases the conflict may not be all external: Influenced by mainstream culture, or by the movement of their own consciences, they may struggle with interior discomfort, shame or guilt regarding their own status and actions.
For such individuals, the institution of marriage can present a conundrum. On the one hand, they’ve been shaped by the same marriage-positive culture as everyone else, and many of them have supportive married parents, siblings or other relations and friends. On the other hand, marriage as it has has always been known and is still for the most part celebrated today remains an imposing cultural and institutional symbol of heteronormativity—a cultural, state-sponsored form of social approbation available to heterosexual couples but denied to homosexual couples.
Reductionistically put, marriage can feel to such people like a sort of state-sponsored private club that admits people of one persuasion but not others. The very existence of such a club, with the active recognition and participation of the state no less, both validates and perpetuates the heteronormative moral order, and can be seen as giving tacit support to the mistreatment of gays.