In an op-ed published this morning in the Boston Herald, Bill O’Reilly actually gets it right. “[I]f you oppose gay marriage,” he writes, “your opinion makes you a bigot. Did you know that?”
Sure did, Bill. I also know that if I oppose interracial marriage, that opinion makes me a bigot, too. And if I believe a woman ought to be paid less than a man for equivalent work, or that the military ought to be segregated along racial lines, or that a same-sex couple ought not be allowed to adopt children, guess what that makes me. These opinions make one a bigot because there are no valid reasons for holding them.
But what if one is led to his opinion by his religious faith? Does that excuse one from being called a bigot? Bill thinks so:
I understand that most Americans believe heterosexual marriage deserves a special place in our society. Our Judeo-Christian traditions, which have made the United States the most prosperous and just society the world has ever known, speak to a family built around a responsible mother and father; certainly the optimum when it comes to raising children.
Two things occur to me immediately. For one, why is it relevant that most Americans believe heterosexual marriage deserves a special place, if giving it that special place denies the privilege to homosexuals? In a prior paragraph, O’Reilly cites a recent poll where 54% of those who responded claimed to oppose same-sex marriage. He also reminds us of the passage of Proposition 8 in California this past November. The United States is a constitutional republic, governed indirectly by the will of the people. That doesn’t mean anything goes as long as there’s a plurality of the popular vote to support it. The Constitution and the laws it empowers, enacted by the elected representatives of the people, are the final authority. If the people vote to disenfranchise a number of their fellow citizens who have broken no laws and committed no offense of any kind, that vote is meaningless. The majority doesn’t have the power to deny rights and privileges of citizenship to people it doesn’t like.
For another, why is it that O’Reilly and his fellow conservatives/”traditionalists” (as he insists on euphemistically identifying himself) always cite our Judeo-Christian heritage as the source of our prosperity and freedom, as though it’s a self-evident fact? The United States was not the first nation in history to be founded by Christians, not by far. It wasn’t the religion of our founders that made us unique; it was their wisdom to write their religion out of the government. It is our secularism that has made us a just society in the past, and which continues to push us kicking and screaming toward a greater justice today, not our religion. Apologists and defenders of the various faiths claim that religion calls us to be better people, but in my experience it most often just gives people divine permission to go right on being the assholes they already were.
Legalizing gay marriage isn’t the right thing to do because it’s popular, or because gay equality is the hip civil rights struggle at the moment. It’s the right thing to do because there is no reason not to do it, and because to do any less is unworthy of a truly free and just civilization. Legalizing gay marriage doesn’t make it illegal to oppose gay marriage. Christians, Jews, Muslims, whoever, will still have just as much right to hold and express the ugliest, most bigoted tenets of their dogmas as they do in non-gay-marriage states today. If you’re straight, your life won’t change in the slightest bit. Your marriage, if you have one, will still be valid and will still mean just as much to you and your spouse and the state as it ever has. The difference will be in the lives of same-sex couples, who will be able to have their unions legally recognized the same as straight couples, and in the life of the United States, which will finally be redeemed of one of its longest standing sins.