Why Marriage Equality Opponents Who ‘Love’ Gays Are Still Bigoted

Conservatives have long claimed that they’re somehow the victim of persecution when they’re called bigots for opposing same-sex marriage, like when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said at CPAC, “Just because I believe states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.” But conservatives are adding a novel layer to this trite argument, claiming they actually very much support gay people.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who recently said that gay couples can never achieve the same intimacy as straight couples, opened Tuesday’s anti-gay Marriage March rally on the National Mall with the following plea:

CORDILEONE: I want to begin with a word to those who disagree with us on this issue and may be watching us right now: we love you, we are your neighbors, and we want to be your friends, and we want you to be happy.

Please understand that we don’t hate you, and that we are not motivated by animus or bigotry; it is not our intention to offend anyone, and if we have, I apologize; please try to listen to us fairly, and calmly, and try to understand us and our position, as we will try to do the same for you.

The conservative Media Research Center tried to make the same case with this video from the National Organization for Marriage’s rally, full of anti-equality conservatives proclaiming their love for gay people:

Similarly, inside the Supreme Court, those defending Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) tried to downplay the notion that either measure targeted gays and lesbians. These post-hoc arguments didn’t seem to persuade Justice Elena Kagan, who highlighted a 1996 House report showing Congress passed DOMA to express “moral disapproval of homosexuality.”


Indeed, as the expression goes, “you can’t polish a turd,” and despite the Republican Party’s best intentions to downplay or sugarcoat how offensive its positions against LGBT equality are, that doesn’t actually change that they’re still offensive. Unpacking conservatives’ latest talking points quickly reveals the judgment — and thus prejudice — underlying their claims.

For example, almost every speaker at NOM’s flop of a rally claimed that children are better off with (or “have a right to”) a mother and a father, the corollary of which is that children are worse off with same-sex parents. Social science is in consensus that same-sex couples can raise children just as well as opposite-sex parents, so the claim is factually false. Inherent in it, however, are negative stereotypes and judgments about gays and lesbians, as numerous speakers proved:

  • Bishop Harry Jackson revealed some of these judgments quite explicitly, telling the crowd that kids of same-sex parents are more likely to live in poverty, go to prison, witness domestic violence, and experience sexual abuse. Since the march, he’s added that if same-sex marriage advances, polygamy will “automatically sweep the land.”
  • Jennifer Roback Morse imagined the kids of same-sex parents talking to them as if they were strangers — “Dad, you and your partner are lovely guys” — suggesting those kids are less loved or less part of a family than others.
  • NOM’s go-to gay-against-gay-marriage, Doug Mainwaring, told the crowd that “it is not homophobic to oppose same-sex marriage,” in spite of the fact he also believes it will “undefine children.”
  • Rev. Bill Owens proclaimed that gays don’t deserve civil rights because, he insinuated, they can change their orientation, but he can’t change his race. Allowing same-sex marriage, he concluded, would be “devastating” to everybody’s families.

These are not claims that simply “support traditional marriage”; they are attacks against gay people, and they are inherently bigoted because they are both false and negative. And no amount of “love” counteracts the very real consequences of marriage inequality, whether it’s the lack of security provided for same-sex couples’ children, the socioeconomic inequities they experience when deprived of benefits (especially when they are older in age), or the simple disrespect they experience when society judges their unions to be “less than.”

If conservatives continue to advocate for inequality to be written into the law, it doesn’t matter what rhetoric they use to frame it; it’s not “love.”