Homophobia (the fear of same-sex attraction in oneself or others) and heterosexism (the belief that same-sex attraction is inferior to opposite-sex attraction) are usually found together, and both are all too common in the Yuba-Sutter area. They can be subdivided into homophobic and heterosexist terminology, reasoning, false assertions of fact, laws, discriminatory behaviors (including employment, housing, and health care discrimination), intimidation, and violence.
To identify homophobic terminology, just ask yourself whether the wording used to refer to same-gender and opposite-gender situations are equivalent. For example, many people refer to practicing homosexuals, but how often do you hear anyone refer to "practicing heterosexuals"? That phrase would seem to imply that heterosexual virgins or celibate people ("non-practicing heterosexuals") are not as fully heterosexual as "practicing heterosexuals" are. Most virgin or celibate heterosexuals do not consider themselves to be any less heterosexual than other heterosexuals are—and most people recognize that, so virtually nobody ever uses the phrase "practicing heterosexuals." In the same way, most people do not think of themselves as "practicing homosexuals" or "non-practicing homosexuals," because the question of whether they have a sex life or not at any particular time does not make them any more gay or less gay than they would otherwise be. It is misleading and insulting to imply that someone is somehow less gay when they have no sex life than when they do. If you haven't considered yourself less straight when you've had no sex life, it should be obvious that you shouldn't consider other people less gay when they have no sex life.
The phrase homosexual lifestyle has similar implications; hardly anyone ever refers to having a heterosexual lifestyle, because virtually everyone understands that the fact of a person being heterosexual does not indicate very much about what lifestyle that person leads. In the same way, the fact of a person being homosexual also does not indicate very much about what lifestyle a person leads.
Similarly, many people use the phrase homosexual conduct to describe same-gender sex, yet when describing opposite-gender sex, they are more likely to describe it simply as sexual conduct than as heterosexual conduct. The words "heterosexual" and "homosexual" refer to much more than just sexual activity, and a phrase like "homosexual conduct" falsely implies that the only thing gay people ever do in their lives is have sex. "Homosexual conduct" could consist of a homosexual person taking their husband or wife to dinner, watching a gay romance movie, voting for same-sex marriage, or any other gay-related activity done by a gay person. If you intend to refer only to same-gender sex, you should specify same-gender sexual conduct.
To identify homophobic reasoning, just ask yourself whether the reasoning used to refer to same-gender and opposite-gender situations are equivalent. For example, some people argue that gay people should not say or do anything that would let other people know that they are gay. But don't most heterosexuals say or do plenty of things that let virtually everyone they ever talk to know that they are heterosexual? Almost all married people mention their husbands or wives frequently. Most completely single people sometimes mention their hopes of finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. Heterosexuals also often mention political or religious affiliations that might give a pretty good hint about their sexual orientation: if you casually mention that you belong to a specific conservative church, the person you're talking to probably knows if that church doesn't allow people known to be gay to join, and so the person you're talking to can infer both that you're probably heterosexual and that you're likely to be homophobic. There might be any number of reasons why you'd mention what church you belong to; perhaps you just need to explain why you won't be available next Sunday morning. For all the same sorts of reasons, gay people may happen to mention attending gay-related social, political, or religious events. Think of all the people in your life who know whether you're heterosexual. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for you to try to hide your sexual orientation from all those people? If you're not hiding the entire existence of your own husband or wife and all other indications of your sexual orientation, don't ask other people to hide theirs.
For the same reason, it is homophobic to argue that gay people should all be treated or thought of differently because of something that only some gay people do. The fact that more than half of all heterosexual marriages today end in divorce, whereas the divorce rate was much lower a century ago, is never used to argue that the heterosexual couples today who do remain married all their lives must not love each other as much as the heterosexual couples who remained married a century ago. Everyone understands that infidelity and other unethical behavior by some heterosexuals reflects only on those heterosexuals, not on the heterosexuals who remain faithful and devoted to their spouses. Yet homophobes frequently infer from the divorces or infidelities of some same-sex couples that all same-sex couples must not love each other as deeply and as commitedly as the most committed and loving heterosexual couples. There may be specific stresses on the marriages of some same-sex couples (including discrimination-related stresses) that do not affect all same-sex couples (not everyone is subjected to the same discriminatory incidents) or that bring some same-sex couples closer together (for example, the spouses fight against a discriminatory incident together) while tearing others apart (for example, the parents of one spouse behave homophobically toward the other spouse, and the first spouse is afraid to stand up to his or her parents as much as the other spouse feels is necessary).
Homophobia in Same-Sex Marriage Debates
Suppose you're a woman named Amy and you're happily married to your husband, Bob. One day, an acquaintance named Carol asks you, "Hey Amy, how's your longtime companion, Bob?" Perhaps you correct Carol by telling her, "Bob is my husband." But Carol replies, "Oh, my beliefs don't recognize opposite-sex marriage." Will you want to continue associating with Carol much, knowing that she will continually refer to your husband as your "longtime companion" and consider the two of you not to be married?
Carol and her wife, Diane, got married in their church 40 years ago. (They attend a Unitarian Universalist church, where same-sex marriages have been performed since the late 1960s.) They live in Nevada, where heterosexuals can get married at a moment's notice but the government still won't recognize their own marriage after 40 years. Carol is tired of hearing people refer to Diane as her "girlfriend" or "partner" or "longtime companion." They are married—maybe not by the rules of your church, but probably neither are plenty of heterosexual couples whom you nevertheless recognize as being married in the secular sense. (For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the marriages of divorced people, yet very few Catholics would refer to a divorced person's spouse as a "longtime companion" instead of a "husband" or "wife" in casual conversation.) Carol and Diane are married, no matter whether you and Bob and the state of Nevada's government recognize that or not. A marriage is not determined by popular vote. Carol is offended when people refuse to recognize Diane as her wife, for the same reasons that you were offended when Carol, in return, refused to recognize Bob as your husband. Perhaps in the past, when you have asked Carol how her "longtime companion" Diane was doing, you believed you were being very open-minded and considerate to even acknowledge Diane's existence at all or continue to associate with Carol at all. But by refusing to recognize your own marriage, Carol is trying to show you how rude your behavior actually was.
Fully 67.7% of Yuba County voters and 70.6% of Sutter County voters tried in November 2008 to destroy their gay and lesbian neighbors' marriages—a substantially higher percentage than California's statewide average. During the months before the election, yards throughout both counties displayed yellow signs advertising residents' desire to destroy their neighbors' marriages, and even now, some cars around town still display bumper stickers advertising the drivers' pleasure in having prevented the unmarried gay and lesbian couples of Yuba-Sutter from marrying each other. The campaign for Proposition 8 promoted the following false statements.
False Statement #1: "For all of human history, marriage has always been between a man and a woman." The truth: Same-sex marriages existed in many ancient societies for thousands of years, before Christianity spread to those areas. Many Native American societies performed same-sex marriages, including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Mohave, Muscogee (Creek), Navajo, Oglala, Omaha, and Sioux. Same-sex marriages also existed for centuries in the Fujian and Guangdong provinces of China, and in more than 30 African cultures, including the Azande of the Congo; the Kikuyu and Nandi of East Africa; the Lovedu, Zulu and Sotho of South Africa (where the modern government also recognizes same-sex marriages); the Nuer of Sudan; and the Ibo and Yoruba of West Africa. (See History of same-sex unions on Wikipedia for more details.) In addition, polygamous marriages were common among early Christians (as described in the Bible) and more recently among Mormons.
False Statement #2: "California still has civil unions, so unmarried same-sex couples have all the rights of marriage." The truth: California does not have civil unions. California has domestic partnerships, which do not provide all the rights of marriage under state law, let alone federal law. (In theory they're supposed to, but they don't. See Separate But Not Equal: Differences between Marriage and Domestic Partnership in California for a detailed list of the differences.) Even if California did have civil unions, civil unions still would not be equal to marriage. When private institutions like businesses establish benefit policies, they can and often do choose to grant health insurance or other benefits on the basis of marriage while providing no such benefits for civil unions. The result is that having a marriage versus a civil union or a domestic partnership can make the difference between life and death. Would you wish death on your children or grandchildren if they turned out to be gay?
False Statement #3: "Gay marriages aren't about love or lifelong commitment. Gay people only want to get married because they think that will make us like them better." The truth: Like heterosexuals, most gay people have witnessed heterosexual friends or family members going through a divorce and are well aware that the process of legally dissolving a marriage is lengthy, costly, and painful. It would not make any sense to enter such a legal entanglement if the husbands or wives didn't love each other deeply. Marriage confers a great many responsibilities (almost all of which are conferred under state law), as well as benefits (most of which are conferred under federal law). Since same-sex marriages are not recognized under federal law, a same-sex couple choosing to get married is accepting almost all the usual legal responsibilities with relatively few of the legal benefits. For same-sex couples, the divorce process is made even more complicated by the fact that states such as Massachusetts and Iowa allow nonresidents to marry, but require state residency to divorce. How many married heterosexual couples would still have gotten married if they had been told that they wouldn't be able to get a divorce unless one of them moved to Massachusetts or Iowa? A same-sex couple from out of state who travels to Massachusetts or Iowa to get married and then later wants a divorce will be told that they can't get a divorce if their home state doesn't recognize their marriage—but if they choose to just accept their inability to get a divorce, they may then suddenly be told ten years later that their home state has now legalized same-sex marriage and as a result, they're now once again considered legally married teach other even when they haven't seen each other in ten years. This is a heavy risk to take, and it is not likely that many people would take such a difficult-to-dissolve commitment lightly.
False Statement #4: "Same-sex marriage destroys freedom of religion." The truth: Re-legalizing same-sex marriage would give back to churches the choice of whether to perform same-sex marriages. Banning same-sex marriage took away that choice. Numerous major religions practice same-sex marriage, including such Christian denominations as the Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, the Quakers, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Reformed Catholic Church, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Unitarian Universalists. None of these religions is free to practice according to its beliefs when same-sex marriage is outlawed. By contrast, no government has ever forced any church to perform same-sex marriages—not in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, or New Hampshire, not in Canada, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, or Spain, and not anywhere else in the entire world either.
False Statement #5: "Re-legalizing same-sex marriage would deprive children of the opportunity to have both a mother and a father." The truth: Do you really imagine that outlawing the marriage of a same-sex couple somehow causes the parents to leave each other and go marry people of the opposite sex? And even if you do somehow imagine that, do you really think it would benefit the children to put them through a parental divorce and remarriage when they already had two parents who loved them? Parental divorces are not generally known for being easy on children. What re-legalizing same-sex marriage would do is to give those children a legally recognized relationship with both their parents for the first time and strengthen the legal bonds that enforce their parents' commitment to each other, thus promoting the stability of the families those children are growing up in.
Also, consider the fact that even heterosexuals who have been convicted of domestic violence or sexual assault against a previous spouse or a child are permitted to marry a new member of the opposite sex. It is hard to imagine anyone seriously arguing that same-sex couples are inherently more unfit to be spouses or parents than heterosexuals who have been convicted of such crimes.
False Statement #6: "The people who support gay rights are the ones pushing their views on other people instead of respecting opinions and ideas that are different than their own." The truth: If you voted for Proposition 8, you voted to call off the weddings of couples you don't even know, and to attempt to destroy the existing marriages of couples you didn't even know. How is calling off someone else's wedding not pushing your views on other people? If you think gay people are reacting in an unreasonably hostile manner to the fact that you voted to prevent and destroy their marriages, have you ever considered how you would be reacting if the state of California had voted to outlaw your marriage and you saw that one of your neighbors had a bumper sticker saying that they voted for this law? If you were alone in a back alley the day after the election, still reeling from the shock of having your loving husband or wife of 40 or 50 years suddenly declared no longer married to you because your neighbors voted to outlaw heterosexual marriages, and you saw a parked car in that alley with a sticker on it saying "Protect Marriage from [insert any group you're a member of here—Heterosexuals, Republicans, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, etc.]—Vote to Outlaw Their Marriages," what thoughts would go through your head? Would you slash the car's tires? Smash in the car windows with a baseball bat? Sit on top of the car with a gun in your hand and wait for the driver to return? If you might do any of those things yourself, why are you acting at all surprised when some other people react the same way in that position? You should be praising the greater self-restraint of any of your gay neighbors who haven't yet done all of those things to you.
False Statement #7: "Gay people don't deserve equal rights because they could choose not to be gay." The truth: Having a choice is irrelevant. People could choose to change their religions, but that doesn't give Protestants the right to outlaw Catholics' marriages. People could choose not to get divorced, but that doesn't give Catholics the right to outlaw marriages between divorced people. The Roman Catholic Church does not believe in marrying divorced people, so it chooses not to perform marriages between divorced people, and that's fine. Churches always have the right to choose not to perform any marriages they don't wish to perform. But the Roman Catholic Church doesn't have the right to outlaw marriages between divorced people, because other churches support those marriages and have the right to perform them.
Also, laws against interracial marriage were overturned by the California Supreme Court on the grounds that even though interracial couples technically could choose to break up and go try to find spouses of their own race, the members of the couple were born with different races, and it is unreasonable and racially discriminatory to ask loving couples to break up with each other because of their races. In exactly the same way, the same court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage on the grounds that even though same-sex couples technically could choose to break up and go try to find spouses of the opposite sex, the members of the couple were born with the same sex, and it is unreasonable and gender-discriminatory to ask loving couples to break up with each other because of their genders.
False Statement #8: "Re-legalizing same-sex marriage is a threat to my family. It will turn my children or grandchildren gay!" The truth:Whether or not being gay is or can be a choice, it is an indisputable fact that opposing gay rights will not prevent your children or grandchildren from being gay. Millions of vehemently anti-gay people have gay children or grandchildren, including many of the very most prominent leaders of the anti-gay moment (such as William J. Knight, who wrote California's Proposition 22 and whose middle son, David Knight, is gay. If you have at least two children, and two of your children eventually have at least two children each, there is a greater than 50% chance that one of your children or grandchildren will be gay, no matter what your own views of gay people may be. This child or grandchild will be severely hurt and angered by having a parent or grandparent who tried to outlaw his or her marriage to the person he or she loves. Your opposition to your child or grandchild's marriage is a threat to your family. Your relationship with your child or grandchild might never recover from it. Your child or grandchild could even die from lack of access to health insurance as a result of his or her marriage not being legally recognized, and will unquestionably feel very differently about you as a result of your having tried to outlaw his or her marriage and thereby having, in effect, wished him or her dead for loving the person he or she loves.