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Roots of Prejudice, Part 1:

The Survival of Intolerance

A NC marriage amendment selectively legislates against a minority; what are the roots of this intolerance? 

Article published by on 5/13/2012

By Brian T. Murphy; Photo: Associated Press.

Residents of North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to amend their state constitution last Tuesday to include a ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, reminding us that despite recent court victories, the fight for equality is far from over in the US.  But in a society that has recently struggled through the Civil Rights movement, why do we fail to apply lessons of past inequalities to present demands for equal rights? Why are we slow to understand the injustice of selectively legislating against one group of people, who in most cases haven’t even attained “separate but equal” status under the law?

To understand why some are still denied the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, one must analyze the constituency of those supporting such prohibitions.  A telling microcosm of this widespread practice was captured on camera just weeks before the NC vote.

Sean Harris, the Pastor of Berean Baptist Church (Fayetteville, North Carolina) was filmed suggesting that fathers give their sons “a good punch” if they show signs of being a homosexual (supported by laughter from some members of the congregation).  Harris went on to stress the importance of gender roles in the family:

“You were made by god to be a male and you’re going to be a male.  And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you rein her in.  And you say ‘oh no, oh no sweetheart’…you can play sports…but sometime you’re going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you’re going to be beautiful and you’re going to be attractive; you’re going to dress yourself up.”

Most media sources framed the story around Harris’ language that encouraged hitting children, however this focus on child abuse was misdirected.  The press missed an important opportunity to investigate a driving force behind the propagation of gay and lesbian prejudice.

The problem lies not with one man speaking candidly about homosexuality, but with entire subpopulations of people who barricade themselves in ideological pockets of America where their inherited intolerance is safely reinforced among others in their community.  And inscribed on the pillars of many of these communities is an unalterable word of God, which in pretty clear terms adamantly opposes homosexual behavior.

Many, especially supporters of gay rights, will pacify their consciences by writing this off as an isolated incident; that these are the words of one ill-tempered preacher who misspoke during an otherwise uneventful gathering. But this type of passive-aggressive persecution in religious communities is more widespread than most are willing to admit.  One simply needs to read the official positions of the major US religious sects toward marriage to understand the breadth of this problem.

In defense of their position, these groups have successfully blanketed their bigotry with persecution claims of their own – that although gay and lesbian couples have a right to live as they please, they do not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone else – and thus to preserve marriage, laws must be forged that prevent homosexuals from enjoying the benefits of such an institution.  Under the illusion of being attacked, “traditional marriage” proponents come out of the closet angry.  But many do not stop their fight at marriage. In some heavily populated Christian states, civil unions are not recognized, health benefits are denied to same sex couples, hospital visitation rights are denied to loved ones of the same gender, and despite appalling divorce rates among heterosexual parents, homosexual couples are said to be unable to provide children with a “family environment” at home.

Of course, Mr. Harris has every right to preach intolerance, just as those who attend his sermons have every right to listen to and believe such teachings. This leads me to the take-away message: anti-gay sentiment was not abolished by the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The battle for equality will continue into our future, and its duration will be entirely dependent on our willingness to fight against those who are the major supporters of institutionalized hatred.

The epicenter of this struggle is the education of our children. Under a paranoia-stricken protective flock of parents, few among them will be exposed to the fruits of diversity, and fewer still will experience the fortune of having their beliefs challenged.  Children are raised in communities without ever having a gay friend, and thus will remain devoid of empathy toward the emotional pain that their beliefs will cause some day.

A diverse and often conflicting array of ideas is to be expected in a pluralistic society. Discussion and debate are welcomed.  Compromise is paramount. However placing limits on the rights of a minority through legislation is nothing short of selective persecution, and should be met with an equal mass of activism aimed directly at educating its intended victims, namely our children. We must instill that which was declared upon our nation’s founding – that we all have inalienable rights, the most important of which is the pursuit of happiness.

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