Friday, March 29, 2013

What is a Bigot, Really?

Honest question here: What is a bigot? I'd really like people to leave thoughts and comments.

Some further framing of the question: defines 'bigot' as "a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion." (One of their example sentences is "To be a bigot means that you hold negative views of a group despite evidence.") Google's define function refers me to 'bigoted,' which is then defined as either "Obstinately convinced of the superiority or correctness of one's own opinions and prejudiced against those who hold different opinions" or "Expressing or characterized by prejudice and intolerance." Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance."

Of course, I'm really asking this in the context of the Supreme Court's recent hearing of arguments in two high-profile gay marriage cases. A lot of claims of bigotry have been thrown around, mainly by supporters of marriage equality about their ideological opponents, but sometimes vice versa as well. I don't think many people would disagree that there do exist bigots who oppose marriage equality (exhibit one: the Westboro Baptist Church), but does that label apply to most of the people who are against gay marriage? Surely a simple disagreement on policy doesn't equate with bigotry--otherwise every opponent on any issue would deserve the label. There seems to need to be some kind of animus against a group, utter intolerance of opponents, and a head-in-the-sand disregard of evidence that could disprove one's own views.

Depriving LGBT people the right to marry (and the concomitant benefits afforded by state and federal laws, not to mention society) could be a sign of animus towards that class, it's true. And I am very unconvinced by conservative claims about gay marriage harming children--the evidence seems to me to point quite strongly in the other direction. But I'm not sure there's utter intolerance or real hatred motivating the people I know who oppose marriage equality. It's largely a conservative, in the Burkean sense, hesitance to allow a significant change to a revered institution. While I agree that that ends up perpetuating harm against the people who are less privileged under the status quo, it does so indirectly, not as its primary purpose. (Maybe that shouldn't matter, though?)

I think I want to reserve the term bigot for the people who sic dogs on protesters (or otherwise condone violence against their political opponents), or who disown their children if they belong to or associate with those "others," or who use slurs towards a group, etc. I don't deny that there are people who oppose marriage equality who do some of those things and thus deserve the label of bigot, but I don't think that voting in favor of Prop 8 automatically qualifies one as a bigot. But then, maybe I'm hedging because I count many, many people as friends and loved ones who oppose marriage equality--and naturally I don't want to label them as anything so ugly as 'bigots' unless I have to.

For those reading this who support marriage equality, do you agree with that take? Or are all the people who disagree necessarily bigots? If not, what does it take to qualify as a bigot in regards to this issue? Do you ever worry that the term 'bigot' is being thrown around so much it's losing meaning?

For those reading this who oppose marriage equality, what do you think a bigot is? Do you see people on your side who qualify? Have you seen people on the other side who qualify? (Do all marriage equality proponents qualify?) And finally, do you think it was possible for people who opposed interracial marriage in 1965 to not be bigots, or is that an issue where opposition equaled bigotry? What about someone who is against it today?

I'm really curious. Please leave thoughts and further questions in the comments.


  1. So I have been thinking about this (obviously). I think the way that I define a bigot as someone who has hatred towards a group of people in their heart. Bigotry is a refusal to see the good intentions or good qualities of a person or group of people.

    I do think that people who were against interracial marriage were bigots, because it was a position that said that whites were inherently better than blacks. As you term them, "opponents of marriage equality" see this issue as different because they are not preventing gay people from entering relationships (some even support civil unions). It is not a position of saying that heterosexuals are "better" than gay people, but they think that a relationship between two people of the same gender cannot be a "marriage" in the sense of the term as they understand it. It may be a loving relationship but it should not be treated by society as a marriage.

    One of the trickiest principles in the gospel is "hating the sin but loving the sinner" (and I realize that sounds really harsh - there's probably a much better way to put that). I guess I think it's possible to love and accept gay people for who they are while not thinking that gay marriage should be legal.

    Oh, and there are DEFINITELY bigots on both sides of this debate (probably more on the anti-gay marriage side). People who see the other side in nothing but a dark light and have a hatred in their heart.

  2. Westboro Baptist Church is an interesting example--they picketed Gordon B. Hinckley's funeral to protest his statements of love and respect for gay members of the church.

    To my mind, you're probably not a bigot if bigots nominally on the "same side" of a heated issue as you picket your funeral over your soft stance.

    This debate actually reminds me of D&C 121, where the commandment is to show an increase of love to someone after a disagreement "lest he esteem thee to be his enemy." In other words, God asks us to exercise love especially in times of difference--because losing charity for another individual or group is another way of denying Christ.

  3. Diana, I'm not sure your second paragraph is right. I think opponents of marriage equality are also saying that straight couples are inherently better than gay ones--at least for raising children or for benefiting society. Those opposing interracial marriage may have been OK with not criminalizing interracial sex (though in practice I'm sure most weren't), which is what most anti-SSM people today are (they agree gay sex should not be criminal, but don't want to give it state protection/recognition). Otherwise, I agree with ya.

    James, in general I agree that if bigots on "your side" are protesting your funeral then you aren't a bigot, I think the WBC are such an extreme example they don't lend much help in this case: they are willing to literally protest virtually everyone in America other than the few dozen members of their own church. I think there are other groups you and I might agree are bigots on this issue (perhaps people who argue that gays are child molesters, or are all going to hell, etc.) who are happy to have Mormons on their side--I don't see many (any?) of them protesting us.

    I like the Section 121 connection. If one can truly do that, it would be pretty much impossible for them to be a bigot. I guess it would get trickier, though, when trying to define what it would mean to show an increase of love--as Diana says, the love the sinner/hate the sin principle is hard to put into practice (though I think it is a good principle generally).