Is homophobia only religious?

On Sunday, I had an argument with dear friend and frequent UP commenter Arvita about the extent to which religion is to be blamed for the passage of prop. 8. Thinking it over some more, it seems like the best case that the defender of religion can make is to claim that there are possible motivations for the voters other than religious motivations (I include believing lies about things like teaching homosexuality in the schools, where those lies were propagated by activist groups whose members were religiously motivated, as a religious motivation, albeit indirectly).

It seems like the only non-religious motivation that could account for a yes-on-8 vote would be simple homophobia. But to what extent is there such a thing as non-religious homophobia? The only people who we see in the contemporary public sphere condemning gays are religious extremists, and the history of Western culture seems to suggest that homophobia came in with the Christians (ancient Greece as well as ancient Rome seemed to be perfectly accepting of homosexuality and bisexuality).

Does anyone have a more informed take on the history of homophobia? How about on its current form — does anyone know of any studies showing the existence of a significant number of non-religious homophobes? Does anyone know a non-religious homophobe personally?


15 Responses to “Is homophobia only religious?”

  1. Arvita Says:

    Hmm, I may be remembering our conversation incorrectly, but the point I was trying to make wasn’t that Prop 8’s passage was not due to religious supporters, but that just because one tenet of a belief is wrong that does not invalidate the entire faith.

    I heartily agree with you that Prop 8’s passage was a combination of an influx of money from mainly Mormon PACs and the unappealing rationalism of the anti-Prop 8 crowd.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    The unappealing rationalism of the anti-prop 8 crowd? Improving their bad organization is one thing, but should they have been telling lies too? One of the perks of being the side in the right is that you don’t have to stoop to demagoguery…

    (I agree that belief systems need not be rejected or accepted as a whole.)

  3. Mike Says:

    Nope. It’s mostly religious. There is a principled Burkeian reason to disallow it – or to only allow it on a limited basis. Show me a Burkeian who isn’t a Christian!

    Here is what I ask people: If same-sex fucking weren’t immoral, would you oppose same-sex marriage?

    Some will talk about the need for respecting marriages. I ask them why they don’t object to gold-diggers getting married. Old dude + hot chick = prostitute-john relationship. Doesn’t that “devalue” heterosexual marriages? Well, hold up your signs and start a god-damned protest!

    I ask them why they’ve never protested about people under 22 getting married. The younger you get married, the more likely you are to divorce. People shouldn’t get married at least until they are 26 or so.

    Once you cross-examine a person on these issues, you expose them for rationalizing bigots. You just gotta take your time, and patiently ask your questions. Ala Socrates, bitches!

    Of course, some will revert to some secular humanist argument. Edmund Burke! Gay marriage is radical! Slow down, society! Fine. Let’s play that game.

    I ask them: “Shouldn’t the Internet be censored?” Most thing that’s a non-sequitir. It’s a set-up. I go on about Burke’s conservatism; then explain how revolutionary the Internet is. I test that person to see if he is being sincere in his supposed philosophical conservatism.

    I also talk about Christianity. “Should it have been illegal to be a Christian?” People think that’s a dumb question. Yet Christianity was once a radical, de-stabilizing religion. So let’s apply the Burkeian logic to it. Let’s!

    Or, if it’s a woman, I talk about women in the work place. Isn’t allowing men in the work place radical? It once was. Well, shouldn’t you oppose that?

    It’s thus religion. The Burkeian shit is a pretext, too.

    Oh, and you can’t use the revulsion factor. Yes, two gay men having sex isn’t something that turns me on. Neither is imaging my grandparents going at it. I don’t care if old people bang. So why care if gays bang? The revulsion factor (putting aside that revulsion is itself homophobic) fails, too.

    Anti-gay bigotry is religion based. There is no way around it.

  4. Arvita Says:

    No, I meant the horrible dry defensive commercials they put on. Stating facts doesn’t win people over, having moms and dads talk about how happy they are for their children regardless of orientation, things that pull a heartstring, that is what wins elections. In short, they needed to ham it up. Make people want to care.

    I remember living in MN during the 2004 campaign. One weekend I was in Wayzata (a tony lakeside neighbourhood) and there was a huge talking truck billboard with two mostly naked guys making out. I’m sure that shocked a lot of people and got them thinking about how to make sure that didn’t happen in their neighbourhood.

    If the anti-Prop 8 people could have done something playing on the whole seperate yet equal thing with visceral images, I think it would have been a lot closer. Pro 8 had a soundbite, the Anti-Prop 8 crowd didn’t. Our system favors the soundbite causes.

  5. Mike Says:

    “but that just because one tenet of a belief is wrong that does not invalidate the entire faith.”

    If it’s a “faith,” then it’s per se invalid, anyway.

    You’re probably using “invalidate” in a different context. Like, “Just because Christians hate fags doesn’t mean there isn’t good stuff about Christianity, too.” ;-)

    I’m sure lots of nice guys opposed giving women the vote; integrating society; and allowing gays to fornicate without fear of going to jail.

    What to think about such people – and their ideology – is a really tough issue.

    I know people who are solid. Just good guys who really try to do the right thing. They oppose gay marriage. How to handle those people troubles me.

    Shouldn’t I just not associate with any bigot? In today’s age, if you went to a Klan meeting, that’d probably disqualify you from friend status.

    Yet we give a lot of moral wiggle room to anti-gay bigots. “Sure, he doesn’t think gays are equal people. That aside, you must try his lasagna!”

    I have no theory on why we should (or should not) tolerate those who oppose gay equality.

    In 40 years, we won’t. Period. So why tolerate them today? Give them some time to “catch up” or “get with the times”? But doesn’t that mean that morality is nothing more than a matter of fashion?

  6. arvita Says:

    Do you believe in capital punishment? Our criminal justice system does. I think it is wrong, so does most of the rest of the world. Does this mean that we should dismantle our courts and prisons?

  7. Paul Gowder Says:

    Yeah, some strong images of perfectly normal couples that happen to be gay, loving families, etc. would have been helpful. I think most of the failures of the no on 8 campaign were organizational, though. They just didn’t get people knocking on doors and talking to voters.

  8. Mike Says:

    Does this mean that we should dismantle our courts and prisons?

    Our courts and prisons are fucked. Not sure what you mean by “dismantle,” but yeah, there is a total Reformation needed.

    In fact, capital punishment isn’t even a strong critique of our prison system. It’s pretty weak sauce from a utilitarian perspective.

    As a society, we do not kill that many people under our system of capital punishment. How many lives do we ruin by sending people to prison? How many prison rapes do we allow to occur? Lots and lots and lots.

    Thanks for proving my initial point. ;-)

    Yeah, some strong images of perfectly normal couples that happen to be gay, loving families, etc. would have been helpful.

    I’ll wager that the anti-Prop 8 groups focused grouped different strategies. Relying on “equal rights” or “don’t take away rights” was the best strategy they could use given cultural norms and anti-gay bias.

    When it comes to persuasion, what will move you or me on gay marriage really isn’t relevant. We don’t need moved. It’s what will move the undecided voter.

    The undecided voter is booji. The booji want to pretend that (wo)man-on-(wo)man action doesn’t exist. Putting happy gay couples in front of them would remind them that, yes, gays fuck, too. It would have been a disastrous strategy.

    The booji are into the Constitution. They want to feel like they support equal rights. The anti-prop 8 forces thus keep the issue abstract. They lost, but not by much.

  9. Mike Says:

    Arvita: Your point on the justice system raises an interesting question.

    When can we say that when some ideology is so wrong about some fact that the entire ideology is false?

    I would say that Marxism is complete invalid, because it has an unreal version of human motivations. Thus, I’m not really interested in much of anything related to Marxism.

    Christianity says that homosexuals are not equal. Any religion denying the quality of man seems suspect. This is more so when you consider that Christianity sanctioned slavery; racism; and gender inequality. In other words, Christianity really doesn’t know shit about basic human rights. So why should I GAF what else Christianity has to teach?

    You could rightfully claim parts-to-the-whole fallacy. Yet I would counter that if a fundamental premise of your ideology is wrong, then your ideology is a castle on sand.

    So when can we invalidate an entire ideology?

  10. arvita Says:

    “So when can we invalidate an entire ideology?”

    When it doesn’t matter to anyone party to the conversation of course!

  11. Daniel S. Goldberg Says:


    I am certainly not an historian of sexuality, but this statement strikes me as so general and sweeping as to be implausible, if not indefensible, on its face:

    The only people who we see in the contemporary public sphere condemning gays are religious extremists

    This is far too limited a definition of homophobia, as plenty of people may be institutionally homophobic without preaching in the public sphere, no. And in any case, I am unsure I agree with the factual premise that only religious extremists condemn gays in the public sphere.

    and the history of Western culture seems to suggest that homophobia came in with the Christians (ancient Greece as well as ancient Rome seemed to be perfectly accepting of homosexuality and bisexuality)

    My extremely limited understanding of sexuality among the Greeks and Romans suggests that its status was far more complex than you allow here, and that in certain circumstances, it could be anathema. Of course, you are right to know it was generally not the source of disapproval it has been in the christianized world, and it is fair to note this correlation. However, to make a causal argument, you would need to assemble a great deal more evidence, IMO.

    Similarly, this question How about on its current form — does anyone know of any studies showing the existence of a significant number of non-religious homophobes is ill-formed since it can be the case that a religious homophobe might not have their homophobia motivated by religious considerations (i.e., their religion is incidental to their homophobia).

    The inquiry would have to demonstrate that their religion causes homophobia to satisfy your inquiry. In the alternative, one could demonstrate a strong correlation, which would obviously be enough to confirm your impressions but which might understandably be insufficient to convince those disinclined to agree with you.

  12. Paul Gowder Says:

    Daniel, you seem to think I’ve prejudged the question… generally, asking if anyone has a more informed take doesn’t indicate that someone is looking to do a hatchet job…

  13. Paul Gowder Says:

    (Leaving aside the snappish remarks: my understanding is that the first legal prohibition of homosexuality in ancient Rome came after the emperors converted, and that homosexuality was at least vastly more acceptable before the Christianization, though “perfectly acceptable” may have been flip — but, see e.g., the number of statues of Antinous… As for the need for a causal model, sure, if one wants to make a strong claim like “religion causes homophobia,” one would need to do something more than what I asked for. But, as should be obvious, the object was a casual inquiry for evidence to refute what appears to be a suggestive relationship between religion (and particularly, the Abrahamic religions) and homophobia. The existence of a significant number of non-religious homophobes would quickly refute the notion that homophobia is only religious, and that’s all that I was interested in. [This is also why selecting on the d.v. is not naughty here.] I never said that the nonexistence of non-religious homophobes would establish that there is no such thing as non-religious homophobia. Don’t saddle me with claims I’m not making.)

    (Incidentally, however, the complete or near-complete absence of strong opposition to homosexuality among the non-religious would be such a strong finding that a reasonable person could expect the chance of finding some other variable to wipe out the relationship to be very small. I mean, seriously.)

    (This comment has been revised, because I conceded more than I needed to in the first version. :-) )

  14. Daniel S. Goldberg Says:

    Hey Paul,

    My remarks were far snarkier than I intended them to be. But given the general views you’ve espoused on religion here, I think I can be partially forgiven for imagining you’ve prejudged the question. No?

    And I understand the nature of your claim better, and have no disagreement with your specific query itself. The data would be interesting, but I would be very very surprised if homophobia was non-existent among, say, atheists. To be sure, the existence of any heartfelt ideology — religious or otherwise — makes stigma all the more likely, as many many scholars have suggested.

    What I object to is the implication — which you may not have been making — that religious ideologies therefore cause homophobia.

    It’s just like DSM I, II, and II, each of which averred that religious beliefs can cause schizophrenic delusions. But, of course, it is just as possible that a delusional person might clothe their delusions in the language of religion as it is that their beliefs actually cause their delusions. Without evidence of causation, the former is basically a rank prejudice, IMO.

  15. Paul Gowder Says:

    Fair enough!

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