Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Christian Privilege: Not Being Allowed to Dominate Others Doesn't Mean You're Being Oppressed.

oppressed christians pie chart

We get a number of comments on the blog entries, including this one in response to Beth’s piece on why we’re thrilled that New York has legalized same-sex marriage:

Here’s the thing. Even Obama says that a “Marriage” should be between a man and a woman. Why do gays have to have “Marriage”. Why can’t it be a civil union? why isn’t that good enough? I understand you are an Atheist and any religious argument is looked upon with disdain, but you are doing the exact thing that you accuse others of doing to you. You are treading roughshod over their beliefs. There was and is a solution. Don’t call it gay marriage. However, as per usual, it seems the gay community must thumb it’s collective nose at everyone else.

This comment so typifies what I feel is the Christian privilege behind a lot of the opposition to same-sex marriage equality, that I felt it deserved to be addressed as a blog post of its own. I don’t know if the author of the comment is a Christian or not, but I think it’s a safe assumption, given the way that majoritarian arrogance just drips from every sentence.

First, I’d tell the commenter that the gay community isn’t “thumbing it’s collective nose at everyone else.” For one, it’s not really “everyone else” anymore since a majority polled now support same-sex marriage rights, but also because human rights are not a popularity contest. The people with the greatest numbers can change the tax system, or affect policy changes on things like roads or healthcare, but they cannot enforce their religious beliefs on any minority.

And this is what many Christians seem to have a real problem with.

No one’s rights are being trampled if same-sex marriage is legalized. NO ONE’S.

If your religious beliefs condemn marriage between two people of the same gender, then you shouldn’t marry people of the same gender. While you have the freedom to limit your own behavior in matters of sexuality, diet or religious observance, you don’t have any power to limit the rights of other people, particularly those in other religions or with no religion.

If someone else is allowed to marry their same-sex partner, the anti-gay marriage advocate is affected in no way, oppressed in no way, their right to hold those beliefs is violated in no way.

Just as orthodox Jews aren’t victims of oppression when other people are allowed to legally watch television and use electric appliances on Saturday. Just as Muslims aren’t victims of oppression when other people are allowed to legally purchase alcohol. Just as Hindus aren’t victims of oppression when other people are legally allowed to eat beef.

You are expecting a level of cultural dominance that is completely unreasonable. You are expecting the right to to demand that your religious practices be taken as civil law and that the prohibitions of (I assume) Christianity be enforced on everybody — including non-Christians and Christians of denominations that accept equality in gay rights.

Our refusal to be dominated is not persecution of Christians. Our demand that the government be neutral and secular on matters of religious belief is not the persecution of Christians. If a man is beating us with a club, slapping that club out of his hand is not “running roughshod over his beliefs.”

As for why they should be allowed to have “marriage,” why do you care what they call their legally recognized relationships? Why do you need to put a velvet rope up around heterosexual relationships to put them in a restricted area so that you don’t have to share a word with anyone else? Why don’t you change the name of your marriage to a “civil union?” Why isn’t that good enough?

Other than the genders involved, there is no difference between a heterosexual marriage and a homosexual one. Both are generally based in love, respect and a desire to spend your lives together.

Your life, again, is affected not one whit if gay folks are allowed to marry their partners. Why do you even care? How are you being harmed or oppressed if gay people are given equal rights?

And you’re right about Obama saying that. And guess what? Obama was wrong. It happens sometimes with the president.


IF YOU LIKE THIS POST: Please consider listening to our most recent episode of Ask an Atheist, “Gaytheism, where Deanna, Keight and Mike discuss the interplay between the gay rights movement and the atheist visibility movement, and why equal rights and protection for gay people tends tends to be important to atheists.

ADMIN NOTE: Poeple have been complaining about comments being paged off.   That’s fixed now.


About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

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That was excellent Mike. Well said.


Well said, Mike!


Thank you. Thank you for standing up, and for speaking word of truth and courage that few others are willing to speak.


Just excellent! Whatever the topic (gay marriage, abortion, ivf, etc.), the christian arrogance that you talk about always causes me headaches!


Who claimed Christians are being oppressed? Not Beth in the quote above. Your whole post is a giant straw man. Knocking them down can go a long way toward making one feel good, but it’s really quite pointless.


I would call the position that gay people don’t deserve equal rights because of personal beliefs other people hold a position based on privilege. What else is that really? And the claim that gay rights supporters are somehow thumbing their nose at anyone for fighting for equality in one often put forth by people who claim gay rights is a form of christian oppression. I dunno, Dan, I think Mike is pretty spot on, and the post certainly isn’t a strawman. Perhaps that word doesn’t mean what you think it means?


It seems that those who want to oppress the rights of gay people sure misuse the term strawman alot.


Darren: It’s an attempt to steal the mojo of the opponent by using their rhetorical tools against them. It’s cargo cult debate tactics.

Fortunately for us, their opponents, our statements aren’t just magical incantations, but the end result of a logical process. When dogma and myth are used in place of thought, it stands out like a zit on a face.


I am an atheist and a liberal, and I am perfectly OK with civil unions, gays openly serving in the military, gay adoptions, men sleeping with men, women with women, gay men taking a shower next to me, and so on and on. And yet I do not exactly support gay marriage for the reasons have nothing to do with any religion. The fact is that a marriage of two men/women is not equal to a “normal” marriage simply because a gay marriage by itself can never produce children. Therefore, if a government has a goal of keeping a stable… Read more »


Marriage is about stabilizing populations now? Yikes. That’s a really strange point of view. If that were the case, wouldn’t you have to sign some kind of contract stating that you will have children when you get married, or show proof of your ability to have kids before marriage? That position makes little sense to me.


Yes, the government should stabilize populations!




I know other folks have commented seriously, but I’m find that the content of XV’s post strains credibility. Someone calling themselves liberal usually doesn’t disapprove of civil rights on *tax law* grounds.

And I don’t see anyone of any political stripe define marriage in morally perilous ‘propagation of the race’-style terms seriously outside of a Promise Keepers[1] rally.

I’mma call troll on this one.

[1]: 1990s reference ftw.


Actually, Obama is not just against government supported gay marriage he is against government supported marriage in general.

Obama has said that he believes that the government should hand out civil unions to everyone and let the churches fight over marriage.


I think the real reason these folks are against gay marriage is because when gay people are happy it upsets their imaginary friend in the sky.


This is really one of the best-written, most logical arguments I’ve seen on this topic in ages. Well said.


“The fact is that a marriage of two men/women is not equal to a “normal” marriage simply because a gay marriage by itself can never produce children.”

There are a number of “normal” married couples who are unable to conceive naturally. Should their “normal” marriages be dissolved because they’re unable to breed like us “normal” folk? There are a number of married couples who choose not to have children, should their marriages be dissolved also?

If “normal” marriage is all about having and raising kids, why do “normal” marriage vows rarely, if ever, even mention children?


I would further add that if one’s religious beliefs require one to treat a segment of the population as less than equal, not worthy of the same rights as the rest of us, then perhaps one’s religious beliefs should be re-examined in some fashion?


When I see Christians abandon their collective hand-wringing over gay rights and instead get a bee in their bonnet over America’s “FU” to the poor, perhaps I will respect their opinion on, well, anything.

Matthew Moore

Actually Christians are being oppressed. You’re graphic at the top proves it. While 76% of Americans do associate themselves as Christians, a large majority are not organized into a church, as a matter of fact, to get the math of Christians that attend church to over 100 million, you have to include the Mormons. The freakin’ Mormons.. sheesh. Now look at the practicing Jewish.. over 5 million, practicing atheist/agnostic/humanists a whooping 34.2 million, ect. And guess what? Yes, there are a lot of dumb loud Christians out there. A LOT. I admit that. But you cannot judge all Christians based… Read more »


So wait Matthew – how are Christians being oppressed exactly?

Sam Mulvey

And, uh, cite opression of an irish majority, please. I have a feeling you’re about to head into Mythsville.


In the snippet the author has an issue with the term marriage. I still don’t understand why using that word (because last I checked, it’s just a word) really gets under people’s skin. Seriously? Those faiths that don’t accept or acknowledge same sex marriage won’t recognize it as a marriage anyway-so who cares what they call it? The deep Christian roots in this country are the reason we call all civil unions marriages. My siblings were never technically married either based on certain Christian beliefs because they weren’t married in a church-but who the heck goes around saying, “Today is… Read more »


Marriage is a civil contract and has nothing to do with religion. It enters the territory of civil rights because people who are married are granted a different legal status from people who are not married. There are privileges and responsibilities granted through marriage that are not conveyed to unmarried partners. The connection of marriage to religion is historical – churches in the middle ages were the agency for performing marriages, christenings, burials and the associated record keeping because there weren’t other governmental agencies to do it. In any case, whether or not a religious organization “recognizes” a marriage is… Read more »


If you want an example of a majority being oppressed by a minority, Bahrain and Syria are good modern examples. For years, the majorities in those countries have been shut out of good jobs and powerful government posts, and now their being beaten and shot in the street. Nothing of the sort is happening in the US. I will say, however, that there are a *lot* of liberal churches in the US that support gay rights and *do* get their bees in a bonnet about poor people. They mostly present these issues in humanist terms instead of religious ones, partly… Read more »


Personally I think we should have made civil unions for everyone and kept marriage in the churches… where I could avoid it. I didn’t get married to produce children (even though we did) or honour a god whose message has been obfuscated by the decisions of so many mortal men that it’s just about unrecognizable. Civil union licenses for everyone for legal, taxation and other government-administered purposes. If you want to add a 1-man-1-woman-only religious marriage to that, that’s your choice and it has no legal standing.

Oh well. I guess it’s too late for that now.


“Actually Christians are being oppressed.”

In what way?


My favourite part of these stories is there is inevitably a commenter who pretends to be a “liberal” and/or “atheist,” but spews very obviously religiously-motivated arguments.

Lying is a sin, christians. And Paul didn’t have nice things to say about “lying for Christ.”

You should pray for forgiveness…

conservative christian

As a christian, I do have a problem with gay marriage, but not gay marriage exclusively. I have the problem with marriage being a legal entity when it is really a religious one. I believe that rather than have legal marriage, a legal partnership. I believe that most people have a problem with gay marriage because they think of marriage in terms of their faith, and if gay marriage disagrees with their faith, they feel infringed upon. I think it would be best for everyone to try to understand the other’s point of view rather than mock them for their… Read more »


This is one of the best things I’ve read in ages!!
NO-ONE regardless of sex, creed, colour ,sexual preference, or even religion should be able to say who can and cannot love/marry their partner.. be they straight/gay/bi/lesbian, or transgendered if they are in love.

Thanks for writing this.


XV, my boyfriend and I are sterile heterosexuals, should we be restricted to civil unions?


Conservative Christian – But aren’t you essentially saying that for gays to ‘deserve’ equality and respect, they ought to first respect your belief they they don’t deserve equality? Isn’t that a pretty huge catch-22?


“I have the problem with marriage being a legal entity when it is really a religious one.”

No, I’m sorry, religion doesn’t own marriage. Any more than it owns decency, morality, or anything else it likes to claim as its own.

“I would hope people that wish to be treated equally would treat others with the same level of respect that they should hope to attain in return.”

I see no reason for people to treat with respect those who would have them be treated as second-class citizens.


Why not turn it around and tell the conservative Christians that if they want to be treated with respect, they should in turn treat all of their fellow human beings with the same respect?

Xan Folmer

Bravo! Incredibly well said!
You managed to get the point across beautifully, efficiently, and in a manor that’s pretty hard to argue against. (In my opinion at least, though I acknowledge my Bias.)
I salute you!


Very well written article, and many well thought out comments. To be clear, I think the whole concept of marriage began with religion, but has long since moved into the legal / secular realm. And there is nothing wrong with this. It does, however, lead to a lot of confusion. I, for one, am all for the idea of keeping the word “marriage” with its religious roots and using another term for the secular version. But, and here I think is the kicker, I believe the religious marriage should have absolutely no secular benefits with it. After all, it would… Read more »

Logan Quinn

Good piece Mike, Some of my thoughts on the article and comments: 1) “There was and is a solution. Don’t call it gay marriage.” I agree, lets just call it marriage. 2) “don’t have to share a word [marriage] with anyone”/”let the churches fight over marriage.” The word and concept of “marriage” belongs to anyone who wishes to use it. Boil down “marriage” to it’s essential meaning and it is “The intimate union of 2 or more”. 3) Obama has been wrong about a great many things, so have I, so has everyone. That’s the problem with being human, we’re… Read more »


Many thanks for a cogent, well-argued post.


I am not christian. I am not jewish. I am not muslim. My Gods don’t really give a s**t who marries whom. I agree on three points. 1)enforcing “marriage” as only 1-1 m/f is not only religon based, it should not be in government. Civil union is the only way to go. Let marriage be religious, let civil union be civil. ‘cuz MY ‘church’ doesn’t care. If yours does, then I won’t get married there. End of discussion. 2)The cry “We are being oppressed because not everyone obeys OUR mythology” is total entitlement. Fundies…GET OVER YOURSELVES!! Quit sniveling because humanity… Read more »


Conservative Christian writes: “I believe that most people have a problem with gay marriage because they think of marriage in terms of their faith, and if gay marriage disagrees with their faith, they feel infringed upon. I think it would be best for everyone to try to understand the other’s point of view rather than mock them for their beliefs and customs.” Mike (and many non-conservative christians) has considered your (and others’) points of view, and has come to the conclusion that merely having your feelings “infringed upon” is no reason to restrict the civil rights of others, and when… Read more »

Antonio Ramos

i must say this, i my self am a christian, and yes ppl of my religion tend to go out of hand they are trying to act as if they were God and judge everyone (i think they really dont get the whole idea of loving everyone no matter what faults they have or how different they are,the bible does say “love thy neighbor” ) sometimes it shames me to see that the ppl of my religion show so much hate towards people with other sexual preferences or anything different. christians are in no way effected if a man gets… Read more »


“Mike (and many non-conservative christians) has considered your (and others’) points of view, and has come to the conclusion that merely having your feelings “infringed upon” is no reason to restrict the civil rights of others, and when you claim oppression because of this, it’s worthy of valid criticism (not mockery).”

I don’t know about that. I think any Christian living in the most God-crazy country in the western world, who claims that they’re being oppressed in any way, deserves to be thoroughly mocked.

Eric Hanson

Well said. I do think that when sharing dialogue with some anti-equality Christian folk a mindset that must be confronted is that God punishes nations that ‘condone’ sin. Pat Robertson is one who gives voice to this idea. It is a serious position to counter for those who hold to this may not even feel any personal misgivings about LGBTQ equality: it is just that they honestly fear for what it could mean to our nation and culture. I only bring this up because we should recognize the belief is there, and it may require a different tack than us… Read more »

Jo-Ann B

The fallacy of your argument is that most Christians believe marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. As such, it is a supernatural institution, as well as a natural one. The Church, therefore, restricts sacramental marriage to men and women who meet certain requirements.
Most Christians have no problem with civil unions and legal rights for all gay couples as your statistics note. What we cannot understand is why a gay would want a religious sacrament instead of a legal union?


Going back to XV’s silly comment about marriage only being between a couple that can reproduce. Hypothetically if this were passed into law, would there and then actually be a law of reproduction?


And would there be a certain amount of time imposed after which, if a couple has not naturally produced at least one child, the marriage is dissolved?

Of course not, because “they can’t have kids!” is just another smokescreen to use as an excuse to deny same-sex couples equal rights under the law.


To be completely consistent in their views, the Defenders Of Marriage would have to not only prohibit same-sex marriage and marriage between peole who are unable to conceive naturally, but also divorce and single parenthood (children deserve a mother and a father!). A woman who found herself pregnant would therefore have to marry the father of the child.

Once married with children, one assumes that if one parent died, the other would then be forced to re-marry under penalty of law. After a suitable mourning period, of course. Say, twelve months?


Jo-Ann B – Separate but equal isn’t equal. That’s why. Marriage for some is a religious institution, but that’s not all marriage is. So, you can have your religious marriage if that’s what you want, and me and my gay friends can have our marriages, whatever that means to us. By your logic, my own parents should have never gotten married because they weren’t religious. Is that the case, or is marriage magically only infringed upon when it’s two people of the same sex? Marriage is not limited to those who are religious, so claiming gay marriage changes or infringes… Read more »


I think the important thing here is to attribute as many negatives as possible to as many Christians as possible, just as Mike so eloquently has in his entry here, and as so many of the comments that followed. It’s important to keep the debate as polarizing and marginalizing as possible. True change comes from actions like lumping as many people as possible in with the actions of the few while asserting intellectual superiority over the opposition. Searching for nuance and common ground is totally overrated, and it’s encouraging to see atheists like Mike recognizing this.

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