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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As a Christian I have one thing to say: Preach it brother! 🙂

This was well said. I would just remind everyone that not all Christians are Conservative Fundamentalist nutjobs, and those of us who aren’t are frequently quite ashamed of them. Some of the more liberal branches of Christianity have actually been at the forefront of the Gay Rights movement. The UCC (United Church of Christ) has been ordaining openly gay and lesbian members since the 70s, way before gay rights was even remotely popular.




Marriage needs religion like a dog needs fleas. It preceded Christianity, Hera, Enki or Inanna. And that’s problem that many religious people have with gay marriage. It makes clear that social institutions can exist independently of their belief system.


It’s probably already been pointed out, so forgive me if I repeat something already stated, but to XV: “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 population in a country, it should not promote or subsidize a gay marriage with tax breaks.” In my first marriage, I was married to a man who’d had a vasectomy, so we could never produce children. Yet we still got the tax break and… Read more »


Oh, somebody did say what I said, IMMEDIATELY AFTER XV’S POST. Reading FTW. It is far too early in the morning for me just now. 🙁

Dan Kimmel

Twenty years ago I would have agree with the person who said they shouldn’t call it marriage, but for different reasons. My argument was that a gay/lesbian couple should be able to have access to ALL rights that a married heterosexual couple does, but using the word “marriage” was waving a red flag that wasn’t necessary. However that time is over. And so I agree with the article above: legalizing gay marriage does not infringe on anyone else’s rights. No religious group is being forced to accept or solemnize gay couples. But as a matter of civil law, gay marriage… Read more »


You are perfectly entitled to your opinion. My opinion, equally as valid as yours, is that the institution of “marriage” has been between 1 man and 1 woman for thousands of years partly because that was the only way for our species to procreate. And my opinion is that it should stay that way, regardless of the fact that our society has found a way around X+Y procreation. Yes I am a christian but this isn’t an only christian issue, many non-christians also believe this. I want everyone to be happy. You can sleep with who you want and you… Read more »

Rev. Dan Vojir

Wonderfully and eloquently put!

The one thing that most of the Christian Right use on today’s believers: control.

Bart Erhman (Misquoting Jesus)has often been asked why, if a minister who has gone through seminary and has been told that the Bible should NOT be taken literally, why does he/she turn around to the new congregation and embrace Fundamentalism? Erhman had no answer, but I deem it to be CONTROL. By attempting control, these ministers are doing a great harm to their congregations, but will never admit it.


Why is it not okay for a Christian to stand up for their belief’s but it is okay for any other religions of the world? This disturbing trend has been on the rise since I was a child. It isn’t “Muslim Privilage” when the Muslim cashier at Walmart refuses to ring up my pork products. It isn’t “Atheist Privilage” when they took prayers, the bible, the ten commandments, and my right to pray OUTLOUD to myself, at my table in a cafeteria. So why is it “Christian Privilage” to finally stand up for their belief about something? Christian’s care if… Read more »


Elly – that pork that the muslim cashier allegedly refused to ring up for you? Your bible tells you it’s wrong to eat it. As were those mixed fabric leggings I’m sure you were wearing as you were standing in line. I think you’re already denying your “lord” in picking and choosing what portions of his “word” you want to pay attention to.

Repent, Sinner.



You are a horrible selfish human being and clearly are so warped by your ideology that you are incapable of getting the point of this article.

You “Love” your gay friends but wouldn’t attend their wedding? You are disgusting. And unworthy of their friendship.

Alain Gaeremynck

It does not matter why Christian are opposed to gay marriage or civil unions for that matter. We live in a society with rules of conduct based on the will of the majority. Christian are part of that society and while it’s hard for non Christian to understand their motivation the fact remains that they are members of society and it’s their job to voice their opinion and put pressure on the various institutions to have their views taken into account. Just as gay and lesbians do. It’s called democracy and until we find something better it’s all we’ve got.… Read more »


I for one am sick to death of the “I have gay friends and love them so I am not homophobic or hateful when I deny you equal treatment”. It’s BS. You don’t love me, you don’t accept me you don’t even tolerate me. You oppress me and bore me to tears. Your bible says “Love your neighbor as yourself”. It doesn’t say, make your neighbor live the way you live, it doesn’t say to deny your neighbor equal access to laws or privelege. If you read your bible instead of listening to what some guy on a dais said… Read more »


Wait. Marriage is the only way to produce offspring?

Cool! So the best birth control is to just never get married. Good to know. Thank you, Christians, for this excellent educational moment.

And I humbly apologize for oppressing you by calling for equal rights for all. I see the error in my ways, now.


Have you actually read the Bible @Ellie? The new testament does not give “marriage” any kind of special “holy” or sanctified status. The letters of Paul teach that Christians should all be celibate. He grudgingly concedes the possibility of marriage as a concession to lust. That’s hardly strong praise from the founder of Christianity. The writer is wrong which just goes to show you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. The NT also teaches that in the body of Christ are no worldly distinctions like gender. Its the joining of hearts and souls in love that matters… Read more »


@ Elly: Your Bible also tells you, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Ttable Whey

Hey Mike Gillis, This is the best written piece on this issue that I have ever read. Thank you. Hey Elly, I could write a Bible today and tell you that god told me everything to write down in it. Would you believe that it is the word of god? Or would you think I was a liar or a nutcase? Why do you believe that the Bible is the word of god when you don’t know anybody who wrote it? Were they high on opiates, hallucinating that god was speaking to them? You just believe it because it was… Read more »


Folks who use the “just call it something else” argument are living in La-La Land. “Marriage” is a term of art – a legal definition from which over 1000 rights spring – and not just from the government. Many of the rules and privileges that govern our lives come from private business (whether anti-discrimination laws, insurance, hospital visitation, etc etc.) Many states have laws that, for example, require provision of health insurance coverage for a spouse. So folks who keep trotting out this trope that they “can have all the rights, but just don’t call it marriage” are issuing an… Read more »


So Elly, the next time a Jehova Witness knocks on your door, you should let them talk and tell their side of the story, since that’s what their flavor of religion tells them to do. Anything less would be denying them of their “Jehova Witness Privilege”.

Why don’t Christians have issue with atheists using the name Christopher? There’s Christ in it, doesn’t matter when the name came into being, does it? Since the word “Marriage” is somehow now a Christian possession. I wonder what Jewish men and women did before Christianity? Hell, I wonder what they do *now*?

Alain Gaeremynck

Well even the constitution can be amended and changed by popular demand can it not? I’m actually Canadian and i live in Quebec where the opposite of what is happening to you is happening to us. In the name of secularism(hopefully this word means no religion in state) we are loosing all traces of cultural identities so as not to offend any minorities. Don’t forget that religion is also cultural and played a huge role in defining what the USA is today. I’ll take activism (even an overbearing one) over apathy like what i see around me.


I would just like to note something here that I’ve seen over and over on these here Internets: every single one of the Christians showing up to argue has misspelled words and misplaced apostrophes in his or her post. I will take you seriously when you learn to express yourself in correct English. I mean, seriously — you can read a post in which the word “privilege” is used multiple times, and still spell it “privilage” in your comment? That makes me discount you right there.

David Miller

As a gay ex-Christian, hearing religious busybodies of any strip trying to say that MY desire to be with the man that I love will affect their lives or bring about the downfall of society kinda makes this line spring to mind: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us… Read more »


Devout Christian here. I totally agree. I’ve been trying to explain to people how/why this irritates me for years. This is (thankfully!) NOT a theocracy. We all have to safely and peacefully coexist. “No one’s rights are being trampled if same-sex marriage is legalized. NO ONE’S.” Exactly. One could (depending on his/her perspective) make an argument that other contentious social issues like, say, abortion, are morally problematic, because of (again, depending on your perspective) the potential harm to a person without any say in the matter. You just can’t make that argument about gay marriage. No one gets hurt. Two… Read more »

David Deyo

As a liberal Christian myself, and a member of the United Church of Christ which is a long-established mainline denomination that has advocated for the civil rights of LGBT people, I am often embarrassed by the tone-deaf manner in which others under the aegis of Christianity want to find persecution where there is none. It think it was Jon Stewart who spoke to this on his show sometime ago and quipped how much better things would be for Christians if we only had a Christian President of the United States, a majority of Christian legislators in both the House and… Read more »


We do not need to allow for “Gay marriage.” We need to get the government out of the “Marriage” business all together. Marriage has traditionally been a religious institution. AND THAT’S FINE… If a religion chooses to deny any form of marriage, it has the freedom to do so. The separation of Church & State says that the Government is not supposed to dictate religious dogma. If the Bible says gays can’t marry, then the Church should not marry them, nor recognize their union. But the minute the GOVERNMENT got into the marriage business, it became a secular institution. So… Read more »

Laramie Sasseville

I’m in whole-hearted agreement that gay marriage in no way imposes on the rights of those who don’t care to practice it for whatever reason.

I will disagree with your statement, “there is no difference between a heterosexual marriage and a homosexual one.” As, obviously, a heterosexual union is generally* capable of producing the biological offspring of both participants.

* And, of course there are exceptions.



You say, “My opinion, equally as valid as yours, is that the institution of “marriage” has been between 1 man and 1 woman for thousands of years partly because that was the only way for our species to procreate.”

I hate to have to point out that your metaphorical zipper is down, but you make this statement as if it is a fact, when it’s not.

Jews started out being polygynous, and only forbid polygyny about a thousand years ago. Muslims still are, not that it’s all that common.

But let’s get the facts straight first of all.


Enough with the gay couples can’t reproduce argument. If a virgin can give birth to a child wouldn’t a lesbian couple be twice as likely to do so?


You have slaugtered your own defenses by your poor and blind arguments. You may consider some a few gay people you have encoutered as your friend but I would place money on the fact those gay aquaintances you have do not consider you a friend, unless they are trying to keep their enemies close.


David- do you know who said that? That quote is amazing! And Dave, from earlier: There is a very, very important distinction to be drawn between facts and opinions. If I were to tell you that it is my opinion that the Earth is flat, and that, by God, I’m entitled to my own opinion!, how would you react? I suspect that you, and everyone else who knows ANYTHING about the world we live in, would laugh at me, and tell me that, opinion or no, I was wrong. So here I go, Dave: You are wrong. Your ‘opinion’ that… Read more »


@Sedgwick, Keep in mind the comments here are moderated. Articulate, constructive criticism of Mike, Beth, Sam, and the rest is frequently censored by the moderators here and does not get published. It’s a bit confusing why folks are their ilk who so frequently claim the intellectual and moral high ground have to resort to such immature bully tactics instead of fighting fair, but it’s their prerogative to do so, and I’m sure they have awesome reasons for it. While this policy IMO is an ethical, I do respect the strategy. If I wanted to make the other side look as… Read more »


@ Dave: There are marriages through out history between same sex couples. Marriage was NOT always between 1 man and 1 woman. Apparently, someone missed ancient history in school… or ignored it. Google “One Body, Two Spirits.” The best thing about history… is that it is not meant to repeat itself. If I were to let history dictate how I lived, I would still be washing my clothes in rivers and never have the opportunity to go to school. “Leaving it in it’s historical context” is a cop out and it is bogus.


I was thinking on this subject yesterday. It occurred to me that marriage is not a right. People keep saying that those that oppose gay marriage are opposing basic human rights, and all I could think of was,”Since when is marriage a right?” A person’s life does not depend on them getting married or not. Not getting married does not endanger a person’s life – being discriminated in the work place based on whatever reason DOES endanger the life of the one being discriminated against( for obvious reasons), and therefore the rights of the individual need to be protected. But… Read more »


So, um, wow….where do I even begin to respond. -LukeP- Yes, I am a sinner and I do pray and ask the Lord for forgiveness. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt when I purchased the pork. However, I am a Christian. By very definition that means I believe in Jesus. My bible has two parts that causes a ton of controversy within my own religion. I am aware of this and do the best I know how to be a good Christian. To date, as far as I know, I have not “picked and choosed” which portion of the… Read more »


Jeff – Come on now, buddy, we don’t censor most comments, save for spammers looking to sell their products or people who become repeatedly verbally abusive to others. Please stick to real criticisms of us – we appreciate that. Making stuff up doesn’t help anyone and it makes you look silly and desperate.


-Mike Gillis- This is the article I love so much…however, I will not resort to being as openly rude as you were. The debate over whether the state ought to recognize gay marriages has thus far focused on the issue as one of civil rights. Such a treatment is erroneous because state recognition of marriage is not a universal right. States regulate marriage in many ways besides denying men the right to marry men, and women the right to marry women. Roughly half of all states prohibit first cousins from marrying, and all prohibit marriage of closer blood relatives, even… Read more »


Elly – whole lot of text to justify your own bigotry.


Then perhaps, Mr. Gillis, you are okay with polygamy. Society just needs to accept “Sister Wives” as the norm? Maybe the case of a grandson and grandma getting married is totally okay with you? (It did happen) Religion aside, we are redefining the meaning of marriage without looking at the far reaching consequences. This country is in a recession and THIS is the biggest pressing issue? My state is looking at a Government shut down in 28 hours yet THIS is supposed to be of huge importance to people? But to answer your last question…Why do I even care? I… Read more »


@ Elly You make me laugh. I guess YOUR religion is most important hm? How DARE they uphold THEIR beliefs when you want to check out at Wal-Mart. How DARE they inconvenience you with their silly beliefs! How DARE someone be offended when you are praying OUT loud. Governing bodies should be separated from religion (despite their beliefs) because our founding fathers believed that true freedom means being able to believe what you want to believe and when and where you want to. It was meant to keep our government in complete checks and balances. Those same freedoms that allow… Read more »

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