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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Dave wrote: “Let me see, you’ve taken prayer out of school, God out of the public square, and you want to to take God off our currency. I would hazard a quess many Atheists would like their to be no churches. Gee, I don’t know why we would somehow feel oppressed.” —— Ensuring that the government does not promote or establish a religious preference is hardly an issue solely for atheists, nor does it lead to the abolition of churches. School, City Hall, and currency are all sectors of the government. Take religion out of that sphere, and let individuals… Read more »


…and in the time it took me to write and post, Mike already took Dave to task on that statement. Oh well. Point still stands.

[…] Since the article I wrote yesterday is getting a lot of attention, I’ve seen this mentality pop up in the comments section quite often. Now I don’t assume that these folks are being willfully or unreasonably demanding, but that’s the nature of Christian privilege. Those that have it, often don’t notice it. […]


The important thing is this debate is to tie as many negative attributes as possible to as many relgious people as possible, regardless of a person’s religion, beliefs, or actions. It’s an extremely enlightened POV, and we are lucky to have people like Mike Gillis to have the courage to hold all religious people accountable for the actions of all other religious people. That course of action should be fruitful.


“RobC: You seem to be a “whatever makes you happy” do it and let nobody oppose you type of extreme libertarian. Society is allowed to make societal judgments that put limits on that. If killing someone makes you happy, sorry you cant’ do that.”

Yeah, you must have missed the part where I wrote, “…and it harms no other person”.


And as far as social evils go, I’d put “letting two consenting adults get married” a little bit further down the list than “killing people”.


“So you can “pursue happiness” but it doesn’t mean that you will get it if society deems that it’s in best interest of the whole.”

And I’m still waiting to be persuaded that letting people marry and raise children is somehow not in society’s best interest.


The idea that a majority cannot be oppressed by a minority has been dis-proven several times in the Mid-East and Africa where minorities have taken power economically or militarily and done quite well at suppressing and oppressing the majority. While not as common as the majority oppressing the minority it does happen. That said, I do agree that to say that people of any religion are being oppressed because of another group of people uses the same word for their personal contracts is ridiculous, but that’s humans for you. Ridiculous to the core. As a semi-observant Jew, I am frequently… Read more »


@Ariock: I didn’t say he was pro-murder, etc. Those were examples. How much more obvious could I make that? Your comment demonstrates that I can’t have a rational discussion with you. Mr. Gillis: We live in a very imperfect world. Are their “Christians” somewhere in world doing bad stuff, almost assuredly. I think their are also Atheists in the world doing bad stuff. But the few bad Christians shouldn’t castigate the majority of good Christians and likewise the few bad Atheists should castigate the rest of the good ones. But to your comment; there is evil in world and it… Read more »


” I don’t want to take Evolution out of school. Surprised? I just want Creationism taught beside it. They are both theories. Neither one has been proven to be 100% accurate and provable.”

There is a big difference between the two theories, though. One of them is backed by (literally) mountains of evidence, all pointing towards the same conclusion.

The other is Creationism.


-Matthew- I love you! Thank you for being so open minded about my argument 🙂 -Sammi Jo- While I maybe a Christian and conservative in some of my beliefs I am not afraid of sexuality. If you said that to anyone who knows me they would fall on the floor laughing and crying. I enjoy sex, nudity, and I did have children out of wedlock. I am not perfect, nor do I claim to be. I am but a simple human woman who was a teen mom. I am divorced and happily remarried. Admittedly I am a sinner. I have… Read more »


“I am what feels like a rare minority in my state.” Oh, puh-lease. And even if that were true, are all these gay people you seem to be surrounded by trying to tell you that you shouldn’t have to right to marry a partner of the opposite sex? Are they lobbying against your right to raise children? Trying to get any mention whatsoever of heterosexuality taken out of schools because OMG THE CHILDREN?!?! No, I didn’t think so. “Until that time though, I will stand my ground and tell people that I believe it to be wrong.” Why is it… Read more »


“I don’t think I am trying to use the power of the Christian church to tell anyone what they can and cannot do.” You are a Christian. You have the belief that marriage should only be for a man and a woman. All of that is fine. Not my thing, but whatever. I don’t have to like you or your positions anyway. You are actively denying equal rights to gay people by legally stopping (voting against, not supporting) their ability to marry. You cite your personal religion as justification for these actions. That is you using your Christian position to… Read more »


-RobC- Are there people trying to get all mention of homosexuality out of schools? Really? That is just plain stupid if it is true. As for me feeling like a minority in my state, I don’t think it is fair for you to judge me about that. I am one of the few people I know who is straight (my and my hubby) and who are in a monogamous relationship. The list of “straight” people that I know is mostly made up of people who are my age and older. I am an oddity to many of my friends for… Read more »


“-RobC- Are there people trying to get all mention of homosexuality out of schools? Really? That is just plain stupid if it is true.” Yes, there really are. There was a law passed recently in one of the US states. Tennessee or Texas, I think. It seems that even the mere mention of the existence of gay people is enough to flip the gay switch in kiddies’ brains. “As for me feeling like a minority in my state, I don’t think it is fair for you to judge me about that. I am one of the few people I know… Read more »


-RobC- I think it is the downfall of our society that so many children are being raised in broken families. In some cases I realize it is for the best but the break down of the family unit has caused to many issues in society it is almost unreal…As for the one who is now our President…Let me keep it short and simple. I didn’t vote for him and I wouldn’t have voted for him if he had paid me a million dollars. He is an idiot.


As my own children are being raised in a “broken family” (and they’re achieving better academically and are a hell of a lot better behaved than the children of a married Christian couple I know) I can only say I strongly disagree.


I came from a broken family. Acedemic’s and behavior is a poor indicator of what is going on in a child’s head.
I was a straight A student and I frequently got in trouble…for reading too much and when it was inappropriate (during class…but what’s the big deal if I was Acing the class?). My sister also had wonderful grades, never got into trouble, and our mother was praised for her well behaved wonderful children…we were just really good at hiding our inner turmoil. Children are amazingly resilient little creatures.


Elly, my parents were married (until my father died when I was fifteen), and I had plenty of inner turmoil. Being raised by a man and a woman who are married and jumping through all the right hoops is no guarantee that a kid is going to turn out just fine. Being raised in a single parent household, or by two people who happen to be the same gender, does not determine what kind of person they’re going to turn out to be. There have also been many studies done on children raised by same-sex couples, and these studies all… Read more »


I suppose I should have stayed with my physically abusive ex-husband for the sake of my son since evidently he’s in worse shape now for being raised in a “broken” family. Or is that an acceptable excuse for your tastes, Elly? Families come in every shape and size and you cannot say one loving and supportive family model is any better or worse than any other loving and supporting family model. The only thing about our alternative family that my son ever feels upset about is the occasional unsolicited judgment of others who know nothing about our family except that… Read more »

brian f

Elly says, “Children are amazingly resilient little creatures.”

So there goes the “Gay marriage is bad for kids” argument.

What else ya got?

Nadiza Bulkowski

I am MARRIED and have been married for 37 years, even though it was a civil ceremony. I would fight for my right to continue to call my marriage a marriage. No one has the right to change that for me simply because they want to have a different word for the union between couples of the same gender. If it looks and smells like marriage, it IS a marriage. And that is whether or not the couple is married in a civil ceremony. Whether the couples are of opposite genders or of the same gender. I look forward to… Read more »

KiJjiKeTchMe? the FoX

Good article. Not all of us Christians are dominate-the-world types. The separation of church and state benefits believers and non-believers alike. When you combine church and state, you get the Inquisition. Which is a smirch on the face of Christianity. We don’t need any more smirches! I will practice my Faith with pride, I will treat my fellow man with love, and when I go to the voting booths I will remember that this country is founded on the principles of liberty and justice for ALL, not just those of my particular religious affiliation. I actually think that’s what Jesus… Read more »


Love it. Thank you for writing it.


No Mike, you’re the one being silly. In a discussion supposedly about gay marriage, you aired all of your grievances against all religion, very little of which had anything to do with the issue of allowing gays to marry. You’re coming off as if you don’t really care about gay marriage rights, and that gays are just a pawn in your game against organized religion. It’s like you only are pro-gay-marriage because you perceive organized religion as opposed to it. That level of vitriol is counter-productive, Mike. You allow yourself to get emotionally hijacked, letting the anti-gay bigots escalate the… Read more »


Oh, and Elly… Barack Obama could be called many things but “idiot” is not one of them. Whatever you may disagree with in him, his intelligence is undeniable.


I was married for 9 years in what was basically a shotgun wedding. I had no issue with it because to me the idea of marriage was not religious in any way, it was purely a tax break. It was no big deal to me to marry because I loved my girlfriend and we agreed to do it. God never entered the picture in any way. It started as a religious ritual, it is now commonplace in society regardless of your religious beliefs. Christians who believe it is for a man and woman only are not accomplishing anything aside from… Read more »


Mike, is it correct to say that you think religious doctrine is the primary reason that opposition to legalizing gay marriage exists? Is it also correct to say that you think about three-fourths of the USA is Christian, and therefore Christian doctrine is the primary force behind opposition to legalized gay marriage in the USA? Is it also correct to say the Bible is the primary source material for Christianity, and the New Testament the part of the source material that separates Christianity from other religions that can be traced back to Abraham? If those three assumptions are correct, I’d… Read more »


“Where in the New Testament does it specifically say gay marriage should be illegal, and that supporting laws prohibiting gay marriage are essential to being a Christian?”

That’s what I’d like all the Bible-thumpers who are protesting marriage equality to tell me.

Dorothy a. Duplissey

Your June 27th post is right on the money, but I would like to see you add one thought. Legal marriage, as it exists, is a civil contract between a couple and the state. It6 is NOT a religious relationship. For those of us who can marry the one we love, we can go to a judge or justice of the peace or even a ship captain and be legally married. We cannot got to a church and have a ceremony without that piece of paper and be legally married. That is my one point, but want to add some… Read more »


I think people should be allowed to practice whatever religious beliefs they choose as long as they don’t impose those beliefs on others. The same goes for who they marry or otherwise choose to associate with. Judge not least ye be judged… Isn’t that what god said? Its gods job to judge not yours. I wonder how many of those who are pointing fingers and spewing hateful words towards others on this site (regardless of their religion) are good compassionate people who spend their time and energy helping others and actively being a good person, not pushing their beliefs on… Read more »


@Jeff I can’t speak for Mike, but … There is no one reason for most human behaviour, but in this case, there is a significant slice of the opposition to gay marriage which bases its ARGUMENTS, if not its actual origins, on supposed Christian doctrine. My amateur guess? I’d say that sexual xenophobia coupled with the usual adolescent fears of being “different”, are then reinforced by using selected sections of the Bible to justify homophobia. And this supposedly evil nature of homosexual relations means that … what? Marriage is now tainted if gay people use the word? So, it is… Read more »


“Every organization whose primary goal is banning or preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage is either overtly religious in nature or is staffed and run by fundamentalist Christians.” I think you’re overlooking other countries. Muslim governments, Catholic-majority governments (Philippines for example), Chinese communist party, etc. all still outlaw gay marriage. Mormons too, here in the US, and if you don’t grok the difference between Mormons and fundamentalist Christians you’re missing a real doozy of a disagreement. Nazis weren’t much for the gays either. Conservative forces don’t like change. Most religious forces today are conservative. But reactionary secular forces and authoritarian… Read more »


Also, this: And MY apologies, you did say organizations whose primary purpose etc. In most of those places, the government is the primary anti-gay mover but only by default, and certainly has OTHER purposes. 🙂 Back in the USA: you can choose to identify Mormons as Christians, but not “fundamentalists” without using that word in a way at odds with what most people mean. And they are NOT united. Check out the fundamental worries on Mit Romney for example. Catholics are also not commonly lumped in with fundamentalists. Yes, all supported Prop 8. If your assertion is that “all… Read more »


I apologize Mike. When you were tossing around statements about Christian doctrine and Bible, I assumed you were familiar with the text and had read it yourself. After reading your most recent reply, it’s clear your Biblical knowledge is limited to what you read in other atheist blogs and from conversations with other skeptics. It’s possible to be bigoted without actively trying to restrict others’ freedoms. I’m bigoted against fans of the New York Yankees and wish they wouldn’t root for that baseball team. I think they have the right to be Yankees fans and understand why they would become… Read more »


Um, Paul… Catholicism IS Christianity, just with more books, and your insisting on a delineating between the too speaks volumes about the nature of your indoctrination.


This is a response I wrote to an op-ed piece in our school paper from one of these priveleged Christians complaining about their lack of control over others:

Raphael Eidus

@Elly, You claim that gays haven’t been as persecuted as other groups. I would like site the holocaust. Gays have been subject to ass murder, oppression, and some of the cruellest behaviour imaginable. Dragging a fag with the a rope around his neck tied to the back of your pickup should never have constituted a fun time. But it did. Gays are still being publicly executed by their governments for being gay. The only group that has been more historically persecuted is Jews. Blacks went from free to slaves to free to equal rights all in a few hundred years.… Read more »

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