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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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Something I feel is often overlooked by this argument is the assumption that the discussion and its inherent divisiveness is resolved within the public sphere at the moment gay marriage is legalized. It is true that private individuals are not affected by others’ marriages, but what many fear are the litigation concerns that arise from its passage. Both businesses and churches (and occasionally, the individuals within these) have been the subject of lawsuits for refusing to perform or provide business to same sex couples. Because religious/philosophical disagreements are not admissable as a defense in the courts, defendants are left often… Read more »


Mike, You give a good answer to Amanda’s question regarding how the law protects the right of religious institutions to believe and practice what they want in regards to homosexuality. However, as someone who leans in a libertarian direction but is also a big supporter of marriage Equality and gay rights, there is one thing that troubles me. What of the devoutly religious business owner? The company I work for is a case in point. My boss is a devout Christian, an excellent businessman and is truly devoted to the well-being of his employees. He also pays !00% of employees… Read more »


Yes! Yes! Thank you!


I totally agree with the tone of the article. However, I don’t think the government has any business endorsing any religious beliefs, including marriage (homosexual, heterosexual or otherwise) and should only be involved in contractual agreements such as civil unions.


I was referring more to the individuals who are affected than the churches to which they belong, although occasionally the two are in a conjoined dispute. This piece illustrates the problem best, although you can see from the other two links that the problem extends globally. Of course this is an issue with many sides, but it is sad to see what should be a simple right to marry being drudged through the court systems, often in the pursuit of money or censorship. You are correct that there are indeed protections in place for churches (although these… Read more »


In fairness to atheists, there are few (if any) attempts to sue individuals and small business owners over an issue of religiosity. Though the issue of gay marriage is the lynchpin in the debate, the overall quandary is much larger. Where do the rights of the individual end, and the public begin? On what line should they be divided, if not religion (since for ages, that is in fact where the line has been drawn)? How do gay and lesbian couples address this issue after the achievement of marriage is realized? Is there an expectation that the larger public should… Read more »


“I’d like to hear how same-sex marriage supporters would propose to resolve this issue. This should be an issue where the right of the individual to marry whom they choose is paramount, and I feel the problems of civil litigation that arise from it detract from what should fundamentally be a human rights issue. But just as there should be freedom to marry, there should also be freedom to disagree with it without fear of retribution. What do you think?” Amanda, you mentioned something about churches being sued for refusing to provide business to same-sex couples. The only case I’m… Read more »


The teacher in Canada made the same succinct argument, but that didn’t prevent the legal troubles that followed, which as you say, stem from their own hate speech laws. The concern from opponents of same-sex marriage is that the same restrictions could eventually exist here, snowballing from initial conflicts about the rights of businesses and individuals to discriminate in an attempt to create a universal (federal) standard. Is it a right to be able to conduct business with someone with whom you disagree? To live peacefully, with whom and where you wish is indeed a human right, but to say… Read more »


And for the record, if the article about that teacher in Canada is telling the whole story, I believe the way he was treated was abominable. As long as he was able to keep his bigoted, backward, and scientifically disproven ideas away from his students, he should have been permitted to fully express them outside of school facilities and school hours.


“Is it a right to be able to conduct business with someone with whom you disagree?” It is a right to not be discriminated against while going about your business in a peaceful manner. This right is backed up by anti-discrimination laws all over the world, including in your own country. Or do you disagree with any kind of anti-dscrimination laws? Do you think it should be legal for a diner to have blacks-only lunch counters? Or for a privately-operated bus company to force black passengers to sit up the back of the bus? “What I suppose it narrows down… Read more »


That’s exactly the problem – when it becomes a deed (an ACT of discrimination, rather than a philosophical statement), it crosses from the private sphere into the public. But both sides are guilty of playing tug-of-war with the line dividing the two. It’s difficult to balance the two – should we feel more compassion for the tiny family business or the couple they turned away? It’s not so much the right to discriminate as how it’s addressed. It’s a question of enforcement. If a business does not have the right to make qualifiers on its customers (by virtue of being… Read more »


Why should the marriage laws have to specifically address these things when you already have decades of anti-discrimination case law as precedent?

And I’m sorry, you don’t get me to feel sorry for discriminatory bigots by calling them a “tiny, family-owned business”.


You don’t have to feel sorry for them; it’s not always small businesses in these circumstances. But often it is, since as you said it is far more difficult to sue an individual who is guaranteed freedom of speech. The marriage laws should address this because it cogent to their impact on the public. There are, for example, adoption agencies that will only accept applications from married individuals (gay or straight), or children’s schools that will only educate those in their faith (some even require conversion for children not of their faith to attend). Both of these serve the public… Read more »


Amanda, all the issues you’re raising here have already been addressed elsewhere, in the states of the US and in other countries where same-sex marriage is already legal. Just because you may not like the answers, doesn’t mean the questions haven’t been asked. Once people are allowed to marry and otherwise be treated equally under the law, it will be against the law to discriminate against them, and too bad for anybody who wants to. And of course, we come to the real reason why so many people don’t want gay people to be allowed to marry or be treated… Read more »


Amanda – are you going to address the yes or no question posed by Mike? I’m very interested in your response, given what you’ve said thus far.


It sounds a lot to me like you’re trying to get some kind of guarantee that nobody who wishes to discriminate against a same-sex couple will be prohibited by law from doing so when (not if) same-sex marriage is made legal.

Ain’t gonna happen, I’m afraid. Other people’s right to be treated equally under the law should not be conditional on anybody’s “right” to be a bigot.


I think Amanda needs to read the title of the article again.

Yes or No, Amanda?


Let’s not gang up on Amanda too much until she’s had time to answer (if she so chooses). I’ve heard that not everybody has the time to spend all day arguing on the Internet.

What the hell they do instead, I have *no* idea…


Arguing on the internets and eatin’ babies. That’s all THIS atheist does with her time.


To answer Mike’s question, I personally believe it is morally and ethically repugnant to discriminate against someone who is no threat to your business, based solely on their demographic. But I am torn when it comes to laws to enforce this view. After all, my own distaste does come from a moral standpoint. So, yes, they shouldn’t discriminate, but again the question of how to enforce it is at issue. I think leaving these complex problems in the hands of lawyers can only lead to more lawyers, and the problems that endless litigation brings. There must be a better way… Read more »


Sure. Don’t discriminate against people.



Sounds ready to put into law there, Rob. 🙂 Seriously though, you can’t stop people from being bigots or judgmental, so any attempt to legislate it is going to fall short sooner or later. I suppose I’d rather err on the side of the occasional bigot having the freedom to be so, than have the government trying to enforce an idealistic expectation that people be civil to each other at all times. It seems like a futile effort that has more potential to damage than to solve the problem. And though the question has been asked, it is rarely answered… Read more »


Gee, I can’t understand why the LGBT community aren’t falling all over themselves to make sure that nobody who wants to discriminate against them ends up being treated unfairly.


Wicky I wanted to clarify for you when I said stripped down to the basics religions are pretty much the same. Most of the basics for religions includes a higher plane of some sort, an evil place to go to if your naughty, a being(s) that created everything, and some man-made book of how to reach that higher plane. Yes I said man-made book. I feel that the Bible is a collection of stories, or fables if you like, that are intended to make you feel better in similar situations or give you guidance…not to be take literally. There have… Read more »


If you or your church or business don’t wish to be dragged into court for discrimination or homophobic bigotry–then don’t be a bigot, and don’t discriminate! It’s simple!

conservative christian

Everyone in here seems to think that I have a viewpoint that gays shouldn’t be treated the same as everyone else. Nowhere in my comment did I remotely say anything to that affect. I don’t think Christians should oppress anyone in the same way that anyone else’s religion or beliefs should oppress anyone. The people posting on this board seem very angry with their comments, based solely on who they perceive me to be. The only preconceived notion they have of who I am is the name I specifically chose to see if I would be discriminated against. Nowhere in… Read more »


If you or your church or buiness don’t wish to be dragged into court or sued for discrimination–then don’t discriminate. Don’t be a homophobic bigot–it’s simple.


I dunno, conservative christian, why might anyone assume you are a conservative christian? I often post with the name “pinko commie” and people sometimes assume I’m a communist. I don’t react to that assumption with an indignant attitude claiming anyone is “discriminating” against me, I explain that I’m not a communist and tell the funny story about why I use that name. It’s understandable, however, that people might assume that about me and I have no problem accepting that. I suppose shame on us for assuming you were being honest about what and who you are by choosing such a… Read more »


Also, conservative christian, you claim:

“Nowhere in my comment did I mention if I am Christian, and nowhere in my comment did I mention anything about my sexual orientation.”

But your comment began –

“As a christian, I do have a problem with gay marriage, but not gay marriage exclusively.”



I think Amanda’s question of what is the best way to enforce a law like this is an interesting one. But why not ask the same question about all the anti-discrimination laws? For example, several years ago a restaurant chain was discriminating against black people. The response was a boycott and a law suit. Why? Because the law didn’t create other means of enforcement. There is no anti-discrimination regulator to levy fines, no anti-discrimination police to issue tickets or arrest people who break those laws. Would that be a better solution than the current one? If so, shouldn’t we apply… Read more »

Sammi Jo

@Elly, Your arguments tend to to go all over the place. I’m a Christian, but I have a very hard time being friends with other Christians. If a conversation about gay people or Obama comes up, I can’t listen because of the hatred and bigotry. I can’t stand it and I’ve talked myself blue trying to change it, with no results. I apologize, that’s what you reminded me of when I read your comment. Maybe you have no problem with sexuality, but the number of right-wing christian homophobes I know, the core of their problem is sex. They cannot stand… Read more »


Just to note: sexual orientation was already a protected class in New York state before the gay marriage bill went through, under the New York Human Rights Act. Summary:


Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament is a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. You are injecting your secular political views into my religion, trampling MY RIGHTS in doing so. So go to hell you pompous self-righteous jackass.


You’re not the boss of me!


But to be serious for a minute, religion doesn’t own marriage. Otherwise there would be no such thing as a civil marriage. But there is. Quod erat demonstrandum, cogito ergo sum, and caveat emptor.

So piss off, ‘God’.


Hrm. No answer from God? Guess he must be busy helipng some high school kids win a football game, or making sure poor Americans can’t get health care, or something.


Mike, FWIW… the essentials of Christian doctrine are much narrower than you think. The only essentials of Christian doctrine are the divinity of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the sinful nature of humans, the need for salvation, Jesus atoning for humans’ sin, and salvation by grace through faith. That’s it. The rest is just details, and they are disputable. (There’s even a New Testament passage titled “Disputable Matters” covering that.) So when you say that Christian doctrine is what fuels anti-gay marriage sentiment and thinking otherwise is living under a rock, then I guess I’ve even under a rock… Read more »


Sammi Jo, I don’t really understand how my responses were all over the place… However, I would deny a gay military person the right to be married if I had that power. Our bible tells us that people of the same sex should not lay together as a man lays with a woman. Does that make me a bigot? The definition of bigot : 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… Read more »

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