I know, I know: Not all religion is against homosexuality. There are even deities in some religions that are gay or bi or hermaphroditic. And as Enlightenment values have over time infiltrated religious traditions that have historically been homophobic, there are even Christian and Jewish organizations that are gay-friendly. So why do I say that fighting for gay rights is a struggle against religion?
Without the Abrahamic history of religious prohibitions and denunciations of homosexuality, homophobia would probably be about as statistically significant as pogonophobia and have a similar impact on legislative matters.
Instead, there are a huge number of people who have essentially been raised to possess particular phobias, not limited to but usually including homophobia, as though their churches and communities are performing a sort of psychological bonsai, without the pleasing aesthetics.
In addition to the higher incidence of phobia, there is a philosophy of Dominionism which obligates some denominations of Christians to try to gain political power to rule in accordance with biblical standards (or lack thereof). As a result, we have many laws on the books prohibiting gay marriage, and some prohibiting various non-reproductive sex acts.
Consider how things would be different if this was not a religious matter: Yes, there would still be people who find homosexuality distasteful. But it would just be one of many preferences where if people don’t want to do a thing, they wouldn’t do it. There is a not insignificant group of people who find sex in general distasteful but they don’t expect their preferences to be institutionalized. It is the belief that “God says so” that makes large numbers of people go from self-determining in such private matters to trying to limit the actions of individuals within entire societies.
Here’s the good news for secularists and gay rights activists: we don’t have to wait for generations for things to improve while Enlightenment values gradually get adopted by religions. We currently have 2 very important assets: an increase in nontheists and the determination of people to come out of the closet. With more nontheists, fewer people buy into the religious basis of the arguments against homosexuality. With more people out of the closet, people are more likely to know that they know someone who is gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual. That means that in the minds of an audience it will not be a nebulous “Them” being discussed if a preacher or pastor tries to claim homosexuality is abomination; it will clearly be loving couples being discussed.
As religious organizations continue to fight against the freedom to marry, more people will leave their intolerant churches, some will leave churches altogether. Some churches will become more tolerant in reaction to the values of their congregations. The ones that remain or grow closer to the original positions of their holy books may lose the power to bend politics to their will as they dwindle in numbers.
But the ability to see how this may play out doesn’t mean the battles are won or that we can afford to sit back and wait. In order to achieve freedoms and win equality now rather than later, we must get better at working together. Human rights activists are all working for the same general goals whether we identify as feminists, gay rights activists, secular activists, racial equality activists, disability rights advocates or by other labels.
If we can band together to achieve advances in each area, our numbers will be able to effect real change relatively quickly and the alliances that will result should be capable of making those changes enduring as well.