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Archbishops, and Nazis, and Gays! Oh, My!

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The debate on marriage equality has often been stymied with shrill statements and hysterical hyperbole. One of the more absurdly extreme statements came from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who likened the present status of gay-marriage opponents to that of Jews at the beginning of the Third Reich. Apparently he thinks it's a short step from supporting equal rights for LGBT people to pushing Christians into gas chambers. Archbishop Carey said, "Let us remember the Jews in Nazi Germany. What started against them was when they started to be called names. And that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state. We have to resist them. We treasure democracy. We treasure our Christian inheritance and we want to debate this in a fair way."

What's fair about comparing supporting gay marriage to Nazism and likening equal-rights opponents to persecuted Jews? We should remind ourselves of what Nazis did and said before actually rounding up Jews for concentration camps. First, they told the German people that Jews were a threat to their very existence, a corrosive force out to destroy society as they knew it. Their first tactic was to argue that Jews were somehow "the other," fundamentally different from people around them, and a threat.

Who exactly is "the other" in Archbishop Carey's mind? He has emphasized that gays aren't really like everyone else. His case against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples is that they are "the other," so different from everyone else that they don't deserve the same rights. "Same-sex relationships are not the same as heterosexual relationships and should not be put on the same level," said Carey.

As for the name calling that Archbishop Carey condemns, what is he referring to? I've no doubt he's been called bigoted. I'd be surprised if that has not occurred. That sort of thing tends to happen when one spends an inordinate amount of time trying to deny other people the same rights one claims for himself. However, does that compare to calling people faggots, perverts, deviants, queers, disordered, reprobates, or the host of other names theologians and equal-rights opponents have used against gay people over the years?

What of history itself? We certainly do know of times when archbishops and others holding similarly invented positions have overseen arrests, torture, and executions of homosexuals. One need not even have a long memory regarding such matters.

Carey said he was 17 years old when he had a "conversion experience" that made him a committed Christian. By my math that would have been in 1952, the same year Alan Turing was arrested simply for being gay. Mr. Turing, whose work had broken the top-secret Nazi Enigma Code, helping the Allies win the war, was criminally prosecuted for being gay and chemically castrated as a result. Carey would have been 19 when Turing committed suicide. During those years up to 1,000 gay men were arrested in Britain annually. The Daily Mail reported in 2007, "Undercover officers acting as 'agents provocateurs' would pose as gay men soliciting in public places. The prevailing mood was one of barely concealed paranoia." Mr. Carey was 32 years old when England stopped arresting people for homosexuality.

It was the founder of Mr. Carey's church, King Henry VIII, who made homosexuality a crime punishable by death. The last Englishman executed for being gay in England died in 1861. The church Mr. Carey later led was directly involved in these persecutions; the Church of England is a state church that has been directly involved in the governance of Britain, to one degree or another, since the church's founding. The persecution of gay people continued even during the archbishop's early life. Surely he knows of these incidents and how his church helped promote them. He should know that it was not Christians being arrested by gay people but thousands of gay people being arrested by Christians.

The Nazis presented Jews as threats. Jews were said to be destroyers of the innocence of children, enemies of the family, and detrimental to the culture of Germany. These are charges often directed at gay people by their opponents. In fact, it was the archbishop himself who claimed, in the context of his anti-gay discourse, "Our cultural homeland and identity is being plundered." If the archbishop wishes to drag Nazism and persecution of Jews into the discussion, he might prefer to do so in circumstances more favorable to his own position. It was Nazis who denied equal rights. They had a history of laws directed against Jews, blaming them for the destruction of their homeland and their culture.

Given the history of anti-gay persecution in England, with the explicit endorsement of Mr. Carey's church for most of that time, it is a bit far-fetched to imply that equal-rights opponents are similar to persecuted Jews, while those asking for the same rights are a threat akin to Nazis. If Mr. Carey wants a "fair" debate, perhaps he should stop demeaning the relationships of gay people and avoid portraying those he disagrees with as plunderers of his "cultural homeland."