THE BLOG
01/21/2011 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When is it Fair to Call Someone a Homophobe?

On my Facebook page, someone posted a question I've heard a million times before.

"Why is it that those who support gay rights are quick to label someone a 'homophobe' if the person is against homosexuality? The reason that I ask is that many people who I know are against homosexuality based on their understanding (or misunderstanding, as the debate goes) of scripture, rather than any animosity or hostility or fear (thus the 'homophobia' label) of those who are homosexual. So, it seems unfair to me for those people to be labeled 'homophobic' or accused of any hatred of or hostility toward those who are homosexual, if one simply disagrees with someone else's convictions."

People who are seeking to justify their anti-gay feelings often protest that they are not "homophobic" because they do not harbor any "animosity or hostility or fear" of gays and lesbians. Instead, they simply, sincerely believe that homosexuality is wrong and goes against God's will as they interpret it in the Bible. Thus, they assert, they cannot be labeled "homophobes."

Let me answer the question this way. There are people who sincerely believe -- and can find biblical justification for their belief -- that black people are inferior to white people. They hold no "animosity or hostility or fear" of black people (some of their best friends are black!), they just believe, and have scriptural "proof," that blacks are inferior. We still, however, do not hesitate to call them "racist."

Likewise, there are people who sincerely believe -- and can find biblical justification for their belief -- that women are inferior to men. They hold no "animosity or hostility or fear" of women (some of their best friends are women!), they just believe, and have scriptural "proof," that women are inferior. We still, however, do not hesitate to call them "misogynists."

Similarly, there are people who sincerely believe -- and can find biblical justification for their belief- - that Jews are inferior to Christians or other faiths. They hold no "animosity or hostility or fear" of Jews (some of their best friends are Jews!), they just believe, and have scriptural "proof," that Jews are inferior. We still, however, do not hesitate to call them "anti-Semites."

That's why I will call those who sincerely believe -- and can find biblical justification for their belief -- that gays and lesbians are inferior to heterosexuals "homophobes." Even if they hold no "animosity or hostility or fear" of gays and lesbians or have gay people as best friends, they remain homophobes.

I don't find that label unfair because, while they may personally profess to have no "fear" of homosexuals or homosexuality, their insistence that homosexuality is somehow "wrong" or "sinful" contributes to the atmosphere of fear that gays and lesbians must live in. Their "convictions" create a social phobia of gays and lesbians.

Even Martin Luther King Jr. knew that some of the most virulent racists were not the ones on the street with clubs and fire hoses. Instead, they were the "nice" people who truly had no fear of black people, they just didn't understand why blacks needed to make such a big deal out of their position in society. King was not afraid to call them on their passive bigotry and how it contributed to the overall fear of black people.

Just as Jesus called his opponents a "brood of vipers," we, too, must call out those who seek to shroud their bigotry in the language of "compassion." No matter how "compassionate" or "well-meaning" those who "disagree" with homosexuality may be, their ongoing condemnation of homosexuality (and yes, by "disagreeing" they are "condemning") only fosters more fear and hatred. You cannot create fear with your convictions and then try to divorce yourself from that fear.

This is why I contend that there is no "other side" to the gay and lesbian issue. There are gays and lesbians, and then there are those who erroneously believe that being gay or lesbian is "wrong" or "sinful" -- just as there are those who know the earth is round and those who stubbornly refuse to give up the belief that it is flat. Just because someone holds an opposite belief about something doesn't mean we have to coddle them and let them believe their "conviction" is valid when it isn't.

Those who "compassionately" insist on the "sinfulness" of homosexuality are on the wrong side of history. Martin Luther King Jr. said that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." It has taken many decades for gays and lesbians to get that moral arc to begin to bend toward justice for our community, but it is happening. A Gallup poll last year showed that, for the first time, 52 percent of Americans believed that homosexuality was "morally acceptable." Forty-two percent of Protestants believe that, along with 62 percent of Catholics. Other polls show the nation fairly evenly split on the issue of marriage equality. What is telling, however, is that young people are most supportive of LGBT rights.

The moral arc is moving in the direction of justice for LGBT people. It is not a matter of if, but when. Homophobes who continue to spread fear because of their sincere conviction that homosexuality is wrong will soon find themselves in the same historical dustbin as racists, misogynists and anti-Semites.