I propose a truce.
A truce between those of us who have been using the word “homophobic” to describe views which we feel merit the label, and those of us who believe that using the word “homophobic” to describe opponents of marriage equality is an attempt to shut down the debate, and an insult to the motivations of those who seek to preserve marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman.
To the opponents of marriage equality; I understand your concerns. You don’t feel as though you hate gay people, or fear them, or want them to be treated with any less dignity and respect than heterosexual people. You just think that a child needs a mother and a father, and that it’s not discrimination to treat different things differently.
So here is the first part of my proposal – those of us who support marriage equality will refrain from using the term “homophobia” to describe any of our opponents in the forthcoming debate. We will do so because we will accept the premise that calling your views homophobic implies something about your character which you feel is horrible and untrue. Despite believing that it is really important to label homophobic views as homophobic, we will refrain from using this term throughout the debate.
This truce has got to be a compromise if it is to be fair, however; so here is the second part of my proposal. In the upcoming debate on same-sex marriage, we won’t mention homophobia, but you can’t mention children.
Allow me to explain. When you say something like “I just believe that a child deserves a mother and a father”, what you are saying is that you have got the best interests of children at heart, but that proponents of same-sex marriage don’t. When people like John Waters refer to campaigners for same-sex marriage as being motivated by “envy”, when people refer to same-sex couples as “acquiring” children like fashion accessories and so on, they are implying that those of us who want marriage equality are willing to put our own wants ahead of the most vulnerable people in society. That's a pretty horrible and mean thing to imply, don't you think?
If you think being called a homophobe is bad, compare it to this implication – the implication that one would campaign for the right to harm children, by exposing them to a legal system which is not set up to cater to their best interests. So this seems to me to be a fair compromise – we won’t imply you’re motivated by homophobia, if you don’t imply that our view is not in the best interests of children.
Maybe these terms seem unfair. Maybe this is because the entire anti-same-sex marriage position rests on the claim that permitting same-sex marriage is not what’s best for children, so it is patently unfair to require opponents of marriage equality to refrain from mentioning children when trying to argue against same-sex marriage.
Well, the entire pro-same-sex marriage position rests on the claim that there are no reasonable, rational, non-homophobic reasons to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. If one side is to be prohibited from using the term ‘homophobic’ because it implies bad things about our opponents, it seems only fair that the other side should likewise agree not to claim that we don’t have anything but the best interests of children at heart.
Are those terms unacceptable? They certainly ought to be, because it’s patently ridiculous to expect any side in a democratic debate to refrain from using concepts and terms which are integral to its entire point of view.
You opponents of same-sex marriage are free to continue implying that gay people don’t care about kids ( the natural implication of your favorite refrain “every child deserves a mother and father” is “no child deserves to be raised by a same-sex couple”). We won’t try to sue you for saying so, we just want the right to argue against it. And if we are to argue against it, we need to be able to the right word to describe it – which is homophobic.