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What atheists can learn from the gay rights movement

Posted by on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:36 AM
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2 moms liked this

What atheists can learn from the gay rights movement

I’m not gay. But I am jealous. How did homosexuality shift in public opinion from less respectable than atheism to more? And what can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement?

The psychiatric community considered homosexuality a mental disorder until 1974, and it wasn’t until 2003 that the U. S. Supreme Court declared sodomy laws (same-sex sexual activity) unconstitutional.When the public is polled about a willingness to vote for a well-qualified person for president who happens to be gay or 

The most obvious and effective lesson atheists are learning from gays (including all LGBTs) is to come out of the closet. Attitudes toward gays changed rapidly when people learned that their friends, neighbors, and even family members were gay. Attitudes about atheists are slowly changing as atheists are slowly coming out.

Gays are more likely to come out publicly because it’s easier for atheists to remain in the closet. There aren’t many excuses to give your mother (or anyone else) about why you’ve been living for years with someone of the same-sex and not dating.

Like most Americans, I gave little thought to fundamentalist, soul-saving Christians until they began to focus on politics. I’ve never been a closeted atheist, but I was an apathetic atheist for most of my life. While a graduate student in New York and later a math professor in Massachusetts in the 1970s, my friends and I had more important things to discuss than religion. For instance, our sex lives. Most of my friends were probably apathetic atheists, and some of them, unfortunately, felt the need to be closeted gays.

The LGBT movement deserves enormous credit for framing and publicizing their issues, forming a big tent that allows for cooperation between activist and laid back gays, and developing a well-organized community with a constituency recognized by politicians. And so it should be with atheists, which is a goal of the Secular Coalition for America and its member organizations.

At a Human Rights Campaign meeting about fifteen years ago, I mentioned that most in the atheist community openly backed gay rights and wished the gay community would reciprocate. “After all,” I said, “the same religious-right people who object to us also disapprove of you.” A number of gays acknowledged privately that they were atheists who wished to remain quiet about it because they were trying to appear “normal” in our culture. Continued LGBT successes are making it easier for gay atheists to emerge from both closets.

An evidence-based case can be made for why many religious people are less accepting of atheists than gays. Most aren’t worried about homosexuals “converting” heterosexuals, but they worry about hearing sound arguments from atheists that might resonate with their flock. You’re much more likely to stay with your childhood religion if no one ever questions those beliefs.

And then there’s marriage. After “living in sin” with me for 10 years, Sharon thought we were getting too old to be called boyfriend and girlfriend, and suggested we marry. I argued that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and also that we should boycott marriage because gays couldn’t marry. Despite my weak counter arguments, we married at 12:01 AM on January 1, 2000.

I’ve been happily married for thirteen years, and neither of my arguments would work today. I expect that the next generation will look back and wonder why there had been such a fuss over gay marriage. Even conservative religionists will probably find ways to reinterpret their holy books.

I still don’t like the “institution” of marriage because I don’t think the government should play an official part in a couple’s relationship. But if opposite-sex people can marry, then so should same-sex people. And if religious people can become president, so can atheists. Maybe someday our president will be an openly gay atheist.

Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.

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by on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:36 AM
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alexsmomaubrys2
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:38 AM
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This is a fantastic article!! As an Atheist I hope that we can all come out of the closet too!!

TugBoatMama
by on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:48 AM
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I've been very pleased to see our Oklahoma Atheist community explode in the past two years. We started as only 6 people and now we are over 600 people. We do all types of things for the community and I think it has helped put a face on atheism- a normal, everyday American face. People have attempted to silence us when we speak up but we are getting louder :) We have welcomed so many LGBT individuals as well as closeted teens that really have no source of support when it comes to thier atheism or sexual preference. It has really helped to remove some of the stigma of being gay/atheist in a red state such as ours.

alexsmomaubrys2
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:49 AM
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Quoting TugBoatMama:

I've been very pleased to see our Oklahoma Atheist community explode in the past two years. We started as only 6 people and now we are over 600 people. We do all types of things for the community and I think it has helped put a face on atheism- a normal, everyday American face. People have attempted to silence us when we speak up but we are getting louder :) We have welcomed so many LGBT individuals as well as closeted teens that really have no source of support when it comes to thier atheism or sexual preference. It has really helped to remove some of the stigma of being gay/atheist in a red state such as ours.

That is great!! We have a small community here in middle of no where Virginia.

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Not_A_Native
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Maybe it's because I"ve never lived in a small town (or the south), but me being an athiest has NEVER been a problem.

peanutsmommy1
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:50 AM
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I guess I have never felt a stigma of being an athiest

alexsmomaubrys2
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:51 AM
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Quoting Not_A_Native:

Maybe it's because I"ve never lived in a small town (or the south), but me being an athiest has NEVER been a problem.

It wasn't an issue when I was growing up outside of Seattle but when we moved to Rural Virginia it became a big problem.

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Not_A_Native
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:54 AM

 


Quoting alexsmomaubrys2:


Quoting Not_A_Native:

Maybe it's because I"ve never lived in a small town (or the south), but me being an athiest has NEVER been a problem.

It wasn't an issue when I was growing up outside of Seattle but when we moved to Rural Virginia it became a big problem.

I live outside of Seattle now, used to live in the San Francisco area.

 

LilyofPhilly
by Platinum Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:54 AM
It's funny, I don't think it's a big deal till I tell someone and she says, You're not really an atheist?!", and laughing. It happened just yesterday. Weird.
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deadlights86
by Platinum Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 9:54 AM
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There is a problem with being an atheist? I don't think atheism is on the same planet compared to what the LGBT comunity has been through. Course I live in a big city and the people I'm around are pretty open minded.

alexsmomaubrys2
by Ruby Member on Apr. 4, 2013 at 10:20 AM


Quoting Not_A_Native:



Quoting alexsmomaubrys2:


Quoting Not_A_Native:

Maybe it's because I"ve never lived in a small town (or the south), but me being an athiest has NEVER been a problem.

It wasn't an issue when I was growing up outside of Seattle but when we moved to Rural Virginia it became a big problem.

I live outside of Seattle now, used to live in the San Francisco area.


Yeah. You've never lived in an area where you are judged for being "different". We live in the bible belt now and I can't stand it.

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