Treating other people as we would like to be treated is a familiar rule for Christians found in the Bible. So, why is it so confusing in today's world as to how Christians should treat those who consider themselves homosexual?
One reason is because so much is at stake. Gay rights and gay marriage have become the central battles in America's religious culture wars. There are some 780,000 same-sex couples in the United States today, around 10 percent of whom are officially married or in civil partnerships, estimates Gary Gates, a demographer in the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Moreover, the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) community has made great strides by making their acceptance a matter of civil rights and by labelling biblical prohibitions to such sexual behavior as hate speech and civil intolerance.
They argue there is nothing wrong with homosexual behavior and that anyone who thinks of it as sin is "intolerant" and guilty of a hate crime. Moreover, many Christians play into those charges by focusing on the sinner, not the sin.
"There are many Christians who are intolerant of gays as human beings," said James Middletree, a Christian writer. "There are listed behaviors that are abhorrent to God. There is alcoholism, fornication, and homosexuality with covetousness. If God didn’t bother separating one sin out from that list, why do we?"
Gay rights has long been a hot-button issue for political candidates and conservative leaders. The debate continues to loom over every election cycle because opponents to same-sex marriage say the growing acceptance of homosexuality is a direct threat to traditional Christian norms for sex and marriage.
“Marriage is not only an important cultural symbol, but an example of how heterosexuals are privileged and heterosexual privilege is one of the few remaining social privileging systems in America,” said Austin Cline in a recent news article.
A number of cities and counties have implemented non-discrimination laws. As of April 27, 2011, at least 137 cities and counties prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity for both public and private employees. But gay activists continue to contend that there are many places in this country where a homosexual can be fired.
Whether there is a specific gay non-discrimination law in place or not, Middletree argues that how Christians act in the marketplace is crucial.
"If it is commonly known at your workplace that you are a Christian, the fact that you are nicer to the straight co-worker who is living in sin than the gay one will be perceived by the gay person as typical of Christians, further driving them away from believers, and reducing the chance of their ever being receptive to the good news of the Gospel," he said.
Some groups are taking the gay civil rights argument head on. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), asserts that at the heart of the gay campaign for marriage equality is a desire to oppress religious people.
Brown wrote an article to his readers this week arguing that gay citizens are actually treating religious leaders and opponents to gay marriage as second-class citizens.
“Those in favor of marriage equality can only win if they can get us to accept and internalize the second-class status they propose for us,” Brown writes. “To accept our own marginalization, to be quiet, to stand down and keep our heads down. To live in fear, instead of acting, with courage, out of hope.”
NOM is taking on a critically urgent response to the push for same-sex marriage.
"The mask of tolerance has been cast aside. We are looking into the face of a movement which wants, in the name of equality, to take away your rights and the rights of millions of decent, loving, law-abiding Americans who 'cling' – yes, I'm not afraid to call it that! - to God, common sense, and the best of America's long traditions of respect for Judeo-Christian values."
The controversy won’t go away soon. Federal officials have started counting same-sex married partners in the ten-yearly census for the first time in history. Past censuses have not reported data on gays who consider themselves married.
William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, says the homosexual community hopes the census will “open people’s eyes” to the number of gays living in the United States and make some policy issues, treat gays better, and change marriage laws.
JoHannah Reardon writes in an article published in Christianity Today this week that Christians are commanded to love each other no matter what path they take in life.
“That doesn't mean we excuse sinful behavior, but it does mean we listen, understand, and sacrifice our own comfort and preconceived ideas to represent Christ well,” Reardon writes.
“Through our friendship with a gay man who was diagnosed with AIDS, I discovered the importance of listening before condemning and of offering the same grace that Christ shows me in spite of all my faults and foibles.”