Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, catapulted from obscurity to the center of the culture wars in 2003 when he became the first openly gay bishop in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion. Hundreds of parishes left the Episcopal Church in protest. Now set to retire in January 2013, Robinson has a new book from Knopf, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. Debuting in a charged election season, God Believes in Love brings high expectations. Knopf has lined up a seven-city tour and an initial printing of 50,000. It could also get a boost from the October PBS premiere of Love Free or Die, a documentary of Robinson’s life and career.
Who do you expect to persuade through this book?
It’s largely for those I would call the moveable middle. They probably would fancy themselves as tolerant of gay and lesbian people, but are not accepting or affirming enough to go all the way to marriage.
How do you hope it will be used?
People who are feeling more positive about gay marriage often ask: what do I say to my neighbor or my Aunt Tillie? In some sense, my goal was to give people a script to use with those who don’t understand.
What is the key to dismantling religious opposition to gay marriage?
Knowing someone who is gay or lesbian. As more people have come out, more people know a gay or lesbian person. They know the things that have been said about that person simply aren’t true. That’s a real learning moment.
Have new understandings of human sexuality changed or diminished the authority of scripture on these subjects?
Yes. All of the biblical texts assumed everyone is heterosexual. Therefore to act in a same-sex manner is against one’s nature, and there’s something wrong with it. At the end of 19th century, someone posited that a certain minority of us is born affectionately oriented toward people of the same gender. And that just changes everything.
You seem to argue that one can be inspired by religious convictions to influence public policy, but one must make his or her case on secular grounds.
That’s exactly right. Stability is why society has an interest in marriage. Opponents of gay marriage have to be able to argue that it undermines stability. But all the studies show, and reason shows, that gay marriage supports stability in the culture.
The church in many corners has long considered celibacy to be the faithful option for those not called to marriage, but you suggest celibacy is not an option. Why not?
The truly longstanding tradition in the church is that some are called to celibacy. Some feel called to it. But the church has never supported that celibacy be mandated for someone not called to it. It’s never imposed on someone.
If everyone should be free to marry whomever they choose, should three consenting adults be allowed to get married?
The state’s interest in marriage is stability. Generally speaking, polygamy does not work for stability. Inherent in the whole polygamous movement is a deep and abiding misogyny and denigration of women. So polygamy is objectionable on lots of grounds.
Christians who oppose gay marriage are sometimes described as “haters.” Is that characterization fair?
No. I’m concerned about the escalating violent language and overstatement. We can’t have a civil discussion about much of anything. I do not believe that everyone who opposes gay marriage hates gay people. There are many principled faithful people who oppose it based on what they have been taught to believe and do believe. We do not move forward by asserting that the other side is hating us.