Monday, October 15 , 2018, 1:52 am | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: Who Is a Bigot Like Phil Robertson to Call Homosexuality a Sin?

"Don't be deceived," Duck Commander and A&E reality television star Phil Robertson insisted, when asked to define what he considered to be sinful behavior. "Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."

It's a free country. The First Amendment protects both the tolerant and the intolerant, those who understand the value of inclusiveness and those who spread hate. I'd put Robertson in the latter category. That's my right.

And A&E has the right to fire him, as I hope they do.

Speech is powerful, which is why it gets protection from the Constitution. Robertson didn't go out and attack "homosexual offenders" (offenders, I assume, not because being gay violates the law — the U.S. Supreme Court got rid of that vestige of bigotry in Lawrence v. Texas — but because they offend Robertson) with a physical weapon, but words can cause just as much harm. Just check out the suicide rates for teens who are gay and lesbian. Telling a teenager that they are doomed because they aren't heterosexual is ignorant and cruel.

Change is never easy. On the very day that New Mexico became the 17th state to allow gay marriage (and the sky hasn't fallen in any of them), Robertson was making headlines for his unabashed bigotry, and the United Methodist Church on Thursday "defrocked" a Pennsylvania pastor because he officiated at his own son's gay wedding (legal in Massachusetts) and refused to agree to follow church dogma that discriminates against gays and lesbians.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, who was suspended for 30 days for performing his son's wedding six years earlier, had until Thursday to agree to abide by the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the church's rules and doctrine. Earlier in the week, he made clear in a news conference that he would not denounce his son and others who share his sexual orientation. "I cannot uphold those discriminatory laws and the language in the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline that is hurtful and harmful to our homosexual brothers and sisters in the church."

Notably, Bishop Peggy Johnson, who leads the church in Pennsylvania and announced Schaefer's punishment, explicitly acknowledged that "(s)everal statements in our Book of Discipline are discriminatory (forbidding ordination of homosexual persons, forbidding the performing of same-gender marriages and considering the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching)," and that these prohibitions, considered in light of the church's stated policy of inclusion, have "led to confusion by many from the outside of the church wondering how we can talk out of two sides of our mouth."

Confusion is a nice way to put it. Hypocrisy, insensitivity and cruelty also come to mind. But according to Johnson — if not Robertson — "our LGBT sisters and brothers are of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity." It's just that your father can lose his job if he marries you.

Change is never easy. My favorite section of the Sunday newspaper is "ladies' sports" — the "weddings section," where once I followed the lives of my friends and now keep an eye out for their children and for my gay and lesbian friends, who tend to the be the older couples, marrying for the first time. Who would have thought? I smile when I read the stories of couples my age, together for decades, "tying the knot."

So why are we still debating whether it is "sinful" to be gay? Who is Phil Robertson, reality show star, to tell young men and women who work hard and love God as much as he does that they are "sinful"?

How can the Methodist church openly acknowledge that it is talking out of both sides of its mouth and then keep talking?

Schaefer may be a "bad" minister in the eyes of his church, but he is a good father and a good man, and hopefully, this Christmas season, that will be enough. As for Robertson, it took some doing for someone to find a family that makes the Kardashians look like a crowd of sensitive brainiacs, but the Duck Dynasty guy did it. No more jokes about Kris and Bruce.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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