Alveda King is certain of two things: she’ll always oppose same-sex marriage, and people will always get mad when she says so.
How could the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. oppose gay marriage? they demand to know. At times the social media jabs, angry emails or tense phone calls are threatening, she said, although recent Twitter comments were merely critical.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who married partner Julia Lemigova in 2014, tweeted:
“@matteo_maule @AlvedaCKing really tired of you guys telling me and my family we are “wrong” in about every way imaginable. Shame on you…”
In an unexpected turnabout, many opponents of gay marriage will not speak publicly in 2015 because of the backlash that will follow: the charges of bigotry, intolerance or worse. Not too many years ago, it was the proponents of same-sex marriage who were publicly condemned — by some of the very folks who won’t speak out today.
Beyond the verbal backlash that many say they are receiving, these opponents assert that speaking their minds could hurt their businesses, their employment or their chances for advancement at work.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on the legality of same-sex marriage.
'It's a bullying, intimidating approach'
“The ones calling for tolerance the loudest are the most intolerant,” said Rev. James Merritt of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.
The Rev. Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in East Cobb noted during the recent Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Ohio, where gay marriage was at the top of the agenda, that when his church put a sign outside announcing they would discuss the topic of homosexuality, the young people in the church received a lot of criticism.
“Our students became concerned,” he said. “The statements were so mocking them, so bullying them, so criticizing them. “People said to them ‘You’re so hateful. Why do you go to that church?’”
He criticized gay and lesbian advocates for their aggressive approach in responding to the church’s belief that gay marriage is wrong.
“It’s a bullying, intimidating approach.”
He said gay rights advocates “have been clever in making this a civil rights issue.” But he believes it is not.
“A lot of black pastors who believe in civil rights are so frustrated because they are being lumped in” with bigots, Wright said.
'That is hate-mongering'
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, an advocacy organization for the LGBT community, dismisses the idea that there is an organized plan to attack members of the clergy or their congregations for opposing gay marriage.
Since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2003, there have not been any instances in which a church was forced to marry a same-sex couple and a Supreme Court ruling won’t change that, he said.
However, “when people directly attack our family, whether by word or deed, then there are members of the LGBT community who will point out that that is hate-mongering,” he said.
Alveda King has even found her own life shared on social media. One person tweeted that King had been married three times, suggesting that she might not be the best person to talk about marriage.
“When I speak of adulterers, they don’t write or call me a hypocrite and threaten to kill me,” said King, who has often mentioned her divorces. “The fornicators laugh at me and tell me to get a life. When I speak out against gay marriage, the supporters of that movement threaten to kill me. “
Anytime she does an interview, she said, “it just surges. That’s almost expected now. I don’t get angry. I pray. I just pray.”
It’s not just high profile figures feeling the heat.
Marshall Grant, an information technology worker from Roswell, opposes such unions, although he has relatives and friends who are gay. Grant says same-sex marriage goes against his Christian values, but he doesn’t want to be painted as a bigot.
“Even though more people are accepting of it, they are less tolerant,” said Grant, who didn’t want his photo taken for this article. “The dialogue has shifted to, if you don’t believe in gay marriage, I will not be tolerant of you.”
Could it affect his relationships with co-workers or even his job?
“You can get fired for anything nowadays,” he said. “It’s a very sensitive topic.
'I hate the fact that people judge us as hateful'
A solicitation for response on the AJC's Facebook page drew dozens of comments.
“What’s changed is that people used to be able to express sincerely held religious and moral opinions on homosexuality without the gay gestapo unleashing vicious attacks on them and their livelihoods for anything short of endorsement," said one. "Don’t expect an honest sampling with that atmosphere.”
Said another: “As a Christian, I hate the fact that people judge us as hateful, self-righteous people! We all have a right to our opinion without ridicule or hate-filled names slung at us.”
Indeed, experts say the widespread use and reach of social media play a big role in this feeling of being under siege.
The Internet gives “broadcast capacity” to anyone, said Dr. David Greenfield, of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in Hartford, Conn. “Which means if you have an opinion, whether well informed or ill-informed, popular or controversial, you can have that opinion broadcast in a very large way without almost any effort.”
So, for those taking unpopular stands, “it’s absolutely true that you can be targeted because of freedom of speech. Unless you’re defaming someone or threatening in some way, this is pretty much allowed.”
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