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If the Gay Marriage Movement Is All About Love, Why Does It Spend So Much Time Spreading Hate?

23/04/2013 14:22 BST | Updated 22/06/2013 10:12 BST

Gay marriage campaigners like to talk about themselves in the same breath as the American black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

But compare and contrast the following. Firstly, these words spoken by Martin Luther King at the end of the 1950s: "We do not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship." And secondly, this headline that appeared following New Zealand's passing of a gay-marriage bill last week: "New Zealand Parliament rocked with laughter as MP pokes fun at anti-gay marriage zealots."

That headline referred to a speech by NZ MP Maurice Williamson, who had his parliamentary colleagues and pretty much the whole internet cracking up at the stupidity of Christians who criticise gay marriage. Mocking one's apparently zealous opponents... it doesn't quite have the dignity or magnanimity of MLK's approach, does it?

I've written before about how unalike the gay marriage and civil rights movements are. And one of the key differences is in their attitudes to their critics and enemies.

Where the leaders of the civil rights movement actively counselled against hating one's opponents (who, lest we forget, treated blacks with infinitely more contempt and violence than gay campaigners receive from religious folk today), the gay marriage movement is all about the hate.

It is all about having a good old belly laugh at the backward, bigoted, "knuckle-dragging" freaks who dare to oppose gay marriage.

The civil rights movement promoted empathy even with the most hateful of Southern rednecks, while the gay marriage movement trades mainly in ridicule and spite, aimed at any "zealot" or "homophobe" who crosses its path.

So Mr Williamson, who has become a viral sensation for his "crowd pleaser" speech mocking the critics of gay marriage, has been congratulated for "mercilessly [taking] the piss out of Christian conservatives". Not so much "I have a dream", as "I have a scheming desire to laugh out loud at dumb folk of faith".

Mr Williamson had a pop at Catholic priests for being celibate, criticised the unscientific idea of hellfire, took the Mick out of anyone who uses the phrase "fire and brimstone", and said he thought Deuteronomy was "a cat out of the musical Cats" (a joke for the gays, because they love musicals!!). He also patronisingly chastised those silly straights who fear that gay marriage will ruin their marriages and lives.

Reports describe how he "left his colleagues in stitches". They weren't the only ones. Promoted by Gawker as "incredible" and a "must watch", Mr Williamson's speech became a Susan Boyle-style internet hit, reducing Twitter to a guffawing wreck and delivering mirth to trendy anti-religious people everywhere.

Mr Williamson's zealot-zapping is in keeping with the general tone of the gay marriage campaign. This is a movement that devotes infintely more energy to sneering at its critics and opponents than it does to talking up the alleged benefits of the freedom of gays to marry.

Any priest or politician or member of the public who criticises or votes against same-sex marriage can expect to be instantly branded a bigot, an unevolved Neanderthal, possibly even abnormal, and can also expect to be cast out of polite society. In the words of American journalist Christopher Caldwell, "anyone who expresses the slightest misgivings about gay marriage" faces ridicule and insult; indeed, "scurrility has become a norm" in this debate, he says.

The contrast with the approach taken by MLK and others in the 1950s and 60s is truly striking. Try to picture Rosa Parks launching a tirade against stupid, uneducated, sunburnt whiteys, and you'll see how weird it is to have a modern-day so-called civil rights movement that gets off on demonising its critics.

This isn't simply to say that gay marriage activists are less nice than the old civil rights campaigners (though that is patently the case). Rather, it is to point to the role that the gay marriage movement plays in the modern world - not really as a means of expanding gay people's freedom, but as an opportunity for politicians and campaigners to make a peacock-style display of their moral superiority to the unenlightened throng "out there".

Gay marriage has become a kind of a social signifier; embracing it is a way of distinguishing yourself from "lesser" people, from the rural, ill-educated, dumb hordes who have failed to wake up to what a glorious cause gay marriage apparently is. This explains why the gay marriage movement is so much nastier in tone and demeanour than the civil rights movement - because it is driven by a negative urge to contrast oneself to the mob, rather than by a positive desire to win new freedoms for oneself. It is posturing, not politics. It is in the business of humiliation-for-effect rather than serious historymaking.

That is what Mr Williamson's speech and the frenetic sharing of it on social-networking sites was really about: saying, "Look at me, I am so different to - and better than - the God-fearin' blob."