Every Sunday morning, the deep, melodious voice of State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. rumbles across the congregation at his Bronx church. On weekdays, it echoes across the Senate chamber as he rails against Medicaid cuts or abortion. Earlier this year, it enthralled thousands at a boisterous rally against same-sex marriage.
But ask him about the gay people in his own life, and Mr. Díaz’s voice grows quiet. His smile vanishes.
Two of his brothers are gay, he murmurs, one of them recently deceased. So is a granddaughter. There is an old friend who works for him in the Senate. And a former campaign aide.
“I love them. I love them,” says Mr. Díaz, who grew up one of 17 children in Puerto Rico. “But I don’t believe in what they are doing. They are my brothers. They are my family.”
His voice rises again. “So how could I be a homophobe?”
I dunno, the same way a man who loves his wife is still a misogynist if he berates her or beats her up?
Diaz isn’t just against same-sex marriage. Like a lot of homophobic anti-equality activists, he talks a lot about simply wanting to preserve the institution of marriage, but not wanting to do harm to gay people. Except:
For those fighting to expand gay rights, Mr. Díaz, a Pentecostal minister, represents the most outspoken and unpredictable of foes. He was forced to resign from the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board years ago for suggesting that the Gay Games would encourage homosexuality and spread H.I.V. In 2003, he sued the city to shut down a high school for gay and transgender students.
He insists he’s not a bigot because:
“My religion doesn’t allow me to dance,” he said. “But that does not mean I don’t go to the party. My religion doesn’t allow me to drink. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hang around with my friends. My religion is against gay marriage. It means, I don’t agree with what you do. But let’s go out. Let’s go to the movies. Let’s be friends.”
That’s all good and fine. But why doesn’t Diaz try to outlaw dancing or drinking? That seems to be the point he’s not getting — it’s one thing to have a certain belief system that I happen to think is ass-backwards. But when you try to legislate that belief system — not just your values generally, but specific religious rules — it’s out of place in what should be a secular legal system.
I’m glad that Diaz is kind to his gay friends and family — that is the absolute baseline of being a decent human being. Cookies all around. But I don’t think he understands what it means to be a homophobe. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you go around kicking all the gays you know. It does mean that you see gay people as somehow less — less deserving, less moral, less important. Diaz not only holds that view, but agitates for it to remain codified into law. If it’s unclear to him why that would make him a homophobe, perhaps he should quit his job and do something a little less intellectually trying.
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