Sunday, October 19, 2008

Letter to Stephen re Prop. 8

This letter appeared in yesterday’s

I have heard a lot in recent weeks about Prop. 8 denying same gender couples various rights. My concern is in regards to religious rights.

In various instances the rights of religious freedom are threatened by proponents of gay rights. If Prop. 8 fails, no rights will be taken away from gay couples. However, the rights of the religious community to practice their moral beliefs would be endangered. On Aug. 18, the California Supreme Court ruled that physicians could not refuse to provide fertility treatments because of religious objections. On Aug. 3, Catholic Charities in San Francisco announced it would stop its adoptions work. Earlier this year, Catholic Charities in Boston stopped providing adoption services because of the state mandating that homosexual couples be considered for placement, despite religious beliefs to the contrary. Clearly, religious persons are the ones whose rights are being threatened.
If Prop 8 fails, it is clear that the religious community will lose its rights to proclaim its faith and morals without fear of reprisal.

(signed) Stephen Wood
Yuba City

I felt I needed to speak to this guy. Here’s my response.

Dear Stephen:

“No rights will be taken away from gay couples,” you say. Do you have an official California voter information guide? Turn to page 54 and read:

Proposition 8 – Eliminates right of same-sex couples to marry.

You claim that if we don’t remove the right of California same-sex partners to marry that “the rights of the religious community to practice their moral beliefs would be endangered.”

Is it an English language problem? One believes. One then puts one’s beliefs into practice, or not. How, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, would Proposition 8 interfere with your ability to put your beliefs into practice? If you believe you, as a man, should not marry another man, by all means don’t marry one!

You are advocating the removal of our right to marry. Why? Because you don’t believe we should marry? Why should my practices be affected by your beliefs? After careful deliberation the California Supreme Court determined the constitution grants me the right to marry the partner of my choosing, regardless of sex. If your religious tradition runs counter to that, why should that affect me? I should not have to be governed, as a citizen, by your religion.

Democracy works when one’s personal rights end where another’s begins. You are right to focus on that notion. But you must distinguish between belief and practice. Children have the right to good homes. If the state determines that gay people give them good homes, your beliefs should not entitle you to remove that right. If the state – and, for that matter, other people’s religious beliefs - determine all citizens have a right to access to fertility measures, your religious beliefs do not entitle you to override those rights, either. Nobody is punishing you for believing this is not right. They are simply acting upon different beliefs. Neither their beliefs nor yours are being threatened.

Protestants once insisted we should limit the rights of Catholics, Christians once limited the rights of Jews, and whites for a long time succeeded in limiting the rights of non-whites. One by one these tyrannies of the majority were eliminated and democratic liberties were extended. Recently, the (largely Republican) California Supreme Court extended the right to marry to same sex couples. Just as whites did not lose rights when blacks gained them, and Christians were not barred from country clubs when Jews were admitted, those who believe families should be comprised of a man and a woman are not prevented from forming such families, simply because, as a society, we have come to see families as more broadly defined.

When you urge government to interfere in our lives by taking away our right to marry, leaving us to settle for separate-but-equal second-class status, you are moving in on our civil rights. If you fail, you most certainly will not lose your right to proclaim your faith and morals, and your claim that there will be reprisals for doing so is entirely bogus.

What you will not be able to do is police the practices of those who do not share your beliefs. Americans have not had that right since the days of Cotton Mather.

We currently have rights we are desperately trying to hold onto. It’s bad enough you want to take those rights away. Bad enough the fox moves in on the henhouse. Now he wants the chickens to see him as the victim?

Please, Stephen, there are better ways to deal with your fears than to bully your fellow Americans with your religion. Make some efforts to familiarize yourself with gay people. Particularly those who adopt kids most straight people won’t take in. And those who, like yourself, belong to a religious community. We are not your enemy. Gay people in Spain, Canada, South Africa, Holland and the Scandinavian countries build families around same-sex marriages and their societies are the richer for it. Should we in America not have the same basic rights?

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