Monday, November 10, 2008

An old old story

It’s an old old story. Some group is bullied for a while for being different. They manage to come to power and instead of moving from sensitivity and awareness, they move from power to become bullies themselves. Catholics were once second–class citizens in Calvinist America. Mormons were even lower down the scale. Yet today, Catholic Archbishop Niederauer can selectively call on his tradition, get the Mormons to join in and open their wallets, and push through a proposition to overturn the rights of citizens of California who should not be expected to march to the beat of Catholic or Mormon drums.

Get the Evangelicals in on the deal, and tacitly agree to put aside their views on who’s going to hell and who isn’t, open the Bible to the parts that condemn homosexuality and white-out the parts that assign the same penalties (death) to adulterers and divorcees, and have a grand old time enjoying the recently acquired power to bully.

You are a secularist? Get away from me. A Congregationalist? Keep it to yourself. We three powerful religion folk are on a roll. We’re going to roll back your right to marry because our religion doesn’t like it. There was a time we couldn’t do this, but times have changed. Constitutional rights? My religion tells me there are things more important than your constitutional rights.

Homosexuality still makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and not just for religious reasons. But everyone who has read a newspaper, watched TV or walked out his or her front door in the last twenty years can tell you homophobia is dying off, as more and more people get to share their lives with gay people and come to realize what years of scorn and derision can do to the psyche and how unworthy it is to institutionalize such animus in law and public policy. Little by little the homophobia has lifted. Only in conservative religious communities does it still really hold sway.

Nomadic tribes cut off thieves’ hands because they couldn’t stop for trials and had no jails. Onan spit his seed into the sand and got zapped because the Hebrews needed to follow Monty Python’s law that “every sperm is sacred” if they were going to survive as a people. Many religious people today read these stories as literature and metaphor in a historical context and have absolutely no trouble with equal rights for women, for all people of any hue, for people who, try as they might, simply can’t found families with a single member of the opposite sex. Only those still worshiping the Golden Calf of literalism seem duty-bound to make us live by their notion of eternal verities, and some of them even tell us with a straight face their religious rules should trump our constitutional ones.

I am hopeful this goes back to the courts, as Governor Schwarzenegger and others have suggested it should, and that the Supreme Court of California, who saw no benefit to the state in letting the Catholics, or Evangelicals, or Mormons – or, for that matter, the Congregationalists or the Unitarians who are their polar opposites on the topic of homosexuality – determine above all others how we should live our lives as citizens of a Republic.

If it does, and if Prop. 8 is overturned, the champagne corks will pop once more. New gay families will form alongside the always more numerous traditional ones. Those of us who pray, pray that day comes sooner rather than later.

The problem of homophobia will remain, but we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that the progress of history is toward greater civil freedom, not less.

And this lumbering monster religion with many arms and twice as many elbows will sink back into the sea again.

Let’s hope that happens soon enough to head off the folly of boycotting the lovely state of Utah. Sorry, all you Mormons who voted No on 8. All you Sundance people. All you non-Mormon Utahans.

Forgive us our anger. The monster scared us there for a minute.

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