Thursday, June 4, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor But Keep Thy Powder Dry

Proposition 8 passed because religious people in California acted out on their belief there is something wrong with homosexuality. Gay people were stunned by the loss of their rights. We have come so far. How could there still be such animus against us?

We were confident that our fellow Californians would not remove civil rights that our Supreme Court had declared were to be found in our state constitution. Early polls showed the referendum failing by a large margin.

But that was before the religious forces got organized, and we now know that concerted efforts from the pulpit to get religious folk to the polls the weekend before the election, along with gay lethargy, led to a 52 to 48 victory for Prop. 8. To rub salt in the wound, the same Supreme Court that once found freedom in the constitution now turned their backs on the gay minority, arguing that “the people” have the right to take away civil rights if they want to.

The Supreme Court are not the bad guys here. They will never again be seen as heroic defenders of minority rights, probably, but they were careful to point out that they felt OK coming to this conclusion because “only the word marriage” was involved – gay people had all the rights in domestic partnerships straights had in marriage. That’s sort of like saying Rosa Parks should not have won her case since, after all, one gets to one’s destination from the back of the bus as fast as one does from the front. But let’s keep the focus on homophobia, and not be distracted by one bad Supreme Court decision.

Homophobia is the right word. It is a phobia. A fear. You can see it in the eyes of religious people who tell you about the decay of Western Civilization, a fear that the world is changing too fast and all things sacred are being lost. The pope’s great enemy, if you have followed his speeches and writing, is “relativism.” The old certainties (like papal infallibility) are giving way to an attitude of “whatever.”

He’s wrong about that. It’s not “whatever” that’s the prevailing ethic. It’s a belief in fundamental human rights. Not the divine right of self-appointed leaders, but the right of human societies to act in their own self-interest.

But since the issue is fear, and not the agreement among reasonable people to differ reasonably, gay activists have changed tactics. They are going out into the heartland with personal stories, convinced that “if they just get to know us, they will love us.”

I’m not so sure. I’m a whole lot less sanguine about religious people.

I mentioned the case the other day of Fresno Baptist preacher Jim Franklin ( - May 22, 2009) who spoke of the “violence” of gay people in response to his political activity. The “violence” was throwing paint at a church office building.

Worse than this example by far is the case of former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, who refused to allow catholic charities to place children for adoption with same-sex couples because doing so “would actually mean doing violence to these children.”

For this outrage, a statement absolutely contrary to the truth, Levada had to contend with a San Francisco city resolution condemning the policy. He chose to get out of the adoption business in San Francisco, as the church had done in Massachusetts earlier, rather than follow the guidelines against discrimination.

The church, incidently, took the city to court over this, but the court upheld the city’s right to protect its citizens against prejudice. A federal judge threw out the suit. The church appealed, and on Wednesday the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision.

Gays rejoiced when Levada was kicked upstairs (rejoiced that he left town, that is) to Rome to run what was once called the Holy Inquisition. As such, he is the highest ranking American in the church. But the joke was on the gays when the church gave us George Niederauer in his place. Niederauer, the former bishop of Salt Lake shmoozed some of his Mormon connections into joining him to launch Prop. 8 – and here we sit today in the mess that ensued. “To know us is to love us” may work for some people. But don’t bet the house on getting through to the church hierarchy.

Things are moving fast. Nevada just approved domestic partnerships, joining California, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Iowa, and now New Hampshire have raised the number of states recognizing same-sex marriage to six. No thanks to fundamentalist and authoritarian religious forces.

"We're very grateful for what God has done,” says Pastor Chris Clark of San Diego’s Southern Baptist Church, referring to the Supreme Court decision. Clark made no effort to explain why God made them decide gays should be allowed to marry before the people overturned that right. Or perhaps God chose not to step in that time. I can’t be sure whether he will see God’s hand in the overturning of Prop. 8 at the next referendum. Perhaps God will let the devil have the next one, just because it’s his turn.

I’m all for this person-to-person campaign. I think that’s the way to go.

But don’t let up on calling to task these alleged Christians who inflame with charges of violence when there is justified rage, however unjustified the vandalism. And who speak of violence where there is only love. And who see the hand of God in the removal of civil rights.

Love your enemy if you insist. Show them your family photos and give them a chance to love you back.

But know your enemy.

Don’t let him out of your sight for a minute.

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