Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Shame of Rhode Island

Win some, lose some. Just after New Yorkers bring to over 35 million the number of Americans living in states where they are free to marry same-sex partners if they wish, Rhode Island has backed off granting their citizens the same rights. This, despite the fact that New York has a Senate controlled by Republicans and Rhode Island’s is controlled by the Democrats.

And right off from the start, let’s say this. Why, why, why are we STILL talking in this country about “granting” rights that ought to be self-evident? Why are we a country that had to “grant” people with dark skin the right to vote alongside people with white skin? Why did we have to “grant” women the right to vote along with men? Why are we so agonizingly slow to recognize we can actually be what some in this country like to claim we already are – a beacon of freedom to the world, the world leader in human rights?

There is an explanation for the apparent paradox that Republicans in New York allowed gays a little more dignity this week while Democrats in Rhode Island dragged their feet. The explanation lies in the fact that Rhode Island is 60% Catholic and much of that population is comprised of old folk. The majority of Rhode Islanders polled are in favor of giving their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters full equality. The latest figures are 50% in favor, 41% against. And ironically, nationally, at least, a higher percentage of Catholics are in favor of same-sex marriage than the population as a whole. But the power of bishops to influence how citizens or legislators vote in this nation where church and state are allegedly kept separate can still override majority opinion, once the bishops put their mind to manipulating the political system.

The tide has turned on the issue of gay rights in this country. Increasingly, people are becoming aware that every moment spent fussing over whether people who love each other should share the civil right to make a contract of responsibility for each other is a moment when we are not dealing with corruption in politics, the financial disaster that came with deregulation, what to do about our dependency on burning coal and a list of other problems that seems to go on forever. But the Catholic Church has its priorities, and we continue to let them call the shots for the rest of us.

Shame on us. When are we going to stand up to the bishops? When are we going to say once and for all, “Mind your own damn business, you guys. Keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off my body, my children, my house, my right to have what any other American has. Rule your own adherents, if you wish (and if they let you), but leave us the hell alone!”

Most of the modern world has lost its patience with the meddling ways of organized religion. People are flocking out of churches as never before. They’re fed up. But once again we’re slow on the uptake when they try to turn that liberation on its head. We now have to hear the line that it’s the Christians that are being dissed. They are the ones whose rights have been taken away.

But look at this right they’re demanding – the right to demonize. The right to point a finger and say, “You are not clean. You are not free of sin. You are not like us.” And because you are not what I know God wants you to be, I’m going to make sure your way of life gets no respect. I’m going to insist we not “grant” you the same rights as other citizens in the body politic.

Politics, we all know, is the art of compromise. Many are saying that we need to see the glass as half full in Rhode Island. After all, gay people are being allowed to form domestic partnerships. It wasn’t that long ago when even that was a radical proposition. How quick we are to move the goal posts, we’re told. Take it easy. Little by little and we’ll all get there. But compromise is for when Jack Spratt’s wife wants the fat and he wants the lean. It’s not for when the bishop wants to run my life and I don’t want him to.

In both New York and Rhode Island there has been compromise in “granting” the same rights to LGBT folk that others have. To satisfy the church, we have written into law that bakers will not be required to bake wedding cakes for gay couples if they find themselves in any way put off by gay couples for religious reasons. And in Rhode Island, Catholic hospitals will be allowed to say no to a gay partner of a dying man who wants to carry out the heartbreaking decisions they have made together on how to proceed at the end.

The Bishops will decide instead.

Wake up, America.

When are we ever going to throw these bums out?


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Protecting Religion

I’m really concerned with what’s going on at the moment in Albany. The New York State Senate is at a standstill over whether to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples. It’s another battle in the culture wars and there’s a chance religion could take a beating. Their sacred right to discriminate could be trampled on. Bad enough they have been forced to admit that Jews are as good as Christians, when they know that’s not true.

We started down that slippery slope away from religion when we decided to ignore the clear biblical evidence that God approved slavery. We need to slow the pace.

I know it’s hard to keep religious ideas straight sometimes, particularly when the religionists always seem to be changing them. And when they almost never agree with the folks in the church across town. Or across the street. But there’s no need to be bothered by inconsistency, when so much is at stake.

And by religion, I mean the forms of authoritarian religion that speak the truth, and are not deterred by the errors of those folks across the street. Gutsy, righteous American religion. Real man Christian muscle religion, not some cow or ancestor worshiping nonsense from lands far away. Religion that came from Europe. And before that the Promised Land.

It’s a fine tradition we have in America, this separation of church and state business. When God tells us, either directly, or through the good offices of some old man, that he wants us to have more than one wife, what government would dare try to make us live our lives otherwise? When God tells us that women should take their cue from their fathers and husbands and brothers, what government would dare suggest they should be allowed to vote independently – much less hold public office? I know we’ve done that in some places, but we must never forget it was clearly government extending itself way too far into the religious realm, and not make a habit of it. Where would we be today if the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant body in the U.S., founded by Baptist breakaways who wanted to maintain slavery, had been halted in their tracks?

Catholic officialdom (but not the majority of catholics, interestingly), represented by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, is insisting that gays have cooties, and letting them marry would only send a message that having cooties is good. He doesn’t use that expression, at least in public, but we all know that’s what he means.

And he’s not alone. Fundamentalists, too, are getting out the message that “tolerance” in America is just a code-word for “intolerance of Christianity.” As we learn from Answers in Genesis, “There is no such thing as neutrality, although many Christians become ensnared in the trap of believing there is.”

Bible or Constitution. When they conflict, there is no neutral place. You’ve got to go with Jesus.

Let’s not get too big for our britches and think we can live without religion. If people want to believe Jews murder children and drink their blood on Passover, or that black people were born to toil in the fields for the benefit of the white man, that women need to keep their hair out of sight, their mouths closed and their bodies available for child-rearing when their man calls, or that gay people are responsible for the volcanoes in Iceland and Chile, who are we to say it isn’t so?

Hopefully, if the state of New York does allow same-sex marriages, they will guarantee the right of religious groups to shun gay people, to refuse to recognize their marriages, to say openly that gays make lousy parents, and to forbid gay-straight alliances in their schools.

It’s their right and it’s a right that needs to be protected.

After all, can you imagine where would we be in America today without religion?