Why the road to marriage equality has never been about religion

Note: This post was originally written on July 12, 2015. It is pre-dated here in order to keep a blog series about an original composition in reading order.

Two years ago today, I married my husband. Growing up, I never imagined I would ever say those words.

Jonathan Rauch of The Atlantic wrote in his book “Gay Marriage” (2004) about something he called the imagination gap: heterosexual people could not imagine their lives without the opportunity to marry, and gay people could not imagine their lives with it. In this new world, the opportunity for gay people is here, and it’s not going away because of religious zealots. Why? Because this has never been a religious issue for LGBTs, and it never will be. Yet there are those who remain vehemently opposed to us having the freedom to marry on religious grounds.

Even though the Freedom to Marry Campaign is closing its doors, director Evan Wolfson says the work is far from over and that he and his team will branch out in other ways to continue to the movement. There are people who have yet to see how this is a win for everyone, and I can attest to the fact that there are perfectly sane, rational people who support LGBT rights but still have questions about marriage that we can answer if we are willing to take a little time.

On July 9, Henry Rollins, writing for LA Weekly said that he felt bad for people who still oppose gay marriage. He says he wishes the “You lost! Deal with it!” attitude would stop as it is not helpful. In principle, I wholeheartedly agree; but in any battle, those who prevail in the court system are going to gloat a bit and those who don’t will push back. We are human beings and that is part of our nature. I do believe that we’re better off avoiding the “Deal with it!” demeanor right now, but it truly depends on the situation. Is someone attacking us or are they simply trying to understand?

To the preacher who threatened to set himself on fire and to politicians who are crying foul just to get votes, I’m inclined to think, “Sore losers.” If you’re going to be that self-righteous or manipulative, you have issues that no amount of kindness on my part are going to fix. You’re not going to read this, nor would I communicate with you if you did. But to someone who says, “Help me understand,” we have a responsibility to show some humility. We have had civil conversations with people who wanted to understand before the ruling, so we should still be willing to have those conversations in the wake of it.

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A few days ago, I found out that a straight conservative friend of mine who is in favor of LGBT rights is struggling with this new reality. Kathy has been extremely supportive of our community over the years. She’s gone to bars with gay friends, pride events, gay men’s chorus concerts, and even once quipped to me, “Not ALL Republicans are crazy!”

Touché.

Still, she is truly conflicted when it comes to putting a new perspective on sixty-five years of personal belief. It’s made even more difficult for her because the Episcopal Church (her faith) recently codified theological support for same-sex marriage. It would be arrogant of me to assume that she’ll just get over it.

How did we ever get here in the first place? I think we can safely say that the biggest obstacle in the LGBT fight for equality (gay marriage, in particular) has not been the Christian faith as a whole, but the extremists in the various denominations who misquote the Bible and/or use it selectively. In the U.S., we are practically co-governed by Christianity without any acknowledgement of other spiritual ways of life, ones that actually embrace homosexuality.

Native American tribes refer to people like me as the berdache and revere us for being “two-spirit people.” The same is true for the Zulu people and the Dagara in Africa. We’re called the hijras in India, and the galli in Ancient Europe and the Middle East. (For an extensive overview of the full history of homosexuality in cultures around the world, I highly recommend Christian de la Huerta‘s book “Coming Out Spiritually” in which these and many other examples are well-researched and documented). If we are going to co-exist as a world of diverse people, these ways of life cannot be ignored, nor can they be changed by imposing other belief systems on them.

The problem is that the Bible and other religious law books have not been – perhaps could not ever be – used responsibly and logically, especially when it comes to homosexuality. If these ancient scrolls are going to be used in modern society, they must be read in current context and their inherent contradictions duly noted. Had such books never addressed the issue of homosexuality at all, we would have never had this conflict.

But because these books have been used to separate extremists from the rest of us, the LGBT community has, in turn, developed a kinship not unlike people of faith, resulting in an inevitable sense of “us” and “them”. If the LGBT community has ever seemed to be on the warpath against religion, it has always been from a place of defense. It is part of our nature to live and let live, but it becomes difficult to do when you’ve been oppressed for decades by religious beliefs that stood in the way of purely legal matters. In that sense, our own liberties have been held hostage.

“Well, why not fight for civil unions or simply call it something else?” some may ask. “Wouldn’t that be enough?” To be honest, I think for most LGBTs they would indeed be enough in principle. But in addition to the privilege of joint tax filing, powers of attorney, and the host of other benefits a full civil union would afford, there is the matter of other states recognizing that union in full. There is also an inherent need to freely make mention of our spouses in conventional terms, rather than be forced to create new language.

You’re invited to our civil union ceremony.
I’d like you to meet my civil spouse.
We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our civil unionization.

In addition to such language being ridiculously awkward, it would continue to perpetuate the “us” and “them” mentality that has been at the heart of the problem. So no, civil unions are – and were never – enough. Further, in winning the right to marry, we have not redefined an institution. The words married, husband, and wife still mean the same things. The only thing that’s changed are two words on the marriage license application: groom and bride. I know straight couples who grimace at the traditional connotations of those words, and I can assure you the LGBT community is not comfortable with them. We’ve had our fill of jokes about who will be wearing the dress (to say nothing of “Who’s the man and who’s the woman?”).

Perhaps the most vehement arguments against us, 1) marriages must be recognized by God and 2) gay couples cannot procreate, are actually the weakest. Many people get married outside the church, even if they’re not atheists, and many straight couples elect not to have children. Marriage has always been a civil right. Religion does not own it any more than it owns the right to make a last will and testament. Finally, churches have always had the right to refuse to marry people on religious grounds. Rabbi’s have been doing it since the dawn of time.

Even so, this minor change – the very thought of it for many – is a big adjustment, and if we’re going to ask for a seat at the table, we should respect that fact. I think there is something to be learned from the black community and its consistent position of remaining strong in its struggles and humble in its victories. Yes, we’ve fought long and hard, but we can celebrate without flying in the face of those who simply need a little more context and a little more time to process this new reality. Their struggle is not something we should revel in, but rather embrace. That is part of our responsibility as we evolve.

I don’t believe the LGBT community would be where it is today if it were not for our heterosexual allies, many of whom have been Christian, some have been Republican. We can help those who may be struggling with this “final straw” by explaining that this has never been about religion for us. For the zealots, it clearly has; but not the middle-ground Christians who are willing to have rational conversations about it. Yes, they are out there, they are our friends, and they need not be judged.

My hope is that we will soon be able to collectively celebrate an institution that has been strengthened, not redefined. Besides, in the end, all we are is married.

Just married.

kevsig6


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