Last night Grace Cathedral in San Francisco played host to a forum on "Politics, Religion and Discourse: A Conversation about Same-Sex Marriage." Bishop Marc Andrus moderated a distinguished panel including Bishop Gene Robinson, in town from New Hampshire; Joe Tuman, a professor of Communications at San Francisco State; the Rev. Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge United Church of Christ and Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship, a multi-national, multi-denominational faith grouping; the Rev. Lindi Ramsden who serves as Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry in Sacarmento; and Rabbi Douglas Kahn of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
The room was packed with eager and slightly anxious listeners.
Dr. Tuman led off with a very concise and useful overview of how a California Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage a year ago, the campaign to outlaw it by way of Prop. 8 ensued, and the same California Supreme Court upheld the vote last month. He emphasized that despite upholding the new constitutional provision, the Court did not back away from its finding that LGBT people still legally constitute a "suspect class", forcing anyone choosing to discriminate against us to be subject to "strict scrutiny," essentially a refutable presumption of wrongdoing. That is, California law still protects gay equality far more vigorously than it did before this sequence of events.
Professor Tuman then offered his prescription for future efforts to repeal Prop. 8: we must remember that "my opponent in this is not my enemy." We are called to dialogue with a lot of skeptical people, including often our own families. If we do this, we can win many over.
Panelists offered their distinctive wisdom. The Rev. Flunder shared some historical perspective, describing the flexibility that Black churches under slavery had to adopt to create an ethics that responded to their members' lack of control of their own lives. She trusted that churches can likewise learn to respond to the novel social reality of contemporary loving, responsible gay and lesbian partnerships.
Bishop Robinson was his usual charming, but also bracing, self. He attributes the recent success in winning same-sex civil marriage in New Hampshire to inclusion of "unnecessary" but "reassuring" language in the law promising that no religious body will have to "marry" anyone against their beliefs. He looks forward to a time when the Church gets out of the civil marriage business.
But further, Robinson urged the LGBT movement to "get a backbone." He believes we need to understand more deeply that the movement for full equality of all people is a long process. We stand today on the shoulders of people who have been through these struggles before us; others will come after and stand on the shoulders of the LGBT movement we are now part of.