Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's time to "get a backbone"

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.

1 comment:

BJ said...

I so much agree with Bishop Robinson.
I want to marry the person I love; in most states, I cannot because we are both male. My marriage might be made more possible if this country truly practiced separation of church and state.
In early June of this year, “Clergy at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, are opting out of performing civil marriages until gay couples can legally wed--and are encouraging other clergy to do likewise,” according to the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector.
Recent polling shows a 14% increase in support for marriage equality when laws include “religious liberty assurance.” New Hampshire is the most recent of states to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage. With a threatened veto by Governor John Lynch, the lawmakers included language that allows churches and religious groups to opt out of performing same-sex marriages. Once the concept of marriage is realized as two separate issues – the legal contract and the religious blessing, even those who view homosexuality as “unnatural” can and do accept the scenario where ANYONE can apply and receive a legal document of union (a contract). They can—and many do--reject the idea that such a union is blessed. More and more, states that are proposing same-sex marriage laws are writing their bills stating that the religious institutions will have the right to deny performing these marriages. Smart move – but wouldn’t it be a smarter move to take the church out of the legal system completely? Clergy should not be agents of the government. In several European nations, a couple applies for and is granted a marriage license – the legal union is created by the couple’s oath and signature of the civil authority. If they want religious service to bless the union, they go to their friendly neighborhood clergy -- no cumbersome entanglement of the legal and the religious. They can choose to do both. Seems to me, this is THE starting place of the controversy over same-sex marriage.
Every state, every faith and denomination struggle with this issue. The true separation here allows the argument to be clearer – one of civil rights and one of religious choice. There are members of the US Congress and the US Senate who would back such laws, and some may be pushing the idea now. Still, the people of this nation need to demand that we follow our forefathers’ prescription of separation of church and state and get the church out of the legal side of marriage contract.
The difference between holy matrimony and civil marriage is undeniable. A civil marriage is a basic contract and, most of the time, is a relatively simple process. Holy matrimony is a religion’s blessing of the union of a couple. As a person of faith and a proud citizen of our nation, I will continue the struggle for same-sex marriage. That struggle is on two fronts – legal and religious. They are separate struggles, not the muddled confusion of the existing system. Separate them and deal with each -- the state with the civil marriage issue and religious institutions with religious ceremonies that bless unions under God.