“I am so pissed off.”
So started an email from my cousin the other day, telling me that Maine had repealed the law allowing LGBTs to marry.
I hadn’t really thought much about the issue since Prop 8 passed last November. I didn’t even know that Maine was voting on it. I’m not really a political person. I figure the right will never convince the left and the left will never convince the right. There are just too damn many people in this country for all of us to agree on everything. I always just kind of walk that middle line, staying out of the argument. What can I do, right?
But recently I’ve been rethinking that stance when it comes to allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Because it’s not really about marriage. It’s about allowing a certain group of people to have the same rights as everyone else.
Wait a minute…
I’m sorry, are we really talking about equal rights in the year 2009? Didn’t Rosa Parks refuse to sit in the back of the bus, like, forever ago? And didn’t Susan B. Anthony show that having a vagina doesn’t impair your ability to vote way back before computers and cars and maybe even indoor plumbing? We’ve put a man on the moon and a black man in the White House, but we’re still putting restrictions on who you can love?
Oh, I see. It’s because being gay is wrong in the eyes of the Lord. I get it now. Lawmakers have been sworn to duty – to serve and protect – and that includes saving people from the fiery pits of hell.
Wait...that's not right either.
Many, many years ago, a bunch of folks in weird outfits and a penchant for big shiny buckles got on a boat and pitted themselves against stormy seas, frigid winters, and starvation – all to escape religious prosecution. And then some other stuff happened and then it was 1776 and there were declarations and constitutions and everyone decided there would be separation of church and state.
Now – I’ll give you this – there is a bit of an overlap between religion and government. That’s because people confuse morality and religion. Religion isn’t just a list of morals you should have. It’s a belief system. And you know what? Government isn't a moral system. It's a ruling body designed to keep our society safe and organized. Because if you’re going to have more than one person living in the same space, and you don’t want total anarchy, you have to have some rules. Government is the instiller of these rules. Government says, “Hey, you know what? You probably shouldn’t kill people.” And voilá, for the most part, people refrain from murder, because it’s better for society. Religion says “Though shalt not murder.” Probably for societal reasons, but also because killing someone is killing one of God’s beloved creatures, and there’s a whole theological discussion behind why that is bad, yada yada yada. In short - same rule, different reason.
And there are a lot of those. Things that make God happy (religion) are often the same things that keep a society in working order (government).
But, and I want to say this clearly, it is not the government’s job to keep people out of hell. If I want to worship Satan, the government can’t stop me. And shouldn’t. If I want to pray to Allah, if I want to worship the earth, if I want to walk up and down Los Angeles with a giant cross on my back, that is my prerogative. If my religious devotions start affecting traffic or disturbing the neighbours or in any way harming society, then yes Mr. Police Officer, welcome to my home. But my religious beliefs are mine and yours and yours and if we disagree, then great. We can agree to disagree and maybe even learn something from each other. God Bless America.
But...Marriage. Marriage is what brings is together today.
Here’s another area where there is a little blurring of the line between government and religion. Marriage is when you make family where there wasn’t family before. For some it’s about love, for some convenience or money, and for others it’s about citizenship. Whatever reason you get married for, the government says, “Congratulations, here are your tax breaks and new legal perks.” But it’s hard, because no one watches the new couple sign the paper from the courthouse. They see the couple make vows in front of a priest. But you can get married without going to a church. And for some people who don’t feel the need to make it official to the government, you can get married at a church and not sign any papers. Church marriage and government marriage are two different things that a lot of people choose to combine. I get it. If I just signed a paper and didn’t make any vows before God, I’d feel a little weird about it. And if I got married at a church, but then didn’t get any of the fun tax breaks or couldn’t visit my spouse in the hospital, I would be outraged. But, in the end, they are two different things. The government shouldn’t care who or what you marry.
So we’ve covered that in the United States, church and state are separate, and that church marriage and state marriage are ultimately two separate things. I think at this point it’s pretty clear that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. I could end this here and feel pretty confident that I am in the right. But for some people, there’s just no separating the Bible out of it. As a church-going girl, I have to say good on you for living your convictions. It’s great when you see God in every part of your life. But, also as a church-going girl, I’m a little confused by which God you’re talking about. Because the God that I learned about, the one who sent us Jesus, is pretty clear about loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbour as yourself. In fact, he said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Nowhere in that statement did he say, “Go out and picket your neighbour’s right to love,” or “Go out and beat senseless someone who is different from you and tie them to a fence and leave them to die,” or “Treat people who love others of the same sex like second class citizens.”
You can throw Leviticus or Romans or Corinthians at me all you like, but ultimately, “Love the Lord, love your neighbour,” rules out all of that. And until you are following specific mold cleansing rituals and aren’t lying with a woman for 7 days after she’s had her period, don’t talk to me about Old Testament rules.
Now, if you believe that God is going to send gays to hell, then I probably won’t be able to convince you of anything different. But I should be able to convince you that treating LGBTs like second class citizens is against all that this country stands for. Would you feel pride sitting in a segregated classroom? Would you stand for Nazi’s taking your Jewish friends off to a concentration camp? Then why would you allow the poor treatment of LGBTs to go on in this country? Why are we letting confused teenagers commit suicide, and closeted people shrivel inward because they’re too afraid to be who they are, or for God’s sake letting people get murdered solely because of who they love?
Why are we sitting down for this?
What can I do? Plenty. And you can too.
To find out more about what you can do, please visit the Human Rights Campaign.
UPDATE: A good friend of mind suggests checking out the Courage Campaign.