I am against California’s Proposition 8, which puts a ban in the California constitution on gay marriages. When the ballot measure passed, I was disappointed, but I also thought that over time, people’s attitudes would change. So when I saw protests against the change in the California constitution, I was generally supportive. One of the things that bothered me about the protests, though, is the criticisms I see in some of the protest signs against Mormons, Catholics, and Evangelicals. I think that is a big mistake, for not all Mormons, Catholics or Evangelicals supported Proposition 8. A better way would be to appeal to the more liberal and moderate Christians that belong to each denomination to support the cause of gay marriage.
A common misconception among some progressives is that Christians are all conservative Republicans. Yet a quick glance at the pews of the churches will find a diversity of political views. Within the Mormon, Catholic, and Evangelical churches are more liberal views that do not agree with the conservative elements in their respective denominations. If opponents of Proposition 8 begin to view a fight for gay marriage as also being a fight against these churches, it’ll backfire for several reasons. It’ll galvanize moderate Christians who are in the fence about this issue to defend their church. This will also gives more ammunition to conservative Mormons, Catholics and Evangelicals to marginalize their more liberal parishioners.
Jasmyne A. Cannick, an African American lesbian activist, wrote an article called The Gay/Black Divide for the November 8, 2008 edition of the Los Angeles Times. She commented:
“White gays often wonder aloud why blacks, of all people, won’t support their civil rights. There is a real misunderstanding by the white gay community about the term. Proponents of gay marriage fling it around as if it is a one-size-fits-all catchphrase for issues of fairness.
But the black civil rights movement was essentially born out of and driven by the black church; social justice and religion are inextricably intertwined in the black community. To many blacks, civil rights are grounded in Christianity- not something separate and apart from religion but synonymous with it. To the extent that the issue of gay marriage seemed to be pitted against the church, it was going to be a losing battle in my community.”
Cannick makes a good point that there is a strong progressive tradition within the Christian church, especially within the Catholic and Evangelical movement. The anti-slavery movement and the Social Gospel movement both had adherents within the Evangelical churches. The Catholic Church has always taken up the cause of the poor and the marginalized, and since Vatican II has also take up anti-war positions. Though the past 30 years have seen the rise of the Religious Right, there are still progressives within those two denominations and I’m sure that is true of the Mormon Church as well.
So what should supporters of gay marriage do with their Christian foes? We should protest and go in the streets, as people have done these past couple of days. But we should refrain from making our protests into antiMormon,antiEvangelical or antiCatholic protests and instead encourage liberals and gays within those denominations to speak out. And we should try to persuade moderates and even sympathetic conservatives within those churches of the prejudice that arises from a ban in the constitution. In my time at an evangelical church, I found two types of people who were against homosexuality: one group thought homosexuality was a sin and hated gays and lesbians; and the other group thought homosexuality was a sin but had close family members or friends who were gay and lesbian and sincerely struggled with loving their gay friends and family while holding on to their belief. Trying to talk to the first group is a waste of time, but I think it’s possible to talk to the second group. The people in the second group do not see gays and lesbians as two dimensional stereotypes: they are their brothers, sisters, relatives, close friends. Though it may be futile to try to convince them that homosexuality is not a sin, I think it’s possible to convince them that even if they believe homosexuality is a sin, homophobia is an even worse sin. Homophobia is like racism and sexism in that they have the effect of dehumanizing and marginalizing a group of people, making them vulnerable to a whole range of cruel treatment. Jesus went out of his way to reach out to marginalized people, to make people see the humanity in prostitutes, demon possessed people, taxcollectors and outcasts.
If we demonize Catholics, Mormons and Evangelicals, the road to gay marriage will become much harder than it already is. If we instead reach out to the liberals within those churches, we may find support where we least expect.