John Ostrander: “We hold these truths to be self-evident”
I just read where the Anglican church, now controlled by conservative African bishops, are threatening to lower the boom of the American branch — the Episcopalians — to the point of tossing them out over the issue of appointing an openly and actively gay bishop and the issue of offering blessings to same sex couples.
Never mind that the bishop in question, V. Gene Robinson, happens to be in a very monogamous relationship, or that he is, by all accounts, a very good man and capable administrator. Never mind that he is being open about his sexuality and his relationship — there would be no problem if he just kept it a secret and lied about it. Never mind that the couples in question are seeking stability in one on one relationships in a loving situation and are looking to commit to one another. Never mind that the Anglican Church has a history of not being doctrinal, of open inquiry, of autonomy for each of the Churches within its communion. What matters is that once again the Christian Right(eous) have determined that their version of the truth is the only truth and will impose that view on everyone and it doesn’t matter what they destroy along the way.
The Crusades live.
Lest everyone think that my complaint is with African bishops, my major complaint is right back here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Gay rights are the big hot-button topics here and gay marriage is the biggest third-rail right now in American politics. We could argue it’s really Anti-Christian but let that go for the moment; the truth is it’s really Anti-American.
One of the central tenets of our democracy is that we’re all created equal. Go ahead and look it up in that fine radical document, the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Some key words — endowed: you were born with these rights, they were not given to you as presents by the state; unalienable — they can’t be taken away; among — the list is not complete; the three rights listed are among others.
Yeah, we’ve found it hard to live up to that since Day One. From the start we were excepting women, Native Americans, and of course those African slaves who were only 3/5th human, really just property, with no rights that a white man need to consider (according to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Dred Scott case). We keep finding, usually to our cost, that when we say all people were created equal we’d better mean it. Every time we equivocate on the principle we create discord, sometimes war, and a price is extracted from us. If one group can be singled out and denied their basic rights then any group can be singled out. We undermine the very basis on which we all claim our liberty and our rights.
Gays and lesbians have different sexual preferences than straight people do. So long as their partners are other consenting adults, there should be no problem. Same goes for straights, by the way. Gays and lesbians should have the same rights and privileges that any other law-abiding citizen should have — no more but certainly no less. So far as I can tell, they aren’t asking for more. Just their due. Their rights. The government — be it local, state, or federal — has no business denying them those rights. Those unalienable rights.
If someone’s religion or their understanding of that religion says they should not have sex with the same gender or should not marry someone of the same gender, then they shouldn’t do it. Their personal beliefs, however, do not trump another person’s civil rights in this country — or should not. Marriage is not simply a religious act; it is a legal contract and into which gays and lesbians, as adults in their right minds, are entitled to enter.
There’s a simple solution that I doubt will be adopted. The government should not be in the marriage business; they should all be civil unions and performed only by a justice of the peace. If "marriage" is a "sacrament," as some of the religious folk hold, then let that be performed by the churches. The government has no business dealing with sacraments for anyone. Nor should any church be able to perform a civil union — that should be strictly the purview of the state. The legal side is a matter for the government; the blessing side can be for the churches. You can have both if you want but if you want the legal benefits, then you need a civil union. If a given church feels it cannot bless a given civil union for whatever reason then it should not be obliged to do so. The government has no business telling a church how to conduct its affairs — and vice versa. Not when it would deny anyone basic civil liberties.
Pretty simple, I think. Pretty reasonable. Gays and lesbians get equal protection under the law and the churches get to follow their own beliefs. I don’t claim that it’s original; it’s standard operating procedure in a number of countries around the world. Nor am I the first person to suggest it as a solution in this country.
There’s not a chance in hell of it being adopted, however. The Conservative Religious Right is convinced of its truth and that its truth is universal and that their belief trumps American law. Their belief in the righteousness of their truth means that they should impose their views on everyone else. God told ’em to do it — sometimes personally.
Me? Well, I’d like to borrow the initials some Conservative Christians like to use — WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? The Jesus that ate with the tax-collectors and the prostitutes and others deemed "unclean," that stifled the mob that was going to stone the woman caught in adultery by writing their sins in the dust, that seemed to have problems with "stiff necked Pharisees" who were the ruling religious big-wigs of His day — what would He do?
I suspect Jesus would have blessed the same-sex union. And damn the religious hierarchy.