Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Voting on Love

Yesterday the LA Times reported that the anti-gay constitutional amendment in California has officially attained enough votes for it to be put on the ballot this fall. The proposed amendment would write discrimination into the California constitution, defining marriage as a union between "one man and one woman." In effect, if passed, this amendment would undo the historic decision of the state Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.

Given this development, in November Californians will not only vote on who is worthy to be president, but who is worthy to be loved. It seems an odd use of our democratic electoral process to subject people's personal lives and loves to the ballot.

I have little doubt how a referendum on interracial marriage would have turned out in the 1950s here in America. Yet, miscegenation laws, those banning interracial marriage, sex and even co-habitation, were never put to a vote. Rather, it was through a historic ruling of the United States Supreme Court, Loving v. Virginia, that finally declared such laws unconstitutional. Far from "judicial activism," this ruling demonstrated our nation's collective wisdom that it is never right or fair or ethical to subject the rights of the minority to the votes of the majority.

And, yet it seems we as a nation have not learned our lesson...for here we are again voting on the right to love. As a person of faith, I continue to be dismayed and disheartened by the way in which those in my own community abuse our religious tradition to deny other people the right to love. It is clear that the opposition to same-sex marriage is firmly rooted in religion-based bigotry which masquerades heterosexist discrimination as religious truth.

The fact of the matter is that religious communities are not of one mind on the issue of marriage and sexuality. For Christians, we must admit that even in our own sacred Scripture there is a variety of perspectives and beliefs about the institution of marriage. Far from the concocted notion of "one man-one woman," marriage in the Bible was often polygamous and included the right for the man to own concubines. And yes, own would be the right word, for "biblical marriage" was an economic contract between two men in which property was exchanged. The wife was often one of many women owned by the husband. Remember Abraham and Sarah and Hagar? How about Jacob and Rachel and Leah and Bilhah? Of course, these are not the stories the religious right likes to remember in the contemporary debates over marriage.

Yet, I believe that despite these cultural backlashes same-sex marriage will one day be a normal part of everyday life. Studies reveal that this may be nothing more than a generational issue. As LGBTQ people continue to tell their stories, share their lives and be proud of who they are and who they love, our culture and society will also become more open, more accepting. Anna Quindlen asserts that it is not ultimately the courts and legislatures that will decide this issue. Rather, it will be the friends, family and neighbors of same-sex couples who. witness their love and are moved to advocate for equality. Quindlen writes,
"Someday soon the fracas surrounding all this will seem like a historical artifact, like the notion that women were once prohibited from voting and a black individual from marrying a white one. Our children will attend the marriages of their friends, will chatter about whether they will last, will whisper to one another, "Love him, don't like him so much." The California Supreme Court called gay marriage a "basic civil right." In hindsight, it will merely be called ordinary life."
May it be so.

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