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Commentary Last Updated: Nov 18th, 2008 - 02:01:52

Equal human rights
By Michael Hasty
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 18, 2008, 00:24

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One of the few areas where conservatives could take any comfort on election night 2008 was in the passage, in three states, of ballot initiatives opposing same-sex marriage -- most notably, in California, where thousands of gay and lesbian couples had already made their relationships legally binding, in the months between the California Supreme Court decision upholding the right of homosexuals to marry and November 4.

Over this past weekend, there were large demonstrations all over the country against the passage of California�s Proposition 8, demanding equal rights for homosexuals. By coincidence, I spent the weekend celebrating the birthday of an old friend of mine, who is in a long-term lesbian relationship. She is a college friend of my partner�s, and we stayed at her home in Pennsylvania, along with her visiting children and grandchildren, and of course her partner, who organized the party. It was a wonderful time.

It has been one of the great blessings of my life that I�ve had close, longtime gay and lesbian friends. Since I come from a very large family, it�s unsurprising to me that I also have homosexual relatives. It�s estimated that about five percent of the human population is attracted to the same sex, and that seems about right, in my experience.

Surveys have found, logically enough, that people who have gay and lesbian friends and relatives are more apt to support equal rights for homosexuals, including the right to marry. To me, the idea that these rights are even in question is a tragic absurdity. What right do so-called �Christians� have, to deny people I love one of our most fundamental human rights as specifically stated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to �the pursuit of happiness.� How can people who claim to find their own happiness in �the sanctity of marriage,� presume to deny anyone else their right to that same happiness? It doesn�t make any sense. It is, at best, hypocrisy.

At worst, it is bigotry and hatred -- the very opposite of the God of love and tolerance that fundamentalist Christians claim to worship. In their own scriptures, Jesus tells them that they can find him in the �outcast.� But they continually refuse to believe him. Like the Pharisees of Jesus� day, they obsess about the letter of their scripture, but are blind to its spirit -- the spirit of love, compassion, justice and tolerance that Jesus preached.

Every so often, I listen to Christian radio broadcast out of Winchester, to hear what talking points are being circulated and assimilated among the Republican base. The spin on gay marriage is that this represents �special rights,� rather than equal rights, because gay marriage has never been part of our Judeo-Christian tradition. The Christian right sees same-sex marriage as an attack on �the family,� which is based on �the union of one man and one woman;� and the family being society�s own basic building block, gay marriage is therefore an attack on American society itself, and ipso facto, anti-American.

Fundamentalist Christians like to think of themselves as being persecuted. Gay marriage is also seen as an attack on the Bible and religious faith, and on the right of �Christians� to practice their faith freely. In their eyes, �secular humanists� control the media, the judiciary, and the federal bureaucracy, and are trying to destroy America and Christianity by advancing the causes of both �Gnosticism� (cultural relativism) and �pagan nature worship,� which includes both environmentalism and the animal coupling of men with men and women with women. The Christian right sees the official sanction of gay marriage as the government requiring them to reject their own faith, because their tax dollars would then support a system that celebrates, at the county courthouse, a sacrament -- same-sex marriage -- of a false religion. Hence, the Christian right is being persecuted (in a country where a substantial majority of citizens identify themselves as �Christian�) for taking a stand in support of �biblical principles.�

The Hebrew scriptures were written partly as political documents. They were meant to encourage the separation of the Hebrew tribe from other Canaanites, and to create a sense of tribal nationalism through religious difference, by rejecting both Canaanite polytheism and its feminine aspects -- female goddesses, greater equality between the sexes, and tolerance for homosexuality. The scriptures are just as effective today in conveying religious sanction to a system of male domination and other power imbalances, nourished by our �Judeo-Christian tradition.�

The Christian right�s opinion of same-sex marriage is, as would probably be expected, rich with irony.

In the first place, every premise on which they base their argument is wrong. As always, the scriptures are full of ambiguities, rather than the certainties they preach, and the same Old Testament book that is supposed to outlaw homosexuality also outlaws cheeseburgers -- it�s meant to be read in context. The Bible outlaws adultery, too, but Jesus himself is descended from one of scripture�s most infamous adulteresses. In addition, the Irish Times, several years ago, published a well-documented account of ancient Christian ritual used in the matrimonial ceremonies of same-sex couples. Early Christianity endorsed gay marriage.

Perhaps the biggest irony in this debate is that the people who are most worried about attacks on the institution of marriage are the ones with the highest divorce rate. Most of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates vote Republican; the majority of states with the lowest divorce rates are blue states. Evangelical Christians get more divorces than other demographic groups; evangelical teens have higher pregnancy rates. This is why Bristol Palin�s pregnancy was no big deal to the Republican base. They all know kids like that.

The small comfort that conservatives took from the initiatives banning gay marriage this past Election Day will be seen, in the end, as just whistling in the dark. The culture has already shifted, and not just among the young, who are our future. If the front line of the culture war today is gay marriage, when just short years ago, it was civil unions, cultural conservatives have lost tremendous ground.

Ultimately, it�s because they are defending a groundless position. People are homosexual because God created them that way; homosexuality is found throughout nature. If we truly believe in the principle that we are all created equal -- with equal rights -- and we want to govern ourselves by that principle, then we will not be bound by the tyranny of a temporary majority, but only by our national responsibility to uphold the most fundamental human rights -- including the right to marry the person of your own choosing.

If it�s a new era, let�s begin with those.

Michael Hasty lives on a farm in West Virginia, where he wrote a column for seven years for the Hampshire Review, the state�s oldest newspaper. In 2000, it was named best column by the West Virginia Press Association. His writing has appeared in the Charleston Gazette, Online Journal, Common Dreams, Buzzflash, Tikkun and many other websites. He publishes the blog, Radical Pantheist. He plays guitar and harmonica with the folk/gospel trio, the Time Travelers. Email:. radicalpantheist(at)gmail (dot) com.

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