You didn’t think I forgot, did you? It has now been two months since Pastor Jay Dennis, R-First Baptist Church at the Mall, led the fight to protect the institution of marriage from marauding homosexual monogamy, committment, and fashion sense. I continue to wait breathlessly for him to take up once again the burden/ego trip of moral leadership to fight heterosexual divorce or to prevent heterosexual second, third, or fourth marriages in concert with Biblical teaching.
Like many people, gay and straight, who invested energy and emotion in both the presidential election and the losing fights against the anti-gay amendments, my immediate reaction to the Rick Warren inauguration annoucement was to feel punched in the gut. I have since come around a bit, though not for the “reaching out” reasons cited by the invaluable Cary McMullen. I’ll explain further in a moment.
But first, I want to draw your attention to the specific reason why selecting Rick Warren, at this particular moment in time, spawned the reaction it did.
Cary put it like this in a recent column: “Obama is trying to include people that his party hasn’t welcomed much, and not everyone may like it, as evidenced by the backlash from liberal groups over his invitation to Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration next month.”
First, liberal and gay-friendly are not necessarily synonymous. And second, “trying to include people that his party hasn’t welcomed much” isn’t why there was backlash. The why is far more specific and simple: Warren actively supported the Prop. 8 reversal of marriage rights in California. And in a nastier move, just days before the announcement, he said this in a wide-ranging and fascinating interview in BeliefNet:
“The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”
First, polygamy certainly has been – and still is in many places – part of any 5,000-year marriage definition. But that aside, it’s funny that he’s not talking about the redefinition of marriage to include no-fault heterosexual divorce and multiple marriages. To his credit, Warren does say point blank that divorce is a far worse threat to marriage than including gays. He then proceeds to shrug. He is not asked why practicing homosexuals are not permitted to be members of his church, but people in second marriages are. I hope Cary would agree that Obama’s party is far more welcoming of Warren than Warren is of homosexuals.
But I digress. This conflation of gay marriage – and therefore gay relationships – with incest, child rape, and polygamy happens constantly among critics. Warren actually left out bestiality, which also shows up constantly. If you allow gay marriage, the refrain goes, you have to allow people to hump goats. I’m sorry, but that is patently stupid. First of all, incest, child rape, and goat humping are illegal. Gay sex is not. Very simply, the realm of civil law does not consider these equally lawless acts. The realm of common sense doesn’t consider them equal either. And there’s a further peculiarity in that people like Warren often talk about how they love gay people and have gay friends, etc., etc., while maintaining that what they’re doing is the equivalent of child rape and thus cannot be codified in law.
Let me assure you, I don’t love child rapists; I don’t have incestual friends. Why on earth would you not be homophobic if you truly believe gay unions have same the deleterious effect on society as child rape?
This is typical of the incoherence and intellectual dishonesty and confusion at the heart of most arguments against gay marriage – and more specifically, state recognition of gay relationships. In fact, Warren, in a subsequent clarification of his remarks, comes much closer to an honest assessment of what this is really about. He writes:
“Much of this debate is not really about civil rights, but a desire for approval. The fact that 70% of blacks supported Prop 8 shows they don’t believe it is a civil rights issue. Gays in California already have their rights. What they desire is approval and validation from those who disagree with them, and they are willing to force it by law if necessary. Any disapproval is quickly labeled “hate speech. Imagine if we held that standard in every other disagreement Americans have? There would be no free speech. That’s why, on the traditional marriage side, many saw Prop 8 as a free speech issue: Don’t force me to validate a lifestyle I disagree with. It is not the same as marriage.”
Again, as Warren all but admits here. This has virtually nothing to do with marriage protection. It has everything to do with gay stigmitization. And while California has civil unions, Florida does not. Gays in Florida do not have the rights of those in California. That’s why Amendment 2 in Florida was so disgusting. It was an overt attack on committed gay relationships – not a defense of marriage. I’m actually sympathetic to people who, out of sincere respect of tradition, object to including gay relationships in the peculiar social/civil/religious institution we call marriage. I think they are wrong, but I can respect that point-of-view. But I think most critics of gay marriage – and virtually all the political/religious leaders like Warren – don’t hold that position at all. Every one of these votes becomes a referendum on gayness itself – a referendum on validation. Thus, in Florida, religious leaders like Dennis are in the position of seeing no moral difference between hooking up at a gay bar and committed 20-year relationships – mostly because the whole idea of gay intimacy of any kind freaks them out. I have nothing but contempt for this belief. And it shows that many churches have no idea what to do with gay people. They just want them to go away.
On top of this, Warren offers this “free speech issue” canard as well. He says unless religious leaders get to strip gay people of marriage rights, their free speech is impinged. Huh? Look, no one is going to force any church or pastor to marry gays in a religious ceremony. Ever. That is a fundamental separation of church and state issue. I suppose some yokel might sue for attention. He would be laughed out of court and shouted down by the vast majority of the gay community and its supporters. For what it’s worth, I would write just as intensely against any such thing as I do in favor of marriage. The free speech thing argument is ridiculous. We are talking about civil, government-sponsored marriage, not religious marriage.
For too long, anti-gay leaders have been able to hide behind abstraction and ambiguity and the blurry distinctions between marriage and civil unions. And that’s why I’ve come around on Warren’s inauguration prayer. Though I don’t think this was Obama intention, it has forced him to account for his words. His church has already dropped some anti-gay language from its web site, according to many reports. He supposedly told Melissa Etheredge that he had said some stupid things and been misquoted on others (again, not specific). He’s been spinning and clarifiying and a little uncomfortable. Good.
Now, if he and others really wanted to reach out, they could stop comparing loving gay relationships to incest and child rape. And they could drop prohibition of gay membership in their churches. After all, people living openly in any number of sins – including second marriages – are welcome. That has nothing to do with marriage, but it does acknowledge basic gay humanity and dignity. That would be reaching out we could believe in.