After I posted a temperate and somewhat optimistic response to the disappointing news of Proposition 8's passage (which eliminates same-sex marriage in California), a friend of mine e-mailed me, insisting that I tap into my inner righteous indignation. "Foster some good, old-fashioned rage," he wrote.
But that's just not my thing. The last time I got really angry about something was when the seventh season of 24 was postponed for a year because of the Writers Guild of America strike. It was enough to make me punch walls in my apartment, while unleashing a litany of Jack Bauer-style "dammit's" and "son-of-a-bitch's."
I also suspected that, once the initial dust of outrage settled, we all would get a better view of what was really going on. And I was right. After the initial backlash the African-American community received for its overwhelming support of Prop 8, many of my peers came to their senses and backed off. After all, while 70% of blacks did vote in favor of the ban, they only accounted for 9% of the "Yes" vote. Additionally, it became clear that their disapproval of gay marriage was less a product of race and more a product of religion. As Mark Morford put it in the San Francisco Chronicle, "It's God's fault."
But I'm not about to foster some good, old-fashioned rage at the Mormons or the Catholics or the Evangelicals either. I'm doing something much more radical. I'm reaching out to them.
When the legalization of gay marriage starts becoming commonplace in the United States, it will represent a quantum leap in our struggle for civil rights. But one thing that pro-gay laws cannot do is shift the fundamental beliefs of those who condemn homosexuality. While having our rights acknowledged and protected by the law is indeed a top priority, the next step in the movement is finding full acceptance in the hearts and minds of people who view us as sinners, undeserving of equal rights. After all, how far will we have come if the law embraces us, while people do not?
As much as I laughed with Bill Maher as he relentlessly skewered the world's religions in his documentary, Religulous, I recognize that religion isn't going to disappear. In order to make lasting progress, we all could stand to "sleep" with the "enemy."
Going after the Mormons has served as a necessary outlet for those wishing to direct their anger. But I've been wondering if it's counterproductive to throw blanket condemnation over a group of people the same way that some of them did to the gay community.
I know that all most of us want when it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is for them to leave us alone and stay out of politics. But what we ultimately need is for the Mormon church to shift its views about homosexuality, the same way it's shifted its views about women and blacks over the last few decades.
What some of us don't realize is that we have allies within the Mormon church, and they are the ones who will be instrumental in creating institutional change. It's got to the come from the inside, and it's going to come from them.
Prior to the election, I discovered Mormons in the blogosphere who support gay marriage and see it as a civil rights issue like we do. And these are not fringe members of the church or folks who have been excommunicated; these are people, straight Mormons, deeply rooted in the LDS community, so much so that they sometimes come under fire from their friends and family for their progressive views.
After Prop 8 passed, I e-mailed one of those Mormon bloggers in an effort to build bridges and gain some understanding. I wrote:
I wonder how it is you are able to reconcile the acceptance of homosexuality with your religion, when so many people have trouble doing so. I hope that your insight will help guide me in how to approach taking this issue to the next level. It's obvious to me that my community shouldn't just give up on the idea of religious people ever understanding - because so many of them do.
A few days later, she posted a rather insightful essay on her blog. Some highlights:
To assume LDS members are monolithic in opinion on this issue is both false and counterproductive....
There are progressive Mormons who take serious issue with Proposition 8....
I will not look my gay friends in the eye and tell them they don't deserve happiness, that their families don't deserve safety and security, that their love isn't the right kind of love. Not in my America. Not in my name....
Churches do not have the purview--or stewardship, to use a popular LDS term--to dictate laws governing civil marriage. In the New Testament, Jesus clearly states that we are to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17, KJV)....
In fact, this very principle is found within the bedrock of LDS doctrine. One of the sacred tomes of LDS scripture, Doctrine & Covenants, clearly states in section 134 verses 9-10: "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied. We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members [...] according to the rules and regulations of such societies [...]; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world's good...."
Her full post can be found here, and I'm sure she would appreciate some words of support, as seeing her religion come under attack must be disturbing and disheartening.
I'll leave you with a personal anecdote that speaks volumes about where we should be headed.
When I came out as gay to a college friend of mine many years ago, he and his wife, both practicing Baptists, were shocked, and they subsequently shipped me books about how to cure homosexuality. I sent him a rather bitter "goodbye" letter and recommended books that interpreted the Bible differently than he did, interpretations that were able to reconcile homosexuality with "God's plan." My friend and I didn't speak again for many years.
Inexplicably, years later, our friendship started up again. Obviously, his views of homosexuality had changed, and he's been pushing for more dialogue on gay issues within his ministry, though we haven't really talked about it all that much.
I called him up recently and asked him what had happened in the past that helped shift his views about homosexuality. "Knowing you," he said. "Us being friends."
After I hung up and let our conversation sink in, I realized that, in this critical juncture in the gay rights movement, demonizing religion and people of faith will ultimately yield results of little consequence. I'm not saying we all should go out, find Mormons, and befriend them. But if we do make an effort to put ourselves out there in such a way that religious people can get to know us and we can get to know them, it'll be a lot more difficult for them to condemn us and to choose to take our rights away.
After all, how fundamentally different can I possibly be if I - an extremely liberal, gun-control supporting, closet pacifist, arty type - can embrace a series like 24 as fervently as the extremely conservative, NRA-loving, pro-war, anti-"elitists" that seem to be that TV show's base? Not very different, I would say. We all think Jack Bauer kicks ass. And we all believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.