It is not long ago that large numbers of people in our country viewed people of color as “less than” human, less than white humans at the very least. It is in our recent past not our ancient history. It is even more recent that the idea of a black person marrying a white person was not only unsavory but in many places it was illegal. When I tell this to my children they are puzzled and they ask me “why.” I always find I’m a little stumped at that. I don’t have the long answer about cultural shifts and attitudes and misread narratives. All I seem to be able to find is the word, “fear.” I tell them that people were afraid. I tell them that we are always afraid of the “other.” Anyone different from how we perceive ourselves can seem a threat. Anyone who presents a different way of understanding the world, a different narrative, this scares us and we begin to question our own beliefs.
In the face of that we have two choices. We can be accepting and loving, possibly risking losing the sense of who we are altogether or we can shut down, take power, exert ourselves over the “other” and seemingly lock down our sense of self, which of course, leads exactly to the place we fear the most, losing the sense of who we are.
Is it as simple as that? Is it as simple as “fear?” Perhaps not. I’m sure many a PhD out there has studied this and written books and scholarly papers. There are cultural factors and economic conditions and charismatic people who lead the fearful into places they never thought they’d go. For slavery to have lasted in this country as long as it did and for attitudes and tensions to still exist, still seething under the surface, on the surface, above the surface, I have to confess my limited understanding of the human race.
North Carolina became the 30th state in the country to approve a constitutional amendment (at the state level) which defines marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. The selling point on the bill for a number of voting people in North Carolina is that it would make same-sex marriage (already illegal in North Carolina) finally out of the question. The fight over the bill became religious right versus the LGBT rights. It’s a simple fight then, at least as far as the Press was concerned; It is a struggle between those who want the right to marry the person they choose and those who view their choice as inherently wrong.
Unfortunately, it’s not a simple fight between individuals or even groups of individuals. There are powers at play and shifting dynamics. There are cultural factors and economic conditions and charismatic people who lead the fearful into places they never thought they’d go.
It is not only the religious right that is fearful, make no mistake. We are all led into places we never thought we’d go. In this digital age it’s easier than ever to express our doubts and our judgements and our opinion just about anyplace sporting a comment box. We jump to conclusions, we say hateful things and make broad generalizations on both sides of the political aisle. I’ve read too many dismissive comments about North Carolina today around this, comments about low intelligence and cousin marriage and fundamentalist Christians, comments that as a friend pointed out, we did not hear when California passed Prop 8.
Today is a good day then to take a step back and reflect a little. Today is a good day to lay off the comment key, no matter how you feel about the passing of Amendment One. At the very least, give a little pause before pressing “send.”
For the people who voted “yes” to Amendment One and who support this type of legislation I’d ask that you consider the greater implications of the bill that has just passed, about the effect it will have on all civil unions in your state, the effect it will have on people who are in abusive (but not legally married) situations, about the children of those people. I’d ask you to check into how this ban has effected the other 29 states, especially Ohio, who carry similar amendments. There was not a great deal of press about this part of the newly minted bill. It’s too late to change your vote but it’s never too late to open your mind wider and see a bigger picture going forward.
For those of us who profess to follow faith traditions, whether we judge homosexual relationships to be “natural” or not, it’s probably wise for us to find our sense of self rooted then in our narrative regardless of what the state legislates. Laws cannot make us better people or better Christians or better humans. Laws are meant to help us to be better citizens in my estimation. Asking ourselves going forward, “what will this law do?” is not questioning our faith, it is being a good citizen of a diverse nation.
For the population of people who hope for marriage equality, there should be room for disappointment and anger. Many people worked hard to stem the tide of press on this issue. The bigger question before you today however is not how do we tear down the people whose belief system and attitudes led them to vote “yes” but rather, how do we go forward productively and with integrity? What is the next step in this quest for equality?