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Prevailing Winds

Recently, President Barack Obama made history as being the first sitting U.S. President to endorse same-sex marriage. This might not be a big deal for some – he’d always hinted that he was leaning in that direction and being as liberal as he is, it comes as no surprise that he would share this viewpoint.

However for those in the Gay and Lesbian community, it is a big deal. To have a political leader of this echelon supporting their cause in this arena is a big boost. Just a little bit of hope, after all, can inspire one to work harder and it seems to me the battle to allow same sex marriage is only beginning.

Of course, one has to look at the circumstances regarding the President’s announcement. This is also the first time in history that polls have shown that Americans in general support same-sex marriage, which gives the political impetus for someone running for re-election to use that as part of their platform. Only a few years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were against allowing same-sex marriage so the change in the prevailing winds of opinion have shifted significantly.

There is also the timing of the North Carolina state legislature’s bill not only denying same sex couples the right to marry but also the right to a civil union which most states have yet to do. One would hardly expect differently from the state that gave us Jesse Helms, after all.

My stance on the subject has already been dealt with in another blog and I’ll leave it at that for the most part, other than to say that I continue to assert that I don’t think it is the bailiwick of politicians to meddle in religious subjects any more than I think it is the right of the clergy to meddle in political subjects. The two are supposed to be kept separate in our society and yet we continue to see that line blurred, not only on the same-sex marriage topic but also on things like stem cell research and abortion.

I’m beginning to see two Americas; the religious right on one side growing more conservative, continuing to push their agenda based on Christian morality. Not that I have anything against Christian morals – I very much endorse Jesus’ admonition to love one another – but I do think my interpretation of what Christ had in mind is far different than the conservative Christian interpretation.

The other America is the secular left, who are pushing their own agenda based on their own precepts. I don’t feel it necessary to ridicule religion, as Bill Maher often does, but I do think it is important that there be a definition of the place of religion in American society.

That doesn’t mean that as Roman Catholic as I am, I  want the Catholic bishops making policy. After all, these are the same men who chose to cover up numerous instances of pedophilia within their own ranks and while the Southern Baptist Convention hasn’t quite the same sad record as the Catholics, I find them just as undesirable as policy-makers. I would much rather that they stick to religious matters than those that are secular. Render that to Caesar which is Caesar, after all.

It is pleasing to see that Americans finally seem to be leaning towards allowing same-sex marriage. I believe the high profile of gay people like Ellen deGeneres and Jane Lynch have given a face to gay couples to an American public who perhaps needed to see gays as people. For those in Mid-America and in the Bible belt where same-sex couples are less prevalent, I believe that it’s an eye-opener. Some see lesbians as primarily butch man-haters and gays as catty mincing queens, both images largely a product of movies and television. While both sorts exist, there are even more who are as ordinary and as normal as anyone else other than in their sexual orientation. Hopefully as Americans get to see gays and lesbians in that light, their innate compassion may yet override their fear and distrust.

I believe that discrimination is wrong, no matter how it’s gone about and who is its victim. Preventing two people who love each other the same privileges and rights that two different people who love each other enjoy is just plain wrong. If a church chooses not to marry people of the same sex on moral grounds, that is their right as a religious institution. If a state chooses to prevent people from the same sex from marrying by enacting laws to do so, it is discriminating against gays and lesbians and those laws are therefore unconstitutional. In many states, it used to be just as illegal for people of different races to marry and those laws were eventually taken off the books. I believe that years from now, we will look at these laws defining marriage in very much the same way.

For those who say that interracial marriage is a different basket of cats from same-sex marriage, let me give you this – interracial marriage was opposed for years on moral grounds and those who opposed it often used biblical sources as the reason for their opposition. Laws banning interracial marriage were supported by the clergy, who saw African-Americans as less than human and a marriage between an African-American and a white person to be an abomination. There are some in these parts who still do.

I hope these attitudes towards gay people are changing. I think it’s high time they did. Our national self-image is that we are an inclusive people – you know, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” It is easy to be inclusive when the person is just like you. It is when including someone who challenges your beliefs that that inclusion becomes more critical. Agreeing that gay people should be allowed to be married isn’t endorsing homosexuality – it’s endorsing humanity. It’s doing the right thing.

The institution of marriage won’t be destroyed by allowing gay people to share in the joys and responsibilities of marriage – I believe the institution is far stronger than that, and if it isn’t then it needs to be destroyed anyway. I think the institution of marriage is destroyed by preventing people from benefitting from it. It’s destroyed by turning it into a political matter rather than a romantic one.

The winds of change blow us from all directions and it can be difficult sometimes to know which way to turn; whether to face the wind and challenge it or turn our backs to it and let it blow us as it will. For my part, it gives me hope that even though there is so much wrong with this country that it sometimes seems like we’ll never be able to “fix” it, that there are indications that there is nothing wrong with the heart of Americans. Maybe that will be enough to carry us through any storm after all.