Redemption of California?
For many years now, conservative Christians have driven the debate about gay marriage. I believe it is time to take on this issue in a new way because opposing gay marriage is not in keeping with the values of our state or with the teachings of Christ.
On March 7, 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22, also know as the Knight Initiative, which banned the state from recognizing gay marriage. I remember this like it was yesterday. I felt as if someone had kicked me in the gut. It was deeply personal for me, and it was not simply about the right to marry. I moved to California in part because, as a gay man, I wanted to live in a state that valued all of its citizens. Growing up, I had heard of California’s welcoming spirit for people of all walks of life and had come to think of it as a kind of Camelot.
When more than 60% of the voters choose to deny gays the right to have our relationships recognized under the law, it crushed my long-held belief that California was different from other states. Knowing that California is a trend setter, many people, including myself, were heavy hearted knowing that many other states would likely follow California’s lead.
The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage in March of this year; however, our celebration was brief. Proposition 8 was quickly introduced by opponents of gay marriage. A lot can happen in eight years, however, and while we cannot rest in our quest for equality, there is so much to be hopeful for.
The driving force behind the anti gay marriage movement is conservative Christianity. But according to The Barna Group, a polling organization that specializes in the views of Christians, attitudes are changing (albeit slowly). According to a recent survey, Christians under the age of thirty-five are “much more likely to argue that homosexual relations should be legal; substantially more likely to consider homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle; and notably more likely to approve of clergy conducting or blessing gay marriages.”
This change of heart among so many younger Christians did not happen by accident. The shift came because more and more Christians are exposed to gay and lesbian peers in ways that are less confrontational than informative. When they see their friends, fellow students and co-workers living normal and healthy lives, their views are bound to change.
C.S. Lewis, one of the most revered Christians in modern time, made a very interesting point about the Christian notion of marriage. Although Lewis is best know in popular circles for fiction such as The Chronicles of Narnia, he also wrote and taught about Christian theology.
In the 40s and 50s, gay marriage was not yet an issue and the gay rights movement had not yet begun. Divorce, on the other hand, was hotly debated. There was a strong push by many Christians to outlaw divorce in an effort to protect the institution of marriage. In effect, many Christians believed that laws should be passed to make their views of marriage the law of the land, not simply a personal or religious matter.
In his book Mere Christianity, a favorite among many Evangelical Christians, C.S Lewis has this to say on the subject of marriage laws:
“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one; the other is the quite different question-- how far Christians, if they are voters or members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”
I also believe that it is key to show others the same respect we are asking for, even if they are not ready to respond in kind. It is hard to educate those with whom we disagree if we raise our voices and clench our fists in anger. Once we demonstrate that we are gentle and loving people, (not unlike the people they hope to be as followers of Christ), it becomes that much more difficult for them attack us.
Ultimately, I believe the desires to make homosexuality illegal, to ban gay marriage and to send LGBT people to “treatment” centers will be a thing of the past. Eventually, I believe that even the most conservative Christians will see that offering gays equal protection under the law is not only guaranteed under our state and federal constitutions, but that it is actually the Christian thing to do.
Today, I have renewed faith in the people of California. I trust that once and for all, our great state will vote to protect the rights of all of its citizens. I also know in my heart that conservative Christians will come around to holding a more enlightened view of marriage, just as C.S. Lewis did nearly 60 years ago. I know the day will come when churches will no longer preach hate from the pulpit or encourage discrimination.
Our job as supporters of marriage equality is to hasten that day by demonstrating the civility that we ourselves are seeking. No civil rights movement has ever created lasting change without first breaking the cycle fear and ignorance. We may not have started this shouting mach, but it is up to each of us to do our part to end it, and the only way to do that is to stop shouting ourselves.
By Darren Main
author of Hearts & Minds: Talking to Christians about Homosexuality
San Francisco, CA