One year ago Sunday, the United States Supreme Court extended liberty and equality to the gay and lesbian community by deciding that our marriages were protected by the Constitution. It does seem ridiculous that we had to petition the courts to receive the same rights, privileges and responsibilities that heterosexual couples merely take for granted.
One year later, where are we as a country? Has America opened its heart to its LGBTQ neighbors and fellow citizens?
Not quite. Just listen to the rhetoric of the right – specifically the fundamentalist religious right.
We all remember Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who blocked issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples. And then we had the bakers refusing to bake cakes for same sex weddings, one in Oregon and the other in Colorado. It seems these folks believe their right to discriminate is not only protected by the Constitution, but trumps our right to dignity and respect.
Yet, according to Ted Cruz, Papa Pastor Cruz and Fox News, there is a War on Christians and Christians are objects of unfettered persecution. And here in Colorado, if you listen to our very own Gordon Klingenschmitt’s program,” Pray in Jesus Name,” you’d think Christians are being arrested in droves and sent to the SHU.
Not true. And they know it.
The Obergefell decision did not wave a wand purging religious exemptions. Religious exemptions are part and parcel of American civil rights law. Indeed, there is no pressure on religious institutions to conform to aspects of statutes passed in the 1960’s and 70’s or to court decisions in the 21st Century. Hospitals under the auspices of the Catholic Church can restrict abortions, refuse to fill prescriptions for contraception, or decline to engage in stem cell research. Bible thumping, gun toting pastors are under no obligation to marry same sex couples and neither is the Roman Catholic Church or Orthodox rabbis.
Obergefell didn’t change this. Not at all.
So why the hyperbole and fear mongering?
Because what the Cruzes and Klingenschmitts really want is primacy of Christianity. Not an open, welcoming and progressive brand of Christianity, but rather fundamentalist Christianity. And their goal is to make fundamentalism the law of the land. Think of it as Christian Sharia Law.
To hell with plurality and diversity.
Obergefell was, in effect, pretext: a smokescreen to shield the radical right from scrutiny in its quest to turn the U.S. into a Christian country that is to the right of Uganda, home of the Kill the Gays Bill, designed by Scott Lively. Such rhetoric is not about freedom of conscience or religion. Rather, it is about lock-step conformity to a set of beliefs that subordinates not only the LGBTQ community, but also women and, I dare say, people of color. Remember, in Loving v VA – the interracial marriage case – the trial court opined, “If G-d wanted the races to mix, He wouldn’t have put them on different continents.” The Supreme Court penned a decision that treated such an antediluvian opinion as what it was – rubbish.
But we are in a different time.
Hate has become a political virtue. Cruz, Huckabee and, of course, Trump have capitalized on the politics of hate. Pick your target group – LGBTQ, Mexicans, women, immigrants and, of course, Muslims. They have tapped into a fissure in American culture and politics that never really went away. Now it has currency and has transformed hate into religious conscience, freedom, safety and security.
Religion has a long history of instilling hatred and use of violence – from its imprimatur on slavery, subordination of women, physical abuse of wives and killing of gays, lesbians and transgendered people. Let us not forget that the KKK, Aryan nation and other white supremacists groups justify their hateful speech and conduct with biblical verse. We are no strangers to religious violence; hiding behind the Cross did not obscure the goal of medieval Crusades and it does not hide the ambition of the 21st Century radical fundamentalist right.
This year, June 26 is different. It’s different because we are trapped in a historic moment where hateful rhetoric has not only come to the surface but is permitted and encouraged to define and pack political discourse. And this moment demands a response.
On June 26, the LGBTQ community gathered across America. We assembled to remember the Obergefell decision. We celebrated a ruling that restored basic human rights once denied because of who we loved and wished to marry. Yet, we also marched to repudiate the politics of the religious right – a politic designed and dedicated to eradicating the human dignity of anyone who is not like them. We stand as a repudiation of hate.
As Hillel reminds, “If I am not for myself who will be for me; If I am only for myself, what am I: If not now — when?”
Photo credit: Ted Eytan, Creative Commons, Flickr