Almost to his own surprise, Barack Obama last year came out in favor of same-sex marriage, saying that his thinking on the subject had been evolving. Detractors sneered, but I knew exactly what he meant.
I recently attended a funeral for a young lady, the preacher was a woman I’d known in our youth who happens to be the highest-ranking ecclesiastical personage I know at all well. (I hitched a ride with Greg Rickel, bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, after Bill Burnett’s funeral but I can’t say I know him well.) At the time, changes were being made in the Lutheran church’s treatment of homosexuals in ministry and I asked about how that affected her diocese. She indicated that there really hadn’t been any problems. Parishes were moving forward cautiously and without any great trauma.
I told her that I liked a slogan I’d heard, “God created homosexuality to spare the most-creative members of the community from the burden of child rearing”. By the time half of that was out of my mouth I was sure I’d gone too far. There are times when something comes to mind that I like the sound of and find I’ve said it before even beginning to ask whether or not anyone else might appreciate the sound of it. I wanted to disappear into the carpet.
She immediately said, “Actually, we find that the most creative students in seminary are gay”.
Okay, it made me feel better. Not knowing exactly how evolved her community is on this point I’ve decided not to name her. Opinions are changing rapidly, but not yet universally. Bigots are tenaciously committed to their fears.
Obama’s evolution on the subject is continuing. He’s eliminated the absurd Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military, his administration refuses to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and there is movement to recognize long-term same-sex relationships (not necessarily marriages) for the purpose of admitting immigrants who are closely-related to citizens. According to Adam Liptak in The New York Times this evolution forces the Justice Department to determine how to be involved in two Supreme Court cases this year, one in which the administration position might be to support the idea that this is a question for the states (the DoMA case), the other (California Referendum 8) in which the compelling argument is that states lack the authority to eliminate the rights of gays on this point.
This is a question on which I didn’t have any evolving to do at all. Most of the battles have been fought at the state level, marriage is mostly regulated by the states after all, but while there are many arguments for marrying gay couples that wish to be yoked in this way, the crux of the matter is that this is a civil right, and civil rights aren’t state issues. Rumor has it that the Boy Scouts of America, institutional troglodytes of the first water, will this week declare that individual troops will be allowed to decide whether or not gays can be members after a century of prohibition.
At some point in our evolution we have to get to the point of saying that it is the right of every American to be open and forthright about their sexual orientation and to maintain all of the rights and responsibilities of Americans. Gays aren’t perverted, they are created, just like us straights. As Americans, they have rights. And we cannot continue to grant the privilege of discriminating against them to anyone. Not to the military, not to the Boy Scouts, and not to the states. If I Were King, laws that allowed discrimination would be ripped forcefully from the books, Obama has to actually change them in a painfully-slow political process. But he has to do it, just as surely as we have to say that a restaurant has to seat blacks or a business has to provide access to disabled employees.