Your Catholic blues, your convent shoes,
Your stick-on tattoos now they’re making the news
Your holy war, your northern star
Your sermon on the mount from the boot of your car.
Please, please, please
Get up off your knees.
It’s not me; it’s the Bible.
I have had just about enough of the line of reasoning that, after admitting freely that same-sex marriage represents harm neither to the social fabric or the institution of marriage, still insists that same-sex relationships must be opposed, because scripture says so. Or the Vatican. Or whatever.
When I ask for your position on a given issue, I’m not looking for a quote from the catechism, or the Pauline letters, or the Baptist Faith and Message. I’m asking for your position. If you must resort to the aforementioned sources, then I would humbly suggest that in reality you have no position. You may have subscribed to someone else’s, but you don’t really have one of your own.
Furthermore, there is something fundamentally wrong with a religion that is, as the old cliché goes, so heavenly-minded that it is no earthly good. With a God who makes his bones by setting people against each other instead of making them one. Anybody can promise pie in the sky by and by; it takes a real “person” to effect change for the better in the lives of individuals right here and now. With the former, there is no burden of proof; with the latter, proof is the burden.
There is something even more fundamentally wrong with a religion that preaches love while practicing discrimination in the name of love. This is the “milk” of scripture on which we’re raised: we must ensure inequality now in order to guarantee equality in heaven. We must forsake the self-evident present to ensure the all but imaginary future. Not to put too fine a point on it, but what the Hell kind of sense does that make?
No less an historical figure than Augustine himself embodied perfectly the double standard upon which this approach to “freedom” is based: when we are persecuted by them, persecution is evil, but when we, given the upper hand, persecute them back, it is the essence of Christian charity.
If, therefore, we wish either to declare or to recognize the truth, there is a persecution of unrighteousness, which the impious inflict upon the Church of Christ; and there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious….Moreover, she persecutes in the spirit of love, they in the spirit of wrath; she that she may correct, they that they may overthrow; she that she may recall from error, they that they may drive headlong into error (The Correction of the Donatists).
In this spirit of self-important benevolence, we greet the world. Give us freedom, that we might give you less.
On the one hand, we follow a teacher who promises life in abundance (not then; now), while on the other we insist on a hermeneutics that takes it away. We are living a “faith” that subsists on inequality and division, in the hopes that one day, way beyond the blue, when the roll is called up yonder, we’ll still be around to care.
Because we believe. Or so we’re told…
The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.
– Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
In his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark decision that struck down bans on same-sex marriage throughout the fifty states, Chief Justice John Roberts asked:
As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?
In all honesty, I’m not always sure who we are as a nation, but I think I can say with some confidence who we are not:
We are not Han Chinese, or Kalahari Bushmen, or the Carthaginians. And, unless at some point we’ve performed a ritual human sacrifice on the White House lawn, we are definitely not the Aztecs. I’d like to think we’ve made just a little progress since then. Even if one rejects the idea of biological evolution, no one who’s read a history book (outside of Texas) can possibly deny the reality of social evolution. We are not who we once were. And this is a great good.
We are not even the nation we were a week and a half ago. As President Obama so eloquently noted in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the events that unfolded in Charleston have had an effect on us as a people that no one, from the shooter to the Fox pundits to society at large, saw coming: we have stumbled upon (or been thrust rudely into) introspection, a quality sorely lacking of late in our public discourse. We have perhaps for the first time in a very long time stopped to consider the feelings of others. When the son of Strom Thurmond advocates the demotion of the Confederate flag, you know a corner’s been turned.
In this groundswell of respect for others (fleeting as it may be), the Obergefell decision seems only fitting. Perhaps we are finally getting it through our collective head that our LGBTQ compatriots are not aberrations, not threats to the social order, not “less than” anything or anyone. That instead, they are just like us: people in pursuit of happiness, people in possession of human dignity, people entitled to all the rights and liberty the rest of us expect to wake up to in the morning. Perhaps we’ve finally realized that the worship of God doesn’t require judgment of others, or that these men and women simply want a share in our society, not to destroy it. Perhaps; perhaps not…
Here, though, is where the rubber meets the road. Neither the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, or the Civil Rights Act a century later, signaled the end of the racist streak that runs throughout our history as a nation. Charleston proved that. Legislation and/or court decisions get us only so far. And they are what truly show us who we are as a society, because they take what once was adherence to the law (call it “plausible deniability”) and transform it into circumvention of the law. Alleged innocence flies out the window: we’ve now reached the stage of egregious (and generally creatively underhanded) denial of our fellow citizens’ rights.
Before June 26, 2015, we could say that our attitude, our approach to the issue of LGBT equality, was about “the letter of the law,” about what’s written down on the hallowed papers and documents of our land. We could blame the Founders, pin it on the courts, whatever. Now, today, that ship has sailed: now it’s all about what lives in our hearts and minds, as individuals, as citizens, as human beings. Nooses on trees come from nooses in minds; hateful speech flows from hateful hearts. Who do we think we are? We are what we say and do.
Justice Kennedy foresaw the coming storm in the majority opinion: “Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.” Anyone familiar with Jim Crow feels the truth of those words, some of us in ways the rest of us will never quite understand. And the choice, now, is ours: who do we think we are?
If we take Justice Roberts’ words as binding, it would seem we are who we ever have been, that we cannot change, that we cannot grow as a people and a society. We must always think as we have thought before; we must always plumb the depths behind rather than plotting out the course ahead. And that’s a dangerous frame of mind: if we think we are who we used to be, we’ll never realize who we might become.
The real question, as we move forward, is this: Who are we going to be, now that we’re beginning to understand what it means to be who we are?
It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
– Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
I still remember the Christmas morning at my grandparents’ house in Waxahachie, Texas. I found one of these little guys under the tree: a remote-control model of the General Lee. And I was pumped! The Dukes of Hazzard was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid. I once busted my knee wide open pretending to be the Duke boys on my Big Wheel. They were, to me, the height of cool.
Of course, I was a kid, and I didn’t know from the Confederacy or the Civil War. I knew I was supposedly related to some guy named Robert E. Lee (that has since been debunked as a myth), but that was pretty much it. I hadn’t an inkling that the awesome design on my favorite car in the world (beside K.I.T.T., that is–it could talk, after all) actually meant something. I didn’t know what racism was, or slavery, or prejudice and discrimination. Jim Crow would have sounded like a storybook character to inexperienced little me. I had no idea that I loved something that to many, many people was a symbol of hatred, fear, and inequality.
Now I know. But I still don’t often think about it. I still watch reruns of the Dukes without stopping to consider the underlying cultural message, one that still resonated, apparently, two years after I was born in 1977–112 years after the Civil War ended, and 114 years after U.S. slaves were (sort of) emancipated. It never occurs to me to wonder how my African American compatriots feel as they channel-surf past TVLand when they happen to have a little free time. How it may, for some, call into question the very idea of “free time.”
Why? Because I’m white. Which is more of a soporific than I often realize. Yes, it is structural, and no, I wasn’t around in the 1800s, nor did–as far back as I’ve gone, at least–any of my forebears own slaves. But the simple fact of my white-ness implicates me in a way I can perhaps ignore, but not in any responsible way deny.
I recently became angry with a couple of fellow bloggers (my sincere apologies to Ruth and Madalyn) when they suggested that I might be implicated in the politics of patriarchy and chauvinism simply by virtue of being a man, regardless of my personal stance on the issue. If you ask my wife, I think she will tell you that I am a fairly enlightened male-type person when it comes to feminist issues, but does that let me off the hook? Perhaps not so much as I’d like to think. I also consider myself fairly enlightened when it comes to racial issues: I grew up in Argentina, where they did to their natives what we did to our buffalo–literally; I belong to the local race relations committee (or I will, if they ever get around to cashing my membership check); I have worked in educational settings with minority youth of multiple backgrounds and ethnicities. There isn’t a racist bone in my body.
Except it’s not my body that matters. It’s the space my body inhabits, the system of which it’s a part, however innocently. I have never burned a cross; I have never donned a bedsheet or strung a noose. I haven’t turned away a job applicant because of his color or denied anyone the right to vote. I have never summoned up sufficient hubris to try and own a fellow human being. I have never done any of these things. But they are still a part of who I am, because they are an ineluctable part of my cultural milieu. They are, whether I like it or not, whether I even know it or not, mine by birthright. An ideological inheritance I have to acknowledge, painful as it may be.
I am white. Therefore, I am responsible.
I also think in a racialized manner. In this context, I don’t think there’s really a significant difference between “racial” and “racist,” no matter how many people tell me there is. I think it is a distinction born of collective guilt, of a certain helplessness in the face of systematized conceptual violence. We’re all of us whistling Dixie, and we’ve no idea how to stop.
When I was on that misson trip to the Carver Baptist Center in New Orleans, and made a conscious effort to interact with the people there in a way that would show them I “wasn’t a racist,” I implicated myself in my white-ness. As much as I rail against gentrification, I avoided the same neighborhoods as everybody else in Waco when I bought my house, never stopping to consider the fact that the very feasibility for me of that avoidance implicated me in my white-ness. I am implicated by the simple fact that I have never nor will I ever feel the stigma of minority identity. I will never look at the General Lee or the flag flying over the South Carolina capitol building with any other than white eyes, and I am implicated in my white-ness by that, as well.
I am white. Therefore, I am responsible. And I haven’t a clue what to do about it.
But perhaps that’s the beginning of comprehension, the first step toward a solution: I cannot understand. Not completely, by any means. And if I cannot understand, then how can I presume to be the arbitrator? So much of our society, our politics, is based on this misbegotten assumption of “understanding,” of comprehension we cannot possibly possess. Men want to regulate the sexual and procreative choices of women; heterosexuals want to define the family lives of the LGBT community; Christians want to limit the political participation of atheists, Muslims, and people of all other faiths (and vice versa–don’t think you can get off the hook that easily).
Whites want to decide whether African Americans should be able to look at the their own state institutions without the constant reminder of centuries of subjugation and injustice. Because we think we know better.
Am I a racist? I don’t believe so, but that’s not really the question. The system is, and that’s the real problem. I sit at the end of a timeline I cannot fathom, a history I can study but never truly understand. Because I am white.
And I am responsible…
Equality is a reality, not a right.
This morning on Face the Nation, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio made two fairly significant assertions. Put these two statements together, and let the logic-ache begin! Like Ron Silver in Timecop, if they occupy the same space at the same time, nothing remains but a puddle of conceptual goo:
1) Homosexuality is not a choice; rather, sexual preference is from birth;
2) Same-sex marriage is not a constitutional right, not for the courts to decide; if gays or lesbians want to marry, they can petition their legislatures like “anybody else.”
In other words, LGBT Americans are born that way, but even so, it is up to the state to decide whether or not they are treated equally.
Does that remind anyone else of anything from our national past?
The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.
Ten points if you recognize that quote. Clue: It has nothing to do–directly–with the comments made by Marco Rubio, mentioned above. But, before I tell you what it is from, tell me this: that underlined section there–sounds a bit similar, right?
This is a quote from the majority decision of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s 1854 Supreme Court, in a case we like to call, simply, Dred Scott. You know, that time the Court ruled that certain blacks (namely, those whose ancestors were “imports” rather than immigrants; in other words, someone’s property, freighted here like a bunch of bananas) were not, and could not, be considered citizens equal under the law until such time as the law condescended to view them as such…which to that point it had not.
Now, you may protest that these two situations are not the same. But while the details may differ, the sentiment is suspiciously alike. A sector of our society which, according to Rubio himself, through no other circumstance than birth falls into a certain demographic, still must be granted equality by, as Taney phrased it, “those who held the power and the Government.” Because same-sex marriage isn’t, again in Rubio’s words, a constitutional right.
Newsflash: Heterosexual marriage is not a constitutionally-guaranteed right, either. But strangely enough, my wife and I did not have to petition our legislators for the “right” to get married. Hmmm…
The fact of the matter is that opposition to same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the Constitution, and everything to do with the fact that many of us just think it’s weird. We don’t get it, because to us, it’s different. Well, I think it’s weird that someone like Rubio, with his nineteenth-century thinking, could be in the high position he’s in and derive any support in the process. But that, too, is one of the hallmarks of this thing we call “democracy”: anyone is allowed to voice his or her opinion on (almost) any topic. Why?
Because, in this country, everyone is EQUAL.