Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Same Thing

Opponents of same-sex marriage have warned against equating interracial relationships with same-sex ones. They argue that any comparison between same-sex and interracial relationships is deceptive. I disagree. In 2003, 2006 and this year, I conducted interviews with more than 2,000 Americans on their notions of family, and the surveys revealed an undeniable similarity between current and past opinions regarding same-sex couples and current and past views about interracial couples.
Brian Powell

Saying the same things over again,
Repeatin the same slogans we don't know where we've been.

Flobots, Same Thing

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”
Jesus (Matthew 23:29-30)

For over a century, the Russell Sage Foundation has dedicated itself to the social scientific research of key issues dealing with "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States." Throughout the past decade, one of their research teams has set about studying the unique & emerging perspective that Americans have on same-sex marriage. Two months ago, they released their extensive findings and two important findings--as pointed out by team member Brian Powell in a recent Op-Ed--are worth further examination for Christians of all stripes: both the groups of people and the justfication behind opposition to the legalization of interracial marriage a half century ago and the legalization of same-sex marriage today.

When state bans on interracial marriage were officially declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967, less than half of Americans believed it should be legalized (when the CA Supreme Court legalized mixed marriages in 1948, only 20% agreed with the decision). Those most adamant about denying "marriage" to mixed couples were

those with lower levels of education,
the elderly &
the religiously orthodox.

Sound familiar?

And the justifications for why interracial marriage should continue to be banned?

that it is unnatural and ungodly,
that children from such unions will be irrevocably harmed, and
that such marriages degrade "real" marriage.

Sound familiar?

One of the reasons that this study is worth our attention is that too many of our conversations--both within the Church and within wider American culture--lack any sense of history. We have a hard time picking out arguments that are actually well-worn and have been judged baseless in historical hindsight. We forget (or, in the case of younger generations, never knew) the kinds of national dialogues we were having just a generation ago. All the anti-Medicare rhetoric from the 60s was recycled in last year's rants from the right about "death panels," "the inefficiency of government-run programs" and "health care's a privilege" (etc). But race and sexuality ramp things up another notch. Not one white suburbanite (myself included) would ever imagine themselves standing up against Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement back in the 50s and 60s. We are so sure that we would have been on "the right side of history" back then. But if we were honest, especially if today we hail from the conservative Evangelical arm of the Body of Christ, there is very little doubt that we would be either against King or indifferent about his cause altogether (we must always remind ourselves that King's Letter From A Birmingham Jail was written to white liberal clergy who riding the fence on this issue...King knew full well that conservative Christians wanted nothing to do with him).

And these same Evangelicals were (or would be) either against interracial marriage or indifferent about it being legalized 40-50 years ago. Today, this is pretty much a slam-dunk issue legally, but we all know what goes on behind closed doors. There is a major strand among white heterosexual Evangelical men concerning who their sons and, especially, daughters date and marry. If they "bring home" someone with a different skin color or from the same gender, they will do what it takes to make the situation right, whether through interpersonal fear & manipulation or through continued advocacy for laws that make "that kind of activity" illegal. And then, there is the awkward presence of fathers like Dick Cheney who "finally come around" on the issue and speak out for their LGBT children despite their (mostly) white heterosexual male Evangelical Republican colleagues with adamantly opposing views (there seems to be a lot of grace given to folks like Cheney in these circles: "Well, how would you feel if your daughter were a lesbian?"). In other words, Cheney gets a free pass in the world of Evangelical-Republicanism, but everyone else better get in line under the rubric of "family values."

The Sage study was not a once-and-for-all snapshot of American public opinion, but was conducted in '03, '06 and then again this past year to attempt to get a better understanding of how convictions are formed and shifting. At the very least, these findings should saturate arguments defending the status quo (against same-sex marriage) with a lot more humility and honesty than is currently on offer. I'm not saying that the "traditional marriage" perspective within the Church is not legitimate. After all, it is a contested concept that we should take seriously, bathed with research, prayer and generous dialogue. What I am saying, however, is that recycled arguments that have fallen flat and shown themselves to be empty should be shelved for good. Learning from (recent) history, the burden of proof is on conservative Christian tradition that usually schleps away movements to change marriage laws with appeals to God's Word, The Danger of Going Against Nature, Our Children's Livelihood and/or The Definition of Marriage Itself.

These arguments are intended to be conversation killers from the very start. How does one argue against God or Nature? I'm finding more and more that (pretty much) any time anyone advocates emotionally on behalf of children in any debate on any issue, it has a strong tendency to be a mask for real, in-depth analysis (full disclosure: I'm not a parent, but I spend 50 hours a week with children). Perhaps same-sex marriage and interracial marriage or two very different concepts (as Evangelical Christians claim), but I highly doubt it. People use the Bible to defend all sorts of agendas, but the dehumanization and demonization of certain people groups should never be justified by Bible proof-texts ("reasoning" that seldom, if ever, includes the context of the passage quoted). Same-sex marriage is still illegal in every state of the Union largely because, on this issue, God's People have lived more like God's Sheeple. The herd instinct and emotional reactivity have been used powerfully by (mostly) male leaders of churches and families to lead (mostly) sincere and distracted followers down the simplistic and surfacy path of least resistance beside the treacherous waters of LGBT issues. Let's learn from history and have a deeper conversation.

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