More than Getting Better, Let’s Make it Better, Starting Right Now

More than Getting Better, Let’s Make it Better, Starting Right Now.

A wonderful video by Ann Evans at The Priestly Chapel in the Susquehanna Valley, PA.  She’s stepping up and offering a place for GLBT teens to go, if they need help or someone to talk to.

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“Freedom of Religion” and Same-Sex Marriage

Recently, as the result of the Chick-fil-A controversy, I’ve found myself involved in arguments I’d rather avoid.  But one particularly angry person tossed some arguments at me that I feel need to be addressed — not because he’ll ever read this blog, but because people who might read this blog will no doubt come up against these arguments in the future.  (They’re very popular.)

Now, I’m tolerant of differing points of view, but illogical arguments drive me crazy.  Illogical is illogical, regardless of the motivation behind it.

So let me address a few points.

First of all, we need to make something clear:  there is a big difference between being a “Christian country” and being a Christian-dominated country.  In the last poll I came across, something like 70% of the people in the USA identify as Christian, so clearly this is a country dominated by Christians.  Likewise, most of our Founding Fathers were Christian (though not all).  But that doesn’t make the United States a “Christian country.”  Some of the original colonies had very strict laws about attending church services and regulating “Christian behavior” on a number of levels.  But other colonies did not, and when the entire country was finally mashed together, those laws fell by the wayside (at least on a National level).

The US Constitution does not dictate that people must be Christian and in fact about 30% of the citizens in the country are not.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, as laid out in the Bible (both versions), the first, second, and third commandments are completely absent from our Constitution.  It isn’t illegal to worship other gods.  It isn’t illegal to worship idols.  And it isn’t illegal to completely forget the Sabbath.  If the country had been designed as a “Christian country,” then these would hardly have been left out.

Therefore, the United States of America is merely a Christian dominated country and not a “Christian country.”

When people haul out the Christian Bible as their reason for opposing same-sex marriage, they need to be reminded of this.  Their argument declares that God Himself defined “marriage” as being between one man and one woman.  (I won’t even go into why I think this is false, even within the context of the Bible.)  Therefore, we should accede to His divine will and forbid same-sex couples from marrying.

Closely tied to this is the belief that marriage has always been a religious institution and not a civil one.

If the only valid marriage in the USA is one sanctioned by the Christian God, then how is it possible that two people who don’t believe in that definition of God — say, Wiccans, or Scientologists, or atheists — are allowed to marry?  If marriage in this country is a religious institution, then why do we allow atheists to marry?  Why do we allow people to be married by a Justice of the Peace, rather than a pastor or priest?

The answer is simple:  marriage has never been a religious institution in this country.  It is a civil institution which all American citizens have a right to.  You have the right to marry, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccan, atheist, or what-have-you.  Your religion does not determine your eligibility to marry in this country, because it isn’t relevant to civil marriage law.

It is true that clergy were granted dispensation to conduct marriages in the USA, probably dating all the way back to its founding.  But perhaps you’ve noticed that even a Christian couple needs to apply to the government (via the Town Hall where they live) in order to get permission for the church to marry them.  This is because marriage is a legal institution that determines legal relationships, for purposes such as inheritance, property ownership, insurance, Social Security benefits, etc.  Your pastor, or Rabbi or High Priestess is simply performing the ceremony as a proxy for the state.  He or she may also being doing it on behalf of your god or goddess, but the government isn’t concerned with that.  The government is merely concerned with your legal marital status for the purposes mentioned above (and taxes).

So when it comes right down to it, if somebody wants to insist that his religion disapproves of homosexuality (to put it mildly), then yes he certainly is within his rights to believe that and to say it.  But when somebody tries to tell me that laws should be passed which will force everybody in this country, including the 30% who aren’t following his religion, to obey the dictates of his Bible or his God…well, that’s another matter entirely.

If a Christian couple (male and female) went to a Jewish synagogue and demanded that the Rabbi marry them, the Rabbi would have  every right to say, “No.  You have to be Jewish, before I can marry you.”  But that’s entirely different from that Rabbi insisting that everybody in the entire country be Jewish, before they’d be allowed to get married.

Likewise, Christians should not be insisting that the law force everyone in the country to adhere to Christian mores, regardless of the fact that they are clearly in the majority.  What about those religions that have no issue with same-sex marriage?  They do exist.  My husband and I were married by a pagan priestess.  Other same-sex couples have been married by Unitarian churches or simply by Justices of the Peace.  (And now, of course, there are Christian churches performing same-sex marriages in some parts of the country.)

In other words, if a minority religion believes in same-sex marriage, Freedom of Religion is not served by making it illegal for any church or JP to perform same-sex marriages.  This is why the Constitution does forbid any one religion from dictating the law to rest of the country.  Being in the majority does not invalidate this.

The Folly of Ex-Gay Therapy

When I was a teenager, I was Christian.  I was very Christian.  I read the Bible frequently, if not exactly on a daily basis, attended the Assembly of God church with my father and stepmother and occasionally attended a Baptist church, because they allowed me to practice piano there after school.  I had a constant dialog going on in my head with Jesus and I felt close to Him.

I wasn’t perfect, of course.  My need to please my friends kept the “Jesus-talk” to a minimum, when I was around them (evangelists seem to believe that you aren’t truly worshiping the Lord, if you aren’t talking about Him constantly) and eventually turned a 16-year-old who couldn’t say anything more severe than “hell” or “damn” into a 17-year-old with an absolutely foul mouth.

And then there was sex.  At seventeen, I was still a virgin.  Worse, I had no interest in girls, at all.  I certainly masturbated — a lot — but when I did, all I could think about was seeing certain male friends naked or touching them.  I tried to force myself to think about girls, but it just didn’t get me aroused.

However, I was a good Christian.  I loved Jesus.  I hadn’t killed anybody or done anything particularly sinful, at this point.  (I still haven’t killed anybody, in case you’re wondering.)  I hadn’t actually been raised to believe that masturbation was a big deal — thank God.  It was inconceivable to me that I could be truly “evil” or “sinful” at the core of my being.

There had to be some mistake.

Perhaps I was a late bloomer.  Or perhaps this was some sort of test that God had come up with for me.  But then, why me?  The very thought that God was testing me, struck me as ego-centric and therefore sinful, as if I were thinking that I was somehow favored by God and deserving of His special attention.  But I could think of no other reason for God to put me through this anguish.

And anguish it was.  I was so lonely that I often cried myself to sleep, longing for someone to hold and be held by.  Other teenagers were lonely, of course — perhaps even most — but they could hold onto the fantasy of a happy life someday with somebody they loved.  I saw nothing but a future of loneliness and self-loathing, stretching ahead of me for decades, until I finally died, never having been loved.

Now, the standard response to all of this is that God doesn’t make mistakes, of course, and regardless of whether it was a “test” or simply something I happened to be burdened with, faith in God would help me overcome it.  After all, people are able to overcome alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, infidelity and a host of other “problems” through prayer and devotion to God.  Certainly, God would help me overcome homosexuality!

So I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed.  During this time I kept journals, documenting my struggle, analyzing sexual dreams and struggling to find hope in them — some sign that the prayer was working.  There were times when I thought I saw it, when I convinced myself that it must be “working.”

But it didn’t really work.  What it did was increase my despair, because the longing for another boy to love was constant.  It never lessened, no matter how much I prayed.  I knew that, if I got into a relationship with a girl, it would feel terrible.  Deep down in the pit of my stomach, the thought of being in a straight relationship nauseated me — as much as the thought of being forced into a gay relationship probably nauseates a straight person.

We know, at the core of our being, when something feels…wrong.

And the absurdity of it all was that the people who said heterosexuality was what was right for me…they were all heterosexual.

They.

Didn’t.

Know.

They were all people who would be unhappy if they were forced into a gay relationship.  Of course.  So they could state with “authority” that gay relationships lead to misery and despair, because that’s what was true for them.  But the thing is, they didn’t know that it would lead to misery and despair for me.  They couldn’t possibly know that, because they had no idea what being gay was like.

One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was when I gave up the fight against my own nature — when I stopped listening to people who had never experienced what I was feeling, yet had the unbelievable arrogance to claim that they knew more about what I needed than I did.

“But wait!” you might be thinking, “What about those people who were gay, but did find a happier life after praying to Jesus and rejecting homosexuality?”

Well, it would be hypocritical of me to insist that they’re wrong.  If they say they’re straight now, then I can’t say they’re not.  On the other hand, it has certainly not worked for a lot of people.  Several people who have had so-called “reparative therapy” have later stated that they did not feel that it worked for them.  Worse, many have attempted suicide, as a result.

One of the earliest “success stories” of reparative therapy involved subjecting a young boy to beatings and a cruel system of rewards and punishments to discourage his “effeminite behavior” (which was equated with homosexuality).  As an adult, he behaved in a “manly” enough fashion for supporters of the study to claim that it was successful and use it to back their claims that homosexuality could be cured.

Unfortunately, that was far from the case.  The young man in question did, in fact, turn out to be gay and he had sex with men off and on over the years.  But the guilt he felt over it eventually led him to take his own life, and his family now feels immense guilt about the cruelty they subjected him to at the recommendation of his therapist.

Recently, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, the largest organization in the “ex-gay” movement, recently admitted that he still feels same-sex attraction, despite his marriage to a woman, and said that the organization would no longer support reparative therapy:

“As the president of Exodus International and, even more than that, as a Christian leader who is out in front of people all the time, it is my responsibility to lead honestly and transparently and to share with people that, just because you become a Christian,…your struggles don’t always go away.  You don’t get to a place where you’re never going to be tempted again.”

The American Psychological Association released a position statement in 2000 that basically stated that 1) there has been no actual proof that reparative therapy works, apart from isolated anecdotes, and 2) the theories behind it are highly questionable.

I cannot say with certainty that it is impossible for a gay man or woman to become heterosexual through prayer and devotion, anymore than I can say that it is impossible for prayer to heal someone of an illness.  I cannot say with certainty that miracles cannot occur.

But miracles, by their nature, are extremely rare.

Why Blocking Marriage Equality Isn’t About “Religious Freedom”

A recent article in the Kennebec Journal has same-sex marriage opponents up in arms, because the Secretary of State phrased the question simply and plainly:

“Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

They had wanted the more convoluted question that had appeared on petitions earlier in the year, which phrased the issue in terms of “religious freedom” and clergy being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

The problem is, this is blatant misdirection.  In none of the states that currently allow same-sex marriage is any clergy being forced to perform a marriage ceremony that violates their beliefs or the beliefs of their church.  And this isn’t going to happen, even if same-sex marriage becomes legal throughout the country.

Currently, no Catholic priest is forced to perform a marriage ceremony between two people who have previously married and divorced.  Not a one.  This is because it would violate his faith and the tenets of the Catholic church.  Similarly, a Jewish Rabbi isn’t forced to marry people who aren’t Jewish.  Religious freedom is already enshrined in our system of law and same-sex marriage poses no threat to it.

On the other hand, any religious group that demands same-sex marriage be illegal in a particular state is a very real threat to religious freedom.  No group or groups of religious people, even if they are in the majority, should have the right to impose their belief system onto people who don’t follow their faith.  There are other religious groups in Maine (and all over the country) — Wiccan, Unitarian, Episcopal, and others — who do consider same-sex marriage to be in concordance with their religious beliefs.

Yet their religious freedom is curtailed by the Christian groups who continue to oppose making it legal, on the basis that allowing it would somehow “violate” their religious freedom.  And in fact, it would not.

It’s a blatant lie.

This post is part of the YAM LGBT 2012 Blogathon.

Mormons Making “It Gets Better” Videos!

As I frequently tell people, I’m no longer Christian.  I turned away from Evangelical Christianity when I was in college, and unable to reconcile my faith with my identity as a gay man.  But I am a strong supporter of people of all faiths reaching out to one another, and particularly to the gay community.

Mormons have, unfortunately, had a particularly bad track record on tolerance, when it comes to the LGBT community.  But that’s why I’ve been finding attempts by the Mormon community to reach out to gays to be particularly significant and poignant.

The first I saw of it was an “It Gets Better” video made by a GLBT group on the campus of Brigham Young University (the fact that BYU allowed the group to form, in the first place, is an amazing step).  The video is simultaneously sad, frightened and hopeful:

(Here is the news article this was attached to.)

But even more wonderful to me, was a sort of response video, two weeks later, from Mormon parents and friends of gays:

(Again, here is the complete article.)

It saddens me that the comments on these videos point out these people don’t represent the Latter Day Saints Church, as if we can’t figure out that that organization is still very intolerant.  But I see a glimmer of hope in these videos that things may be changing.

It isn’t simply the LDS Church that is intolerant, of course, and it isn’t all Mormons, or all Catholics, or all Evangelicals or any other group.  But we need to see more people — of all faiths — speaking up against intolerance, if there is to be any hope of severing the association many gays have of religious faith equaling intolerance against the GLBT community.