Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Struggle for Marriage Equality: A U.S. Update

I have made clear my support for marriage equality.  But this is not a post making the argument for legal recognition of same-sex marriages.  This is simply a report on the state of the struggle as of November of 2009. 

Hawai’i.  In 1993, the Hawai’ian State Supreme Court rules that the state law limiting civil marriage to heterosexual couples is unconstitutional unless the state can show (1) compelling state interests for the discrimination of same-sex couples and (2) that the limitation is narrowly drawn so that other rights are not impacted.  This case causes such panic that the U.S. Congress passes the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which forbids federal law from recognizing same-sex marriages–and any couples married in states which do recognize such from receiving any of the federal benefits which are given heterosexual married couples.  This “preemptive strike” was designed by the Republican controlled Congress to cause problems for Pres. Bill Clinton (D)’s reelection campaign against Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), since it was presumed that Clinton would veto the legislation.  Instead, on 21 Sept. 1996, Pres. Clinton signed DOMA into law and went on to defeat Dole in November.  On 03 November 1998, Hawai’i voters amend their state consitution to allow the Hawai’i state legislature to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. In light of this, the Hawai’ian Supreme Court dismissed the suit challenging that law on 06 December 1998–so it was never decided whether the law would have been unconstitutional or not.  As of this writing, there have been no further efforts by marriage equality advocates to change the laws in Hawai’i in their favor and marriage remains reserved for opposite sex couples in the Aloha State.  Hawai’i has recognited “Reciprocal Benefits” for same-sex couples, having some of the legal recognitions of marriage, since 1997.

Massachussetts.  On 18 November 2003, the MA State Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex mar riage violated the state constitution.  On 17 May 2004 same-sex marriage became legal in MA.  There was an abortive attempt in February 2004 to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but it was never completed and there have been no further attempts.  The experience in MA seems to show that acceptance of marriage equality by a majority of the general public takes about two (2) years.

California.  California began recognizing same-sex Domestic Partnerships in 2000. At first these Domestic Partnerships had only a fraction of the legal rights of civil marriage, but they were expanded over time.  The mayor of San Francisco began offering same-sex marriage licenses in 2003 until the courts stopped him and ruled those marriages invalid.  29 September 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) vetoes a legislative bill to legalize same-sex marriage. He vetoed a second such bill on 12 October 2007.  15 May 2008, the Supreme Court of CA rules that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  Gay and lesbian couples begin to get married on 16 June 2008.  04 November 2008, CA voters pass Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that amends the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage–it takes effect 05 November 2008 and marriage licenses to same-sex couples cease that day. A legal challenge to the law, claiming that this is more than an amendment, but a major revision of the Constitution (and thus cannot be enacted by simply ballot measure) is rejected by the CA Supreme Court (26 May 2009)–but the Court says that those marriages performed in the few months that same-sex marriage was equal will continue to be valid.    11 October 2009, CA Gov. Schwarzenegger signs into law the recognition in CA of same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Currently, marriage equality advocates are debating whether to try to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010 or wait until 2012 when electoral turnout will be greater because of the presidential election.  The 2012 date would give both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage more time to mobilize supporters and try to change minds.

Connecticut.  Connecticut passed a Civil Unions law in 2005.  On 10 October 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that discriminating against same-sex couples in civil marriage violated the state constitution.  The court ordered the legislature to legalize same-sex marriage.  12 November 2008, same-sex marriages began in CT.  23 April 2009, Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT) signed into law the statutory recognition of same-sex marriages previously recognized only by court order.  On the same day, Gov. Rell signed a law that would convert existing same-sex civil unions into marriages beginning 01 October 2010.

Vermont.  On 20 December 1999, the VT State Supreme Court rules that denial of benefits and rights “incidental to marriage” to same-sex couples violates the states “common benefits” clause.  In response, the VT legislature created a same-sex “civil unions” law  in 2000 which grants same-sex couples the legal and civil rights and benefits of marriage, but without the name “marriage.” This civil unions law is signed by then-Gov.  Howard Dean(D-VT)–who later wishes he had pushed the legislature for full marriage equality.  The experience of VT with civil unions–and of many residents going to nearby MA for marriage ceremonies–over a 5 year period, leads for a strong push for same-sex marriage recognition, but this is opposed by Gov. Jim Douglas (R-V).  On 06 April 2009, the Vermont General Assembly passed legislation recognizing same sex marriages, but this was vetoed the same day by Gov. Douglas.  On 07 April 2009, the Vermont General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority.  On 1 Sept. 2009, same-sex marriages began in Vermont.

Iowa.  On 03 April 2009, the Iowa State Supreme Court declared that civil marriage could not be restricted to heterosexual couples and, thus, recognized the legality of same-sex marriage.  An attempt to repeal this decision is underway, but amending the state constitution is not easy in IA.  An amendment must pass both houses of the state legislature two consecutive years running and then be confirmed by popular ballot.  Democrats currently control both houses of the state legislatur and the leadership has vowed to prevent any such legislation from reaching the floor. If the Republicans were to win back both houses of the state legislature in 2010, they could not introduce legislation to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage until January 2011. It would have to pass both chambers in 2011 and 2o12 and then be sent for ballot ratification. So, the earliest a repeal of marriage equality in IA could occur would be 2013 and marriage equality advocates are hopeful that state residents will be “used to” same-sex marriage by then and not go along with repeal.  The longer the law is on the book, the greater its chances for permanence.  As of 27  April 2009, same-sex marriages have been legally performed in IA.

Maine.  In 2004, Maine adopted a Domestic Parnerships law that granted same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage.  06 May 2009, Maine Gov. Baldacci signed the Marriage Equality Bill which would have allowed same sex marriages to begin on 11 September 2009.  However, Maine law allows for a People’s Veto by ballot initiative.  That initiative, called Question 1, hired the same firms that successfully repealed CA’s marriage equality through Proposition 8.  But marriage equality advocates were confident that they could defeat Q 1–and, initially, on election night 03 November, it looked like Marriage Equality won, but as the night wore on, the People’s Veto won 53-47%.  Thus, same-sex marriage was repealed without ever taking effect in ME on 03 November 2009.  Marriage Equality advocates are not sure where to start next in ME.

New Hampshire.  Same sex civil unions are legalized in 2008.  On 23 March 2009, the NH House of Representatives passes legislation recognizing same-sex marriage.  29 April, the NH Senate passes same-sex marriage with minor amendments designed to protect the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. which have religious objections to same-sex marriage.  06 May, the NH House concurs with the amendments of the senate and the bill is sent to Gov. John Lynch (R-NH).  Lynch had previously said he would veto such legislation and there are not enough votes to override, but the amendments lead him to reconsider.  Lynch says he will sign the bill with a few further protections for religious liberty and outlines them.  On 03 June 2009, Lynch signs same-sex marriage into law–effective 01 January 2010.  There is an attempt at repeal in NH both by legislature and by ballot–they cannot start until 01 January 2010.  Because the law was passed so narrowly, nothing should be taken for granted.  Whether NH’s marriage equality law stays past January 2010 is yet to be decided.

New York.  New York passed legislation in 05 that recognized same-sex Domestic Partnerships with limited rights.  In 2007, New York’s State Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere must be recognized by New York.  On 12 May 2009, the New York State Assembly (lower House) passed a law allowing same-sex marriages in New York and sent it to the New York Senate.  The New York Senate has 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans and it would take 32 votes to pass same-sex marriage.  The Senate has vowed a vote on the bill before the end of the year–presumably the delay is because they are currently 2 votes short. If the law passes the Senate, Gov. David Paterson has promised to sign it–has, in fact, been a strong champion of marriage equality.  Gov. Paterson faces a tough re-election fight in 2010 and it is not clear if any successor would sign the bill, so marriage equality advocates are pushing hard for passage this year.  Ballot initiatives are illegal in New York, so repeal would be more difficult–and the fact that NY already recognizes same-sex marriages performed out of state argues for the staying power of marriage equality if it can clear the senate this year.

New Jersey.  New Jersey legally recognized same-sex civil unions beginning in 2007 after the NJ Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to all the legal benefits of marriage.  Momentum has been growing for full marriage equality, but, originally advocates had not planned to initiate legislation until early 2010.  However, the defeat of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) by Atty. Gen.  Bob Christie (R-NJ) on 03 Nov. ’09 has led to a hurried run at the legislature.  Corzine is a GLBT advocate, whereas Christie has already promised to veto any such legislation.  NJ opinion is about evenly split.  If NJ passes same-sex marriage this year, Corzine will sign the law.  If not, they either have to wait until Christie is defeated, or build up enough support to override his veto. 

Washington, D.C.  In 1992, Domestic Partnerships for same-sex couples were recognized in the District of Columbia. Over the years these have been expanded ever closer to those of heterosexual marriage.  D.C. recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  A bill to legally perform same-sex marriages in the nation’s capital cleared a key committee 4-1 this past Tues. ’10 Nov. 2009.  It is due to be voted on by the full city council on 01 Dec. and 10 of the 13 council members are co-sponsors of the bill, so passage is assured.  However, there may be a ballot initiative for repeal here as in ME.

Washington (state).  Domestic partnerships were approved in 2007 and expanded step-by-step until they now are civil marriage in all but name.  On 03 November, Washington residents voted by ballot initiative to keep this “all but marriage” law.  If the pattern of acceptance holds, Washington state will be ready to recognize same-sex marriages by 2012–especially if the legislature votes before then to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

In 2004, as part of the effort to “re”-elect Pres. George W. Bush (R), who was in a very tight race with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Republicans pushed to drive up the conservatives at the polls by placing ballot initiatives in key states that would ban same-sex marriage constitutionally.  Between ’04 and ’08, over 20 states adopted amendments banning same-sex marriage.  Now, 2 of the states that banned same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment in ’04, are reconsidering.

Oregon.  Oregon was one of many states in ’04 which voted to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but, unlike some other states (e.g., Kentucky), OR did not ban civil unions or domestic partnerships, too.  In 2007, the OR state legislature passed legislation banning discrimination against LGBT persons and also allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with limited benefits.  Marriage equality advocates are building on this base and are working for consciousness raising throughout the state in advance of plans to attempt to amend the state constitution, again, granting marriage equality in 2012.

Michigan.  Michigan was another of the many states which used ballot referenda to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage in ’04.  But Speaker of the House Pro Tem (State Rep.) Pam Byrnes made good on a campaign promise last year and in June 2009 introduced an amendment to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage.  If the bill receives 2/3 support from both the state house and state senate, then it will go to voters for repeal in 2010.  I expect it to be a very close vote.

There are also civil unions or domestic partnerships in Nevada, Maryland, Colorado, and Wisconsin–which makes each of these states likely to be the next frontiers in the struggle for marriage equality.

In June, the Respect Marriage Act was introduced into both chambers of the U.S. Congress. If approved, the Respect Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the states that have them.

With the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, I understand why marriage equality advocates are reluctant to challenge DOMA or state laws banning same-sex marriage in federal court.  I would like to see a friendlier Supreme Court makeup, first.  But it seems to me (a non-lawyer) that a good legal case can be made for ruling that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  1) Loving v. Virginia (1967) struck down state bans on interracial marriage–bans which, at that time, still existed in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Loving v. Virginia established that marriage is a natural right and that customs and prejudices cannot restrict the liberties of two people seeking the bonds of marriage.  Now, to date, that has only been applied to heterosexual couples.  2) Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that same-sex couples have never been recognized as marriage.  They compare it to other cases in which the courts have forbidden the relationships to be recognized as valid marriages:  cases of incest, or of an adult marrying a minor, or of bestiality.  But in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Supreme Court struck down the so-called “sodomy laws” of the various states–private homosexual acts between consenting adults cannot be made illegal.  Yes, there is far more to marriage than sexuality, much less sex acts, but this decision suggests that the Court already recognizes a difference between same-sex adult couples and the illegitimate relationships which opponents would use as an analogy: incestuous couples, liasons between an adult and a minor,  liasons between a human and an animal, etc.  If the law already distinguishes between same-sex couples (whose liberties to be a couple cannot be infringed) and other non-heterosexual couples (whose liasons can be declared illegal), then it seems that the argument made in Loving v. Virginia for heterosexual interracial marriages should apply to same-sex marriages.  3) The argument that marriage must entail the possibility of progeny fails on several counts–a. We would not marry any couple where the woman was past menopause or the man had any reasons to be infertile if the possibility of children were definitive of marriage.  b. Just as heterosexual married couples can adopt children or (now) use hi-tech means to become pregnant or hire a surrogate, so those options are also open to the same-sex couple, so that even if we consider children to be a usual component of marriage, same-sex couples are not thereby prohibited.   4) The argument that heterosexuality is a traditional component of the definition of civil marriage is irrelevant since definitions of marriage have changed over time.  Once marriages had to be arranged–and girls were married at ages we would now consider to be child sexual abuse.  Once interracial marriages or marriages between persons of different religious persuasions were considered null and void, but now they are not.  There is no reason that marriage cannot now evolve to include same-sex marriage.

If the Supreme Court were to rule in such a fashion, all the current state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage would be struck down.  Depending on how fast the makeup of the court changes, and who is confirmed (and how quickly) in judicial openings, I would think that such a ruling might occur sometime in the next decade–prior to 2020.  That’s my best guess.  In the meantime, the state-by-state struggles continue.


November 12, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, courts, democracy, family, GLBT issues, homosexuality, human rights., U.S. politics | 15 Comments

Afghanistan’s Law Allowing Marital Rape

As you may have heard, the Afghanistan legislature passed a law last week that requires married women to have sex with her husband up to four times per week unless she is ill or unless sex would aggravate an illness!  At European and American objections, President Karzai promised to review the law (which the United Nations is calling a legalization of marital rape) has promised a thorough review of the law, but so far “doesn’t find anything objectional.”  The law is causing problems for the U.S. and NATO as we send both more civilians to help nation-build and more troops to hunt al Qaeda, protext civilians, and train Afghan military and police–an escalation I object to and predict will backfire. (By the way, anyone notice that the supposedly successful Iraqi “surge” is coming undone?)

When asked, Pres. Obama called the law “abhorrent” and I agree.  I think we should pressure Afghanistan to reverse this horrid law.  But before we in the West start to act superior and call this an illustration of how backward Afghanistan is or how patriarchal and sexist Islam is, etc., let’s use this nasty legislation as a time for a good hard look in the mirror.  In MANY Western countries “marital rape” is still unknown AS A LEGAL CONCEPT.  And before we act shocked at this Afghan law, let us remember in how many cultural contexts it would be assumed that wives give up all right to say no to their husband’s sexual advances.  How many of your own relatives, especially of a certain age, would speak of constant sexual availability as among a wife’s “marital duties?”

Here in Kentucky, we passed a law outlawing marital rape for the first time in the late 1990s.  Speaking with attorney friends, I can tell you that the law has proved unenforceable.  A wife appealing to it sometimes incurs domestic abuse–the opposite of the law’s intention.  And getting a KY jury to convict a husband of raping his wife has so far proven impossible.  It’s been tried 12 times since the law was signed. Zero convictions.  And many other U.S. states (including many which have far more liberal reputations than my adopted home here in KY) do not yet even acknowledge marital rape as a legal concept.  And conservative Christians are among those who most often respond to polls by denying that wives can morally refuse their husbands.

Sure, legalizing the inability of wives  to  say no, as the Afghan law does, is even more horrible.  But maybe we better start by acknowledging just how patriarchal and sexist our own religion and culture is, how far from sexual equality are the heterosexual  marriages in OUR cultures, before we act as if the Afghanis (or their Islamic heritage) is uniquely anti-woman.  Protest this law? Yes. Stand up for women everywhere and against the kind of cultural relativism that would sweep this under the rug? Definitely.  But not out of false  feelings of moral superiority–only with humility and a renewed determination to stand up for women, including married women, in our own lands and cultures and faiths, too.  Anything less is just hypocrisy.

UPDATE:  Good News:  Karzai has scrapped the law, for now.  Bad News:  The law’s failure will probably be a recruiting tool for the Taliban. Sigh.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Christianity, family, feminism, Islam, sexism | 11 Comments

Hooray! My Daughter’s Returned

My globetrotting oldest daughter, Molly (13), returned Thursday night (midnight) from her trip to Europe with her Spanish club. She had been first to France and then Spain with Educational Tours. She is so tired, but excited (printing up photos) and more determined than ever to work for the United Nations. (She also was tired of bread products for breakfast!) So, that adventure is over. Whew!

April 4, 2009 Posted by | family | 1 Comment

Proud Papa–But Nervous!

Yesterday, I put my 13 year old daughter, Molly, on an airplane bound for France and Spain.  Yes, she will be chaparoned–It’s an educational tour with her Spanish Club and the French Club and, in addition to the teacher, there are 3 other responsible adults.  Yes, she earned most of the money herself, working for over a year to get to this point (although many people in our church essentially overpaid her for odd jobs).  Yes, I am excited for her.

But, still, I am nervous.  A 13 year old girl flying without family to Europe? What was I thinking? And she’s tall, which makes her look older than she  is and that invites trouble.  ARRGH! She won’t be back until 04 April.

Molly wants to work for the United Nations, so I am glad she is getting a stamp on her passport long before I did. Sure,  I changed my mind repeatedly on what I wanted to do and she may, too, but I am proud to have the kind of kid who even THINKS about working for peace, human rights, development, etc by dedicating herself to global public service.  She has been in the Model UN and in the mock KY Legislature–all in Middle School. 

Next year, she starts high school. Because of her 4.0 GPA, high test scores, teacher recommendations, and after school public service,  she has won admission to the International  Baccalaureate program at Atherton High School, a magnet program.  The IB program (which kicks in the last 2 years of high school, building on Advanced Placement classes in Frosh and Sophomore years) is equivalent to two years of college work and is recognized by university programs all over the world.  There are only 15 high schools nationwide which offer it.  I know the trip to France (Versailles and Paris) and Spain (Madrid and Barcelona) will contribute greatly to her education and confidence.

But I’m still nervous.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | family | 6 Comments

Father of a Teenage Girl: HELP!

Molly K. White

Molly K. White

Well, Gentle Readers, I knew this day would get here, but I am still not ready.  I have become the father of a teenaged girl!

Yes, 13 years ago, today, Katharine (Kate) E. Westmoreland-White brought forth her firstborn daughter. She couldn’t wrap her in anything because the nurses pulled her away to clean her up (she was a mirconium baby) and Kate did not get to hold her for over an hour! Molly cried until she heard me say, stupidly, “Holy Cow, I have a daughter!” At this, apparently recognizing my voice from all those conversations I had with Kate’s belly, her unfocused eyes tried to find me and she stopped crying–briefly–to seek me out.

I have been wholly hers ever since.

Molly Katharine White, named for the famous Baptist theologian who introduced (and later married) her mother and me and for her mother and grandmother, is now 13 years old.  Look out world, here she comes.

What she is, now: A child of God by both birth and new birth (She confessed Christ and was baptized last year). [For my reflections at the time of her baptism, read here and here.] The delight and exasperation of her parents.  The friend and bane of her younger sister, Miriam.  A brilliant scholar in middle school.  A passionate advocate for the earth and for peace.  A willing servant in church. 

What she will be? Who knows. I don’t hold out much hope that either of my daughters will follow either their mother into pastoral ministry or my path as a theologian/philosopher–especially since we have been unable to keep earning our living at our callings.  As of right now, part of Molly wants to work in the United Nations as an interpreter (she is good at languages). Another part would like to write fiction.  And another part would love to work with animals in one of the biological sciences.  Whatever she does, she will do well.

What she’ll always be: My little girl.

Update: How disturbing! Molly’s birthday is also the anniversary of the death (in 1918 ) of that great Baptist theologian, Walter Rauschenbusch! I hope there is no significance to the coincidence. 🙂

Other great events of Church History on Molly’s birthday include:

  • 25 July 325 Close of the Council of Nicea which gave us the Nicene Creed and condemned the heresy of Arianism.
  • 25 July 1593 King Henry IV of France, raised Protestant (Huguenot), converts to Catholicism.  It was once commonly viewed, at least by Protestants, that this was a political move, but Church historians of many different persuasions are now convinced that the move was a genuine conversion of conscience.  Significantly, Henry continued to protect the religious liberty of French Protestants, promulgating the Edict of Nantes that did just that in 1598.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | family | 6 Comments

Video/DVD: For the Bible Tells Me So

I promised to write the next installment on my GLBT series, tonight.  I will, but it won’t be the post I hoped to get to, my second on Romans 1.  That’s because I just saw the film, For The Bible Tells Me So and my reactions are too personal to simply engage in exegesis at this time–maybe tomorrow.

To recap: I am arguing that the traditional teaching of the church(es) that ALL same-sex relationships are sinful has been mistaken–a misuse of a handful of biblical passages taken out of literary and historical context. I hope to argue for a single standard of sexual morality for all people–either voluntary celibacy (which Scripture specifically describes as a spiritual gift not given to all people) or monogamy. This would replace the double-standard currently held by most churches which allows celibacy or monogamy for heterosexuals, but demands that gay people either be celibate (whether or not they have the gift necessary) or to be “changed” into heterosexuals and hide themselves in heterosexual marriages–with devastating effects on their spouses, children, and themselves.  I have wanted to argue for this in a careful, step-by-step fashion.

As always, I urge new readers to this discussion to read the previous installments before commenting on the latest installment.  To date, there have been seven (7) major posts and an addendum. See: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, addendum on pro-GLBT “over reading,” 6, & 7.  This is addenum 2: Reaction to For the Bible Tells Me So.

For the Bible Tells Me So is a 2007 documentary about Christian families, raised with the traditional teaching that all same-sex genital intimacy is sinful (in many cases being taught that it is the MOST sinful act possible), dealing with family members who are gay or lesbian and their struggles with their children “coming out.” It is directed from a pro-inclusion viewpoint, but not all of the families come to a fully accepting perspective–some are stuck in a “love the sinner, hate the sin” viewpoint.  The biblical passages which are used to justify the traditional perspective are examined by a number of biblical scholars and theologians, most, but not all, of whom have come to a perspective of full inclusion. Those who disagree with full inclusion are mostly treated with respect. (For instance, I thought the section interviewing Dr. Richard Mouw, Christian philosopher and President of Fuller Theological Seminary [and, thus, briefly, a former boss of mine when I was Visiting Professor at Fuller in 1999 and 2000], who adopts a “welcoming but NOT affirming position” based on his reading of Romans 1, was done very well. I do not think Mouw would consider himself distorted or parodied at all.)

The only ministers who are treated more negatively in the film are those who actively promote hate and/or legal discrimination against GLBT persons. For instance, televangelist Jimmy Swaggert (who has frequented prostitutes!), does not come across well.  Nor does Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson, Ph.D., a child psychologist and leader of the Religious Right–and one of the major leaders of both conservative Christian activism for anti-gay legislation and a leader in so-called “ex-gay” ministries of “reparative therapy.” Yet, Dobson was treated with more respect in the film than I could have managed. Even Dr. Mel White, a former member of the Religious Right (ghost writing books and films for the likes of the late Jerry Falwell) and, since coming out of the closet, an ordained minister in the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches and founder of the pro-GLBT activist group, Soulforce, gives Dobson more credit than I think I could. Because White and others basically claim that when Dobson stuck to his roots of giving Christian families advice on parenting, he was a positive force for good. I disagree. I think much of his parenting advice is very harmful, and was even before he became obsessed with the supposed evils of “the gay agenda.”

The film synopsis gives this description of For the Bible Tells Me So:

Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate?

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival, Dan Karslake’s provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based almost solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible. As the film notes, most Christians live their lives today without feeling obliged to kill anyone who works on the Sabbath or eats shrimp (as a literal reading of scripture dictates).

Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families — including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson — we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.

I think this is a powerful film for introducing this topic into churches or contexts where either the subject is never discussed (the “don’t ask, don’t tell” de facto policy that rules so many congregations, silently ignoring the barely-closeted individuals and couples in their midst) or where ONLY the traditional teaching has been heard and no serious airing of other perspectives has been given.  The film, by itself, will probably change few minds. But it could begin some true dialogue.

The most powerful piece of the film for me was the testimony of one elderly woman who, when her daughter came out as lesbian in college (by writing a letter home), reacted very negatively.  She eventually came to an inclusive viewpoint–but only after her daughter committed suicide. (Because of family, church, and social rejection, GLBT persons attempt suicide at much higher rates than the national average–especially LGBT teens).  All I could think was, “Thank God, I went through her journey BEFORE any child of mine came out and contemplated suicide. Thank God, it did not take such a horror to begin my journey to full inclusion.”

This is not an area where I feel proud of myself. On no other matter of controversy have I hesitated to wade into things. But here I was a moral coward. I waited until I was married (not until 28!) before I even went into a library and checked out materials on the subject–other than the standard, pre-approved evangelical books with the standard, pre-packaged answers. (I flashed my wedding ring around at the check out desk so that anyone noticing the books I was checking out did not think I was gay!) And I have said and written so little about this because I know that championing an inclusive position could prevent my ever getting another church-related position or a teaching position in a church-related institution. As Peggy Campolo says, there is more than one closet in the church and more of us than gays and lesbians need to decide to come out of our closets.

But I am glad that people like Rich Mouw were treated so well in this film. Because I know that not all traditionalists in this matter are ignorant or filled with hatred or biblically or theologically illiterate, etc. I know that from the inside, too. I am sure that part of the reason it took me so long to come to a welcoming and affirming position of LGBT folk is residual homophobia from church and society (not family–my parents were inclusive before I was and wondered what took me so long!), but those weren’t the ONLY reasons. 

I am a Christian social activist. But I have a deep loyalty to Scripture as the Word of God in and through human words, the living witness to the Word Made Flesh in Jesus Christ.  My usual complaint about American fundamentalism is how unbiblical it is.  So, I know I came to this “issue” (and GLBT persons hate being an “issue” as one might well imagine) not wanting to jump on some politically correct bandwagon.  I think that is a strong feature of such welcoming-but-not-affirming Christian leaders as Rich Mouw, Tony Campolo, the late Stanley Grenz (taken from us all too soon), N.T. scholar, Dr. Richard B. Hays, theologian Marva Dawn, the evangelical feminist Catherine Clark Kroeger, my friend and former colleague, Dr. David P. Gushee, and others. I think it is a strong component in the way some of my readers who reject my conclusions do so. I understand because I was once where you are–and my having changed my mind does NOT make you wrong or me right. After all, I have met many who were pacifists but changed their minds after 9/11–and I think they were right before and are now wrong.  Being willing to change one’s mind is a sign of maturity–but no particular change of mind is guaranteed to be a change for the better. That applies to me as well.

So, seeing this film should open discussion, not close it.  It does not “make the case” for full inclusion of GLBT persons–but only exposes folk to that viewpoint in a powerful way.

I would hope that everyone viewing this film would come away agreeing that gay bashing is wrong, that holding up signs saying “God hates fags” is wrong, that people who give death threats to gay people or inclusive churches (as they have to Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson) are sick and need treatment, and that civil laws which discriminate should be ended. Beyond that, the film itself only raises the issues about full inclusion in the church–it does not and cannot answer them definitively.

But the “issues” are placed in the right context–in the midst of discussions in families and churches about how best to love children, aunts, uncles, parents, etc. who are gay. If, in viewing the film, the option of hate is ruled out and the only remaining debate is over whether love is best expressed in welcoming but NOT affirming, or in welcoming AND affirming (as my church teaches and I have concluded), then it will have accomplished a great good. I hope many of my Gentle Readers will order For the Bible Tells Me So at the link and watch it in churches and homes with friends and begin open and honest–even painful and tearful–discussions.

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, family, GLBT issues, homosexuality | 16 Comments

Race and Gender Faultlines

The faultlines in U.S. politics over race and gender are becoming extremely obvious.  But this is hardly new.  This country, including it’s great promise, was built on the genocide and stolen land of Native peoples and the chattel slavery of Africans–and almost every civilization throughout history has oppressed women.

As a white, male, Southerner, I continue to grieve at the way the Powers That Be use race and gender to exploit not only women and racial minorities, but also poor whites.  Poor and lower-middle class whites continue to allow racism to be used to harm our own best interests.  Slavery didn’t help poor whites–because free labor beats cheap labor every time! So how did rich white slaveowners convince thousands of poor whites in the South to fight and kill and die so that other people could continue to own human beings as property??

After the Civil War, during the Gilded Age of Robber Barons (our current economic inequality is reaching those levels), the Populist movement rose up fight money power with people power, led by Tom Watson, a Southern white who tried to forge a multi-racial coalition to overcome economic exploitation. Racism was used to break up the coalition and, by the end, Watson himself had become a racist demagogue who supported the worst of the Jim Crow segregation laws.

In the North, they used race and ethnicity to set Irish against Italian against Pole–and all of them against African-Americans, while the rich laughed all the way to the bank.

The first women’s movement came from the involvement of white women in the work to abolish slavery–and women’s rights were championed by black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass. But when the only version of the 15th Amendment (banning restrictions on voting based on race) which would pass enfranchised only black males, a schism appeared between the movements for racial and gender equality. Hurtful things were said on both sides.

This reappeared during the Civil Rights movement and the 2nd Wave Feminist movement:  Remember Stokely Carmichael’s infamous comment that the only role for women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was “prone!”

Race affects even the healthcare debate: Bill Clinton has rightly mentioned several times that we came closest to getting universal healthcare under Harry Truman’s post-WWII presidency. That’s the time period when Canada and most of Europe adopted universal healthcare and was a perfect time for us to do so as well. Truman had campaigned on completing Roosevelt’s New Deal. Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Healthcare expenses were a much lower percentage of the economy. But it was blocked by Southern legislators, despite the fact that the South would have benefitted most and contributed the least to the plan in taxes. Why? Southern legislators feared that universal healthcare would force them to integrate their hospitals! (They were probably right.  Southern hospitals were finally integrated after the 1965 passage of the Medicare and Medicaid Bills–which were nearly blocked by Southern Senate filibusters!)

And no one should be surprised at the Black/Latino split in the U.S. (though it is not as wide as white media pundits make it out). In many places following the Civil Rights movement, white power brokers would allow one “minority position” in city councils or business boards, etc. so that Brown presence meant no Black presence and vice versa.  White politicians would and still do condemn a black owned business, wipe it out, and rebuild with a white company–and hire all Latino workers to build the new construction.

This election could end tragically with divisions along race and gender lines.  The Powers of repression, economic exploitation, ecological degradation, and military imperialism could get their way by exploiting our fears and resentments.  Or we could refuse to let that happen this time.

Regardless, we clearly need more national conversations–real dialogues–on race and gender matters. They will not always be comfortable, especially for white males. We have benefitted from our race and gender even when we have not asked to–and when we are struggling ourselves it can feel as if we are blamed for what others have done in our names.

Healing has to begin somewhere. Let it begin in each of homes, churches, and communities.

April 26, 2008 Posted by | family, prejudice, race, sexism, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

The Truth About S-CHIP

Well, last week the House was 24 votes from being able to override the president’s veto.  Yesterday, they fell just 13 votes short. 44 House Republicans voted for the override.  157 Republicans and 2 Democrats supported Bush and voted against the health and welfare of children. See how your Rep. voted here and thank them if they voted for the S-CHIP expansion. If they voted against it, call them and urge them change their minds when this next comes up for a vote (which will be soon). To sustain this veto, the Republicans and the rightwing press and bloggers carried out a propaganda disinformation campaign.  They included the following false claims:

  • That the S-CHIP program was originally to help poor children and was now being expanded to families who didn’t deserve to be on it. FALSE.  The poor are covered by Medicaid.  S-CHIP, which was largely the work of Republicans during the Clinton administration, was ALWAYS designed for working families–up to 250% of the poverty line–who either could not afford private health insurance or who, because of “pre-existing medical conditions” cannot get insurance at any cost.
  • That the vetoed S-CHIP bill expanded coverage even to those with family incomes of $85 K per year.  FALSE. That figure was from New York state which attempted to get a waiver for such a family. The waiver was denied.  The S-CHIP legislation, including its expansion, insists that total family income be less that $50 K per year, no matter pre-existing conditions or cost of living, etc.
  • That the S-CHIP bill would give health care to illegal immigrants.  FALSE.  It is because this bill EXCLUDES undocumented immigrants that the usually liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) voted against it. (I disagree with Kucinich here, btw.) Kucinich was persuaded to change his vote to, “yea” this time around, I am glad to say.
  • That S-CHIP expansion is a step toward “socialized medicine.” No, socialized medicine is what the President, VP, Cabinet, every member of Congress and the Supreme Court all enjoy.  S-CHIP worked with a minimum of bureacracy, was adapted by each state locally, used private health insurance carriers (purchased by the states).  It focused on prevention and saved millions by not using emergency rooms as primary care.  It was so successful that even though George W. Bush opposed it as Gov. of Texas (and had to be overridden), he later came to praise its success.

I won’t re-hash all the lies told about S-CHIP recipient Graeme Frost and his family–all of which have been shown to be false.  But here are some other truths about S-CHIP which Republicans will have to grasp very soon:

  • According to a poll commissioned by CBS News, 81% of Americans back S-CHIP and its expansion.
  • 74% of Americans would favor it even if it meant higher taxes! If the question had mentioned that S-CHIP would be financed by tobacco taxes, that percentage would be even higher.
  • Only 22% of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of health care at all. That’s even lower than the 26% who approve of his handling of Iraq!
  • According to an ABC-Washington Post poll, only 26% of Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats to solve health care problems–lower than those who trust Republicans more on Iraq (34%), on fighting terrorism (40%), on the economy (33%), or on lowering the federal budget deficit (29%).  Those numbers suggest that Republicans up for reelection had better have evidence that they are not “typical Republicans” or not “copies of Bush” if they hope to retain their jobs. Voting against health care for children is NOT the way to produce such evidence.

With those kinds of numbers, it is certain that an S-CHIP expansion will pass.  Healthcare has now become the 2nd biggest issue of the 2008 campaign, right after Iraq. If this doesn’t pass before the end of the year, it will become an issue in every election of 2008.  The Bush veto of S-CHIP could be the nail in the political coffins of many GOP political careers.  Emergency legislation funding the program at current levels will keep the program going until mid-November. Expect another showdown over this bill before the emergency funding expires.

Unsolicited advice to Congressional Republicans:  Vote for this bill if you want to continue in your current job.  Bush doesn’t care about you. He will be out of office in January ’09 regardless.  But if you continue to uphold his position, you will be joining him in looking for new opportunities in the private sector.  And while you are breaking with the president to help children, you might want to vote to restore Habeas Corpus for everyone, end torture, and end domestic spying.  Are you sure you want to hitch your political future to the coattails of a president with lower approval ratings than Nixon had during Watergate?

October 19, 2007 Posted by | child welfare, economic justice, family | 3 Comments

Molly & Peace Camp Friends

molly-at-peace-camp.jpgThe girl on the right in the foreground is my eldest daughter, Molly White (12),  sharing a quiet moment with some friends at this year’s “peace camp.”  This was Molly’s 1st year with the youth and not the children’s program.  All week long people came up to me and told me how impressed with Molly they were–so her mother must be doing some good parenting and maybe I’m not messing up too badly.  Molly worked on the peace mural and took 3 pictures of it which I promised to share on this blog.  She also participated in the youth-led worship service in a segment called, “If you ask me,” (She said, “If you ask me there would be no wealth or poverty.”) and she sang the closing song at Friday night’s open mic session–a setting of I Cor. 13 called, “Love Is.”

August 1, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, family, peacemaking | Comments Off on Molly & Peace Camp Friends

Memories: Wedding Nostalgia

Since I couldn’t find a current picture that does justice to my beautiful bride of 17 years, I scanned in these from our wedding album. (Who says only women get all mushy nostalgic?) On the left, the brilliant, beautiful Kate, formerly Katharine E. Westmoreland, my bride. On the right is a younger, slimmer version of myself–when no gray yet touched my beard!

This was just after Kate’s graduation from seminary and about 5 months from mine. At this point, doctoral work, children, etc. were all in the future.

What a ride! How incredibly GRACED I have been to have shared this adventure called life, these callings from God , with this wonderful woman. How poor my spirit was without her–how completely unaware I was of my own poverty!

It is common for theologians to compare and contrast human loves to divine love with the former always paling in comparison. This is true, BUT—it fails completely to note what a wonderful gift from God even human love is. As the writer of the Song of Songs (Solomon or whomever, I care not!) realized–human love is incredibly powerful and itself partakes in the good purposes of God. Words fail me. I wake up every day giving thanks for such a life partner.

January 13, 2007 Posted by | family | 2 Comments