Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Blaming Religion for Banning Gay Marriage

 by Bennett Gordon

Tags: Spirituality, Politics, California, Proposition 8,

Proposition 8 ProtestOn election day, Californians passed Proposition 8, eliminating the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Many are still wondering how this could have happened, and some are looking to religion as an easy target to blame. But careful study of the issue belies the blame game.

“Both the organizing successes of the Christian right and the failures of the gay movement” allowed the proposition to pass, Richard Kim writes for the Nation. Anti-gay marriage organizations pushed hard in minority communities, organizing rallies and buying up advertising space in Chinese, black, Spanish, and Korean media outlets. Although polls predicted the proposition’s failure in the days leading up to the election, exit polls indicate that 70 percent of African Americans ended up voting in favor of the constitutional amendment.

Pointing the finger at Christian or minority communities is overly simplistic, Wendy Cadge writes for the Immanent Frame. When it comes to gay marriage, a huge “diversity of opinion exists within families, communities, churches, and racial and ethnic groups,” Cadge writes. Rather than fighting against religion (or against minorities, for that matter), defenders of gay marriage should reach out more to religious and minority communities.

Some have suggested taking the word “marriage” out of the discussion in general, to avoid religious connotations. That won’t solve the problem either, according to E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution. Graff told On the Media’s Bob Garfield that marriage is “the passport word” that’s understood throughout the world, extending rights to couples no matter where they go.

For better or worse, the definition of “marriage” has been in contention for hundreds of years. Graff argues that people shouldn’t simply give up on marriage, they should continue working to change the definition. “Just change the rules,” says Graff, “like we always have.”

 Image of a protest against Proposition 8 that singled out the Mormon Church, credited with bankrolling much of the Yes on 8 campaign, by JoeandKelly, licensed under Creative Commons.