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.

mathi_3
12/8/2008 9:06:45 AM

I find Bill's comment unacceptable, full of hatred and puts himself at the level of those he is against. The Mormons broke no laws and are following the tenats of their faith and their rights under the Constitution of the United States. Blaming "holy-roller Black churches is a step away from a racist comment. Calling all priests or the Catholic Church "preaching rampant homophobia while priests continue unchecked pederastry" is unfair, not accurate and again shows his own hypocrasy. As it has already been proving by the John Jay Study and the AP, Bill's comments are more accurate when describing the public school system. Obviously, he did not read the article and is just spewing his own agenda instead of giving a thoughtful, insightful comment on the article, like others have done. Those who live in California know that it was more than just religious groups. I want to add that given the large size of the state and the large diversity, it shows that the liberal attitude of San Francisco and Berkeley does not influence the whole state. Lets look at what is raised in the article and go further into the insights offered.


bill_4
11/30/2008 10:38:50 AM

Horsesh*t! It's 100% "religion" that's behind every last ugly, discriminatory, intolerant, divisive aspect of Prop 8. What else could it be? Mormons, holy-roller Black churches, hypocrital Catholics blindly preaching rampant homophobia while priests continue unchecked pederastry - give me a break. Since the dawn of time "moral majorities" (sic) have conveniently used "religion" to enforce their own prejudices whenever and wherever they choose. Why you now seek to earnestly apologize for the grave and diabolical subversion of organized "religion" to deny tax-paying citizens their rights defies credulity.


john johnson
11/28/2008 5:53:36 PM

Well... your headline grabbed my attention - But there wasn't much substance in the links behind it. I do agree with Richard Kim that while the Mormons and Catholics provided money, it was Evangelical Protestants who provided the "ground game" that pushed Prop-8 to victory. However, Prop-8 did not really begin to gain in the polls until they switched the focus to the sex-education canard. Exit polls show that over half of the "young middle age" bloc, those with school age children, voted Yes. The worst TV Ad showed a child (too young for sex-ed) coming home and surprising her mother with "what I learned in school about gay marriage today". It doesn't work like that in California. Parents receive advance notice, they can opt their child out, and the curriculum is always age-appropriate. It was pretty despicable propaganda. Being a regular church-goer myself, I'm not interested in "blaming religion"... I blame religious fundamentalism, and their contempt for the First Amendment - "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion..." Prop-8 has "established" a particular religious doctrine ( one that my church does not agrees with) in the California Constitution. It must be revoked. I think a lot of "religious" people will be persuaded to agree with that.


brett mckenzie
11/19/2008 8:57:26 PM

Fair enough. I see your point. Maybe it's because I'm an outsider, but I can't NOT see it through the prism of the culture war, and what I've seen supports that interpretation. The problem for me is that of motivation: there's really no reason to discriminate against homosexuals that doesn't in some way trace back to religion.


bennett gordon
11/19/2008 9:20:05 AM

Hey Brett, Thanks for the comment. I don’t think that acknowledging the organizing successes of the religious right is the same as placing blame on Christianity or religion. In fact, I think that placing blame on religion or minorities handicaps the gay rights movement’s organizing abilities in the future. Wendy Cadge wrote, “Personal exposure to gay and lesbian people in family networks, seminary contexts, and local congregations was the single most important factor shaping clergy’s supportive opinions.” Personal exposure was more important than the type of religion or a person’s race. Working with religious and minority communities would likely prove to be effective for proponents of gay marriage.


brett mckenzie
11/19/2008 8:03:25 AM

You say that religion is not the easy answer, and then point out that religious groups were far more organized. The ONLY possible reason for having this stance is theological, everything else falls down under scrutiny or under the weight of tradition (the other supposed defence). So, while it was organization that won the day, it was because religious groups were already organized, already motivated, already taking part in the "culture war", already afraid, and already believed that they are part of a persecuted minority. Gay, secular and godless activists are far less organized, far less cohesive, and honestly did not believe that the people of California would STRIP its citizens of human rights. Your column undermines the first paragraph further by pointing out that the religious right reached out more effectively to minority groups. The article states that religous groups connected better with minorities, and yet wants to say that pointing the finger at religious extremists and minorities is simplistic? Is that right? Let's point fingers. It WAS the religious right and minorities who revoked the right to marry.