Like it, love it, or hate it, Referendum 74 is now the official law of Washington State. Adults may marry whom they please, be they heterosexual or homosexual. Ministers will still be allowed to follow their conscience, and have the right to refuse marriage. Dire predictions have been made, but my prediction is: Just like other areas where gay marriage is allowed, life will be pretty normal from now on.
I’m welcoming the normality. For me, passage of R74 brings with it relief from the anxiety that it won’t pass, being able to read the usual (non-equality-related) banal chatter on Facebook, and celebrating the relationships of my gay friends quietly and peacefully. (Okay, I’ll be honest. I’ll enjoy — just a little bit — the election night tears of the National Organization for Marriage. So tasty.)
It was a knock-down, drag-out fight in the Christian world. I’ve been pretty feisty on this site, on Facebook, and at public gatherings in support of R74 in the last year, and it’s left me with two sets of friends: Ones who are unhappy that I’ve slugged it out with them over gay marriage, and ones who are happy I slugged it out on their behalf. The most frequent (though not only) complaint I’ve heard from my more conservative friends is that I should be setting about defending R74 is a more sedate, respectful, and collegial way. What I’ve chosen to do is point out what I think are major inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and — to call it for what I think it is — bigotry. I’ve slugged it out with them, where they would have me hug it out.
It’s left me, a left-leaning, but affectionate, Christian, with a dilemma. How hard, and how toe-to-toe, do you go for something — someone — you believe in? Like every Christian, I strive to love my neighbor, including all my Christian siblings in faith. Many of those siblings in faith have chosen what I believe to be a sinful position (denying equal rights to gays) and sinful action on it by donating money, voting, or both, to that cause.
My Christian theology has no place in it where gay people are not children of God as much as I am, entitled to the same fulfilling life that I enjoy. Marriage and sexual identity are big parts of a happy life, and I don’t believe that gay Christians are generally called to celibacy. While I don’t wish to engage the theology here, I will simply say that I believe there has been a long history of mistranslation and mistaken teaching on homosexuality in the church for several hundred years. In my reading of the Bible (which I’ve read several times cover to cover, casually and in academic research) I believe it is simply bad theology. As much as opponents of R74 defended their faith, I have defended mine.
As R74 passed the ballot, the joy, gratefulness, and hope of my gay friends, Christian and non-Christian, brought tears to my eyes. This is what I was fighting for. I was thanked many times by these dear and wonderful people for slugging it out in the public forum, day after day, with other people of faith. They were appreciative that a straight Christian would go to bat for them, consistently and without compromise. Gays are a small percentage of the population, and they readily acknowledge that it’s not without the aid of straight people across the state that marriage equality would prevail. Being one of those allies is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
So, to my conservative friends: I’ve called you out on the carpet for sinning against the gay children of God. It might make you uncomfortable to hear that from another Christian, but there’s another side of the coin too. People, just like you, who go to work, have hopes and dreams, sinfulness and saintliness, quirks, memories, and traits. Real human beings who peer out at the world from behind two eyes, and pick up the scars and bruises of life just like you. Some of them want to know their creator, just like you. Some of them are clergy who devote hours upon hours in service to God and their communities. These are good people. Just like you. You might not agree with me, but I’d like for you to at least understand that I’m doing this out of a sense of duty to the oppressed, the minorities, and the voiceless.
But also know that I value you as siblings in Christ, members of one universal Church, and I’m learning — more so through the conversation and engagement around R74 than ever before — to value your viewpoints, to value you as people, and to benefit from where you point out my wrong doings and imperfections. I have to admit that I’ve learned a lot from each of you, and many of you I have grown to respect even more. I think you’re due a few hugs — and a few beers — from me, and thanks for putting up with me. I am realizing, challenging as it is, that we can disagree on some really big things and still find a way to affirm the sacredness and humanity of each one of us. (It’s really, really tough but I’m working on it!)
And lastly, I’m realizing you’ve shown remarkable restraint in dealing with me. I’ve attacked your beliefs, your traditions, and your political opinions in public. I’ve questioned your faith, and called your faith traditions sin, oppression, and bigotry as it relates to gays. It’s amazing you’re still listening, or speaking. I’m a prickly and aggressive person to argue with, so, um... a sheepish thanks is in order to you.
To my gay friends: I didn’t really know it till election night, but it was worth it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. What I’ve learned from it is, even if you do choose to take up the bat for someone else, there needs to be mixed in charity, and there needs to be mixed in genuine affection, hospitality, and respect. I’ll the first to admit that the passion and anxiety of this battle for gay rights left me feeling a bit, uh, savage, by the end. It was out of fear that I would be letting you down. I’m afraid that in that process, I might have let you down anyway, simply by looking like a jerk, and making our movement look like it’s full of jerks like me. For that, I’m sorry.
So what do I do? Gay rights still has a long way to go, and I’d like to be a part of the fight. If I hug it out with conservatives, I risk what my conscience tells me is compromise, leaving me giving less help to those in need of a defender. If I slug it out, I risk friendships that I value, yet come away feeling like what must be said, gets said, to people whom I believe are committing a wrong against other people. It’s a tricky place to navigate. I’m feeling my way forward on it, and hope to use my mistakes in this process, as well as my successes, as a learning experience for better relationships with both sides.