Monday, December 29, 2008

Equality Denied

In the euphoria of the election this year, it was easy for many of us to overlook the fact that in addition to the election of our nation's first Afro-American president, we also saw a major defeat for human and civil rights in several states, most particularly in California with the passage of proposition 8 banning same sex marriage. Apart from the disturbing fact that this defeat occurred in a so-called "blue" state, is the fact that this campaign was carried out by religious organizations.

Don't misunderstand me, people of faith, just as much as any other Americans have the right, indeed the obligation as citizens of a democracy (as well as by the imperatives of their faith's moral code) to work toward their particular vision of the good for the nation even if, as in this case, many of us who share that same faith may strongly disagree. Rather, what is particularly disturbing about the prop. 8 campaign are the misapprehensions, deceptions and outright untruths surrounding this issue, and the fact that many of those untruths and half-truths were perpetrated by and in the name of faith.

In my humble opinion, the most destructive of these is that marriage equality would violate the rights of churches to determine who they will or will not marry. That in other words, marriage equality is an assult on the separation of church and state by the state. But marriage equality concerns only civil marriage,an institution which in this nation confers rights and privileges on individuals that unmarried people do not have. From consents to tax regulations, married people enjoy a special legal status in this country, one that is denied to gay and lesbian people because they are not permitted to marry. Our constitution denies the government the right to intrude on the sacred rights of the church, but civil rights are the province of the state and to deny the legal rights of marriage to some but not others violates one of the most basic of our constitutional guarantees, the right to equality before the law. Prop.8 violates that right for millions of Americans. It is not only unjust, it is unconstitutional.

While it is the right of churches and church people to promote whatever vision of society that they see fit, the prop. 8 campaign was a blatant misinformation campaign aimed at encoding injustice and inequality into the California state constitution. That injustice is a call to people of faith and good conscience, even those who do not or can not theologically support same-sex marriage to stand up for the civil rights of their fellow Americans to civil marriage and the rights and privileges it confers.

On Sunday, May 3rd at noon in Independence Mall, Philadelphia, Pa, the Equality Forum is sponsoring a rally to support marriage equality. The Interfaith Alliance- Long Island is one of many co-sponors. Come and join us as we stand up for the rights of our fellow Americans. Remember the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "no one is free when others are oppressed." See you in Philly!