November 4th will mark both the one-year anniversary of the historic election of America's first African American president, and the historic denial of the fundamental civil right of marriage to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens of the State of California under Proposition 8.
The idea of Marriage Equality as a civil right was clouded last year by an effective campaign led by conservative evangelical Christians who framed marriage as a purely religious institution. The campaign used scripture to justify their notion that same-gender marriage is against God's will. Many voters, who consider themselves to be Christians, and many African-American voters who normally vote to uphold civil rights, instead cast their vote based on their religious convictions, without regard to their actions' impact on freedom, justice and equality.
On this anniversary of the passage of Proposition 8, the challenge that proponents of marriage equality face now is how to reframe the issue within the context of social justice so voters are not unwittingly contributing to the discrimination, oppression and marginalization the LGBT community has faced based on a conservative interpretation of 2,000-year-old texts.
The only way to reframe the issue of marriage equality amongst those who voted against It, is to engage voters at their point of reference...religion. This is not to suggest that we must stay at that point of reference, but we must start there. The reasoning behind this strategy is simple: on any journey, you must meet people where they are before you can get them to where they need to be.
I have encountered many well-intentioned and otherwise justice-minded Christians who voted against marriage equality last November because, "their Christian conscience would not allow them to support same-gender marriage." To them I ask, does your Christian conscience allow you to discriminate, oppress, persecute, condemn or judge others? One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is that God is the only One able to judge us. Therefore, for Christians who struggle with marriage equality as a matter of conscience, perhaps they should have allowed God to be the judge by abstaining from voting in that political election. Imagine how different the outcome of the November elections would have been if all those who voted against Marriage Equality based on their religious convictions simply hadn't voted on the measure at all.
Many voters who voted against marriage equality strongly believe in the idea of marriage as a religious institution, rather than a civil one, and claim that the Bible's example of a traditional marriage is between one man and one woman.
For those of us who have truly studied the scriptures and the Bible's patriarchs, it's clear that traditional marriage also included men with multiple wives and even more concubines. From Abraham to Isaac, David to Solomon, and every patriarch in between, the Bible characterizes traditional marriage as less than monogamous, with women being the property of men. Clearly, the Bible's traditions around marriage do not dictate the structure of marriage today. For women voters, this important detail is particularly resonant.
Indeed, I have also found it effective to state the obvious: marriage licenses are issued by the Secretary of State, an elected, publicly paid official. While clergy request the license and affix their signature and denomination, they require the signatures of two witnesses before conducting the ceremony; and they must verbalize as part of the ceremony, "by the powers vested in me by the state of California", indicating that they are operating as an Agent of the State. The religious component of the ceremony reflects the traditions and culture of the participants. Without the sanction of the State, no marriage would be legal.
The objective is to engage voters in a rational dialogue - one which questions why their personal religious convictions entitle them to deny a fundamental civil right to an entire a group of people. It is paramount to forcibly imposing their theology upon individual citizens and state institutions, violating the principle of separation of church and state. If the voter is of the Christian belief, ask them how they would feel if Islam was forced upon them. If the voter is a Muslim, ask them how they would feel if Judaism was forced upon them.
At the center of this issue is the right to choose how individuals live their lives. Freedom of choice is essential and critical to our democratic ideals, and also a core component of the Christian faith. At no time should any tax paying citizen be denied the constitutional right to freedom. The issue of Marriage Equality needs to framed as a right to freedom, justice and equality, the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
Jesus asked that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is our opportunity to follow in His footsteps and show the true power of His words.
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