On 15 May, California's Supreme Court ruled that the one man-one woman marriage laws are unconstitutional. The opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald George, cited the court's 1948 decision that reversed the state's interracial marriages ban. It found that "equal respect and dignity" of marriage is a "basic civil right" that cannot be withheld from same-sex couples. Chief Justice George wrote:
"Retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite sex couples ...may well have the effect that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects 'second-class citizens' who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples... Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional."
In the months since the decision, thousands of California same-sex couples have married. Their serious approach to matrimony is steeped in years of steadfast commitment that has survived without any protection or acknowledgment under law. The handful of same-sex weddings I've attended have been devoutly thoughtful. At these celebrations, the strong social, emotional, and historical marriage bond is being honored more reverently than I have ever witnessed.
Sharing in the joy of these not-so-young couples, some of whom have been together over 40 years, reminds me of my twenties when I went to scores of young heterosexual marriages. I recall the joy tempered by the serious thought that these lucky new couples were able to publicly commit to each other for the rest of their lives. I remember my friends David and Clift sitting in a pew looking at each other, secretly sharing in the vows of the wedding couple; in 1980 it was the best they could do. For David and Clift their marriage is a recognition and celebration of their lifelong commitment. The state is finally affording them the rights they should have shared long ago.
Even before the California judiciary decision allowing David and Clift to marry, churches were circulating petitions to rescind the official pronouncement. Due to California's Prop law, judicial prudence is now in the hand of the voters in the form of Proposition 8. It's a California constitutional amendment that reads: "ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY."
When the dollars are added up, the opponents of marriage ("Yes on Prop 8") are overwhelmingly culled from churches, mostly from out of state. Over eight million dollars has been given by the Mormons, hundreds of thousands from Focus on the Family and millions more from Catholic organizations including the Knights of Columbus. "Yes on 8" has also selected a Mormon law professor teaching at Pepperdine University, Richard Petersen as the expert face of the campaign. He's on TV scaring people about teaching school kids about gay marriage -- scary indeed!
Silly Jim Garlow, a San Diego evangelical pastor, called for forty days of fasting leading up to Election Day. The goal, says Garlow, would be to fill San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium and other large venues with (newly skinny) people praying for a ban on same-sex marriage. Haven't we had enough of this folly?
The church poking its nose into politics has too long been too pervasive and too powerful in Bush's America. This continued effort against same-sex marriage is reminiscent of the Catholic Church's inaction against anti-Semitic murder under Adolf Hitler. This Election Day, less than three weeks from now, churches are leading the hate and raising the banner as Americans are being persecuted, bashed and beaten all in the name of God.
A newly-released DVD sheds some light on the hatred inspired by religion. James Carroll's cold hard documentary Constantine's Sword is a serious study of the religious revival that is transforming our country and, since the U.S. is a superpower, what happens here affects the whole world. Director Oren Jacoby explores the mindless meanness man has perpetrated against humanity in the name of god. Carroll, a former Catholic priest, attempts to understand how the long and sordid history of the Crusades and the horror of the Holocaust could have happened in a Christian world.
One story told in the film is harrowing and feels a little close to home...
In July 1933 the Cardinal that would become Pope sent warm greetings to Adolf Hitler. In July 1933 the Vatican became the first foreign power to enter into a bilateral agreement with Hitler. Edith Stein, a German-Jewish Philosopher whose dissertation was a study of empathy, converted to Catholicism in 1922 and entered the Carmelite Monastery in Cologne Germany.
In 1933, Sister Edith wrote to Pope Pius, warning about persecution and hatred levied against the Jews. Stein implored for intervention against this inhumanity.
In her letter to the Pope she wrote:
"As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. Now that they have seized the power of government and armed their followers . . . this seed of hatred has germinated. . . . But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.
Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself "Christian." For weeks, not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name. Isn't the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors...We all, who are faithful children of the Church and who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer.
At the feet of your Holiness, requesting your apostolic blessing,
Dr. Edith Stein"
Stein's letter received no answer. In 1942, she was arrested at a Netherlands convent. Later that year, she was murdered at Auschwitz. The Church did not release her letter publically until 2003.
If we cannot learn from our past we are condemned to relive it. God Bless America? I guess we'll see on November 4th.