It’s impossible to miss the stench of hypocrisy. For years now, religous conservatives have been screeching that gays and lesbians want special rights. This weekend Dallin Oaks comes out and declares that religion should get special rights.
If I were cynic, I’d say his speech is entirely about the fact that religious conservatives are losing in the marketplace of ideas and he’s mounting a last ditch defense to maintain cultural privilege. Among people under 30, gay marriage is completely uncontroversial. Among the general population, 75% favor legal protections for same sex relationships (support is divided between civil unions and marriage). Each year, more and more Americans support the idea of legalizing same sex marriage. It was therefore unconvincing when Oaks said:
Although I will refer briefly to some implications of the Proposition 8 controversy and its constitutional arguments, I am not here to participate in the debate on the desirability or effects of same-sex marriage.
His statement would have been more convincing had he not later spent a sizable chunk of his speech mis-leading his audience:
Religious preaching of the wrongfulness of homosexual relations is beginning to be threatened with criminal prosecution or actually prosecuted or made the subject of civil penalties. Canada has been especially aggressive, charging numerous religious authorities and persons of faith with violating its human rights law by “impacting an individual’s sense of self-worth and acceptance.”29 Other countries where this has occurred include Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Singapore.30
He then added this passage:
In New Mexico, the state’s Human Rights Commission held that a photographer who had declined on religious grounds to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony had engaged in impermissible conduct and must pay over $6,000 attorney’s fees to the same-sex couple. A state judge upheld the order to pay.31 In New Jersey, the United Methodist Church was investigated and penalized under state anti-discrimination law for denying same-sex couples access to a church-owned pavilion for their civil-union ceremonies. A federal court refused to give relief from the state penalties.32 Professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin were fired or disciplined for expressing personal convictions that homosexual behavior is sinful.33 Candidates for masters’ degrees in counseling in Georgia and Michigan universities were penalized or dismissed from programs for their religious views about the wrongfulness of homosexual relations.34 A Los Angeles policeman claimed he was demoted after he spoke against the wrongfulness of homosexual conduct in the church where he is a lay pastor.35 The Catholic Church’s difficulties with adoption services and the Boy Scouts’ challenges in various locations are too well known to require further comment.
In these cases, he did not provide his audience with the context of the situation or with enough background to assess his claims. In the New Mexico case, the state has a law specifically banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the photographer stated she would not photograph a wedding because of the sexual orientation of the persons involved. In the New Jersey case, the pavilion in question had been rented out for a wide variety of uses – dances, family reunions, weddings, anniversary parties etc; it had been well established that it was not a “church” only location but rather a public accommodation.
I decry attempts to legitimize [homosexuals’] addictions and compulsions. These, our fellow humans, deserve our best efforts to help them recover their lives. We only hurt them further when we choose to pretend that these walking wounded are OK the way they are, that their present injuries are the best they can hope for in life.
In the Illinois case, a professor sent students in his class an email:
In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.
“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail, obtained by The News-Gazette. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”
He went on to write there has been a disassociation of sexual activity from morality and procreation, in contradiction of Natural Moral Theory.
When you read the email, it’s clear the professor, Kenneth Howell, moved from explaining Catholic theology to attempting to proselytize his students. Of course, Oaks left something important out – the professor in question was reinstated to his teaching position. This post at Chicago Now is a pretty smart examination the kerfuffle.
In the Georgia and Michigan cases, both students violated long standing professional ethics and failed to meet program guidelines. In both cases, the standards were spelled out in advance and the students in question refused to meet them. Both sued and both lost. As the judge in one case wrote in the ruling:
. . .the university had a rational basis for requiring its students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values.
There are actual, valid issues in each of these cases. With the photographers in New Mexico, I think the state overstepped (if the photographer had agreed to shoot the wedding and then backed out at the last minute when she discovered it was a same sex wedding it would be different). However, I also believe there’s a valid case to be made that if you open a business, you are a public accommodation. And there’s a real issue that Oaks and other religious conservatives tend to studiously avoid: harm.
Take the case of the graduate students. The defined course of studies in their counseling programs required them to prepare to counsel glbt persons – literally to treat them the same way they would treat a person of another race, economic status, gender or religion. Both students refused to do the basics required by their academic programs citing religious objection without identifying any way in which meeting the requirements would harm them. In one case, the school simply required the student to attend a pride celebration and report on what she saw and heard. Too often, it seems, these religious objections amount to little more than claiming that treating lgbt persons equally offends the individual’s morals.
The Los Angeles police officer, he delivered an anti-gay sermon at a funeral for a fellow officer. His remarks concerned the department:
“When it comes to enforcing the law, it has to be done impartially, treating everybody with respect,” said Maislin, who declined to comment specifically on Holyfield’s case. “We are concerned, clearly, about the type of speech our employees engage in.”
By definition, a police officer has to protect the whole community and every member of it. If he is biased against some members of the community, does anyone doubt it would negatively impact his work with those persons? If he were openly bigoted against African Americans, does anything think he’d still be a police officer? Yet, in this case, he claims that his religion requires him to be prejudiced.
I wanted to spend some time on these incidents precisely because Dallin Oaks did not. If all you knew was what he said, you’d walk away with the impression that Christians are increasingly victims of a shadowy conspiracy to persecute them because they merely disapprove of homosexuality.
Oaks, like other religious conservatives, is forced to construct an elaborate argument in which opposition to gay rights is central to Christian theology. Christian theology comes to hinge almost entirely upon its disapproval of gay people. The six verses in the bible that talk about homosexuality are suddenly the sum total of what Christians want to talk about.
In God’s Politics, Jim Wallis tells the story of going through the bible and removing all the sections about economics – what was left was so sparse it almost fell to pieces. Read through the gospels and you see very few stories about sexuality but you see lots of stories about money and economics. The Gospels never once mention homosexuality; but Jesus is abundantly clear in his denunciation of divorce. Seems to me lots of Christians get divorced and the church never says “boo”.
There’s an old joke – there are six verses in the bible about homosexuals and 300 about straight people. It’s not that god doesn’t love gay people, it’s that straight people need more supervision.
What Dallin Oaks and other religious conservatives are doing with regard to civil rights for glbt persons is the reason that young people are increasingly turning away from the Christian church. Ask people under 40 and they’ll tell you that Christians are intolerant and anti-gay. Ask people under 40 who attend church and the majority will tell you they believe the church is wrong in its stance on gay marriage. Ask lots of people and they’ll tell you that you can be Christian and gay. But for too many religious leaders, there is no compromise, no middle ground. They cannot, they will not, bend.
In the 1850s, southern preachers declared with equal vehemence that slavery was a biblical institution and doing away with it would be to deny God. In the 1960s, racist preachers declared that segregation of the races was God’s will and doing away with it would be to do deny God. Those same preachers taught that interracial marriage was a violation of Biblical truth. Preachers used to tell their congregations that it was a violation of God’s will for women to vote or have jobs and they based it on the bible. There has never been in American history an advance in civil rights that has not been passionately and vocally opposed by religious conservatives. When Dallin Oaks stands up and as he did in this speech, declares that religious freedom requires opposition to the civil rights of gays and lesbians, he is standing in a long line of fiery American religious figures opposed to expanding civil rights.