Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jubilating Today, Looking Back in Shame Tomorrow

Aaron Zelinsky’s Huffington Post statement about why the California Supreme Court decision today will be good for gay marriage in the long run seems eminently reasonable. Zelinsky argues that we are reaching the limits of judicial activism when it comes to seeking equal rights for gay citizens, and that today’s decision appropriately tosses the ball back to voters.

Zelinsky states,

Gay marriage will stand on sounder footing when it is popularly enacted rather than judicially imposed. One can imagine the wedge issue Strauss could have handed the Republican Party had the Court overturned the decision of the California electorate. Instead, opponents of same sex marriage must fight it out again at the ballot box.

I agree, with one proviso. What happened in the prop 8 ballot raises disquieting (and still largely ignored) questions about the indefensible role religious bodies—and their tax-protected funds—can play in skewing democratic discussions and the democratic process. It is one thing for communities of faith to be galvanized by moral issues, to organize, to lobby so that their voices can be heard. It is one thing for faith leaders to address moral issues from the pulpit.

But it is another thing altogether for people of faith to collude to thwart democratic deliberation with poisonous advertisements, while turning their church structures into political machines to assure that a faith community’s viewpoint overturns judicial decisions, and while hiding how they have inappropriately used tax-protected church funds for political purposes, breaching the wall of separation of church and state.

I read in the news today that some churches are organizing celebrations of their “victory” this coming Sunday I would suggest that this “victory” is a pyrrhic one that will bring as much shame to churches in the future as churches’ collaboration with the Nazis now does, or churches’ resistance to civil rights for African Americans does, or churches’ opposition to equal rights for women does.

I saw some of those “victory” celebrations at close hand in the 1960s, in white churches that managed to keep their doors tight shut against black fellow Christians. Those churches now recognize that their behavior in the civil rights struggle (and then when women’s rights became an issue) was shameful. What they crowed about in the 1960s, they now speak about in whispers.

And it will not be different in the future, as churches look back at their shameful abuse of gay human beings at this point in history.