Thursday, August 5, 2010

Candace Chellew-Hodge on Judge Walker's Prop 8 Decision: Prop 8 Defenders on Wrong Side of History

Also at Religion Dispatches this morning, outstanding commentary about Judge Vaughn Walker’s prop 8 decision by Candace Chellew-Hodge.  She focuses on Judge Walker’s conclusion that, because those defending prop 8 were able to cite only their own prejudice as the ultimate ground of their wish to ban same-sex marriage, they find themselves on the wrong side of history.  Because history is moving slowly but surely (yes, with halts and reversals) away from homophobic prejudice and towards the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the human community.

As it has moved towards the full inclusion of women and people of color, with legal and judicial enactments following in democratic societies to acknowledge this movement and enshrine it in laws pointing to national foundational documents like our own Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Judge Walker notes that the prejudice to which those wishing to ban same-sex marriage appeal is ultimately grounded in notions of gender that are no longer widely accepted in our culture today.  As Chellew-Hodge indicates, Walker states,

The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.

I find this reasoning powerful for a number of reasons.  One of these has to do with my own theological formation.  As I’ve noted previously on this blog, my dissertation work studied a movement in American theology called the social gospel movement.

The social gospeler on whom I focused, Chicago theologian Shailer Mathews, persistently argued that democracy is an unfinished project, one that democratic societies will keep trying to get right, as they recognize that this or that group has been excluded from the democratic enterprise due to long-held and insupportable prejudice.  Mathews (who died prior to the civil rights movement of the 1950s) thought that the women’s movement was the premier movement of the 20th century towards greater democratization of democratic societies.

He proposed that, until the 20th century, women had almost universally been regarded as less fully human than males—not quite persons, is how he put it.  For Mathews, one of the premier signs that democracy remained viable (and very unfinished) in the 20th century was that women were emerging for the first time on the stage of human history as full human persons.  And laws were beginning to reflect that emergence.

So it is with gay and lesbian persons: we are seeing the slow, painful, but inexorable emergence of LGBT persons on the stage of history as persons.  The democratic project demands this emergence, and it also demands that societies that wish to continue identifying themselves as democratic abandon untenable prejudices that diminish the personhood of LGBT persons.  Individuals and faith groups may continue to cling to those prejudices if they wish.

But our laws cannot do so—not if we want our democracy to survive.