One of the reasons antigay opinion has been eroding in this country is that the (primarily) religious opponents of equality have become so melodramatic and quixotic in their rhetoric, driven by what looks like a maniacal sense of persecution that reasonable observers can’t possibly take seriously. The distance between observable reality and the comic overcharacterization of that reality is leaving decent people who might not otherwise have made up their mind giving us the benefit of the doubt. Lesbians and gay men may not all be models of rectitude and moderation, but at least we have some respectable arguments to make that seem to reflect a recognizable real world.
A good example of the self-dramatized hyperbole comes from Tony Perkins. He has been peddling this line recently, about the danger of the Prop. 8 ruling: “If this case stands, we’ll have gone, in one generation, from 1962, when the Bible was banned in public schools to religious beliefs being banned in America.” I heard him make this case at TheCall in Sacramento last weekend, and he is now selling it on religious broadcasts as well.
His grievance is with Judge Walker’s 77th Finding of Fact, which Perkins correctly quotes: “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.” Perkins doesn’t add that the finding is accompanied (as any proper trial court finding of fact would have to be) by citations to the record at trial – 18 of them – supporting the conclusion. Perkins does complain that Judge Walker ignored all the facts presented by his side, but his real argument is with the lawyers and witnesses who defended Prop. 8, who didn’t exactly offer up a buffet of evidence for the judge to pick from.
Fact #77 doesn’t stand alone (there are 79 other findings of fact, every one also supported by numerous citations to the evidence at trial), nor would its absence make any difference in the conclusions of law the judge reaches. Perkins cherry-picks that one fact only because it is the one that can be massaged to fit into his persecution.
Even if you believed that civil marriage equality would somehow affect religious believers (because some of them might see the conflict more clearly between what their religion professes and what the civil law accepts), or would even undermine some religions (to the extent that opposing homosexuality is part of the infrastructure of their morality), it is hard to see how this would lead to “religious beliefs being banned in America.” The same first amendment that prohibits the teaching of particular religions in public schools (without “banning” Bibles, by the way — yet more of the melodrama) also protects religious believers in the exercise of their religion, however much those beliefs differ with civic policy. Just because Perkins would not be able to prohibit same-sex marriage laws does not mean he is not allowed to believe, preach, or even ban within his congregation same-sex marriage or divorce or abortion or eating meat on Fridays.
It is, I’m sure, a disappointment for these religious believers to hear that their beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality are viewed differently by others. But how insular would your worldview have to be to be surprised by that? Certainly, they believe they are loving us by trying to steer us to an inner heterosexuality (or celibacy) that will better serve our long-term spiritual needs. But is it such a shock to learn that non-believers could find that presumptuous and condescending, and even a little bit injurious?
Harm alone doesn’t amount to a constitutional violation, and people who think they’re helping me are as free to hurt me in this way as I suppose I hurt them by saying that I think they hold wrong and harmful positions. The only reason they’re losing support is because they have so successfully blinded themselves to the idea that differences of opinion – even, and maybe especially religious opinion – is OK. That’s just a fact.