Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections on the HRC Forum

I will be honest, as I sat down to watch the HRC/Logo Presidential forum, my expectations were pretty low. Let’s face some facts. The issues surrounding equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans have not had the greatest track record in terms of uniting the electorate. The very idea that two people of the same gender might enter into some sort of vaguely defined legal partnership became this massive boogieman used by the GOP to ensure “fifty percent plus one” victories, in 2000, 2002, and 2004.

It was interesting to watch all of the Democratic candidates try to navigate the difference between two words. “Marriage” and “Union”. Senators Clinton and Obama both tried very hard to explain how a civil union as it has all the same rights as a civil marriage was essentially the same thing. Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich both focused on the need for equal treatment under the law, but also seemed confused by the idea that civil unions and marriage were not really the same thing. And yes, John Edwards seemed to be struggling with the question many people outside the LGBT community want to ask; “If the rights are the same, who cares what you call it?”

Then, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in space of ten minutes said that he was the most “electable” of the Democratic candidates, and that he thought being Gay or Lesbian was a choice. Whoops. Strange how he didn’t tell the AFLCIO members at Soldier Field that since working in manufacturing is a choice too, losing their pension and health care wasn’t really his problem. Yet by saying sexual orientation is choice he is legitimizing unequal treatment under law for millions of Americans. I don’t know any Gay or Lesbian American (and living in San Francisco I know a few…) who woke up one morning and said; “Gee, If I choose to be Gay, I can be demonized by my own government, condemned by my religion and face a lifetime of struggle for the same basic rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that everyone else takes for granted! Sounds great, where do I sign up?”

The only thing Governor Bill Richardson proved last night in terms of his “electability” is that he is electable, if he was running in a Republican primary

John Edwards really wasn’t able to clearly answer why the notion of same sex marriage makes him uncomfortable and civil unions do not. But the reasons are not hard to understand, and are theological not political. The religious sacrament of marriage is very hard to untangle from the institution of civil marriage. Yet we have a separation of church and state, (And John Edwards was the only one on that stage last night to make that important point.) if seen in this context the issue becomes clear.

We would never regulate someone’s civil rights based on whether or not they have been baptized. We would never deny someone health care based on whether or not they have been “born again”. So the problem seems to be one of language. Some people cannot separate a religious rite blessed by a church, from a legal union sanctioned by the state. It is time to remove the word marriage from it’s civil context. Nobody gets a “Marriage License” from the state, because the state has no business administering a religious sacrament. Instead if you want your relationship blessed by the church fine, that’s marriage. But if you want any of the over 1000 federal benefits that apply to a couple in a legal partnership that is a Civil Union - for everybody.

In most Western democracies if you want to get “married” you have to go the court house or city hall to do it. If you want a religious ceremony as well fine, but that’s your decision. The idea that a religious official has the power to grant or deny access to civil rights is frankly nuts, and also anti-American. I am in fact a pastor’s son, and yet will say my Mother (a Lutheran Pastor) should have no power to create a legally binding civil partnership between two people. If a couple would like her to bless their union that has been created between them by the state , fine... rent tuxes buy the flowers and knock yourselves out kids. But a religious ceremony should not have ANY bearing on what civil rights you have or don’t have.

If we are truly a nation where all our citizens are guaranteed equal treatment under the law, then it is time to live up to that promise. If “marriage” is not just a religious rite, but is in fact a civil institution with taxpayer funded rights and privileges, then to deny two legal adults of no direct family relation access to those rights based on religious considerations is not just wrong, it is unconstitutional.