The Washington, D.C. city council has passed a marriage equality bill. That is a Good Thing, and I couldn’t be happier for the people of D.C. The Roman Catholic Church, predictably, isn’t very happy though, and neither is the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

In response to the legislation passed by the council, the Roman Catholic Church is threatening to stop all charitable work that is done jointly with the city. The primary reason, according to Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, is that

the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.

I’m going to address the last issue first, because as a Christian, that’s the one I’m most concerned about: autonomy of the church. I think separation of church and state is a good idea, but I also think it goes both ways. The church ought not to interfere in state business, and vice-versa. I don’t think the church should be forced to rent parish halls on what is exclusively church property to people that aren’t members of that church. In all honesty, if a lesbian support group tried getting a church hall, the church could refuse them and it would have the legal right to do so. I think that’s a little uncharitable, and more than a little un-Christ-like, but they’re still allowed to do it. I might not agree with the idea, but that’s part of their exercise of religious liberty and they’re allowed to act like that. But that’s also why I’m not a Catholic (or an Evangelical, or a southern Baptist).

It is conceivable that if the Catholic Charities organization, which does receive city funding (and is therefore not exclusively owned by the church), had a suitable place for a support group meeting, that they could be required to rent that out to anyone that wanted it. But if it’s only some offices, and not a part of your sacred space, I don’t really see what the big deal is. Why is a lesbian support group such a bad idea anyway? Is it really such a horrible thing to help some people out? I’ve been to support groups for trans people, and it involves a lot of bitching and kvetching about how hard it is to get your gender marker changed at the DMV, or what a hassle it is to fly if your ID doesn’t match your gender presentation. I would imagine that support groups for lesbians are a lot of the same kind of thing: it’s not like they’re asking to set up a speed dating service on nights and weekends, they’d be using it to sit around and talk, sort of like the AA group that meets in the parish hall of my current church.

But like I said, that’s assuming that Catholic Charities doesn’t have any sacred space amongst its offices. But how do I know that it doesn’t? How do I know that Catholic Charities couldn’t be forced to rent out sacred space to non-believers? Because I just spent about 5 minutes on Google and learned that the address for Catholic Charities headquarters in the DC archdiocese is 924 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20001. And there isn’t a church located at that address. If the charitable organization (with separate offices from the actual Church itself) receives city funds, how does that equate to renting a church hall? It’s owned jointly, and the church ought not to have more power in that situation than a roommate would when two people share a common living space. They can express their discomfort to one another over certain situations, but again, it’s not like anyone is asking them to do something against their conscience. If you don’t want to watch the movie your roommate is watching, and they’ve got dibs on the living room for the night, it’s not like you’ll be tied down and forced to watch. In the case of renting out some space for a support group, we’re talking about doing something nice for other people who are having a really tough time in life. Maybe that witness is more important to God than being a shining example of a people that are rigidly legalistic and uncompromising. I don’t see salt and light in that kind of dogmatic response, I just see people being rude to each other.

Gibbs also pointed out that Catholic Charities would have to provide same sex couples the same kind of partner benefits they provide to married employees. And they would have to support the adoption of children by same sex couples.

The first issue, the health insurance, is a non-starter for me. Of course you have to treat all your employees equally. If you don’t like that, then you aren’t allowed to receive public funding. Hell, you’re probably not even allowed to do business in most places. The concept of social justice requires that, not some liberally progressive nanny state, and again, it works both ways. Christians aren’t allowed to discriminate against people they think are “sinners” and vice-versa. There are times and places where those kinds of laws protect Christians, you just don’t hear about them very often because something like 75% of people in the US celebrate Christmas. There aren’t a lot of vulnerable Christian communities, but there are a lot of communities with vulnerable minorities.

The state specifically passes laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion or lack thereof, sexual orientation, and gender identity, so if you’re affiliated with the state in any way, you aren’t allowed to, either. Compromise is not possible with people who think that discrimination against others is a God-given right rather than a status quo that ought to be overturned. The reason I say this is because in this particular example of D.C. legalizing same sex marriage, it’s not possible to extend benefits to same sex couples in any way without upsetting the Catholic Church. If it wasn’t done through legalization of same sex marriage, then it could be done with a domestic partnership law, but that still wouldn’t be okay. The church would still find some way to complain. It’s as though the Catholic Church wants to punish its homosexual employees by forcing them to purchase health insurance for their partner and family when a heterosexual employee could get their benefits at least partially subsidized by their employer.

The issue over same sex couples adopting children could be argued in a similar way to health insurance—it’s really just discrimination. The Catholic Church is trying to impose its sectarian view of what a family should look like (i.e. heterosexual) when it’s receiving public funding to make adoptions happen. That’s using public funds to promote discriminatory policies, and that’s not okay because, as I’ve pointed out already, the concepts of social justice and the separation of church and state work both ways.

I do not understand all the intricacies of adopting a child, but I do understand that in some places there’s a shortage of good parents. Why the church would be reluctant to place a child in a home with gay parents makes almost no sense—except from the sectarian point of view. They’re trying to prop up their image of what the perfect family should look like and two gay men don’t fit that idea.

There are a couple of issues with that mindset when it comes to getting children adopted: you’re ignoring what’s obviously in the best interest of the child, which is getting them in a stable home. The old meme about children needing both a Father and a Mother have been sufficiently discredited—there are enough kids who grew up in homes where one parent was absent from death or divorce that all of us probably know several people who grew up in single parent homes– they’re not evil reprobates who set puppies on fire and molest children. They’re decent hardworking adults, and that disproves exactly what the Catholic Church is trying to maintain—the outdated idea that the only safe way to raise a child is with one male and one female parent.

One of the things I used to admire about Rick Warren (he of the Saddleback Church and Barack Obama’s inaugural invocation) was that his church used to partner with all sorts of non-Christian groups to promote AIDS awareness in Africa. I remember reading an interview of his on Thanksgiving Day several years ago and he had mentioned partnering with various pro-choice groups because getting the message out about AIDS and HIV prevention was more important than maintaining some distinction about not getting your hands dirty by working with the wrong kind of people. I remember thinking at the time that it was an incredibly mature attitude, and showed more of the character of Christ than I think Warren has publically displayed in the years since then. I think the Catholic Church really ought to consider something similar as a policy here—there are people who want to adopt some of those kids who don’t have homes. Why would you say no to people who want to help you, especially when you need the assistance? It’s absurd.

I would hypothesize that the Catholic Church isn’t really interested in taking care of children or in making secure families; they’re only interested in propping up their religious dogma. Unlike the church’s stance on holding unrelated charitable services over the heads of DC city council members, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is just tackling the marriage issue head on. NOM (I intentionally decline to provide a link) is promising to start another grassroots voter based movement in DC to “protect” marriage.

I’m not a huge fan of using scare quotes around words like protect, but it’s appropriate here. NOM isn’t actually trying to protect marriage. They’re trying to protect their idea of what they want marriage to be, not what marriage really is. Marriage was established by God, they say, and every civilization since the dawn of time has recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. What they fail to mention are all the cases of polygamy and non-traditional marriages that are not only described in the Bible, but blessed by God. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3, for those following along in a Christian Bible) and was regarded as one of Israel’s greatest monarchs. So even though Solomon was theoretically married hundreds of times, since each time it was just between one man and one woman, that makes it okay? Why does that seem like an epic logic fail? Honestly, aside from recognizing that society’s understanding of the marital contract has changed over time, I don’t see how there’s a way to parse Solomon’s hundreds of wives and concubines with NOM’s idea that marriage has always and only been between one man and one woman. There are additional counterexamples to NOM’s contention, but my blog is not a Bible study, and I have no desire to turn it into one.

I do want to say that NOM is being disingenuous—using a democratic tyranny of the majority to oppress and disenfranchise people who don’t have a sufficiently loud voice of their own. The point of the Constitution of the United States, the point of separating government power into judicial, legislative and executive branches, was to prevent the very thing that NOM is doing: getting a majority of people to overturn (via referendum) legislative and judicial decisions that protect groups of people who need protecting. While it seems inevitable that same sex marriage bans will eventually be overturned by judiciaries, the time between now and then is just a waiting period for LGBT people in a purgatory of discrimination.

So why do I care about marriage equality? Especially in D.C.? Or Maine? Or New York? As a trans woman who was married to my wife before transition, I’m fortunate that my marriage still counts as an heterosexual marriage. In the great state of California, marriages are only ended by death or divorce. In other words, since our marriage was legal and valid at the time it was performed, it’s still legal and valid even though I have transitioned and the state of California now recognizes me as a female.

But that’s why I care about marriage equality—my wife and I have, tentatively speaking, a same sex marriage– I’m a bisexual trans woman married to a straight cis woman*. If something should happen to either one of us, it’s possible that the Social Security Administration could deny the other the survivor benefits to which she would be entitled. The validity of our marriage could be contested by a belligerent family member who doesn’t think one of us should have power of attorney for the other or rights of survivorship. It happens. It’s happened in other states, and every state is different. Jennifer Boylan wrote a great article for the NY Times a while back that treated this issue with her usual blend of wit and humor (there’s a reason I pumped her books in my previous post—they’re really good).

Marriage equality is important to me because it means I won’t have to worry about whether my marriage is valid somewhere else, especially when being perceived as lesbians with a domestic partnership means we can be denied** access to each other in the hospital, or any of the other benefits that heterosexual couples receive without even having to prove that they’re married.

Those attitudes towards same sex marriage are perpetuated through the misrepresentation of gay relationships by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations such as NOM. The church is supposed to “respect the dignity of every human being”*** but the Catholic Church and NOM aren’t respecting other people, only those people who agree with them. Mitt Romney said, “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.” That was from Romney’s “Faith in America” speech, and while being LGBT doesn’t have a lot to do with one’s faith, those two aspects of a person’s life can intersect, and the Roman Catholic Church and NOM are making sure that they do: LGBT people are vilified in the public square, accused of corrupting (and recruiting) children into the queer fold, trying to fight for the validity of a lifestyle that is nothing more than a choice. We are painted as anti-Christ, against all religion, as though Richard Dawkins himself were the keeper of the evil, liberal, homosexual agenda.

What groups like the Roman Catholic Church and NOM fail to understand is that LGBT people are people of faith, too. We see our responsibilities to our faith differently, understanding the commandment of God to treat others with respect “for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19) with a slightly different sense than people who have never stepped out of their privilege before. I do not hate NOM or the Roman Catholic Church. But I do not appreciate much of their rhetoric about how they are protecting traditional marriage, the subtext reading as though LGBT people were somehow undermining it.

I think what some people need to realize is that the world is not as tidy and neat as they want to believe, as though traditional marriage as NOM defines it is the only kind of marital relationship the world has ever known. The truth is that the world is never that clean, things never fit into such nicely delineated and labeled boxes: marriage has evolved and is always evolving, just as society has and does.

What used to be a social contract uniting two families is now a way for loving people to communicate their love to and for each other. As our understanding of what it means to be LGBT evolves, so too does our understanding of human relationships. It is not impossible for gay people to love monogamously just as heterosexual couples do. The fact that societies haven’t formally recognized gay relationships in the past with the m-word doesn’t mean that gay relationships didn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that the new way of doing things is wrong. I would challenge people to understand that the visibility of LGBT people and their relationships necessitate an evolution in the understanding of the committed marriage relationship, not a forced freeze on all thought about how people relate to each other. Stagnation in social thinking curtails justice, it does not render it complete.

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*I pity the judge and jury that would get our case should the validity of our marriage ever become an inssue.

**Incidentally, that lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court. Why religious groups are always so concerned about activist judges when those same judges are on the religious right’s side most of the time is a mystery to me.

*** In fact, it’s so important, that it’s part of our baptismal covenant, the thing that all Episcopalians say every time anyone gets baptized (Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 305).

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