Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ballot Initiatives

November 7, 2008

The overwhelming support that Barak Obama received in his election to the Presidency was not a mandate for a socially liberal agenda. I remember how President Clinton got embroiled in the issue of gays in the military very early in his tenure. (I remember a military family leaving the parish I was serving when I suggested that the generals might want to remember that Clinton was their elected commander-in-chief in spite of the fact that they did not like him or anything he appeared to represent.) Ballot initiatives designed to prohibit the marriage of gay and lesbian people passed in three states, an initiative designed to prohibit gay and lesbian people adopting children passed in at least one state, and –most worrying to me—a Colorado amendment to define ‘personhood’ as a fertilized egg received support from more than a quarter of the voters (and as one friend has suggested, might well pass if, as and when it comes up in Georgia.)

We know that attitudes toward gay and lesbian people in general are changing and that we are very close to a generational ‘tipping point’ if we are not there already. It is clear that in California, where gay marriage was banned by a narrow margin there is significant support for full and equal civil rights for homosexual couples, but that for many, marriage just doesn’t make sense except between a man and a woman (as it is defined in the constitution of The Episcopal Church.) I’m of two minds on this and am much more concerned about the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples than what the relationships are called. I also think that these relationships look like marriage between a man and a woman in every significant respect. I could see gay and lesbian couples adopting an argument that draws on the work of some feminists who see marriage as a heterosexist institution that dignifies the violence of men against women. I could see arguing that therefore these civil unions (or whatever) are creating a new and different institution that could and should be open to heterosexual couples as well. At the same time I have some sympathy with the argument that this resistance to gay marriage is a version of ‘separate but equal’ and ultimately serves to allow room for fear and prejudice to hold sway in some places. My concern about these ballot initiatives is that they are being promoted and funded by conservative Christians who see any kind of affirmation of gay and lesbian people as such to be immoral and unacceptable. That kind of thinking must be resisted as being about power and fear in the face of the ending of a taboo.

The Colorado initiative is a move to limit or ban the availability of safe and legal abortions. I have one friend who believes with all his heart, mind and soul that a zygote or fetus has the moral status of a human being and that any abortion is therefore murder and further that America is blessing genocide worse than anything we have seen from Hitler or Pol Pot. This also seems to me to be a matter of definition, but in this case, one that the majority of people (actual humans or ‘persons’ as opposed to potential ones) can’t quite go there. While the constancy of the argument and the apparent moral clarity that it brings might be attractive, it just doesn’t quite make sense. I doubt that there is any law that couldn’t be improved in some way, including the laws and regulations around abortion, but once again I will resist any absolutist thinking on this, especially from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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