Something feels strange. Something feels like I’m back in high school or college, during the George W. Bush years. I graduated high school in 2005, so when I started college marriage equality wasn’t unheard of, but it was something you had to have Massachusetts residency to get. I remember feeling that in spite of the visible and vocal resistance to equality the closet door had been cracked open and there was a glimmer of hope shining through. While it was certainly not the full legal and social acceptance and support that we still have yet to achieve, it was enough to sustain me as someone who grew up in a society where LGBT+ people dwelled in shadows. We were raised in families where we “don’t talk about that”, saw it as a “lifestyle choice”, or “tolerated” it but did not support it.
I spent my time on the campus of Westminster College trying to make a reasoned and rational appeal for equality. I served for 2.5 years as President of ALLIES, our campus Gay-Straight Alliance. My mission during my time there was two-fold: to create a safe place for those who felt persecuted by society because of their sexual orientation, gender expression or really any reason at all, and to be an advocate for social change so that society would be a safe place for everyone. I stood and watched Edith Windsor as Grand Marshall of the NYC Pride Parade in 2013, just after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5–4 decision declaring Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
Since that time I’ve felt that my work has been winding down and I have long since retired many of the arguments I once had to make. To borrow the words of Ben Haggerty better known by his stage name, Macklemore, “And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all, but it’s a damn good place to start.” I have known that there was always more to do such as workplace protection and healthcare access, but I did not foresee myself returning to establishing the most basic points about “lifestyle choices” and basic human rights.
In 2007 I was asked to debate the pro side of civil unions at Westminster’s Mock Convention (see featured image for this post). To reiterate the argument I made there – “Tradition has not been the friend of civil rights in this country. We were founded around 3/5 Compromise counting black slaves as a 3/5 of a person and women were property. Only land owning white men could vote.” It honestly seems ridiculous today that less than 10 years ago I had to ask to be treated like human being, created equal with certain unalienable rights. However I also cited during that speech the Loving v. Virginia case that legalized interracial marriage in 1967. It wouldn’t be until almost 30 years later that the majority of public opinion approved of interracial marriage.
The essence of that argument is this: We have never created “new” or granted “special” civil rights to certain groups of people, we have only changed our definition of who is a person and therefore who can be fully endowed with the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. We have decided that racial minorities are people, that women are people, that those who rent a home or even are homeless are people, that those who practice different religions or no religion are people, and that those who identify as LGBT+ are also people.
Today there seems to be a nuanced difference in the discourse. Specifically that those who are opposed to equality now play the victim and claim their rights are infringed because we allow others to have the same rights. This position may best be summarized in this line from the 2016 Republican Platform “In Obergefell, five unelected lawyers robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” I’m still a Republican and I will remain a Republican in an attempt to get my party to realize that such statements do not represent me and do not represent the 320 million Americans they so presumptuously speak for.
Today we are talking about “religious freedom.” There are those who claim that serving an LGBT+ person would violate their freedom to practice their religion and I fail to understand how. Religious arguments were made against interracial marriage but today I have yet to hear anyone saying that serving interracial couples in a place of public accommodation prevents them from practicing their religion. I also have yet to read the doctrine of any religion that says “persecute and discriminate LGBT+ people.”
As a mental health professional I have an ethical obligation to help people and not discriminate against them. Granted I feel that is in line with my religious beliefs but I guess if I had a religion that directed me to do otherwise I would have to either find a way to practice that religion in my private life and not my professional or choose a different profession if I felt either the integrity of my beliefs or my profession would be compromised.
Bear in mind that no law for equality says that people have to change the way they practice their religion in their homes or places of worship. Churches that hold the belief marriage is between only men and women only can still practice that belief; they are not obligated to hold a same sex marriage ceremony. Some churches may also hold beliefs about divorce and remarriage and refuse to marry divorcees, they can still do that. No one is being told they have to change how they practice their religion.
In 2015 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), of which I am a lifelong member, defined marriage as being between 2 people, a gift from God to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. I expect that the freedom to practice my religion shall also not be infringed.