Tuesday, October 28, 2008

California's Proposition 8

Thanks to Reuven (Comment 5) for this graphic. Follow his/her link to find the story of the sign.

Just to be clear about the language we are using, apocalypse is a word from the Greek that means “revelation” or “unveiling.” Apocalyptic literature is the term for certain Jewish and Christian texts that claim to reveal things that are normally hidden and to unveil the future, including prophecies of the final conflict between God and the powers of evil, involving the imminent destruction of the world and the salvation of the righteous. Armageddon is used only once in the Bible (Revelation 16:16) and refers to a hill at Megeddo in Israel where many historic battles were fought. In the Book of Revelation it refers to the final battle between God and Satan.

I thought that in Sunday’s report I had at least touched on the major apocalyptic themes of these “Last Days,” I was wrong. I neglected a battle that is raging—like the wildfires we’ve grown accustomed to watching on TV—across California in the form of Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and reverse a California Supreme Court ruling in May that gave same-sex couples permission to marry.

Similar measures are on the ballots of Arizona and Florida, but religious conservatives have, as Laurie Goodstein said in a NYT piece Monday,
cast the campaign in California as the decisive last stand, warning in stunningly apocalyptic terms (my bold) of dire consequences to the entire nation if Proposition 8 does not pass.

California, they say, sets cultural trends for the rest of the country and even the world. If same-sex marriage is allowed to become entrenched there, they warn, there will be no going back.
And she’s right about the tone of the campaign. Listen to the words of Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and a strong evangelical voice:
“This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon.”(my bold)

Or Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobby based in Washington:
“We lose this, we are going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion… It’s more important than the presidential election…We’ve picked bad presidents before, and we’ve survived as a nation, but we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage.”
TV ads, billboards, radio, crusades, sermons, and phone banks warn that if Proposition 8 doesn’t pass churches that refuse to marry same-sex couples will be sued and lose their tax exempt status; ministers will be jailed if they preach against homosexuality; and parents will have no right to prevent their children from being taught in school about same sex marriage.

That’s pretty apocalyptic-sounding, isn’t it?

Opponents of Proposition 8, of course, are right to debunk these as scare tactics without legal precedent. There are no records of any Jewish rabbis that have been prosecuted for refusing to marry mixed religion couples, nor any records of Catholic priests prosecuted for refusing to marry persons who have been divorced.

There is a lot at stake in this California fight for the Religious Right. Perkins and the other proponents of Proposition 8 know that it was in California in 1948 where that state’s Supreme Court was the first in the U.S. to declare the ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional. Although it took until 1967 for the U.S. Supreme Court to make the ruling national, California served notice that the day was coming, just as they fear that the ruling earlier this year by the California Supreme Court has served notice that the day is coming when discrimination against same-sex marriage will be outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court. (I hope it doesn’t take another 18 years for that to happen, but it will happen.) Proposition 8 is an effort to delay that day by amending the state constitution.

The “freedom of religion” Perkins and other supporters of the proposition are worried about losing is apparently the freedom of the Christian Right to impose its conception of marriage on the nation. Proponents have seldom been challenged on their claim that “marriage” is an immutable concept that has always and everywhere meant the union of one man and one woman. It hasn’t. (See my blog
“Marriage: Who Owns the Trademark?”) “Marriage” has meant different things at different times with different conditions, even within the Christian tradition, one of which includes the “higher calling” (higher than a union between a man and woman) of marriage to Christ, a spiritual relationship having nothing to do with gender. To claim that the word “marriage” means one thing and one thing only, as the leaders of the Christian Right have done, is disingenuous if not intentionally dishonest.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times
reported that the most recent independent poll in California shows that opposition to Proposition 8 leads but that the gap may be closing:
While California voters remain closely divided on the question of gay marriage, a majority oppose a measure to ban it, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.But the poll also found that support for Proposition 8, which would amend the state Constitution to disallow same-sex marriage, has gained somewhat since a similar survey was taken in late August. The latest results show 44% in favor and 52% opposed, with a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.
There is little doubt that the marriage-as-one-man-and-one-woman propositions Arizona and Florida will pass. If Proposition 8 doesn’t pass in California, it will be a major defeat for the Christian Right.

In their apocalyptic language, these folks assume that they are the Righteous who will be vindicated by God on November 4th. Maybe, just maybe, the apocalypse on that day will unveil the beginning of a new day when all of God’s children—straight and gay—begin to enjoy the same status before the law.

- Milo

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