Our lives are shaped and defined by frames. As much as we may try to break the metaphorical molds that shape us, try as we might to continue to redefine our social boundaries with varying degrees of success, we are still all a product of cultural frame tales, the social narrative within a national narrative that gauges the merit of our society against the merits of others.
Perhaps the most highly prized of American qualities is that of universal equality. We have framed our national narrative around this notion, that we are all free and equal in relation to each other. Though such a phrasing exists in the most fundamental document defining our nation, Jefferson’s notion that “all men are created equal” has itself been redefined in the two and half centuries that have transpired since the time of his writing. “All men” has been expanded to include men of color and women, groups that have been historically excluded. Though racism and sexism have not been universally abolished and likely never will be in entirety due to the ever vigilant presence of extremists, the groups affected by them have, at the very least, universal protection under the law in our modern era. In the realm of marriage equality, the hot button topic a generation ago was interracial marriage, the controversiality of which is absurd to the average, rational citizen of the 21st century. We forget such a union has be legal for less than 50 years.
The gay marriage debate has reached such a pinnacle in the last few years that it is, in all likelihood at its peak and we will soon hear the end of it on a legal level. That is to say, soon the United States will likely join the short list of nations – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden- that allow same sex marriage without restriction. On a global scale, treatment of same sex marriage at the government level varies from outright acceptance to public execution. Even in the United States, you can find groups of individuals who have framed gay rights as everything from a human rights issue to a degenerate social plague. Gays are either just like you and me or they are out to molest your children. They enrich our communities as they destroy the sanctity of marriage and the entire fabric of society. With so many different frames of reference, who is “right” and how did so many cultural narratives arise on one issue? The short answer, as this humble blogger sees it, is 1) religion has played a huge part on both sides of this issue, and 2) on a related note, some Americans have in part confused their country’s original frame, the historical point of reference in determining our rights as citizens.
As far as the media is concerned, there is no one who opposes same sex marriage who does so on any grounds other than religious. Whether this is an accurate representation of American opinion is hard to say: The Gallup polls on the issue divide the data by age and political affiliation, not religion. What the polls tell us is if you are young and liberal, you likely support same sex marriage, while being old and conservative likely indicates an opposition. Such a generalization is the representation our media upholds. Those damn atheist liberals and their socialist agendas are constantly at odds with those Bible-thumping conservatives busy defining a legitimate rape. Such is the narrative if one spends an evening flipping between Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. There are two sides and we all fit in one or the other, pitchforks in hand to destroy the other.
But how accurate is this really? How many of us, liberal or conservative, truly hate our friends and family who checked the “opposite” box on their voter registration form? Has democracy really filled us all with such an inflated sense of the divine inspiration of our own opinions that we are truly so intolerant of someone who doesn’t bring a reusable shopping bag to the grocery store? Is everyone with a recycling bin a secular tree hugger, and all people with religious inclinations judgmental homophobes?
I personally really dislike any person or news source that bashes any religion. I respect all faiths, and I am not exactly irreligious myself. That said, there are members of the “religious right” (whatever that means) who have lent a strong voice in opposition to same sex marriage. It is true that for the very first time, more Americans favor marriage equality than oppose it, but the numbers are still only 53% in favor. Meanwhile, over 75% of the country identifies as Christian (Protestant and Catholic combined). Clearly, Christians find themselves on both sides of the political aisle, representing a vast spectrum of political opinions even within the same religion. There are mild, moderate, and fanatical people of a religious persuasion, the mild saying the fanatical give everyone a bad name and the fanatical saying the mild to moderate are not really Christians at all (as if that is their place to decide). But regardless of persuasion, by sheer numbers Christians have more political influence in America than any other group of people. Lately, they have been solely blamed for opposition to same sex marriage, but the numbers suggest they likely have an equal influence on both sides of the aisle… and vote accordingly.
I live my life surrounded by Christians, and I myself fall largely in the “mild” category of a Protestant-leaning persuasion. My friends, family, co-workers, inhabitants of my small and isolated hometown, almost all fall somewhere on the spectrum from mild to moderate to fanatical, and theological diversity and disagreements included, I love them all and truly see the best in them all. That said, even if I feel the media has unfairly framed Christians as solely the enemy (rather than potential champions) of the pro-same sex marriage debate, I have seen, as most of us have, the complications and often skewed worldview that can arise in the inhabitants of an isolated environment.
There are many Christians who maintain that gay marriage is unbiblical and that America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principals. The unbiblical argument is a separate debate only appropriate for discussion outside of the realm of politics. The “Christian nation” framework, however, is partly erroneous. Yes, America is predominantly a Christian nation by demographics. To get technical, this is due to our Founding Fathers’ and first colonists’ European origins, and the largely European origins of the majority of our first immigrants. Our second wave of mass immigration brought and continues to bring immigrants from Latin America, where Catholicism acquired a stronghold during the Spanish conquests. Due to the simple fact that conquerers from Protestant England got here first, and our proximity to Mexico, to which conquers from Catholic Spain arrived first, all of North America is predominantly Christian. Had a Hindu India acquired a top-notch Navy simultaneously with a strong desire to discover New Worlds, we may be having a very different conversation. Religions are only as wide spread as the conquering technology that has backed them.
Though they came from Protestant England, America’s Founding Fathers saw the dangers of the union of government and religion. They saw religious freedom as the most fundamental human right. For this reason, they made a conscious decision to weave the separation of Church and State into the framework of American society. Both would forever be protected from each other. All citizens of this new nation would be free to worship whatever and however they chose with no fear of retribution. All churches, synagogues, mosques, and cathedrals would be welcome and exempt from taxes, provided they retained their own neutrality toward the campaigns of elected officials. The government also was to remain religiously neutral. This was the vision. It’s a good one, and we should all defend it mightily.
I have nothing against liberals or conservatives and generally feel various commenters on both sides have compelling arguments as often as asinine ones. Bill O’Reilly has said plenty of the later (arguably more so than the former), however, on March 26th, as the Supreme Court began the Prop 8 hearings, O’Reilly made a statement that was completely accurate:
“The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. ‘We are Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else.’ That is a compelling argument. And to deny that, you’ve got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the bible.”
Though he made sure to follow up this statement by asserting that he is not a champion of gay rights but has “no strong feelings on either side” and wishes the issue to be left to the states to decide, O’Reilly’s acknowledgment that gay marriage opponents have run out of arguments is hardly contestable. If religion is the only argument, then what are we arguing about exactly? If there is no hard evidence to suggest that gays are causing a social detriment, that they rape and pillage when left to their own devices, then what exactly is there to debate on a political level? Religion, our Founding Fathers made sure of, has no place in government. And vice versa.
To further see why this debate is, quite frankly, un-American, one only needs to make a few gay friends. I have several, some Christian, some atheist, some agnostic, some short, some tall, all Americans, all fantastic people, all wanting to be treated with dignity and respect, and all quite sure that Lady Gaga is correct and they were in fact born this way. All people are free to interpret their religions in whatever makes sense to them personally. The only restriction is that they do not let their interpretation infringe on the rights of others. Religion is personal, deeply personal, and to some people it is exclusionary and provisional, to others it is open, welcoming, and a source of comfort and understanding. Religion is many things to many people, but what religion simply is not is a basis for social policy. Many (arguably most) religious people understand this.
To close the gay marriage argument, American society needs to begin working toward reframing it. Rather than seeing gay marriage as something supported by liberals, opposed by conservatives, and condemned by all Christians in an exclusively Christian nation, perhaps it is time that we instead all take a step back, look to our metaphorical right and left and then at ourselves and realize our societal molds are as wrong as our perceptions. Most of us, quite frankly, are moderates, both politically and religiously, and as such, none of us are really as far from each other on this or any issue as we perceive. Sure, the extremes will always exist, but if the rest of us can instead acknowledge that diversity has never been a bad thing, that disagreement never needs to destroy friendships any more than it destroys the fabric of society, then maybe we wont get so hot and bothered over issues that simply come down to matters of universal equality, not theological debates. Gays are not a threat to society any more than religious freedom is. Both have shaped a country that was founded on a principal that stipulates no one has to agree on anything but their fundamental right to respectfully disagree under a government that protects the equality of all.