Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I am “the Intersection of Church and State”

Where did "Separation of Church and State" Come from?

"The intersection of Church and State" is not just a useful metaphor.  The American ideal is that the State does not mess with Church business, and the Church doesn't meddle in State affairs, referred to as the "Separation of Church and State".  This principle comes from the First Amendment to the US constitution.  However, recently the line has started to be muddied.  Churches have started taking positions on issues like LGBT rights and abortion.  Based on the "separation" principle, I feel that religious institutions have the right to issue position statements on issues, and privately influence their members to vote a particular way.  However, by taking actions like signing the "Manhattan Declaration" and funneling money to various political organizations in support of ballot initiatives, these Churches and other religious institutions are acting like political action committees. If they are going to act as PACs then they should be treated as such.

However, the blurring of that line is a double-edged sword. While separating Church and State is a lofty ideal for creating laws, it is easier said than done. Someone once told me that we should have "Christian men and women in office making Christian laws." I disagree. Making a 'Christian' law violates the separation of Church and State because it respects one religion over another, and in the words of the First amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

In addition, much of the atrocity in human history can be arguably attributed to some religious person/people trying to impose their interpretation of their faith on someone else. That being said, I have no issue with people of any faith voting for or against a law because of the way it matches or conflicts with their personal faith.

The Intersection of Church and State

Individual people are the "intersection of church and state". Their understandings of their faith, and of the laws in the US, place them there. The issues in the two areas overlap, especially in the case of LGBT citizens. The attacks on our lives and loves come from both sides, especially from people who have a stake in blurring the line, like certain religious institutions or conservative politicians. This intersection results in institutionalized heterosexism, where "one man + one woman" is considered normal and anything that is not is abnormal. One of the major issues I have with this though is that the conservatives have hijacked the conversation.

When analyzing the response to any political issue, whether it is a referendum on a local budget item or a law to allow gay couples to marry in any state, there are going to be three groups of opinions: for, against, and undecided. The object in the political fight is to sway the undecided votes to your side of the issue temporarily (long enough to vote). In the fight for gay rights, unfortunately the majority of the religious voices getting the attention, and therefore spreading their message to those 'undecided' voters, are the conservatives. They go on quite loudly about how gay rights are a threat to marriage, our society, etc. and how granting LGBT rights will cause (in a fruity, booming announcer's voice) "the END OF THEWORRLLLDDD!"

Unfortunately, the progressives don't get as much media attention. It is unclear whether this is from the progressives' distaste for using the same over-the-top histrionics as their opponents, cowardice, or just the simple fact that supporting gay rights is not that controversial an issue. We need to do a better job of not only countering the negativity from the right, but also communicating the pro-gay positions and mobilizing the voters on our side. One way to help build a coalition that actually has political influence and counter the right-wing negativity is by reaching out to other groups that we are part of.

LGBT rights issues have been cast as "single voter" issues so long that the meme is not even questioned. In actuality, LGBT people come from various political, religious, ethnic, economic, ability and social groups. (I probably left some groups out, but you get the idea.) Once when I mentioned that I would not support a political candidate who did not support LGBT rights, the reply came back "So you're a single issue voter? What about the economy, healthcare, national security, immigration, etc.?" I could not convince him that by expressing support for LGBT issues I was not abandoning other issues. LGBT rights do not override these issues; they are a material part of these issues:

  • ENDA (which would prohibit job discrimination based on sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression (in addition to the other protected classes from the Civil Rights Act of 1964) keeps people from losing their jobs. Therefore, they are working and have money to buy things. How does preventing job loss not have a bearing on the economy?
  • Repealing "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" addresses both the economy and national security. SLDN estimates that approx 400,000 LGBT people would enlist if it were repealed. That means that 400,000 people are now working and contributing to the economy. Additionally, it helps improve national security because it means that many more troops are available to fight wherever necessary.
  • Recognizing gay relationships under the law has a bearing on healthcare and the economy because it does no one any good to reform healthcare if their spouse/partner cannot be covered or you have to pay more to cover them.
  • Few people think about the Uniting American Families Act. It affects immigration reform similar to the way gay relationships affect healthcare. If a bi-national straight couple lives in the US, the spouse who is a citizen can sponsor the non-citizen spouse. In the case of gay relationships, one partner cannot sponsor the other, and therefore once the partner's visa is up. That couple either is exiled from the US (since the partner would be an illegally entered alien) if they want to stay together, or they break up because the partner is deported.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Justice delayed is justice denied." If LGBT people reach out to other groups they belong to, they can build the bridges necessary to create a coalition and be heard.

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