On the surface of it, it may appear that legalizing gay marriage does not effect anyone except those who were hoping to get a gay marriage.
And if humans were strictly rational creatures, this would be true. But in an American society that so often ostracizes and demonizes the Other, it’s arguable that the concerns of some opponents of gay marriage are at least a little bit understandable. After all, our nation does not have the greatest track record for having different groups living harmoniously side-by-side.
“So now that the government must recognize gay marriages,” some people ask, “will my church be sued for refusing to marry gay couples?”
“Will we face threats of violence from those who don’t agree with us, now that we are a minority?”
“Are we heading for an era where discrimination against Christians is legal?”
These concerns may seem outlandish to non-Christians, since Christianity has traditionally been by far the formative power in the U.S., and in many parts of the United States is still the determiner of what is socially and even legally acceptable.
But humans are humans, no matter what their religious stripes. And Americans are still Americans, regardless of their opinion on gay marriage.
And Americans are historically not great at live-and-let-live.
Many readers can probably relate to the experience of feeling oppressed for not being Christian in America; I regularly hear accounts of people feeling that anger was directed at them because they failed to conform to the ideas of their local most populous brand of Christianity, and even news articles about acts of violence by American Christians against what they perceived to be non-Christian ideas still appear.
In the past week, I’ve spoken to multiple people who moved to my largely un-Christian town specifically because they felt anger had been directed at them over their gender identity, religious practices, or political views in their previous Christian hometowns.
But Americans don’t stop being Americans just because they change their minds about God or gay marriage. Indeed, Christians in non-Christian American communities appear to be as vulnerable to discrimination as non-Christians in Christian American communities. Wherever it is socially acceptable to discriminate against a given group; discrimination will occur.
I know of at least two cases in my own non-Christian hometown where independent legal investigations concluded that a school or business had practiced discrimination against Christians. Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has defended Christians in dozens of discrimination suits across the U.S..
Indeed, DoSomething.org reports that global research shows Christians face discrimination in more countries than any other religion, including some cases in the U.S.. Muslims were the second-most-commonly discriminated against, with Jews coming in third.
This is arguably due to the growing sentiment that discrimination is morally acceptable – so long as it’s against someone who might favor discrimination themselves.
Though by no means more common than persecution of non-Christians in a country where 70.6% of the population identifies as Christian, anti-Christian discrimination does happen.
That means that overall discrimination will not necessarily improve just because Christianity – who we are accustomed to seeing as the most-guilty party – becomes less common. What needs to change is not our religion; it is our treatment of minorities.
While the existence of Christianity is certainly not in danger in this country, certain interpretations of its theology becoming less common; the number of Americans describing homosexuality as a “sin” has been steadily declining over the past decade, and in 2012 that was already a minority opinion.
Which is undeniably a win for homosexual people, who in the past century faced social ostracization, threats of violence, and even legal punishment simply for acting gay in the privacy their own homes.
But just because the identity of our minority has changed doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve improved our treatment of minorities.
Comments describing anyone who views homosexuality as a sin as “bigoted,” “stupid,” and “evil” are increasingly common – irrespective of the target’s views about equal protection under the law. Indeed, at times all Christians are targeted with these remarks – even though many American Christians supported marriage equality.
At the same time, both liberal and conservative activists are observing that some pro-civil rights movements appear to have adopted habits similar to the social and moral policing they once complained about coming from their opposition.
In summary, be nice to each other. Be kind. Be tolerant of differences.
That’s the only way we will ever improve our treatment of minorities, regardless of who falls into the category of “minority” in our changing world.
This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution. As of today, it should be legal for same-sex couples in any state to apply for a marriage license. First, let’s talk about what this means from a legal perspective. A few benefits of marriage that previously were not guaranteed to same-sex couples include:
Custody rights. Without the legal protection of marriage, same-sex couples ran the risk that the state may not recognize both members of the couple as legal guardians of their children; this meant that if one partner died, the other could be left with no rights to the children.
Hospital visitation rights. Due to confidentiality laws surrounding healthcare procedures, often only immediate family are permitted to visit people who become incapacitated and so cannot communicate their own wishes about who visits them in the hospital. Under these circumstances, same-sex partners were not previously guaranteed visitation rights.
Health insurance. Many healthcare family plans will only cover immediate family members; previously, same-sex partners were often not recognized as immediate family and so were not eligible for health insurance benefits through many employers.
But we all know that this isn’t just about legal rights. If it was, why would anyone oppose it? This is also about national identity. American conservatives are frightened because this symbolizes a divorce of the standards of the U.S. federal government from the Christian religion. In theory, it has always been the case that church and state were separate in the United States. The Founding Fathers, though most believed in the benefit of religion, recognized the diversity of the early colonists; though all of the colonies were predominantly Christian, they had come from a variety of Christian stripes in an era when those differences were very important.
The Puritans had originally fled England because they were persecuted for following the wrong strain of Christianity, according to the Church of England; which, in the days not long after Europe fought bloody wars over the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, made them practically two different religions.
Others were Quakers, Masons, and other groups that, while Christian, were largely shunned and feared by the more dominant Christian factions. The 13 colonies were arguably as diverse in religious and national character as the States are today. And yet, somewhere along the line, America lost touch with the intent of separation of church and state.
Somewhere along the line, being a God-fearing Christian became part of being American in the eyes of many Americans. I would place this “somewhere” in the mid-20th century. It was in 1954, after all, that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, which had previously simply read “one nation, indivisible.” It was in this mid-20th century, during the U.S.’s culture war with the Soviet Union, that the Soviets established atheism as a state religion and we tried our damnedest to establish Christianity as ours. Now, we seem to be rejecting that national identity – and there is a deep-seated fear in the minds of many Americans, arguably tracing back to the Cold War, that rejecting a Christian identity means embracing an atheist one.
It follows, in the minds of these people, that rejecting a Christian identity means that Christians will be endangered in the U.S., just as they were in the Soviet Union. Let’s not make them right. It’s easy to say “there is no risk of that – we would never persecute people for having beliefs different from our own.” And yet, the Christians who are upset about the legalization of gay marriage say the same thing. It is so easy to accidentally do.
It is not uncommon in Internet circles to hear Christians being slammed. I routinely need to police my own comment section – both for Christians being abusive towards non-Christians, and for non-Christians being abusive towards Christians. Hatred is a cycle. Let’s not continue it.
"Breaking the cycle of violence is the most important thing we can do. It is also the most difficult."