Proposition 8's narrow win in California is a defeat for basic equality, which is more than just a political issue: it's a theological one. Jesus' vision for the new community that he called "the kingdom of heaven" was fundamentally about breaking down the walls of separation often defined by un-equal treatment. Martin Luther King, Jr., captured this essential piece of Christian theology when he popularized "the beloved community" as a vision of God's future for the human family and all of creation.
Speaking as an American citizen, Prop 8 represents a sorry collision between the democratic ideals of the referendum process and the obligation of the judiciary in a democracy to uphold the basic rights of minorities -- over and against the potential tyranny of the majority. The irreconcilable conflict of rights now written in the California state constitution will be the subject of many court battles to come, and rightly so. However much the Prop 8 proponents may cheer at their victory this day, I take hope that their success has far less margin than the referendum vote of only a few years ago -- one that they argued they were defending.
And what were they defending?
Those of us who live in communities where gay and lesbian couples are openly sharing covenanted relationships -- yes, that's what I and many other Christians call marriage -- and some of them raising families. . . Well, we see no threat whatsoever to heterosexual marriages. Indeed, my marriage has been strengthened by their witness.
Prop 8 rode a dubious, hollow case that somehow its rejection would mean gay and lesbian marriage would be taught in schools. State educators made it clear this was not at all true. Another spurious claim was that clergy would be forced by the state to marry same-sex couples. This is as naked a red herring as there ever was. Then there's the idea that traditional marriage, whatever we mean by that, needs to be "protected." Again, I ask (and I have yet to hear a cogent answer) from what, exactly?
Behind these flimsy arguments are the real questions that need to be addressed, if we listen closely. Here are only two of them:
Is there truly a threat that same-sex marriages pose to the integrity of the household, Christian or otherwise?
Do we still dare to believe that people can "catch" homosexuality, as though it's a disease?
Proposition 8 is a sham and a shame. It enshrines fear and discrimination at the constitutional level in California. It affirms ignorance over compassionate knowledge. It throws a thin veil of abstract morality over bigotry and intolerance. It idolizes gender and sexuality, when true marriage is fundamentally about neither. And contrary to its disciples' assertions, Prop 8 will not save marriage. Nor will fear. I wish and pray that many setting out to "save marriage" would stop attempting to do so through fear. Fear has destroyed many a marriage, after all. And fear undermines the God-given dignity of the human family.
I only echo Martin Luther King, Jr., by writing this:
Given the long arc of history in this country, Proposition 8 will not ultimately stand. Hollow cases built on fear and ignorance cannot remain for long in God's time. Nor can they, by definition, withstand the light of reason.
My thoughts and prayers are very much with our sisters and brothers who are hurt by this mean proposition. Their dignity and future security is what is truly threatened, and that of their children. This is the true offense to morality.
Long may we defend them: with renewed and prayerful patience, solidarity, and witness to the fruits of covenant already among us.