Friday, November 13, 2009

Here’s To You, Bishop Robinson

Eugene Robinson is the first openly gay Episcopalian priest to be ordained as a bishop in that church. He spoke with Neal Conan of NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday and had some good insight on the state of marriage equality, what it means to church and state relations, and what the true meaning of civil rights is in America.

[M]ost of what I’ve learned about our own movement for full civil rights as gay and lesbian people, I learned from the civil rights movement of the 60’s, this is really to be expected. We are trying to change the way people think, and they have thought that way for a very, very long time. As more and more of us come out and people know us to be human beings, to be their teachers and their firemen and their lawyers and their next-door neighbors, as more and more people get to know us as human beings, people are less and less likely to treat us as the other because they know us that way.

You know, 20 years ago, most people in America would have told you that they didn’t know anyone gay. Well, they might have worried about, you know, weird Uncle Harold, or they might have mentioned those two lovely spinster ladies who have lived together down at the end of the street forever. But they didn’t know anyone who was proud and unashamed of their sexual orientation as a gay person. Now, there’s hardly a family left in America, is there, that doesn’t know some family member, some coworkers, some former classmate to be gay.

And so, as that begins to take hold – when people talk about this issue, its not just an issue anymore, because Sam’s face comes up or Sally’s face comes up. And the things they are – that they used to be willing to say or think about homosexual people, they’re no longer willing to think that because, frankly, they know that’s not true of Sam or Sally.

Continued below the fold.

Rev. Robinson also addressed the concept of marriage being a combination of both sacred and secular institutions.

No one is saying that a church or synagogue or mosque has to preside over a gay wedding. What we’re saying is that marriage is a civil institution. When you get divorced, you don’t go back to the church or synagogue for your divorce. You go to the courts, because it is, indeed, the state that effects the marriage. And that has gotten very confused in this country because we have deputized clergy of all stripes to act as agents of the state.

But when you go to a wedding, you don’t know when the civil part begins and ends, and the religious part begins and ends. And I think if we could separate those two things, many, many people who are opposed to gay marriage and will never be a part of one will see that the civil right to marriage is something that is due all of our citizens. And really, it is something that religions should stay out of.

We’re always worried in the separation of church and state debate, that the state will impinge on the church. But I think this is an instance in which the church is trying to impinge on the state and impose its own values on the civil society.

In response to a caller asking why the word “marriage” has to be used to describe same-sex unions, Rev. Robinson made an excellent point: words matter.

But I think I would ask you back if the word doesn’t mean all that much, then why do heterosexuals want to hold on to it as their very own? I think words do matter. And what it matters for us is this: It has a lot to do with respect and recognition. If my partner is in a car accident and I’m running into the hospital to make medical decisions for him, I don’t want to have to stop and explain what a civil union is, and what the parameters of that and what are my responsibilities and what are my obligations.

If I say that I’m this man’s husband, then its very clear what my rights are. I can get into the hospital. I can make those decisions. Anything less than marriage is simply not equal, and we learned a long time ago that separate is not the same as equal. And I think that’s why this word means so much to us. And at a time when marriage clearly is in trouble – and by the way, it was in trouble a long time before gay people wanted to be married. At a time when its in trouble, it should be kind of refreshing that so many gay and lesbian couples want to embrace that institution and to live fully into it and live by all of its obligations and to have these kinds of faithful, monogamous lifelong intentioned relationships sanctioned in marriage.

To me, it relegates the LGBTQ community to second-class status; somehow we are not worthy of the rights and responsibilities that all citizens are entitled to. Saying that we can be married in every way but using the word segregates us. And as has been said here and in many other places, granting more people their rights does not take away or dilute the rights of the people who already have them. If anything, it strengthens them.

As one of the callers pointed out, there are religious denominations such as the Unitarian Universalist and the Quakers who have long recognized that marriage is not limited to just heterosexuals. Many Quakers believe that God brings people together, be they gay or straight, and that their role is not to pass judgment on the love between two people. It’s encouraging that the church that I grew up in and left because of their dogma is beginning to understand that basic concept of That of God within.

Here’s the actual interview.

HT to the FC.