I recently attended a weekend-long conference in Philadelphia for journalists from regional publications and blogs that cover the rainbow community, organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. This convening had as its theme “What Next?” as the prospect of nationwide marriage equality looms with the Supreme Court of the United States addressing it in late April. We listened a lot, discussed much, disagreed some, and left as better professionals who work for and with this community. While there wasn’t a formal vote at the end of it, I’m pretty sure the assembled journalists agreed that we’re not at “What’s Next?” yet.
Can there be a post-marriage-equality culture for the rainbow community when Indiana signs a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law? Such “religious freedom” legislation looks to allow discrimination against same-sex couples seeking marriage services as well as block transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, among many other things (the slope is slippery and is much farther-reaching than this community). Clearly, in the quest for civil rights for this community, marriage is part, marriage is not all, and it’s certainly not over. In fact, it may never be over. Ask the women about whether or not this is a post-women’s-liberation society. Ask the people of color if this is a post-racial society. Ask this community if being post-marriage-equality in Minnesota leaves us feeling comfortable…or targeted.
I’m currently reading the latest historical fiction book by Erik Larson called Dead Wake about the last Atlantic crossing of the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. (Think of the RMS Titanic being taken down by an act of war, rather than from damage after hitting an iceberg.) In the book and in his fine-tooth-comb style, Larson details the many factors that led to this tremendous loss of civilian lives. What’s slapping me in the face right now is how, before America got involved in WWI, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm gave the order that any submarine commander in any situation could singularly muddle through any ambiguity and attack any vessel that was deemed a threat or out of line, in that commander’s opinion.
Kaiser Wilhelm privatized acts of war. A single commander could determine, based on whatever was affecting his judgment, to obliterate whatever and whomever he saw fit.
So it is with these RFRAs. We live in a country of states. These states have people. A state which signs such a “religious freedom” bill into law is giving each private business owner the right to determine, based on whatever is affecting his or her judgment, what they will and will not do for others, according to their religious opinions and convictions. These localized, religion-based opinions get to trump our separation of Church and State, thereby allowing discrimination to be legal and acted upon by people who can consider themselves surrogates of the State. They have been empowered to fire upon ocean liners of civilians, however and whenever they see fit, in the name of religion.
For someone who majored in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and communications studies as well as left her first day of seminary for Lutheran ministry to take this job as managing editor of this magazine, this topic sits squarely in my wheelhouse. What’s more, I’ve been studying dialectical thinking, which is the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and come to agreeable and reconciling conclusions from seemingly contradictory points. Dialectical thinking means taking out “but” and using “and” between two things that may not be in agreement. Examples of dialectical thinking in my life include statements like I can be a person of faith and not take the Bible as the inerrant word of God; I can be a person who loves babies and believe in reproductive freedom; I can believe in the Freedom of Speech and hate every word that is spewing from hate-filled mouths; I can believe we’re working toward the same goal and I can disagree with what you say. Along these lines, Thomas Ehnert’s piece about faith and marriage in this issue (p. 16) is full of dialectical thinking that is easy for us to relate to, and is a great example of how we’re all still developing ourselves as we go. We all need encouragement.
Encouraging that “and” thinking that ties together two contradictory thoughts with acceptance doesn’t mean I have to accept what I don’t like, it just means I have to live with the fact that such a thing exists. Because that’s life. Life is dialectical. Contradictions abound. And, with greater understanding of each other and the empathy that usually follows, we can find that there are fewer actual contradictions but more nuances. And that’s what the people who are legalizing discrimination don’t get: we have to live with what we don’t like because we live in America. We live with people. This is life and it is full of things to disagree with, but and that’s how it goes. And we’d be best served as a society by trying to understand each other, rather than thinking we’re on opposing sides of a war.
What can be done?
As I write, legislators in Georgia are trying to halt their own version of a RFRA by introducing an amendment that would not allow people to use religion to get around state and local nondiscrimination protections. I’m guessing more progress will be made against these terrible things as well, but that’s a hopeful start on a legislative level. For us as citizens, it won’t be as easy as a bumper sticker or a Facebook post. We might choose to boycott Indiana, but it might not matter from here in Minnesota. But, we can make strides where we can and make numbers really count where they’re needed to backfill some empty spaces, here in our own state.
Religion will be pivotal. Religion must be kept out of government AND religion must be reclaimed by those who would still find it palatable and agreeable. The person who presented the topic of RFRAs at our journalists conference, Katherine Grainger, made a compelling case for getting involved in religion again. I’m paraphrasing from my notes, but she said: When religion rejects us, we reject religion. We give up that religious voice. In the United States, religion trumps, so when we give it up, we lose that ground. If we were to embrace a more religious narrative, we can reestablish the balance that exists in this country. By conceding the religious voice, we’ve given up who the moral vanguards are. The Religious Right claims the moral space and then excludes. By reclaiming it, we can shift it…so it’s not religious rights versus civil rights, but incorporating the two.
See? It’s dialectical. It’s religious rights and civil rights (for those of us who can expand our thinking to include the two, at any rate).
And, about those civil rights, marriage isn’t the only topic that still requires state-by-state (and hopefully national) extension of rights. In these states that might end up with RFRAs, they likely don’t have nondiscrimination laws on the books like we do in Minnesota. We need to encourage more national movement for civil rights before what’s been done is undone, state by state. As Grainger said at the conference, when we rest on our laurels, we are opening the door to undo. And we can’t have that.
So, what’s next?
Here at Lavender Media, we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years. We’re going to continue to work for the community while we work against the people who have sought to invalidate and illegitimize this community. We will continue to do this by presenting story after story as proof of life. From our “From Minnesota, With Love” feature to our “Wedding Story” couples to our “Real Weddings” photography, this issue offers proof of real lives that validate this community and its diversity of people and choices. Proof of life is an odd analogy in that “proof of life” is what’s required in kidnaping cases, but it’s a valid one. It’s saying to the larger society around us to not give up on us. Our hearts are beating, our blood is pumping, and a skewed sense of liberty will not hold us captive.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
With you, with thanks, with love,