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Furore over gay marriages echoes the conflict over slavery
by Graeme J. Davidson,
15 November 2008

The controversy is similar to the 17th and 18th century dispute over slavery. Both sides used the Bible and traditional Church teachings to justify their position. Yet it took decades of heated debate and the American Civil War before the Church as a whole finally came to accept slavery as evil.

....The fear in their eyes told of the death sentence awaiting them: “I have AIDS and only a few months to live.”
.... Partners and friends were in shock: “I love him and can’t bear that he’s going to die.”
....Parents and family members voiced grief and remorse: “He’s gay and we were ashamed of him. Now he’s dying. He needed love and understanding, not our condemnation.”
.... This was San Francisco in the mid 80s when the AIDS epidemic was decimating the Bay area’s large gay community. Effective retroviral drugs were years away and most gay men I befriended, along with their families and friends, while working as an Anglican priest at Grace Cathedral died within a year of contracting HIV.
....While churches were active in caring for those who suffered, many church folk refused to drink communion wine from a common cup for fear of the remote possibility of getting HIV. Some conservative Christians saw HIV/AIDS as divine judgment. The epidemic brought gay issues to prominence and congregations began to split over gay rights – especially whether to allow gay marriage and openly gay clergy. Since then, the division has widened and the debate more passionate.
....Six months ago, much to the delight of California’s 109,000 gay couples, a quarter of whom are raising children, the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage. That was too much for California’s Roman Catholic bishops, other Church leaders and groups keen for sex and marriage to be limited to a husband and wife. They proposed a change to the state constitution by referendum. Proposition 8, stating, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California", appeared on Californian ballot papers for the November 4 elections. The record US $73 million spent on the ensuing campaign was more than any other US political contest outside a presidential race.
.... Proponents of Proposition 8 said the Bible recognizes only marriage between a man and a woman. In a TV commercial, a girl tells her shocked mother what she learned at school: “I can marry a princess,” and another advertisement tells voters not to let judges decide moral values.
Pro-gay advocates argued that they should have equal rights with heterosexuals and likened proposition 8 to the kind of legal discrimination that women, Afro-Americans and Jews once endured.
....The strongest attack was against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, which spent US $20 million promoting the gay marriage ban. A TV commercial shows two men dressed as Mormon missionaries forcing their way into the home of a married lesbian couple, snatching wedding rings from their fingers and tearing up their marriage license as they tell the couple they want to take away their rights. This was widely condemned as Mormon bashing.
....Proposition 8 passed, raising doubts about the status of the 18,000 gay marriages that have already taken place and prompting an angry pro-gay demonstration against the Mormons in Los Angeles. Ironically, about 70 percent of Afro-Americans voted for the gay marriage ban. They saw gay marriage as contrary to religious and family values rather than a human rights issue.
.... The furore over Proposition 8 reflects what is happening in the Church. There’s growing and heated division between those who want to uphold traditional Church teaching on sex and the family and those who point to the Church’s focus on human rights, justice and inclusive love and how these apply to gay rights. In the Anglican Church, the rift over gay unions and gay clergy is teetering on schism.
.... The controversy is similar to the 17th and 18th century dispute over slavery. Both sides used the Bible and traditional Church teachings to justify their position. Yet it took decades of heated debate and the American Civil War before the Church as a whole finally came to accept slavery as evil. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another century or two for the Church to accept gays as having the same legal rights as the rest of us.



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