Doing The "Told You So" Two-Step

Christina Engela's picture

There are people out there, who while being born with the same needs and feelings as everybody else, are not treated the same as everyone else. These are people who always have to fight bigotry and prejudice in order to get ahead and compete with other people on the world stage - just to have the same standing in life as others. There are people out there who want to do what everybody else out there takes for granted - they would like to marry the people they love.

While there are those who are quite happy to take their wedding vows in the dilapidated facilities at the local Home Affairs department, whose tiny wedding chapel (at least in my home town) has only one entrance - which is in the crowded and noisy foyer filled with bored and frustrated people standing in long queues all day (but I have to admit I am not one of them). A wedding is an occasion of personal significance and import, deserving of at least some dignity and respectability. Churches generally ask fees and monies for services rendered, there is no getting away from that - but it seems that no matter how much money you may have available to spend on your wedding - at some churches, if you are gay and want to get married, your money isn't good enough - and it seems, neither are you.

This often causes me to wonder how "Christian", or should I say "Christ-like" some churches really are?

This being the case, in the modern world it is the state which allows all marriage, including same gender marriage - as a civil matter. A religious ceremony is therefore an afterthought which is tagged on to the process afterwards. This in effect defines marriage as a secular affair, regardless of whether the happy couple is religious or not, which religions they subscribe to, or their sexual orientation. Do we not all have to first obtain a marriage license before getting to the church on time?

You see, even if you have a religious wedding ceremony, you first have to get the state's approval, (license) making the fundamentalist claim that marriage is purely a religious matter - just like everything else they like to claim about homosexuality being "deviant", "promiscuous" and "unnatural" - a blatant lie.

Are gay people "promiscuous"? Sure - but only in the same way that straight people are. To claim that all gay (or all straight) people are promiscuous is a generalization and therefore inaccurate.

There are those who are happy to have civil marriages and those who want to get married in a church (after doing all the regulatory and standard legal paperwork). While currently it is in the hands of the individual churches whether or not they are willing to perform gay wedding ceremonies, it is not mandatory for them to do so.

Despite this inconvenience for gay people wishing to get married in the sight of their God, and in their own churches, probably even where they have attended and worshiped all their lives - this is simply not good enough for certain religious bodies and groups who want to leave no stone unturned in their war to, um - overturn the law which allows marriage equality for gay people.

While this marriage equality law is the law of the land, and thus a legal and secular matter (in which churches MAY participate - and are not OBLIGED to) they seek to prevent ALL marriages for gay people anyway, and not just the religious ones.

Are they not overstepping the boundaries of their mandate?

Since when is the word "marriage" copyrighted so that only they can use it and certain other groups have to use "civil union" instead? How can a mere word be "too good" for some people to use to describe their relationship or the beauty of their commitment to each other?

"Separate but equal", they are calling this insult in the USA - and if a civil union is truly so great and so equal in their view, then why don't THEY get "civil unioned" instead of "married"? See? Even the use of the term is clumsy and awkward. It sticks in my throat like the insult to my dignity it is. Why don't THEY get "civil unioned" if it is so "equal"? Because "marriage" has a nice ring to it, and "civil union" doesn't. It's not equal - it's second best - and if it's not as good, then it's not equal.

There is a word which sums up this "separate but equal" mentality - Apartheid. And we all know how separate and how equal that was.

In any case, these same groups who object to abortion usually oppose gay rights in general - in fact, it seems to define them as fundamentalist and radical right wing groups. They also decry the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1994, not being above begrudging other people the chance of having a little happiness in the world. They in effect object to the existence of gay people, let alone their getting married! Since 1994 the religious right-wing groups in SA have been working to reintroduce religion into schools and government - and to dominate the Constitution. They have campaigned ceaselessly to demonize the pink community in the perception of the public - and to remove every law which grants us a smidgen of equality and human rights.

When religious law becomes civil law, does the state not cease being secular, and become theocratic or theocentric?

Where am I heading with all this? Surely the fight for gay rights and marriage equality in South Africa is long over? Ah, whereto indeed?

Just as in the USA it seems, winning the right to marry doesn't mean we will be able to keep it - fundamentalist gay-haters and other anti-social malcontents seem to overturn these human rights rulings, resulting in a kind of see-saw effect, which we saw recently with Proposition 8 (appropriately named Proposition Hate) and even more recent human rights defeats there. Will this vicious cycle manifest here in South Africa as well?

A month before the elections, when Rhema invited Jacob Zuma to speak, I had already been warning of the dangers of mixing religion and politics for almost a year, that we could expect this from the fundamentalist quarter. People have dismissed me as a crank and a drama queen and even a trouble-maker - and yet, there it is, in black and white, in print in a national newspaper - giving me the unpleasant task and opportunity to say "I told you so!"

Mr Zuma made fine use of the opportunity offered by Ray Mc Cauley to grandstand and vie for the attention of the voting conservative Christian fundamentalists. While all the jealousy and belly-aching of parties such as the ACDP, who afterwards complained bitterly that they were not allowed the same privilege, was all too amusing to me - for the rest of us who have been paying attention to current events in the country, the alarm bells went off.

Why? Because - during his address to the Rhema congregation, Mr Zuma put the hard-won rights of the gay community to marry their partners on the bargaining table to secure more votes from the discerning Christian right. He told them to approach the government about issues which trouble them, such as gay marriage and abortion.

And now, they have done exactly that.

About a month ago, Mc Cauley and Zuma were pictured in the papers and on TV announcing the formation of a new conservative religious representative body which would "assist government" in "cleaning up society". Well, it looks like the NILC now have their jackets off, their shirt sleeves rolled up and brooms in hand and are ready to start cleaning - starting with rape victims having abortions to rid themselves of things which were forced on them and us pesky gay people wanting to break down society, destroy "the family" as if it were a tangible thing, and threaten their fragile religion by falling in love and getting married.

And all this campaigning in their own words, is "to give a voice to people who don’t have it." The speaker in the article clearly expresses the concept that women having a say over their own bodies and gay people being allowed to marry "oppresses" their religion. Shame - poor oppressed, fragile little them.

If Mr Zuma was bluffing when he made that offer to win their votes, then this promise has come back to haunt him. Remember the homophobic remarks he made which hit the headlines a few years ago? And many of his followers are both devoutly religious - and deeply homophobic. IF it was a bluff at all, they have just called it. I can't wait to see him make his next move.

It seems Ray Mc Cauley and his NILC or "God Squad" have the full support of the ruling party - not only does this group contain members who are ANC MP's (and even the Chief Whip), but they are also boldly sending press releases to the media through official ANC Parliamentary channels. Not only are some of these members of the NILC also high profile ANC members and also ministers, but they are pastors and religious ministers as well - and is this whole matter of depriving SA citizens of their human rights not confirmation of the folly and danger of mixing religion and government?

And let us not forget the article in last week's papers announcing the governments intentions to reintroduce censorship of the public media by banning all forms of pornography in said media. Doubtlessly this will come in handy when banning anything else which makes the fundamentalists squeamish, something they conveniently forgot to mention.

Also according to the article, the shiny new NILC seems to be replacing the SA Council of Churches in all religious matters in terms of interaction with government as a representative body, with the apparent support of the ANC and Zuma himself.

In the article in the Mail & Guardian, the NILC representative claims that "most churches" are against gay marriage. Since when is this body a mouthpiece for all churches in the country that it can make such statements? Has it taken a poll? How can they make arbitrary decisions on the behalf of all churches in the country when they obviously DO NOT represent ALL churches in South Africa? Official religious bodies do not even know this body, or where it fits in, or how it relates to government, and why it seems to be usurping the SA Council of Churches. This seems to be a case of deliberate misrepresentation and false advertising on the part of the NILC. I would suggest it is the leadership of these churches who support the NILC, including the typically fundamentalist and anti-gay Rhema, who do not approve.

Fundamentalist churches and groups often bemoan the fact that no democratic action such as a national poll or referendum have taken place to decide such matters, and yet have these churches ever held internal referendums of their own on the matters of abortion or marriage equality? But their leaders are the ones to speak out publicly in these matters. How are we to know what their congregations think? Are they filled with sheep who will think whatever their leaders tell them to think? To my knowledge, churches in SA have never publicized any internal polls on the matter, or even kept score nationally. I would also suggest it is up to the more established religious bodies to take on these trouble makers at the NILC and address their antagonism.

The NILC, encouraged by JZ and his close association with Rhema and Mc Cauley during the election campaign, hopes to tackle the knotty issues and bug-bears of the religious right-wing radical fundamentalists in SA, namely abortion and marriage equality for gay people. I could tell you how it is beginning to look, to me at "grass roots level". It is beginning to look like Mr Zuma is keen to honor the promises he made in exchange for all those lovely votes which swept him, not unexpectedly, up the steps of Parliament.

Is this thing we face here not clear confirmation of Zuma's offer to the radicals? Well - there it is.

The DA and ID took on the government about the arms deal, and I sincerely hope they will take them on on this matter which affects more than mere funding and state expenditure - but on the human rights of ALL women, and anyone who is not heterosexual. I hope the opposition liberal parties - including COPE - are going to address this issue and place all due pressure on the government and its unholy alliance with these fascist elements in government.

I have been in the company of religious fundamentalists long enough to realize they will not be content just with stripping women of the right to have the final say over their own bodies, or the right of gay people to marry the people they love, but if they manage to do this, mark my words, they will be encouraged by this and take it forward - and then move to strip ALL our hard-won human rights from the Constitution, and re-criminalize gay people, using thumb-sucked and irrelevant religious argument as justification to do so. Obviously what will help them do this is the apathy evident in the South African public's lack of response to this outrage. I think this is exactly what they are counting on.

The Mail & Guardian article clearly shows how the NILC is making half-baked excuses to try to distance itself from this ANC-inspired, facilitated and led initiative. The truth is, the ANC is and has been apathetic towards gay people and their well-being in SA for quite some time. The Constitutional Court had to force the government to enact marriage equality, it wasn't the government who initiated it. The government has now moved beyond the mere indifference of not signing the UN Declaration to decriminalize homosexuality last year, to actively begin chipping away at the constitutional laws which guarantee us equal rights in South Africa.

The ANC today is replete with religious figures, ministers, pastors and preachers (including Zuma himself) - either clamoring to get into politics - or already in it. If this is not evidence that politics and the integrity of the state has been compromised, then what is?

As this country is STILL a secular state - at least until all the religious fundamentalist ministers currently in government have finished hijacking democracy and erase that annoying little line separating church and state - I do not see how a government can arbitrarily appoint a RELIGIOUS commission to decide the fate of all citizens, including agnostics, atheists and people of all other religions as well, regardless of their needs - or personal feelings on the matter.

I would like to remind you all that South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where being gay is not expressly illegal or forbidden, and the only one which offers equality and legal guarrantees of human rights protection to people on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity. As a member of the SADC, I have no doubt that South Africa is under pressure from other member countries who do not like this fact, and see it as a stumbling block to the Pan African Parliament, which hangs over our heads like a sword of doom and disaster.

All this leaves me with many questions, but the uppermost two are:

Is this the brave new South Africa the ANC envisioned and promised? Is this the country of unity, equality, mutual respect, human rights, the "rainbow nation" and ubuntu inspired by Nelson Mandela and those who fought and died for freedom?

Or is this to be a country where only the religious, conservative and narrow-minded and heterosexual will have any right to be treated equally before the law?

If it is to be the latter, then this new South Africa - and the rainbow nation, and the entire struggle for freedom, will have failed - and miserably so.

(Posted at Sour Grapes)

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