The Separation of Church & State as an LGBT Issue
I have been sitting here for days, thinking about the state of queer rights in this country. I was perplexed by the fact that the Right in this country has been gaining more and more power in this country. How were they able to do this? My answer came a few days ago when a friend sent me a link to a wonderful piece by Patricia Nell Warren, entitled "Why America Pretends To Separate Church and State" Her article reminds me that if I want to see justice for queer people, I must fight for the separation of church and state.
People are always surprised when I tell them that I see the separation of church and state as one of the most important issues the LGBT movement must tackle. They assume that I will say the issues of marriage equality or hate-crimes legislation are most important. While these issues are important ones on which I work, I have come to realize that it is critical to keep the wall between church and state strong and intact if we want to create a just society for all people, regardless of gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Before I start, I would like to make this caveat: I know that not all people of faith are homophobic. In 1964, several liberal ministers in San Francisco became concerned with gay rights and formed one of the first ally organizations, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). The strong support from some liberal religious tradition notwithstanding, much of the fight against LGBT rights comes from religious sources and religious groups. Those who oppose justice often use verses from their holy scriptures to deny equality to LGBT people. In this country, freedom of religion is a bedrock upon which our society stands. That means we are free to practice or not practice any religion we choose. It also means we are free from the government making laws based on the beliefs of any particular religion and enforcing them upon everyone. It is simply wrong for the government to base its public policies on the tenets of one faith or the tenets of several faiths operating in coalition.
There are those, however, who are trying to tear down the wall between church and state. Religious Right groups use shrill anti-gay rhetoric with an extreme political agenda that would institutionalize discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgneder people. Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian Coalition and their politician allies want to impose their fundamentalist viewpoint on all Americans.
The most visibile religious campaign against gay people are marriage amendments. Religious Right groups and their allies are spearheading well-funded drives to enact state and federal constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage as well as taking away the ability of same-sex couples to get married in the few states in which it is allowed.
This crusade raises serious church-state concerns. Some religious denominations perform same-sex unions, while others do not. These constitutional amendments are designed to take the doctrines of the groups that do not and enshrine them in our nation’s foundational governing documents. If conservative religious groups succeed, LGBT Americans will be relegated to permanent second-class citizenship.
Civil law should be based on the democratic principles of individual freedom and equality. The wall of separation between church and state was erected to ensure that civil law and religious law remain separate. Religious groups would not be forced to marry anyone they do not want to (just like they are not forced to now) but civil society would be able to legally recognize the love and commitment of all couples.
The campaign against marriage equality is not the only one where right-wing religious organizations have been involved. Over the past few decades, evangelical Christian groups and the Catholic church have worked against the repeal of sodomoy laws and the passage of non-discriminations that include sexual orientation. These groups have also spearheaded censorship campaigns against any work they deem “offensive.” These crusades often target books about human sexuality or works of fiction that deal with LGBT themes.The separation of church and state must remain strong if the LGBT community's goal of equality and justice are to be realized. If this wall is intact, policy makers will not be able to use religious texts and beliefe to disenfranchise us. While other oppositionwill remain, a big part of the movement against us would be ineffective. Those of us who work for LGBT rights must defend the separation of church and state in order to actualize our goals.