On Tuesday, a critical victory came in the national movement toward LGBT equality, as a federal appeals panel ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Prop 8, which was a voter created amendment to the California state constitution, has been the face of the marriage equality fight for the past several years since its passage in November of 2008.
For some time now, it seems as if the road to marriage equality will not be from a top-down approach (federal legislative action), but rather as a slow, meticulous journey from liberal state to liberal state, to moderate to moderate, and perhaps one day to more conservative states, as well. This has been relatively successful. In the last eight years since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, a total of six states plus D.C. now have laws on the books affirming equality. On Monday, Washington state will become the seventh state to tie the equality knot. However, now that Prop 8 has been struck down, and as the dust settles from the celebrations that span from San Diego to San Francisco and throughout the rest of the country, a greater, meta-discourse is found in its wake.
As the 2012 presidential political season heats up, there is a critical underlying implication of the ongoing fervor around the LGBT/Marriage Equality movement. Simply put, what is at stake for those on the conservative side of this issue is not simply who gets tax-breaks and can make end of life decisions.
This debate focuses around a genuine fear that many have regarding the loss of “traditional American values” and the replacement with some subaltern, gay anti-family/anti-Christian moral system. In essence, then, this debate is not a legal one, as much as it centers on an axiological and cosmological shift of perspective perpetuated by the success of the LGBT movement in the United States.
Presidential hopeful and ultra-religious conservative Republican Rick Santorum remarked on the Prop 8 ruling, saying that Obama is supporting an agenda against family values. The conservative group One Million Moms agrees with Santorum that this is not simply or even primarily a legal issue, as they railed against J.C. Penneys recent decision to make gay talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, their new spokesperson. Calling for a boycott, they wrote, “Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families.”
This is the essence of the marriage equality debate: do gay people represent traditional family values? Ellen’s response to her critics is that she lives by the same traditional values as most heterosexual families do. “I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need.”
J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson stood firmly behind the company’s decision, even citing the Golden Rule, which represents a true dilemma for people in this debate: if both parties cite religious/spiritual/philosophical principles in their argument against the other (i.e., the Golden Rule vs. Leviticus), how can a peaceful resolution ever be found.
The fact of the matter is that the American Tradition is an illusion; there are countless traditions woven throughout this country that represent both progressive and oppressive streams of history. The bank before which we stand now is about acclaiming that ethical values are not determined by sexual orientation. Rather, they are acquired through a compassionate upbringing, an inclusive worldview, and a good dose of humility. This debate must be executed carefully because it’s not just our feelings and legal standings that are at stake; our identities, worldviews, and religious/ethical convictions are woven throughout the colorful tapestry. The tide is turning, but I pray we don’t lose too many brothers and sisters in the rip.