Kicking A Lion

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Why churches fear gay marriage

The crusade for Proposition 8 was fueled by the broken American family, explains gay Catholic author Richard Rodriguez.

By Jeanne Carstensen

Nov. 25, 2008 | For author Richard Rodriguez, no one is talking about the real issues behind Proposition 8.

While conservative churches are busy trying to whip up another round of culture wars over same-sex marriage, Rodriquez says the real reason for their panic lies elsewhere: the breakdown of the traditional heterosexual family and the shifting role of women in society and the church itself. As the American family fractures and the majority of women choose to live without men, churches are losing their grip on power and scapegoating gays and lesbians for their failures.

Rodriguez, who is Mexican-American, gay and a practicing Catholic, refuses to let any single part of himself define the whole. Born in San Francisco in 1944 and raised by his Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrant parents to embrace mainstream American culture and the English language, he went on to study literature and religion at Stanford and Columbia. His first book, “The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez,” explores his journey from working-class immigrant to a fully assimilated intellectual — angering many Latinos with his view that English fluency is essential. “Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father,” which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1993, continued his investigation into how family, culture, religion, race, sexuality and other strands of his life all contribute to the whole, a complex “brownness” of contradictions and ironies. “Brown: The Last Discovery of America” completes the trilogy — but not his insatiable intellectual curiosity, which he is now shining on monotheism.

Rodriguez’ stinging critiques of religious hypocrisy are all the richer for his passionate love of Catholicism and the Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco, where he and his partner of 28 years are devoted members. Today, Rodriguez is at work on a new book about the monotheistic “desert religions” — Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Ever since Sept. 11, “when havoc descended in the name of the desert God,” Rodriguez said in one of his Peabody Award-winning radio commentaries for PBS’s News Hour, he has been trying to understand the strands of darkness that run through these religions.

Salon spoke to Richard Rodriguez by phone at his home in San Francisco.

What was your reaction to California voters’ going heavily for Obama and also passing Proposition 8, banning gay marriage?

I was like a lot of other Americans at the moment when the West Coast tipped the balance in favor of Obama. I didn’t so much think it represented the end of racism but the possibility of change. At the same time, I also knew that large numbers of Californians in religious communities were voting against gay marriage and that Latinos and blacks were continuing to take part in this terribly tragedy. We persecute each other. The very communities that get discriminated against discriminate against other Americans.

The Spanish language newspaper La Opinión called the results an “embarrassment,” saying “California still has two faces.” Do you agree?

La Opinión represents the opinion of a lot of Latinos who are more educated and — what should I say? — more cosmopolitan. But Latinos in both my family and the Catholic Church belong to a more traditional America. This is a troubling aspect of the way our country is formed right now. It is a time of great change but also a time when people are afraid of change.

You said recently the real issue behind the anti-gay marriage movement is the crisis in the family. What do you mean?

American families are under a great deal of stress. The divorce rate isn’t declining, it’s increasing. And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people — it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

In such a world, we need to identify the relationship between feminism and homosexuality. These movements began, in some sense, to achieve visibility alongside one another. I know a lot of black churches take offense when gay activists say that the gay movement is somehow analogous to the black civil rights movement. And while there is some relationship between the persecution of gays and the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, I think the true analogy is to the women’s movement. What we represent as gays in America is an alternative to the traditional male-structured society. The possibility that we can form ourselves sexually — even form our sense of what a sex is — sets us apart from the traditional roles we were given by our fathers.

I think Proposition 8 was also galvanized by insecurity around gay families.

I agree. But the real challenge to the family right now is male irresponsibility and misbehavior toward women. If the Hispanic Catholic and evangelical churches really wanted to protect the family, they should address the issue of wife beating in Hispanic families and the misbehaviors of the father against the mother. But no, they go after gay marriage. It doesn’t take any brilliance to notice that this is hypocrisy of such magnitude that you blame the gay couple living next door for the fact that you’ve just beaten your wife.

The pro-8 campaign calls itself the Protect Family Movement, even though the issue of family was the very reason gays needed to have marriage. There are partners in gay unions now who have children, and those children need to be protected. If my partner and I had children, either through a previous marriage or because we adopted them, I would need to be able to take them to the emergency room. I would need to be able to protect them with the parental rights that marriage would give me. It was for the benefit of the family that marriage was extended to homosexuals.

Religions have the capacity for being noble and ennobling but they are also the expression of some of the darkest impulses in us — to go after the “other.” For Christians, if the other isn’t the Muslim, it’s the homosexual. That is the most discouraging part.

Speaking of hypocrisy, churches have plenty of sexual skeletons in their closet.

Right. The Mormon Church has this incredible notoriety in America for polygamy and has been persecuted because of it. The very church that became notorious because of polygamy is now insisting that marriage is one man and one woman. That is, at least, an irony of history. But as a number of Mormon women friends of mine say, the same church that espouses the centrality of family in their lives is also the church that urges them to reject their gay children.

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Written by kickingalion

November 25, 2008 at 5:54 am

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