Recently, my home state, Minnesota, legalized same-sex marriage. All the money spent by the Knights of Columbus, all the directives from the bishops, all the petitions littering pews in my hometown church … in vain. In the end, marriage equality passed with surprising rapidity, sending a message loud and clear: the majority of us feel no need to control who other people are allowed to marry.
Knowing that a handful of very vocal Catholics and other religious conservatives are convinced Minnesota is headed straight to the devil has me chewing on issues of sexual morality again. I’ve made it no secret that I fully support marriage equality. And although I disagree with it, I also respect a church’s right not to bless a same-sex marriage. That’s where the separation of Church and State comes in. And that’s why it makes me so angry that people want to make secular laws based on their personal religious convictions, without any demonstrable benefit to the state or to the secular society the state is entrusted with regulating.
Feeling that same-sex marriage is immoral is not justifiable grounds for making it illegal. Imagine what might happen if religious conservatives tried to enact legislation around other issues of “sexual morality.” Catholicism teaches that sex before marriage is immoral, but is anyone agitating to make it illegal? What about cohabitation? What about birth control? (Yes, the bishops made a big stink over whether Catholic organizations had to cover it in their health insurance, but no one suggested that the whole secular state must ban its use. No one petitioned to make contraception illegal — or if they did, they sure didn’t get much traction.)
So, why are we so fixated on same-sex love as a sexual morality issue, to the exclusion of all others, to the point that we think it’s okay to enact legislation about it?
I think the answer lies in the numbers.
- Only 3% of Americans “successfully” save sex for marriage (meaning 97% of them don’t).
- 75% of women cohabit with a romantic partner without being married at some point in their life.
- More than 99% of women use contraception (or “artificial contraception,” as NFP would refer to it) at some point in their life.
- About 4% of Americans identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Now the question becomes — do Catholics and other conservative Christian groups focus on same-sex love because it’s somehow more “immoral” than other forbidden sexual behaviors, or is it because the lower numbers make GLBTQ people a handy scapegoat?
After all, if Christian groups agitated to make premarital sex, cohabiting, or contraception illegal, there’d be public outcry because so many people are engaged in these behaviors. Almost everyone, in fact. No one would stand for a religious minority deciding what a secular majority is allowed to do with their private lives.
Why do so many people stand for it when it comes to same-sex love, then? Because there are fewer people identified that way, fewer people engaged in the “forbidden” behaviors. It’s a classic case of going after the little guy.
Except it’s not going to work much longer. 4% might be the official number right now, but that number doesn’t take into account each person who has a loved one who falls within the GLTBQ spectrum. And the more sexual minorities feel comfortable coming out, the more we realize that nearly everyone has someone in their life who is not straight. And more and more people are realizing that just because one sexual orientation is in the majority doesn’t give them the right to make sexual decisions for everyone.
Back when Massachusetts was the only state to legalize same-sex marriage, I didn’t dare dream that Minnesota would follow suit in less than ten years. I wrote letters to some of my closest gay friends before my wedding affirming that my prayer for them was that one day the world would give them the right to have their love publicly acknowledged, too. Just over a year later, they have that right in Minnesota. I look forward to the cascade of equality continuing, as more and more states say no to discrimination, as more and more citizens realize that, regardless of your own religious beliefs, it’s not okay to deny rights to your fellow human beings. Soon, those who think they have the right to make laws that have no direct effect on their life (that is, straight people thinking they have the right to decide whether GLBTQ people have the right to marry) will be in the minority. It won’t feel great. But being uncomfortable isn’t illegal. That’s their right. In the meantime, let’s continue to fight for our GLBTQ sisters and brothers have theirs.