In a statement last week, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) once again showed why gay groups are making little headway in reaching out to “red-state” Americans, particularly people of faith.
Although the statement is titled Articles of Faith: Reframing Issues of Religion, Public Policy, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community, NGTLF’s Religious Leadership Roundtable does not itself reframe such issues, but instead seems to be insisting that its opponents should be the ones reframing the issues:
Faced with the long history of societal, legal, and religious change in favor of greater freedom and equality, the burden of proof rests on those who oppose equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people
It seems far-fetched for the organization promoting change to insist that the burden of proof falls on those defending the status quo. No, it’s up to us to make the case for change. It’s one reason I have been promoting gay monogamy on this site. If we want social (including religious) institutions to recognize our unions, we need to make clear that we are willing to accept the same conditions attached to traditional marriage.
It is unlikely that social conservatives are going to pay much attention to this statement. Indeed, I may be the most conservative person who will respond to it. And I agree with some of what NGLTF has so say, notably this statement: “there are scholars in every major religious tradition that have proposed convincing alternatives to assumed anti-gay readings and traditions.”
If NGLTF wishes to engage the “opponents of equality,” it should do something else than suggest that their attitudes are rooted in hatred and fear:”
As weak answers of “protecting traditional marriage,” or “encouraging moral values” fall away, they reveal the face of homophobia. This is not to suggest that all those who oppose equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for religious reasons are hateful people. But all homophobia sprouts from the same twisted root of hatred and fear of the different that underlies all racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and social discrimination. When religion is used not to challenge prejudice, but to uphold it, it becomes a tool of hate.
If we want to change the attitudes of social conservatives toward gays, we need to better understand them. It’s too simplistic — and counterproductive — to so narrowly define their “opposition to equality.” In engaging many of these people, I have learned that many are ignorant of the longings of gay men and lesbians for long-term relationships. Some assumed that gay people want the privileges of marriage without assuming its responsibilities. To be sure, the attitudes of some social conservatives are rooted in hate.
Gay groups are the ones trying to change society. Only in rare instances in human history have religious institutions ever recognized same-sex unions. If we want churches, synagogues and mosques to recognize our unions and to stop stigmatizing homosexuals, we need to show why our unions are worthy of recognition and to show as well that we can live openly as gay men and lesbians within a spiritual framework.
We can’t effect the changes we need to effect when we pass the “burden of proof” onto those who defend the status quo. Those who propose social change should be the ones making a case for such change. Until NGTLF is willing to engage social conservatives, listening and responding to their arguments, rather than suggesting that their beliefs are rooted in hatred, it will to continue to have an audience which is limited to gay activists and others on the left. And will thus have little effect on the society at large.