In some places, it would seem that Ground Zero in the fight over gay rights is the classroom. Recently, USA Today reported that in Alameda, CA, those opposed to same-sex marriage, primarily on religious grounds, are challenging a public school program aimed at addressing the pervasive problem of kids bullying their gay (or perceived to be gay) classmates. Apparently “God is love” but not for everybody.
These parents and other community members offer a host of rationales for their position.
They argue that in early grades, kids are too young to hear that homosexuals exist, much less what their issues might be. They contend that any anti-bullying rhetoric that specifically mentions gay households is in direct opposition to the freedom to believe, and to express, that homosexuality in any form should be condemned. For these folks, anything that legitimizes the civil standing of gays – from full constitutional entitlements to the right to be protected from bullies – is unacceptable. And if, in this arena, it’s a kid who pays the price for somebody else’s religious principle, well then, amen.
Last fall, during the draconian television ad campaign against the gay marriage initiative in Maine (which regrettably failed to pass) a very strange-looking man (I’m not kidding) intoned that legalizing gay marriage would result in homosexuality being “taught” in schools. Huh? What could he possibly have meant: that the very fact of homosexuality would be admitted? that gayness would be presented as normal or even – gasp! – romanticized? that kids would be urged to “become” gay? God forbid!
The fear of homosexuality seems to run deep among certain groups. Those opposed cherry-pick among Biblical and other religious texts to shore up their assertion that homosexuality is immoral. A few years ago the Internet was amused as quotes from Leviticus were passed around. You probably are familiar with them but they bear repeating (since the debate certainly hasn’t moderated). Advocates of banning everything gay quoted Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” However, they failed to mention other injunctions in the same passage, such as “For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9) and “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property” (Leviticus 25:44-45). Get out them chains – Canada, here I come!
People have the right to believe what they will. However, they do not have the right to harm others because of their convictions. If I walk by a practitioner of fundamentalist Islam, one who believes that women should not appear bareheaded in public, neither I nor anyone else would condone his dragging me into an alley and beating me senseless for violating his code. If I order a pork chop in a restaurant (I don’t eat pork but that’s not the point) nobody would tolerate an Orthodox Jew rushing over and tossing my plate out the window. I happen to loathe the wearing of fur but that doesn’t give me the right to do more than speak out vehemently against it.
I find it hard to impossible to square religious belief, especially belief that considers itself grounded in morality, with any reluctance to protect a child from the horrors of harassment. Bullying is about power, especially power over those who are weaker. Prohibiting specific mention of gay targets of bullying is the same, in my book, as refusing to acknowledge those who are attacked because of race or disability. Not only does that attitude limit effective prevention, it sends a subtle message that bullying is tolerable if one chooses the right victim.
Nearly all experts agree that sexual preference is a predilection one is born with, not chosen. If so, then by any religious standard one can impose, homosexuality is God-given. Fundamentally, it has to do with a single thing: one’s choice of partner in the bedroom. Just as when interracial marriage was considered immoral, homosexual marriage taps into some reservoir of deep fear of sexuality itself. I just don’t get why gay marriage is threatening to heterosexual marriage, to promoting lives of goodness and principle, to the health of society in general (in fact, I think just the opposite: that the more fully rights are bestowed, the more vigorous we as a people will be) … and for that I say hallelujah!