Preventing Proposition 8 From Happening Again (And Again)

I am a bit inspired today after reading a new report from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force analyzing  statistical data relating to the vote for Proposition 8 in California.  First of all, the passage of Prop 8 is not the black community’s fault.  Ta-Nehisi explains this in more detail, but essentially 58% of blacks voted for Prop 8 which is not that big of a difference from the percentage that it passed with in the population as a whole (52% in the state as a whole).  The study is interesting and apparently kind of wrong when it asserts that there isn’t a problem with support for LGBTQ individuals in the black community.  But the study reinforces the idea that race was less likely to be a factor on someone voting Yes on Prop 8 then someone’s ideology or religiosity.

Religiosity is a term used for how frequently and/or devoutly someone is in to their religion.  The NGLTF study measures religiosity by the frequency of attendance (they compare monthly attendance to the answers “weekly or more often”, “holidays only” and “hardly ever”).  While religiosity is not the strongest correlation to voting Yes on Prop 8–it was second only to ideology–it was pretty damn close.

What is the best bet to securing gay rights in the future?  Changing religious people.

People don’t seem to want to touch this idea.  I know most people are sensitive to religion but that doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore it.  And, seriously, focusing on the tiny uptick in the black community’s disinterest in gay rights and NOT the religious community is just plain stupid.

Changing religious people will cover a larger swath of people, like white, black, Latino, asian, poor, rich, etc.  Of course, there are a number of ways we can do this.  I put them in order of how much I like them from “If we have to” to “This is clearly a better long-term answer.”

1. LGBTQ Out in Churches

LGBTQ members can open about their sexuality in church, engaging actively with leaders in the church to raise dialogue about equal rights and protections.  You could try making theological arguments for LGBTQ rights.  I don’t know, some times that works.

Religious people who are gay should just come out.  Yes it will suck, yes you might get kicked out.  But it’s also hard to keep the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric going if congregants know and love someone who is LGBTQ.  Eventually, this will soften them up a little.  Maybe, gasp, religious leaders will focus on real issues like climate change and poverty.

2. LGBTQ Organizations Reaching Out

We’ve got Unitarians in the bag here, but LGBTQ individuals could work a little harder on reaching out to churches.  You could start LGBTQ groups in your churches.   LGBTQ organizations could start working on literature, websites and programs about how to organize and establish LGBTQ groups in churches. LGBTQ and Allies could start with slightly more liberal churches and eventually work their way up to bigger churches with a broader reach.

There are some upsides and downsides to this.  For instance, it’s really really hard to change religious leader’s minds.  They believe that the Bible and other religious texts are pretty clear about homo-love being evil.  More so, those leaders who are sympathetic will probably face push back from their congregants who have staked a lot of their “salvation” on fighting against gays.  Luckily, the old people who really hate gays rights are dying off. The young people in churches will probably be more amendable to not focusing on gay-hating.

Honestly, I am not the right person to theorize on how to change a church.

3. Remove Anti-Gay Churches Tax-Exempt Statuses

I have a personal preference for this.  We could work really really hard to have churches that are anti-gay or generally bigoted to have their tax-exempt status revoked.  Churches, like all non-profits, have 501(c)(3) status and do not have to pay taxes.  In theory, this is because they are doing “good,” not making money on their work and contributing to the well-being of our society (which we want to encourage).

There are some nifty limitations to this.  Specifically:

Section 501(c)(3) describes corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literacy, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in section (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

This is why nonprofits can’t endorse a political candidate or legislation.  They can’t raise money for them and they cannot spend any of their money on them.  Well, the Mormon church did exactly that during the Prop 8 campaign.  You can read more about this at Mormons Stole Our Rights.

But this will not work.  I whole-heartedly support taking away the tax-exempt status of the Mormon church and any other anti-gay church.  It is just not going to happen.  For one, it makes us Gehs look WAY WAY worse because we will really be “attacking churches.”  Moreover, no politician would touch this idea with a dead man’s hands (Maybe Jesus’?).  This means it is not going to happen.

But maybe we could focus on taking away all churches tax-exempt status’….

4. Reduce Religiosity

I think, for the most part, the best way to protect LGBTQ rights is to reduce people’s religiosity.  Hopefully even reduce it to zero.  Reducing people’s religiosity would have many positive effects beyond protecting minority groups’ rights too.  For instance, we could increase support for environmental action, better fund support for effective HIV/AIDS campaigns in Africa and abroad, reduce unwanted pregnancies and STD rates in the USA with comprehensive sex-ed, kick start life-saving research with stem cells, continue to guarantee the constitutional protection of the separation of church and state, protect a woman’s right to choose, allow people to die with dignity, encourage science programs to teach real science and perhaps we can reclaim land used for mega-churches to make parks accessible to everyone!

The chances of all of these things happening would be a lot better if we reduced religiosity in this country.  So how exactly do you do that?  Well, there are a number of ways.  Much like LGBTQ individuals have to be open about their sexuality to raise acceptance, Atheists and Agnostics need to be open about their lack of faith and their interests in humanism.  The more you engage religious people with reason and reality, the easier it is for them to begin to question their religious beliefs.

Another way is to completely sever the connections between Church and State.  This means no tax credits or financial support for Churches.  But like I said earlier, financial stuff is hard to do politically.  We can, though, continue to fight against churches invading our school systems and communities.  We can continue to legally challenge when Churches and religious people cross the line.  We simply have to stand up to Churches and not allow them to bully the rest of society around.

Honestly, though, I am a big proponent of visibility and dialogue.  I think if you can continue to engage religious people in dialogue, religiosity will recede.  If more and more of us talk openly about being an atheist, we’ll make it easier for other atheists to “come out.”  If we can begin to advertise more and can begin to feature atheists prominently in the media–tell stories of people who “do the right thing” because of things other than god–we’ll begin to see a change.  Atheism needs to become normal.

I am not advocating violence or proselytizing.  Simply, we need to make our voices heard and engage those people who want to be engaged.  By allowing our thoughts and beliefs to be in the public forums is more likely to do damage to religions grip than by annoyingly going door-to-door or sending “missionaries” off to some far-flung land.  Let people come to us.

This is going to take time and is probably not the most rapid way to attain equal rights.  However, I don’t think any of my suggestions are mutually exclusive.  (To be honest, though, I think churches NOT changing and sticking to their bigotry is a far more powerful in reducing religiosity.  I’m indifferent to their bigotry in that regard.)  And then, when we reduce the prevalence of religiosity we might begin to see and sustain equal rights for LGBTQ indivuidals.  Until then, we are only another “moral” majority away from losing what we’ve worked for.


#1 Mad Professah on 01.09.09 at 6:35 pm

Great post.

I especially like strategies #1, #2 and #4. #3 I think is a very bad idea.

#2 amy on 01.21.09 at 9:59 pm

i agree with the professah. #3 will only serve to substantiate the religious right in it’s claim to be a persecuted minority. i would be in favor of repealing the tax-exempt status of all churches & other religious organizations that are not specifically engaged in charitable activites that benefit the broader community.

i understand the correlation between religiosity and homophobia but i’m still skeptical of #4 as a strategy. i believe that a number of people have and will come to accept homosexuality as the result of their religious commitments. the bible doesn’t necessarily justify homophobia any more than it necessarily justifies slavery; it’s all a matter of interpretation. as the broader culture changes, people’s interaction with the bible changes. and slowly–very slowly in some cases–people are starting to realize that jesus probably wouldn’t hate gays, and he might even be supportive of proliferating the number of loving relationships on earth by actively supporting gay couples. i think there are other political and philosophical reasons that our society might benefit from a decline in religiosity, but i don’t see a necessarily clear correlation on this issue. churches will change as their congregants change.

n.b. based on the religiosity survey, i fall into the homo-hating category because i attend church almost every week. haha, WITH MY GIRLFRIEND.

#3 Marx Marvelous on 01.22.09 at 8:02 am

Well, I always thought you were a self-hating gay. I should preface that not all churches are anti-gay. And some, like the Unitarians, are pro-gay. But I think it’s also pretty clear that politically and socially, the Unitarians are outliers.

As for society changing churches, I think that’s totally possible. But it may also be just as true that people in our society defecting from their churches causes an increase in acceptance. For instance, European churches have trouble staying open because of decreases in membership. And now Europe has a number of countries with gay marriage. But the Catholic church is still the same conservative place.

It’s kind of a chicken and the egg argument, does decreasing religiosity make society more accepting or does making society more accepting decrease religiosity. I think it’s a little bit of both, for sure, but that someone has to be promoting the decreasing religiosity part.

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