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Determined opposition to same-sex marriage shows indifference to human hardship

To pass an amendment that permanently bans same-sex marriage in Minnesota is to place religious belief above the affirmation of human dignity.

“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. … you’ll be surprised to find how like hate is to love.” – George Bernard Shaw, “The Devil’s Disciple (1897)”

I recently finished reading Sarah Vowell’s “Unfamiliar Fishes,” a nonfiction account of the American annexation of Hawaii in 1898 with the aid of a little imperialist manifest destiny. It reads like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in slow motion, with rich white settlers slowly supplanting native Hawaiians with the help of American Christian missionaries. The words of Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii, are particularly moving; she abdicated to prevent bloodshed in “the certainty which I feel that you [President Harrison] and your government will right whatever wrongs may have been inflicted on us in the premises.”

On Aug. 27, I was at the Roseville City Hall as the council considered adoption of the Roseville Human Rights Commission’s resolution opposing the proposed state constitutional marriage amendment. It was a larger assembly than usual, with the majority there to voice their opposition to the amendment. A number of amendment supporters also shared their thoughts, including one man who, among other baffling things, claimed gay men have to wear diapers. (My eyebrows have since returned to my forehead.)

What struck me was that every amendment supporter invariably said something to the effect of: “I don’t have anything against gay people, but …” This phrase is a trope now, and it’s that “but” that intrigues me. As a gay man, I often hear variants of this prelude whenever the subject of my sexuality comes up: “I’m not here to judge you, but …”

Do I think those who want to bar me from attaining the right to ever marry my boyfriend in this state and in this country are simply homophobic? Hateful? Evil? It would be easy to paint them the monochromatic, rage-filled mob like the one that demonstrated the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School. As a gay man, I almost feel entitled to — but that would be disingenuous.

Equally troubling: indifference

There are those who seem genuinely to hate LGBT individuals, such as Charles Worley, the pastor who called for a gay holocaust, complete with concentration camps. However, this seems an exception, as most same-sex marriage opponents lack that brand of animus. Well-meant and ingratiating as they may be, however, their determined opposition indicates something equally troubling — indifference to human hardship. That’s not to say that they don’t feel sorry for what they see as “the way things are,” which is why they seem compelled to begin their explanations with an apology. But neither are they compelled to do anything about it.

There are 515 laws in Minnesota and more than 1,138 federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. Things like being compelled to testify against your partner because he’s not your legal spouse. Having to carry legal documents on a flash drive in case need arises to prove to hospital staff that you hold the medical directive for your comatose wife. Or the government revoking your husband’s visa because the government doesn’t recognize your relationship. These are policies that degrade and demean human beings, and there’s no justification to adequately follow a “but.”

They may not hate us, but neither do they love us

Supporters of this amendment may not hate homosexuals, but neither do they love us, in stark contrast to commands in their holy book. “Owe no one anything except to love each other” and “bear one another’s burdens,” wrote the apostle Paul. The words of Christ are even clearer: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The impetus here is not to force acceptance of homosexuality. We ask merely to be accepted, and to be treated impartially, and to pass an amendment that permanently bans same-sex marriage in Minnesota is to place religious belief above the affirmation of human dignity. It is to tell gay and lesbian soldiers that they are good enough to fight and die for their country, but not good enough to marry the person they love. It is to turn away from the indignity of being denied the right to make decisions about a spouse’s remains. It is, in essence, to not care — a failure to look your neighbor in the eye and recognize our kinship in the human race.

It’s not something I do; it’s who I am

It is to deny my fundamental personhood, because homosexuality isn’t something I do: It’s who I am. And my love for my boyfriend shouldn’t be viewed as inferior because of the arbitrary chromosomal circumstances of our birth.

Like Queen Liliuokalani, I look at what’s happening to our country and at those working to turn it into a place where I and my fellow gay brothers and sisters are no longer welcome, and wonder who will “right whatever wrongs may have been inflicted on us in the premises.”

David Philip Norris is a writer and musician from St. Paul.


Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 10/11/2012 - 09:54 am.

    Thank you, David, for sharing your thoughts so beautifully.

    As a mother with a dear gay son, it is unbearable to even think about this amendment passing. I can remember when Jacob first came out to us and we had so much to learn about homosexuality. One evening he said to me … “It is not about sex … it is about who I am as a person.” May Minnesotans take David’s commentary to heart and vote NO on the amendment that would deny so many dear people the freedom to marry the person they love.

  2. Submitted by mark wallek on 10/11/2012 - 10:15 am.

    Not real christians

    I am ever floored by the fact that worshippers of an all inclusive God can so handily become bitterly exclusive when “the real world” knocks on their door. The only conclusion I can make is that they are not real christians. I can say this because I know a real christian.

    • Submitted by Susan McNerney on 10/11/2012 - 12:03 pm.

      A holy book is nothing but truth serum

      If you really want to know kind of person somebody is, have them tell you about their god.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/11/2012 - 11:08 am.


    “And my love for my boyfriend shouldn’t be viewed as inferior because of the arbitrary chromosomal circumstances of our birth.”

    What “chromosomal circumstances”?

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 10/11/2012 - 01:26 pm.

      A little “science and human biology” for you . . . . .

      That would be “XX” v.s. “XY”.

      Glad to help out anyone who needs a refresher on “science and human biology”!

    • Submitted by David Norris on 10/11/2012 - 01:37 pm.

      The fact that my boyfriend Jason and I are both male instead of male and female. Or female and female. We had no control over that, who our parents were, or who we are attracted to.

    • Submitted by Joel Vos on 10/11/2012 - 02:45 pm.

      It’s simple, really:

      XX, XY. Being male or female at birth determines legitimacy according to these laws, not the actual person who occupies the body.

      So, by being XY and XY as partners is the chromosomal circumstance. I assume you read this to mean that being homosexual was genetic–in the chromosomes of the individual–and may have struggled to see this as what was intended in the text?

    • Submitted by William Gleason on 10/11/2012 - 02:55 pm.

      Assuming this is a serious question, Mr. Swift,

      here is a link to get you started:

      Gay genetics

      However, if you are questioning the origin of homosexuality, nature or nurture, you might want to just come out and say so. And please supply some links, other than just your own opinion.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/11/2012 - 01:57 pm.

    “True” Christians

    It seems to me we Christians always face a fundamental choice between opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit, which motivated Jesus whose name we claim,…

    using Jesus as the example by which we evaluate whether the gentle, quiet, whispered inspirations that arrive in our thoughts,…

    the gentle energy that nudges our hearts toward new sensitivities, allowing them to go out to others we might previously have ignored or rejected,…

    the new details that we notice in the scenes we remember from our past – details which alter what we realize about what was happening in those past times, as well as the visual details we notice in the world around us and the images which arise to inspire us to new directions for the future,…

    and the gentle intuitions which seem to arise from deep within us that change how we comprehend the world, ourselves, and our connection to all that surrounds us, including other people,…

    again, using Jesus as the example by which we judge whether those inspirations are genuinely of the God we know through the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus,…

    or whether those things that seem to be inspiration are false and rather than arising from the Holy Spirit’s connection with our own spirits are arising from the spiritual connection we share with highly-motivated friends, family members, or charismatic leaders,…

    or even from the unacknowledged, unmet (and often unconscious) needs that lie buried deep within us; needs which lie hidden because we have been taught that they make us irredeemably evil and, thus, we cannot bear to face them.

    Prior to Jesus, that same Spirit was invested in individuals known as prophets who sought to call God’s people to faithfulness for each generation. Since Jesus, and after the Christian Pentecost, God has sought to inspire all people to bring into human society whatever God knows to be needed. Aside from helping each person to live more faithfully in relationship with God, this has caused certain individuals to radically re-imagine and re-conceptualize the nature of living faithfully in relationship to God, leading to new denominations or the rebirth of those which already existed.

    But each form of Christianity eventually grows protective of itself as it’s currently constituted, coming to value as timeless and beyond reproach, it’s traditions, it’s ideas, it’s interpretations of the Bible, and it’s core beliefs, and, therefore, becoming massively resistant to the Spirit’s call to move forward into the future in new and better ways based on new and better realizations.

    It is at these times, as a faith expression ages and becomes resistant to the Spirit, that each is tempted by the trap of allowing itself to become a gathering of a group of people who share the same perspective on the world and their place and function in it,…

    a perspective programmed into them by that same church,…

    steadfastly driving out any who open themselves to the Spirit and seek to use the inspirations God is bringing them to lead their church toward new and more faithful patterns of thought, behavior, imagination, and worship which might incorporate them.

    This resistance can become so massive that we see, as is the case today, that, in order to batter down their own internal doubts and fears, some of those who claim to worship God, seek to deny other humans the freedom God grants us all to live as God inspires us to live (within certain limits of love and concern for others), seeking to enshrine their own religious perspectives in law and the constitutions of various states, thereby convincing themselves that their ideas and ideals have escaped the limitations of thought, behavior, sensitivity and understanding that ALL humans share.

    Failing to recognize their own insecurities and unconscious motives, they also fail to realize that doing so reveals not the strength of their faith but it’s abiding weakness.

    Churches which lock themselves into and come to worship their traditions, ideas, ideals and dogma while forgetting that all such things are human and limited and, therefore, incorrect in some ways, run the risk of making themselves irrelevant to future generations.

    What I suspect we see in the failure of so many who claim the name of Christ to allow the Spirit of God to inspire them to care about and lovingly minster to those not like themselves is exactly that dynamic at play – a worship of leaders and institutions who reinforce their own limited perspectives and a refusal to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire them to continue to reflect God’s love into the society around them as that society changes.

    True churches do not lock their followers into the limitations of that particular church, but point beyond themselves, seeking to open those followers to the inspirations provided by the Holy Spirit, seeking to assist their followers in learning to discern the flavoring motivation of true inspiration (love and concern for others) from false (service and protection of self)

    using Jesus as a plumbline,…

    while steadfastly refusing to place strict limitations on what those followers must believe the Spirit can and will inspire in them and thereby, claiming openness to the Spirit while, in reality excluding a great deal of what the Spirit is seeking to accomplish through them.

    Of course the rebirth of the church always seems to be its death to those locked into its current forms and locked away from the inspirations of the Spirit by what they have been taught by that same church.

    With all of that in mind, it is clear to me that openness to different forms of marriage, a reality which the Bible itself makes clear has occurred repeatedly over the history of the relationship between God and God’s people, today found in the growing acceptance of gay marriage is, therefore, not a sign of the death of the church, nor a sign of its waning faithfulness to God, but rather, a sign of its rebirth into new forms of faithfulness.

  5. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/11/2012 - 10:18 pm.

    Equal rights for all

    Just don’t call it marriage. I believe that a majority of Minnesotans support equal rights (regarding civil unions) as long as marriage remains the term for heterosexual unions. As the writer points out, there are differences between his relationship and the relationship of heterosexuals (I have to admit that at first reading I thought that a “gay” chromosome had been found). Since there are obvious differences, why don’t we call the homosexual unions something else? While we’re at it, let’s call male/male unions something different than female/female unions since there are a couple of differences between them too. Such unions could be made legal this next legislative session.

    Still haven’t seen any diatribes against Muslims…

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 10/12/2012 - 07:55 am.

      “Separate but equal”

      The problem remains that there are rights and responsibilities denied to same sex couples under civil unions (and – I believe – under marriage where it has been approved as well) at both the state and federal level.

      Any comprehensive solution has to take this problem into account.

      And what’s with the gratuitous comment about Muslims at the end of your post?

    • Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 10/12/2012 - 09:56 am.

      If it’s just the name that bothers you…

      How about we trade? You get to have a civil union and I (a gay man) get to have a marriage. Separate but equal is never really equal. Sounds like you want to have some kind of second-class relationship status for same-sex couples. And we should be happy about that? Giving civil unions the same benefits and responsibilties as a marriage will require changing hundreds of laws. How long do you think it would take to get all that through the legislature, with Republican leadership balking at every bill? Let’s get real.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/12/2012 - 08:05 am.

    constitutions and dictionaries

    I don’t think the majority of Minnesotans want to use the constitution to define words like “marriage”. What are we gonna vote on next? The definition of “irony”? In a free country people get to work things out on their own without government oppression.

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