Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Guest Blog: Gays vs. Media

I am ever open to guest bloggers, and Jason of Out-With-it-Already has appeared regularly here at He forwards this on to post here with our happy little nest of queer Cincinnati bloggers :-).

Let's talk this all out, shall we?

Yesterday, published an article titled, "Black Ministers In D.C. Divided Over Gay Marriage," detailing the vocal opposition from predominantly African-American churches in D.C. to the recently approved bill that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states.

We've got some good stuff in here:

"Like many evangelicals, Walker reads the Bible as the literal word of God. And he sees in those pages a blueprint for a healthy family. It's not the only blueprint. Walker himself was raised by a single mother, and he appreciates the grandparents in his church who raise their grandkids.

"I'm not taking away from that," he says. "But I think God's perfect order for family is mom and dad.""

News flash: The world ain't perfect and it never will be. But thanks for playin', buddy!

"In 2007, Wiley and his co-pastor — his wife, Christine — held two same-sex blessings, prompting two-thirds of their congregation to leave. Since then, they've attracted new members who were looking for a gay-friendly black church."

OK. I'll take acceptance wherever I can get it but I have serious reservations when religious folk--well-intentioned as they usually are--begin meddling in same-sex marriage. I appreciate the Wileys' commitment to the inclusion of same-sex couples in the institution of marriage but when they give blessings to these marriages they are misleading the general public into believing that same-sex marriage advocates aim to require religious entities to recognize and perform same-sex marriages. As I've always understood it, at least, same-sex couples are seeking civil marriage. Civil. As in not religious. Of course, many people--including LGBT people--are religious, so I can understand that some same-sex couples should desire any form of affirmation of their union from their respective religion. But this is dangerous territory we are entering, folks. When the general public believes same-sex marriages are happening in places of worship, then they are likely to vote against legislation allowing same-sex marriage because they overwhelmingly wish to preserve the tradition of their faith community.
"Wiley acknowledges that there are a handful of biblical passages condemning homosexuality. But he says blacks don't take the Bible literally when it comes to racial issues.

"The Bible says, 'Slaves, be obedient to your master,' etc. Well, we don't hear black people saying, 'OK, we got to stick with that,' " Wiley says. "Yet when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, then people are running to the Bible.""
You speak great truth, Reverend Wiley.
"For Wiley, who studied under liberation theologian James Cone, gay rights are simply the next step in the civil rights movement. Like blacks, he says, homosexuals did not choose this life.

But Walker calls the comparison "ludicrous."

"When I talk to most people of African descent, many of them are absolutely appalled by any comparison to the civil rights movement, simply because we cannot take off our blackness," Walker says."
Just as you, Reverend Walker, cannot "take off [your] blackness," I cannot opt out of a feeling; I do not control attraction. Sure, I could make the CHOICE not to live openly and to deny my identity but I cannot CHOOSE to whom I am attracted. You, on the other hand, can CHOOSE to refrain from rhetoric that persecutes and marginalizes people seeking civil rights and protections completely outside of the religious realm in which you operate.

Here is an additional thought I have:

The media might also be holding us back. I'll explain.

When reporting on marriages of same-sex couples, the language is almost always "gay marriage." We need to move away from this notion of "gay marriage" and here's why: Gay marriage sounds like "other marriage." What I mean by this is that it sounds exactly like same-sex couples are in fact redefining marriage.

A marriage is a marriage, and we know that. You know who doesn't know that?: A lot of people in the majority. If we can somehow strike "gay" from "gay marriage" and still find ways to accurately report on same-sex marriages, that'd be fantastic because, let's face it, marriage cannot be gay. Marriage is not an orientation, or an identity, for that matter.

What also doesn't help is that we still live in a world where the word "gay" continues to be used by people when they mean to say something is stupid, silly, or dumb. Translation: bad. So, when people here "gay marriage" is it not too difficult to see how they might be processing same-sex marriage as "bad marriage"?

Now, I recognize the difficulty reporters will have in creating concise headlines and news beats addressing same-sex marriage. Take NPR's headline, "Black Ministers In D.C. Divided Over Gay Marriage." Why do members of the media use the phrase "gay marriage"? Probably because it's short and to the point and also because "same-sex marriage" includes the word "sex" which still shocks a lot of people. Never mind we're talking about someone's actual biological sex and not the act of sexual intercourse. Whose wise idea was it to use this same word--sex--for both? I can say I'm not happy with them.

However, herein lies the problem: Am I expecting that NPR's headline might have read "Black Ministers In D.C. Divided Over Civil Marriages Between Same-Sex Couples"? Yeah, I'm not holding my breath on that one. But in my ideal world it would go something like that because if we allow media to continue using "gay marriage" to define our loving unions, we'll be gettin' wherever we're goin' real slow.


Jeff Elrod said...

yeah, the "gay marriage" moniker not only carries with it the sense of otherness, but marriage, which is the cause of all this uproar and hubbub. marriage denotes the whole religious recognition thing that the more conservative sects are rallying against.

it's disheartening what religion's become - what can be such a powerful force for good has become a hate machine and an outlet for the political and moral projections of a few folks at the top.

Jere Keys said...

1) During the Prop 8 fight, the term "marriage equality" was pushed as a way to talk about the issue without perpetuating the "other marriage" idea.

2) I dislike the argument that we cannot choose to be LGBT. It undercuts the very real life experiences of many people, especially bisexuals. More to the point, whether we choose our sexual orientation or not, it shouldn't matter in a legal sense - things over which we do have control (most notably religion) are protected classifications against discrimination.

3) Your concerns about religious folk blessing marriages/unions between gay and lesbian couples are valid, I suppose, but you've lost that fight before you even entered the ring. Gay-affirmative denominations like MCC and UU have been down that road for years, have helped us carry the marriage equality movement forward, and are not going to reverse course now due to an assimilationist "what makes straight people comfortable is best for the politics" argument.

The Seeker said...

Jason has good points I think. Really, I've never thought of it that way.
And to Jere Keys I say: You are absolutely right as well. There does come a time, however, where I believe one needs to "play the game" to get what one wants. Granted, we can only stand to "play it" to an extent!

Jere Keys said...

Seeker: I'm all for sound political strategy, and would love to see more of it in the movement (especially re: unhinged attacks on allies like Gov. Patterson of NY), but not at the expense of members of our community. The "let's not make the heterosexual mainstream uncomfortable" strategy invariably leaves behind transgender people, bisexuals, sex workers and sex activists, homeless and impoverished queers, fetish communities, queer people of color, polyamorous folks, LGBT immigrants and binational couples, and anyone else who isn't a white, middle class, Christian (or possibly Jewish), politically moderate teacher or doctor or lawyer or banker.

out-with-it-already said...

Hey, Jere: Yes, through an internship last summer in DC with a national LGBT civil rights organization, research conducted indicates that people are more receptive to hearing/reading "marriage for gay and lesbian couples" than "gay marriage." Often in LGBT media, you will encounter "marriage equality," a strategic creation that's worked quite well--in LGBT media. Mainstream media has yet to fully adopt this phrase and it's used only when someone is quoted as having used it. Stressing the idea of marriage equality is something we can continue to do in our everyday conversations until the idea catches on.

I generally try to shy away from labeling any couple a gay or lesbian couple because this implies both parties identify as either gay or lesbian and there's always a possibility that one or both parties may identify as bisexual. Just as a marriage is a marriage, shouldn't a couple be a couple?

And about the religion thing: I'm pleased that more and more affirmative congregations continue to accept LGBT-identifying people. I just get concerned that, when these faith communities bless or conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples, uninformed or abstractly-informed people see other religions as implicated. That's not too much of a stretch, right?

Anonymous said...

I think even the most conservative religious folks realize that there are churches out there that voluntarily perform gay marriages, whether they bestow any legal meaning or not. I think you are underestimating the intelligence of our opposition. And I really don't see what criticizing the churches that actually behave with Christian love towarsd us accomplishes.