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Religion Beyond the Supreme Court

This week’s Supreme Court decisions have been the main topics streaming into my Facebook and Twitter feeds (along with a few heartfelt thoughts for Nelson Mandela). Escaping a thumbs up or down on the ruling of DOMA is impossible; the Voting Rights Act, while a little less prevalent, is also there. What fascinates me is how one has been bombarded with religious pretense, though not the other.

Virtually every professional religious organization has jumped on their soapbox in regards to the DOMA and California’s Prop 8 ruling. Timothy Dolan called it a ‘tragic day for marriage and our nation.’ Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was ‘disappointed,’ snarkily claiming that ‘time is not on the side’ of same-sex marriage advocates because Americans will wake up and rebel against the decision once they see the ‘consequences.’ 

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is also in a tizzy, while Governor Chris Christie cloaked the religious speak and instead, amazingly, focused on how the decision ‘demeaned’ Bill Clinton. We don’t even need to get into how verbose Justice Antonin Scalia was in his dissent.

Of course, these are the figures on the wrong side of history; they’d understand that if they’d bothered to study how cultural movements emerged historically. Plenty of other religious groups came out in praise of the decision, including The Episcopal Church, Metropolitan Community Church and the Interfaith Alliance.

What is amazing is how Scalia dubbed this decision on allowing gay couples to marry a ‘diseased root’—in which he somewhat ironically stated that the court’s conception of itself as having more power than it does is said root—while in the past he cited the Voting Rights Act as a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.’ Given his social contradictions, I’m not sure how the man doesn’t recuse himself of every decision. 

Chief Justice John Roberts effectively agreed when writing that America has changed since the Voting Rights Act was put into place in 1965 (and upheld by the Supreme Court the following year). He’s right in that this country has changed, though his incredulous statement inferring that protecting minority voters was no longer necessary is laughable. The Right has not been silent on marriage equality, in which members unabashedly claim this as a religious issue, while they have been purposefully mum on voting rights.

This odd juxtaposition between two seemingly unrelated issues exposes the ugliness of modern religious intolerance. While it has been recognized that both are civil rights issues, that gay marriage is touted as being either an ‘abomination’ or a ‘God-given right’ while everyone’s ability to vote, the very fabric weaving together our nation, is not even discussed by religious figures, points to an utter failure in the institution of religion’s understanding of humanity.

Or rather, an inclusive human community, not one ripped apart by idealism. The so-called Western religions are comprised of an odd set of beliefs that consistently champions man’s place in the universe above the universe itself. While this has been more than evident in the so-called climate change ‘debate,’ we are watching this same tendency unfold in the national dialogue in regards to the two issues above.

Noam Chomsky proposed that every child is born with the ability to learn any language, and that it is the culture he or she is born into that dictates moral decisions and existential comprehension. Our neural pathways are forged early in life. While we do have the ability to change our habits and ways of thinking thanks to neuroplasticity, changing an entire culture’s philosophy or moral outlook is a daunting prospect. It can happen, though it rarely does, or it happens at tortoise pace.

This is why anti-marriage equality advocates feel entitled to call the male/female union ‘natural.’ On a biological level, it is true that that is the only combination that will further life in our species. This sadly presupposes that the only purpose of marriage is procreation, a sexually repressed mindset that has persisted for centuries.

I would never argue that same-sex marriage is a ‘given right.’ That’s assuming that a ‘greater agency’ is handing out dictates of who we are as a nation and people, and we already know the trouble that sort of thinking leads to. Rather, it’s an evolutionary perspective that we are experiencing together as a country. It’s who we want to become, not who’ve we’ve been for far too long.

What Roberts is missing is in his argument on voting rights is, well, most of America. Ever since Obama was first elected, it has been a conservative talking point that racism has been done away with, something Ann Coulter tried putting forward. Yet even one ignorant statement made by Paula Deen shows how deeply shameful our history and present is in regards to racial equality. Turning a blind eye to its ravages does not make it not exist.

Some will continue to argue that racial equality is ‘God-given,’ while others will believe some just got it like that more than others. The more we look out at the stars for an answer to these questions, the less likely we are to put the work into creating a society that stands for the supposed foundation that America is built upon: justice, love and opportunity for every man, woman and child.

I’m not discussing a piece of paper written centuries ago. Every foundation is important, but the constant gazing at past documents—political or biblical—keeps us peddling backwards. Our spiritual leaders, as well as politicians and judges barely disguising their religious-moral agenda as legislation, need to come to terms with who we are as a people today. Only then will a truly even playing field for people of every race and orientation start to come into focus. 

Image: Lisa F. Young/


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