Last night I watched an episode of "30 Days" that followed a Mormon woman from Utah with very fixed beliefs about homosexuality venture to the Northeast to live with a gay couple and their family - four boys that they have adopted in open adoption and from the foster care system. Their home is a farmhouse in the country. It's beautiful and peaceful, and the boys are rambunctious, sweet, and clearly loved, happy and well-cared for. As one of the parents said, how could anyone who was opposed to gay couples adopting children still feel the same way after visiting and staying with them for a month?
If you have an opinion about this one way or the other, I highly recommend that you watch this episode. As it unfolds, what really becomes clear is the complete lack of common ground between people who otherwise would be shoulder to shoulder at their kids' baseball games, the grocery store, and the PTA meeting. On the one hand, it makes me happy to see once again how America is big enough to allow for people with deeply disparate beliefs to live peacefully in society together. On the other hand, it also woke me up to the ways that blending religion and public policy can undermine this broad democracy that I cherish. This was something that I understood in theory, but now I really get it.
Ultimately what it came down to was that people are blinded by their absolute certainty that their own opinions, founded in their religious beliefs, are Right. On its own, this doesn't create any problems and we can all just agree to disagree and get on with our lives. When the problems arise is when one then decides that being Right gives them permission to not only live their own life according to their own beliefs, but to also require that everyone else equally live their lives according to this one "Right" set of beliefs - whether or not they also hold them.
This is what religious extremism is - requiring others, under the force of law, to live according to your own religious beliefs.
This is what the guest from Utah never grasped. No one was telling her that she could not live her life according to her own beliefs. For example, given that she didn't have a houseful of kids and that she was married, I think it's safe to assume that she and her husband practice or use some sort of birth control. There is a non-negligible population within very conservative Christians (and other faiths) that believe that birth control of any variety is immoral. Sex is for procreational purposes only, period. I wonder what her answer would have been if someone had asked her if she would agree that, if she would prohibit a gay couple from getting married or adopting kids, would it be okay for someone else to prohibit her and her husband from practicing or using birth control? The authority of someone to do this comes from the same place that hers does - complete, Bible-based certainty that this is the law of God. So how could she argue against it?
This is the problem of allowing religion to dictate our laws. If our ultimate societal goal is freedom and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then that means for everyone, including those whose religious beliefs don't conform to your own, and who live their lives accordingly.
There's something else that wasn't raised by this episode that always leads me to the conclusion that really what's going on is discrimination and not religious fervor. There are many, many threats to the sanctity of marriage besides (as asserted by those of the belief-set) gay marriage: no fault divorce, domestic violence, infidelity, to name a few. But I don't see anyone from the Southern Baptist convention putting as much airtime and effort into combatting these ills as they do gay marriage. When I consider this, the inevitable conclusion is that the opposition comes from discriminatory motives and not the religious agenda. If one is going to oppose gay couples adopting children, then I feel that one is obligated to work with equal fervor to address the crisis from the dearth of foster parents available to provide homes for foster children.
The show also presented a woman who was truly injured by her (gay) father's conduct: taking her to sex novelty shops when she was a girl because he wanted her to be "uninhibited" about matters of sexuality, for example - some truly screwed up stuff. His relationships with men lead her to feel inadequate in her gender, and for this reason she opposes gay adoption.
Because heterosexual parents don't also sometimes (tragically) behave inappropriately with their kids when it comes to sexuality? Because heterosexual parents never made one of their kids of the opposite gender feel inadequate or guilty or shameful solely on the basis of their gender?
The succer punch to all of this is the kids who need homes. Gay adoption or not, there are children growing up in conditions and neighborhoods in America that aren't fit for army batallion units. Who will have adult lives coping with the long-term health (physical and mental health) challenges associated with long-term post-traumatic stress disorder. Who are less prepared to live lives that contribute to the social greater good rather than diminish. Who are going to be sharing this world and this town and this neighborhood with my kids and your kids. And who suffered immeasurable loneliness, grief and neglect at the most vulnerable point in their life when they were so young and helpless and should have been hugged and held and sung to and fed well and played with and hugged more every single day.
In a bit of Kismet, the James Dobson camp today pre-released to the Associated Press a scathing piece by Mr. Dobson that will air Tuesday on Focus on the Family about Dobson's take on Barack Obama's discussions of religion and public policy. Sen. Obama gets it - that if we allow the premise that religion should control our public lives, then we have the problem of whose beliefs will be the controlling beliefs. What's ironic is that Sen. Obama's postion actually protects the right of very conservative Christians to live their own lives according to their own values. What they just can't get their heads around is that, because we live in a democratic society, this means that in return they also have to allow others to live according to their beliefs. No, Mr. Dobson would rather call Obama a proponent of a "fruitcake" theology. Name calling - always a good indicator of a well-thought-out opinion.