As North Carolina Goes . . .
Our neighbors in North Carolina are facing the same misguided effort to stem the tide of same-gender marriage that we in Virginia faced in 2006. Amendment One, which will be on the ballot on May 8, states, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”
Same-gender marriage already is denied recognition in North Carolina by statute. As in Virginia, the effort is to put the provision in the state constitution in order to make it even more difficult to change.
The campaign, pro and con, has been fierce. Observers say that North Carolina voters could defeat the proposal. That would be a wonderful step in the direction that the country is already moving—by stopping one of these continuing efforts to put up further roadblocks to marriage equality.
People of Faith for Equality in Virginia is asking us to pray for our neighbors to the south, to pray that all the work by people of faith and others in the Tarheel State leads to defeat of the amendment at the polls. And we also pray that their efforts will bear fruit in changed attitudes among more and more people.
There is one thing that this campaign may already have done. It may cause some to be more careful about how they talk about LGBT youth and others.
Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church of Fayetteville told parents in a Sunday sermon that they should hit their children if they began to “act” gay.
Harris said that gay tendencies in young children should be “squashed like a cockroach. Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you crack that wrist,” said Harris. “Man up! Give him a good punch. ‘You’re not gonna act like that.’”
“When your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign her in,” Harris said in the sermon, which was posted in a video online. “You’re going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl, and that means you’re going to be beautiful and you’re going to be attractive and you’re going to dress yourself up.”
He has since apologized for supporting child abuse. Harris later told the Fayetteville Observer newspaper on Tuesday that he “would never ever advocate” hitting a child. “If I had to say it again, I would say it differently, no doubt,” Harris told the newspaper Tuesday. “Those weren’t planned words, but what I do stand by is that the word of God makes it clear that effeminate behavior is ungodly. I’m not going to compromise on that.” (You can subject yourself to the entire sermon, if you wish, by clicking here.)
Pastor Harris also may have helped the cause of open-minded people. To listen to him is to be reminded how relatively easy it is to slide from intolerance into harsh and hateful rhetoric and then into suggestions of violence—and of course, as we know, such suggestions too often lead to actual violence and abuse.
One who gets that very clearly is Rev. Mark Byrd, Pastor of New Life Metropolitan Community Church of Hampton Roads in Norfolk right here in Virginia. He was interviewed by a local news program, and said that such statements are clearly contrary to Christian teaching. Pastors like that, he said, “clearly do not speak for the whole of the Christian community.”
Byrd rightly connected Harris’ words with violence against LGBT youth (and those who may appear to others as LGBT youth, whether they are or not). You can see that video here.
The reality is that we are in a period of great turmoil about LGBT people and concerns in our culture. Mitt Romney’s campaign, for example, got surprised when its decision to employ an openly gay expert in foreign policy became a firestorm of criticism from conservative Republicans. The campaign hoped the issue would die down, but that is not what is happening (and the aide resigned).
Instead, as more and more localities, including states like New York and Washington, extend protections and provide for complete legal equality, the other side digs in further. The tide is turning—public attitudes clearly continue to shift in favor of equality—and the natural tendency of “true believers” is to throw everything they’ve got into the fight.
Clearly, they are not yet at the “last stand” moment, but the time is coming when those who stand in the way of liberty and justice on these issues will be faced with that. It could get even more ferocious and ugly before it gets better and better.
In the meantime, our mission is to promote equality at every turn, to pray and work for justice and love to be honored in every household, in every family, without limitation.
It is good work, and I come to it with joy and hope. I pray you do, too, and that our siblings in North Carolina know that whatever the outcome there on Tuesday that they have mounted a great effort and have our undying gratitude for their witness and work.
Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline is President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an interfaith organization of gay and straight clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Read more of his thoughts on faith and spirituality on his personal blog.
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