Religion-led moral crusades are not novelties in American history. The abolitionist movement, for instance, originated from religious teachings about freedom and equality among all human beings. Early education reforms and laws barring commercial business on Sundays also had similar foundations (Walzer 4). In the early 20th century, the temperance movement agitated for a prohibition on sales of alcohol due to religious beliefs about the evils of liquor. In the 1960s, black churches and religious leaders took the lead in the struggle for equality for African-Americans (Walzer 5).
Since the late 1960s, however, conservative Christian denominations have increasingly become the voice of religion-based moral fervor in the United States. The 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, is generally acknowledged as the root cause of this phenomenon. Many right-wing Christian organizations held the aforementioned ruling responsible for the prevalence of premarital sex, easier access to birth control, decriminalized abortion, homosexuality and no-fault divorce laws. They believed that for a sound and healthy society to take place, these social “evils” must be stopped (Walzer 5).
Fundamentalist Christians considered homosexuality to be the most dangerous among the above-mentioned social “evils.” This is because the sexual orientation and behavior of homosexuals “(clash) with the moral and religious teachings of the Bible” (Walzer 5). Simply put, homosexuals are “immoral” for the reason that their gender and lifestyle deviates from the Judeo-Christian principle of sexual relations as a means of procreation. They must therefore be denied any venues in which they could “spread” their “immorality,” such as gay civil rights (Walzer 5). The conflict between faith and homosexuality in the US eventually divided Christians between those who regarded homosexuality as a morality issue and those who viewed homosexuality as a social justice issue that both society and organized religion must address instead of ignore (Dawkins 290).
This research paper will utilize the Marxist theoretical frameworks of dialectical and historical materialism. Dialectical materialism is based on the argument that history is defined by an endless struggle between different social classes. Historical materialism, meanwhile, asserts that the present state of a given society can be explained and understood by studying its past (Boobbyer 142). These theoretical frameworks are applied to the research paper through the study of the histories of gay civil rights and church-state relations in the US.
To prove the thesis, the researcher will conduct a critical analysis of current government statistics or research data that are related to the topic. Qualitative descriptions of relevant government policies or research data will likewise be carried out.
II. Data and Data Analysis
Conservative Christian denominations often attack homosexuality by warning the public about the increasing number of homosexuals in the US. As they are operating on the premise that homosexuals are “immoral,” these religious groups would therefore claim that the rise in homosexuality would translate to an increase in social “evils” such as HIV/AIDS and pedophilia. They would further drive this point home to audiences by bombarding them with related statistics from “reputable” sources. In the end, bigotry and homophobia are reinforced among the addressees.
Recent statistics do show an increase in homosexuality in the US from previous decades. The 1994 National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS) showed that an estimated 4.3 million Americans (2.8 million men and 1.5 million women) identified themselves as “homosexual or bisexual” (Sprigg 78). In addition, about 1.4 million Americans (0.9% of men and 0.4% of women) were exclusively engaged in same-sex relationships since age 18 (Sprigg 78). By 2000, according to the Washington, D.C.-based gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the gay and lesbian population in the US reached about 10,456,405. Data from the 2000 US Census, meanwhile, revealed that the number of same-sex couples in the country rose to 601,209 from 145,130 in 1990 (Burda 1).
But the aforementioned figures are misleading. The institutions that produced these statistics do not have a clear idea of what constitutes “homosexuality,” “bisexuality” and “same-sex relationships.” Numerous studies on human sexual behavior have proven that it is possible for human beings of the same sex to engage in sexual activities regardless of sexual orientation. The term “homoerotic behavior” refers to same-sex sexual behavior that is performed for reasons that do not include homosexuality. Possible motivations for homoerotic behavior are identity crisis, exploration, same-sex bonding, glorification of maleness or femaleness and lack of opposite-sex partners (Turner 158).
Mistaking homoerotic behavior for homosexuality is dangerous, as doing so has detrimental effects to both homosexuals and society in general. Positive qualities that could grow out of same-sex bonding, like caring, intimacy and nurturance, are suppressed and undervalued because such traits are associated with homosexuality (Abramson and Pinkerton 239). Furthermore, negative gender stereotypes are reinforced. “Masculinity” is linked with emotional detachment and superficial forms of socialization such as drinking, smoking and gambling. “Femininity,” on the other hand, is connected to submissiveness and lack of initiative.
Experts have long debunked the “connection” between homosexuality, HIV/AIDS and pedophilia. It is true that HIV/AIDS was initially called the “gay cancer” because majority of its first victims were homosexual men. But this does not mean that HIV/AIDS is a disease that is restricted to homosexuals or that homosexuals alone are responsible for its spread. HIV/AIDS is spread by behavior and not by sexual orientation. A heterosexual who practices unsafe sex is just as prone to the disease as a homosexual who has a similar lifestyle.
It is also not true that homosexuals are more prone to pedophilia than heterosexuals. As a matter of fact, about 90% of sexual abuse on children was committed by heterosexual men. A 1994 study that was published in the journal Pediatrics revealed that out of 296 cases of child sexual abuse, there were only two in which the perpetrator was a homosexual. Moreover, a heterosexual partner of a close relative of the child was the alleged offender in about 82% of the said cases (Moe 70).
Apart from baseless and damaging myths, another assault that Christian fundamentalists carry out on homosexuality is the elimination of gay civil rights. Proposition 8, passed in California’s general elections on November 4, 2008, was a constitutional amendment that prohibited same-sex marriage in the state. Catholic and Mormon organizations overwhelmingly supported the proposition, arguing that same-sex marriage threatened the sanctity of marriage and the family. These groups were likewise concerned that allowing same-sex marriage to remain legal in California would deprive children of the right to have a “normal” family – one that was composed of a father and a mother (Kuruvila n. pag.).
The enactment of Proposition 8 is ironic, considering that one of the largest and most active homosexual communities is based in San Francisco. There were already about 18,000 same-sex couples who got married in California just four months prior to the passage of Proposition 8 (Garrison, DiMassa and Paddock n. pag.). The proposition would thus force the state’s homosexual couples to get married in one of the five remaining US states where same-sex marriage is legal – Maine, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont (Montanaro n. pag.). Although Proposition 8 won 52% of votes (The Huffington Post n. pag.), some of California’s leaders are questioning its legality. The Democrat-controlled state Legislature, for instance, argued that the Constitution cannot be revised by a mere majority vote – it would strip the minority group of their constitutionally protected right. At present, California’s Supreme Court is dealing with a series of lawsuits that involve the contention of Proposition 8 (Ewers n. pag.).
Even if the US Constitution clearly stated that there is an official separation between church and state, American society remains to be a “deeply religious polity” (Walzer 5). Simply put, American society is a democracy that continues to be heavily based on religious doctrine. This phenomenon is a legacy of the country’s colonial past – the first whites that came to the US were members of spiritual communities fleeing religious persecution in England. Consequently, the Founding Fathers declared that the US would not have an official state religion. All citizens were allowed to worship as they pleased and to openly propagate their faiths (Walzer 5).
But this did not mean that the debate about the role of religion in American life has ended. The leaders of the US in its formative years were overwhelmingly of Christian faith. Thus, it became inevitable that the legislative and judicial philosophies of American society were founded on Christian principles. The Founding Fathers, for instance, believed that despite the absence of an official religion, the US should be a “Christian nation whose morality should be reflective of Christian values” (Walzer 4).
It is true that many Christian denominations were responsible for instigating much-needed social changes in various parts of American history. But as American society became increasingly pluralistic in the succeeding centuries, the need for more secularism in its major institutions emerged. This dilemma resulted in a conflict between conservative Christian denominations and a Christian populace that was slowly becoming tolerant of behaviors that were used to be considered as deviant, such as homosexuality. In the process, certain aspects of the societal and legal discussions of gay civil rights were negatively affected (Walzer 6).
Although judges are supposed to be neutral interpreters of the law, personal experiences (including religious training and beliefs) still shape their perspectives both consciously and unconsciously (Walzer 6). Indeed, Christian fundamentalist groups are notorious for their attempts to hinder the passage of or weaken laws that promote homosexual rights (Walzer 7). In the name of religion, conservative Christian organizations will not think twice about harassing homosexuals and gay rights associations, as well as interfere with the creation and enactment of gay civil rights laws. It is no longer surprising, therefore, if legal rights for homosexuals such as same-sex marriage, protection from workplace discrimination and adoption by gay parents were attained only in the recent decades.
Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church is an example of how far fundamentalist Christians could go just to prove their homophobic stance. He once organized a picket at the funeral of homosexual rights activist Coretta Scott King, proclaiming that her soul would be punished in hell due to her advocacy. Since 1991, Phelps has reportedly organized 22,000 anti-homosexual demonstrations in the US, Canada, Jordan and Iraq. These protest marches of his often displayed homophobic slogans such as “THANK GOD FOR AIDS” (Dawkins 291).
Conservative Christian denominations in the US were unprepared for the increasingly liberal atmosphere of American society. They therefore harshly criticized everything that was associated with it, particularly homosexuality. For Christian fundamentalists, homosexuals were “immoral” because they do not comply with the Judeo-Christian principle of sexual relations as a means of procreation. Such a way of thinking eventually spawned all forms of harassment against homosexuals, such as damaging and baseless myths, deceptive statistics and laws that hinder the enactment of gay civil rights.
It would be impossible for the US to claim that it is a Christianity-based democracy when homophobia is rampant in its turf. Homophobia can be eliminated from the country by educating people regarding the myths and the facts surrounding homosexuality. Stiffer penalties for and stricter implementation of laws against hate crimes would also help. As long as people are discriminated upon for any reason other than involvement in criminal activity, there can be no such thing as a free or just society.