Same Sex Marriage
Mapping the Grey Area: Religion, Politics, and Same-Sex Marriage
Immediately following the November 2008 presidential election, two stories with tremendous significance dominated the news: Barack Obama's election as the first African-American president and California's passing of Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state. While the former was cause for national celebration and commemoration, Prop 8 stirred up feelings of anger, confusion and, for some, victory. Reports of how certain religious organizations - and particularly the Mormon Church - mobilized people to support the ballot initiative triggered a backlash from Prop 8 opponents across the country, reinvigorating the debate over the relationship between faith, politics and same-sex marriage.
While news media reports tend to cast the issue of same-sex marriage in stark and sometimes simplistic terms, the viewpoints of individuals with a stake in the issue are sometimes not so black-and-white. And as more states become politically invested in the debate, more people are being directly affected by it. A month before the 2008 election, the state of Connecticut passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, and in April 2009, Iowa and Vermont added themselves to the list. Shortly after that, New York's governor David Paterson announced that he would introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in his state. Although the public will not have the opportunity to vote directly on the issue in New York, distinguishing their experience from the situation in California, they nonetheless offer a wide range of earnest opinions.
"Personally, I have a hard time," says Matt Dunbar, a 28-year-old self-described conservative evangelical Christian. "I have gay friends and I support them personally, but I'm still on the fence about whether gay marriage is moral or not. It's pretty straightforward in the Bible. But at the same time I understand the contextual aspects."
Many other theologically conservative people Dunbar's age also accept, or at least tolerate, homosexuality. Unlike their parents or older pastors, they've been exposed to gay culture and they likely have gay friends, or at least know someone who is gay. A pre-2008-election survey examining the faith and political views of younger people supports this idea by finding that even among evangelicals and Catholics - religious groups traditionally opposed to same-sex marriage - younger people tend to be more favorably disposed toward it. Identifying this group as the generation who grew up with shows like "Will and Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Elna Baker, a young writer and practicing Mormon living in New York City, puts it simply: "You can't ignore the fact that we are affected by the culture in which we are raised."
This is not to say that religiously inclined people of this younger generation necessarily view homosexuality as moral. For example, Reina Alvarez, a born-again Christian, says that while she's not "against" her gay family member and friends because she is supposed to "love everybody and can't shun the homosexual," she nevertheless still refers to them as confused sinners who can be "delivered from homosexuality." Love the sinner, hate the sin. Still, in her acknowledgment of the ambiguity of the situation, she, along with Dunbar and Baker, all personify the general trend among younger, religiously conservative people toward a greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people in their immediate social circles.