When Religious Freedom Only Protects Heteropatriarchy

When Religious Freedom Only Protects Heteropatriarchy March 31, 2015

crlibertyIt’s not really religious freedom.

Conservative politicians have been on a roll for the past couple of years coopting the idea of religious freedom, itself an important element of our pluralistic democracy.  The version they are trumpeting and carving into law, however, is anything but religious, free, pluralistic, or democratic.  Indiana’s new law is only the most recent example of what has been made more possible by the terrible Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and Hobby Lobby.

Even those decisions were not just about corporate personhood, which is an egregious enough concept.

They are about protecting a capitalist heteropatriarchy.

Back in 2012 I wrote that “The GOP war on women is entirely about protecting male power.  Specifically, the power of white Christian men to create and control life as well as prevent women from exercising power.”  I’ve had numerous opportunities since then to write about the various ways that religious freedom has been invoked in the efforts not only to control women’s access to healthcare but also limit marriage equality and the rights of trans* students to appropriate access in higher education.

Because what these things all have in common is that they empower those who are marginalized by patriarchy (women) and heteronormativity (gay men, lesbians, and trans* people).

Now, it’s 2015 and same-sex couple have the right to marry in the majority of states – 37 plus the District of Columbia – and the Supreme Court is once again going to render a decision that will have consequences nationwide.  For most people, this is good news.  A CNN/ORC poll in February 2015 showed that

63% of Americans say that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry and have their marriages recognized by the law as valid. That’s up from 49% in August 2010. Over that time, the share who see marriage as a constitutional right has climbed 15 points among Republicans to 42% and 19 points among Democrats to 75%.”

Gay_MarriageThe only people for whom this isn’t good news is those who are deeply invested in protecting a heteropatriarchal system that relies on the twin dominances of male power and heteronormativity.  And those people are in a shrinking minority.  These last gasp efforts that use religion for their own ends will not succeed.  The governor of Indiana has been unable to make the case that his religious freedom law is like those at the federal level or in more than a dozen other states, in part because many of those states also have nondiscrimination laws in place that trump the religious freedom laws.

So let’s tell the truth.  This law is not about protecting religious freedom.  It’s about protecting heteropatriarchy.  It is a public and legal manifestation of anxiety over the fact that heterosexual women, gay men, and lesbians have increased freedom and power not only in our culture, but in many religions as well.  Heteropatriarchy would like to pretend that “religion” is on its side and its side alone.  But it’s not.  Just read the statements by any one of a number of religious leaders and organizations, like the Disciples of Christ (a denomination that declared it was reconsidering holding its General Assembly in Indiana if Governor Pence signed the law) and Valparaiso University (an independent Lutheran university where I taught for two years).  VU’s President Mark Heckler in fact referenced the Christian Bible in his public statement:

“As Paul writes in Galatians 5, ‘For the whole law is summed in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ‘ … I call upon our elected leaders and our governor not only to amend this legislation, but also to use this opportunity to advocate for the values held by all those who strive to make Indiana a welcoming and inclusive state.”

Attempts to claim religious freedom only on behalf of heteropatriarchal systems of oppression will fail.  This is due only in part to the voices and presence of those of us who understand that our religious traditions are about inclusion and grace.

We will continue to point out the folly of any leader, religious or political, who seeks to claim otherwise.

 Crowd image via wikimedia commons.


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