June 16, 2014

Please Stop Saying "I Support Gay Marriage".
How I left behind my fundamentalist beliefs on homosexuality

Recently, especially since I started blogging, I've had a lot of cause to think back on where I was, where I am, and how I've come to be here.

I most often discuss this in terms of my feminist identity--how I was afraid and distanced myself from being a feminist for so long because of cultural and religious pressures and misconceptions.

It may surprise you, given the amount of space on the blog dedicated to the issue, that I had a similar dark to light conversion for marriage equality and LGBT+ rights.

When I was younger, we joined a fundamentalist independent Baptist church in Allendale, South Carolina. The church was called Trinity Baptist College and it was founded by a husband and wife team after he finished seminary in North Augusta, South Carolina. The pastor grew up in Allendale and said he felt "led" to plant a church there.

Prior to that, we had attended the First Baptist Church, which was far from radical.

It was at Trinity that I would come to understand fundamentalist doctrine. It was very hellfire and brimstone and Jesus saves. The Bible was to be interpreted literally. Feminism was decried, and homosexuality was abhorred. The church was also racist--at one point, the pastor approached a family who had been bringing black children from the town to church and asked them not to do so anymore. While he may not have personally been behind it, he cowed to pressure from congregants that were.

The tone of the conversation regarding marriage equality was notable, both at this church and the next that we were members of after our move. The descriptions were often borderline vulgar. There was a lot of misrepresentation of statistics to show that gay people--especially males--were promiscuous and that their relationships could not be considered on par with heterosexual relationships. There were many references to the eight (potentially) verses of the Bible that references homosexuality. It was "abhorred", it was "unnatural". There were apocalyptic references--the Bible states that in the end of times, people will be caught up in "unnatural affections". There were contentions that it was harmful to children. Of course, the apocalyptic references mentioned how it would undermine society, pointing to both the Greek and Roman empires as evidence of this (despite the fact that the Roman empire fell after its conversion to Christianity).

Because the Bible--specifically, the King James Version as Trinity even decried the New International Version--was the literal word of God, there was no "flipside" to the coin. Churches that allowed "gay marriage" were not real churches. Their members were not real Christians. It was not until I was much older that I came across the indications that many such churches also base their beliefs about homosexuality on the Bible--but they interpret it differently.

"Gay marriage" was one of the first steps I took away from my biblical roots. Much like my move from pro-life to pro-choice, it was gradual. First, I began to question the research on whether you are born gay or choose. While there's not an absolute consensus, I found enough suggest that yes, there were people--a lot--that were most likely born gay. This mirrored my experience with people in my life whom I knew from infancy, who would eventually come out as gay and at the time were "suspect". So doubt began to wiggle its way into my mind. If these people were born gay--and remember, at this time I was very pro-life and believed that individuals were endowed with characteristics by God before birth--then that would mean that God created them gay.

For a while, I tried to address this inconsistency using the idea that God created people gay but expected them to remain chaste. "Gay" was a temptation, one that people should refrain from indulging in. BEING gay was not a sin--engaging in homosexual acts were. I was very much in the "hate the sin, love the sinner" camp.

As I grew into my later teen years, I began to question this too. I am a woman. I found myself attracted to individuals. I could no more deny this attraction than I could deny who I am. It was a part of me. The more that I considered what it must be like to be asked to deny that so that you can stay right with God, the more I considered that unfair.

You may be thinking, "Well, you were asked to deny that. You were asked not have sex with them." But so long as I would wind up married to a man, that denial had an expiration date--my wedding night. After that, so long as I married a man, my celibacy could be safely lifted. Indeed. great emphasis in some youth activities was placed on the idea that sex before marriage was wrong, but sex after marriage was incredibly right. In fact, they would argue that women especially found it difficult to enjoy sex outside of marriage, because sex for us was always about emotion, never lust or orgasm.

So this, too, seemed unfair. Why was it possible that I could be freed from this while homosexuals were expected to live with it for the rest of their lives? Physical lust is difficult; the sex drive is a complicated biological impulse to try to control. I know. I struggled and "failed" to control it myself. I could not imagine someone being forced to struggle with it, every day, for the rest of their lives.

At this point, I moved into the "it's not any of our business". I found solace in the idea that marriage was a secular institution under the control of a secular government. It didn't matter what I believed, morally, about homosexuality, because the state shouldn't have religious groups.

I found this hard because how do you support something that you still consider wrong?  And yet, I felt drawn to support equal rights.

Inch by inch, I was drawing away from my roots and religious beliefs. The final straw was when I, in my early twenties, finally gave a name to a feeling I had personally had for years.

I was bisexual. I was attracted to both men and women.

I'd had the first stirrings of attraction that I can remember as early as second grade, when I had my first "girl crush". I had "fooled around" in high school. It was part of myself that I had abhorred--as I said above, I struggled with my sexuality and "failed" in the eyes of my belief. I engaged in premarital sex. Worse than that, I had engaged in premarital sex with both males and females.

The path to realizing that this was just part of my sexuality, not something abhorrent, was important. It paralleled my growing support of LGBT+ rights and marriage equality. I could support gay marriage, I said, because I did not feel homosexuality was wrong. I could support it because if I had fallen in love with a woman, I would have wanted to be able to marry her.

You may notice that this is a very selfish worldview, even if the end result is good. I agree.

It took introspection to begin to understand that what I wanted to support was equality. In between, I became a mother. This too contributed to looking at a world bigger than myself (for me, personally, mind--I don't think this is a prerequisite for most people, but for me, it certainly helped). And that is when I fully committed my support to marriage equality and other rights, not because I would want them, but because it was the right thing to do. Period. Full stop. No caveats.

In that time, I shifted from using the words "I support gay marriage" because I realized that marriage is marriage. Words have power; I knew this from the time I had spent in front of pulpits. What I didn't realize was that by saying "I support gay marriage", I was giving power to the opposition, to the idea that marriage between members of the same sex is some kind of unnatural phenomenon distinct from heterosexual unions. I was differentiating, creating a "separate but equal" paradox inside my own belief system.

"Gay marriage" isn't meant to be any different from "straight marriage". Marriage is meant to be marriage--two loving people that consent to spending the rest of their lives together.  Marriage equality, therefore, was a better way to phrase my beliefs than supporting gay marriage. I support equal rights.

To say that the road that led me here was convoluted would be an understatement. It was a gradual slope away from my traditional beliefs, with a few steep sharp jumps in between.

We are all, really, the sum of the journey we have been on up to this point. While in some aspects, I regret that time I spent mired in my bigoted beliefs, there's a flip side to it. I really and truly feel like I have a deeper appreciation of equality in all of its forms because of the path that I went down to get here. I do not know that I would be the same person, with the same depth of commitment, had I not had these experiences behind me.

For those of you that are still on your journey, perhaps you have reached the point where you believe that gay marriage should happen. I implore you to take a look at the language you are using. Take a look at equality and what it really means. I applaud you as you take these steps of self growth. Keep growing.

If you have trouble accepting that there actually is a difference in the two terminologies, I encourage you to conduct an experiment yourself and see. Type in "gay marriage" to Google (or Bing--although if you use that, I feel like I should boot you off of my blog right now :P). Read the top 10 results, note the tone of the conversation and who the speakers are. Then do the same with "marriage equality". Ask yourself which search left you walking away feeling positive and uplifted.

And can't we all, really, stand to be a little more positive and uplifting?

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