Monday, November 5, 2012

Casting out fear

For more than a year I and thousands of other Minnesotans have been holding conversations about the marriage amendment.  We lay out our most rational arguments, citing research in biological as well as social science demonstrating that same-sex orientation is a benign, natural variation in human sexuality.  We offer stories of real people who would be hurt by permanently restricting the definition of marriage to exclude same-sex couples.

Many people have been persuaded that voting "no" is the right thing to do.  Staunch supporters of the amendment, however, remain unmoved.  They are not pondering our rational arguments.  They are not empathizing with the hardships and harassment that gay people still endure in many places in our society.

Are they wicked "haters"?  In most cases, no.

Where we opponents see the amendment as an attack on human dignity and civil rights, supporters of the amendment see themselves as defenders of what they hold to be an immutable truth:  the belief that homosexuality is morally wrong.

Their religious assemblies teach that it is sinful to enter into homosexual relationships, and that this teaching comes from God.  Granting legal recognition to homosexual couples, applying the term "marriage" equally, would imply that the religious teaching is not, after all, true.

If this long-standing moral teaching is not true, then what other religious teachings are likewise not true?  When one's sense of identity and security in the world is rooted in believing that one's religion is the ultimate source of moral truth, any challenge to that belief feels threatening to that identity and security.

All of our reasoned appeals to science and research and personal experience are of no avail unless we also address the fear that prevents marriage-equality opponents from being open to seeing the evidence, hearing the reasoning, and empathizing with the cost of homophobia in real people's lives.

In order to feel free to question long-held beliefs, we need to feel safe in doing so.  We need to shift our center of security from faith in our beliefs about God to faith in God.  We can recognize that human perspectives evolve over time as we reflect upon new information, evidence, and experience.  We can allow our beliefs to change as our knowledge and understanding changes and still remain connected with that Presence we call "God."

As we take the leap of faith from fear to trust, we open ourselves to not only believing but experiencing that love and compassion are the very essence of God.  And we become free to extend that love and compassion to other people, including the ones we once believed to be strangers.

And we are no longer afraid.