Want Marriage Equality? Follow the Money

Back in 1994, fifty-five fundamentalist Christian leaders met at the Glen Eyrie conference center near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal, according to author and activist Mel White in his book Religion Gone Bad was “to plan their ‘short-term’ solution for the problem of lesbian and gay Americans.”

The group represented about 40 state anti-gay organizations with one goal, according to White: “to prevent homosexuals from ever being recognized as a ‘protected class.'” White quotes Will Perkins, the man behind the success of Colorado’s Amendment 2 in 1992 and convener of the secret meeting as saying, “If we lose this battle [against homosexuality and homosexuals], there are no moral absolutes left for this nation.” The purpose of the meeting was not to energize the superstars of the anti-gay movement, but to bolster a grassroots campaign that would take hold – and some 15 years later – has put deep roots into political and religious institutions in our nation.

I am certainly not a buff of conspiracy theories, but just a gander at the sheer amount of grassroots organizing as well as top-down funding of campaigns to defeat marriage equality and pass anti-marriage equality amendments in many states, convinces me that the Glen Eyrie meeting was the beginning of a powerful cadre of anti-gay forces that continues its effective work event today. It is against this backdrop that the Interfaith Alliance, led by former Baptist minister C. Welton Gaddy, issues a “call to quiet conversation” about marriage equality for gays and lesbians in the form of a paper. Same Gender Marriage and Religious Freedom, calls for “common ground” between liberals and conservatives on the issue of marriage equality.

On its blog, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gives a great summary of the paper that basically says law, not scripture, should rule the day but religious freedom would be respected:

All citizens should have equal access to civil marriage and to the benefits of marriage provided for citizens in this government. Couples who desire religious marriage can seek a house of worship in which to receive that blessing. But, as is the case now, no house of worship would be legally obligated to provide marriage for a couple whom it does not want to bless. All houses of worship should be free to advocate for, defend and perpetuate the view of marriage that is consistent with their religious traditions and convictions.

While I applaud Gaddy and the Interfaith Alliance on their paper and the arguments it brings forward, the paper’s fatal flaw is the assumption that those who oppose marriage equality for gay and lesbian people are interested in finding “common ground.” They aren’t, and the Glen Eyrie meetings should prove it. Anti-gay groups are more interested in continuing the fight – in moving their agenda forward. Even though some polls may show increased support for marriage equality when “religious freedom” clauses are inserted, these groups aren’t interested in such things. They’re looking for the annihilation of gays and lesbians. Period. As White states: “It is a fatal mistake to see [the religious right] as ‘kooks’ and ‘crazies’ when in fact they have recruited, trained, equipped, financed, and mobilized millions of Americans who are also willing to take great risks to get the job done.”

That’s not to say that all Christians are militant in their opposition to marriage equality. Those in the pews may well be against marriage equality simply because they sincerely believe homosexuality to be a sin. But it’s instructive to explore how they arrived at that decision. For the vast majority of Christians in the pews, they believe homosexuality is a sin not because they’ve done their own in-depth research into the subject. Most don’t have the time, inclination, or access to resources to do that. Instead, they believe it is a sin because they’ve always been told that it is a sin. They’ve been told that the Bible condemns it and since the Bible is the final authority for many Christians, that settles it. Where do they get their information? They get it from clergy in the pulpit, many who are trained up in conservative seminaries that do more indoctrination than theological training. Or, for many more conservative congregations, the clergy are not trained in any seminary, but are raised up from the congregation and recognized for their “call.” They also get it from organizations like Focus on the Family that reaches more than 220 million people in 155 nations (according to Focus’ own numbers) through their radio shows, email alerts, publications, and other materials.

It’s groups like Focus on the Family that drive the anti-gay machine. In 2008, FotF Guiding Principles, complete with a call to action:

Therefore, Christians are called to defend and protect God’s marriage design and to minister in Christ’s name to those who suffer the consequences of its brokenness.

Being “called to defend and protect God’s marriage design” leaves little room for the kind of common ground Gaddy hopes to find. Defending marriage is a part of their identity and one they won’t give up without a fight.

The bottom line is this: As long as the demonization of gay and lesbian people brings money into the church and right wing political organizations like FotF, marriage equality will always be fiercely opposed by many Christians. Not because it’s a sin, not because it’s an abomination, and not because it will be the end of all “moral absolutes” in the country – but because granting marriage equality will basically empty the coffers of their national and local organizations. To raise money, the religious right needs an enemy and right now that enemy is the gay and lesbian community.

As long as the lives of gays and lesbians are an effective wedge issue that further polarizes the right and the left in our country and inspires them to give generously to organizations sworn to defend their ideologies – there will be no “common ground” on marriage equality. These groups have no interest in ending the battle. They’re making hay while the sun shines and they will fight with all their might to slow the rotation of the earth to lengthen their window of monetary opportunity.

They have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose from continuing to vilify gays and lesbians. The only way FotF and its cohorts lose is to come to some sort of “common ground” with supporters of its current cash cow. The chances of that happening are slim to none.

The only hope, really, in finding any common ground, is by changing the hearts and minds of those who give money to organizations like FotF. If, indeed, Gaddy and those on the religious left and center who are allies of the gay and lesbian community can find common ground and work to convince individual funders of organizations like FotF to stop sending their money to fund anti-gay campaigns, then perhaps there can be progress. But, until the money dries up, don’t expect any movement toward “common ground” from groups leading the fight against marriage equality.