From the agitation and anger of the crowds, the din of the car horns and the shouts of “Civil rights now!” and “Bigots!” one would have been forgiven for thinking that the protesters were denouncing some horrific assault on human freedom.
But no, the demonstrations – and church vandalisms and business boycotts – were in protest of California voters’ passage of the November ballot measure known as Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Any two Californians can, as before, register as “domestic partners” and have the very same rights and responsibilities as married couples under state law. All Proposition 8 sought to do was preserve in law what the word “marriage” has meant for millennia.
Those, though, who were unhappy with the electorate’s decision wasted no time in taking to the streets of dozens of American cities and towns to rail against the audacity – the bigotry, as they proclaimed it – of considering gender germane to marriage.
In some cities, tens of thousands turned out for raucous rallies; in many instances, epithets were hurled at counterdemonstrators and even uninvolved bystanders. Although protesters claimed the mantle of the American civil rights movement, several black observers of the Los Angeles demonstration had what has been called the “N-bomb” dropped on them by infuriated demonstrators – a presumed tribute to the fact that blacks voted 2-1 in favor of the proposition. A San Diego family with a “Yes on 8” sign on their front lawn had their car’s tires slashed. A San Francisco area group launched a campaign to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Mormon Church because of its support of the marriage initiative. Graffiti was spray-painted on a Mormon church near Sacramento. A group of about 30 activists from a group called “Bash Back!” stormed into a Lansing, Michigan church, unfurled a rainbow flag at the pulpit and proceeded to disrupt services by banging on cans and shouting.
Some, even among those who assign meaning to traditional morality, are not greatly bothered by the push to expand the meaning of marriage. They are content to let people call things whatever they want, and regard the societal push to revamp social mores as benign. The vehemence, violence and general obnoxiousness that characterized some of the protests, though, should give them pause.
As should Scott Eckern’s forced resignation.
Mr. Eckern was the artistic director of the California Musical Theater. He no longer holds that position because anti-Proposition 8 activists uncovered and publicized the fact that he had made a contribution to the other side’s campaign. Mr. Eckern explained that his donation stemmed from his religious beliefs as a Mormon and expressed sadness that his “personal beliefs and convictions have offended others” and caused “hurt feelings.”
But neither his words nor resignation were enough to mollify the mob. An award-winning composer called Mr. Eckern to tell him that he would not allow his work to be performed in the theater with which the ex-director had been associated; and an actress called for a boycott of the institution.
It seems clearer than ever that gay activists are not, as was once thought, interested only on being left alone, or, as was later thought, on being granted the same privileges as others. They are fixated, in fact, on creating a society where traditional religious perspectives on homosexuality and marriage are regarded, in law and in social dialogue, as the equivalent of racial or ethnic bias.
The scenario of religious people – and institutions like churches, synagogues and mosques – being branded as bigoted simply for affirming deeply-held religious convictions is around the corner. And eventual prosecution of the same for voicing those convictions is only another corner or two away.
What began as a plea for “rights” is rapidly, and noisily, morphing into an assault on freedom of speech and conscience.
Jews who take their religious tradition seriously will not allow the shifting sands of societal mores to obscure the fact that the Torah forbids homosexual acts, and sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. They know, further, that the Talmud and Midrash teach that a saving grace of human society throughout the ages has been its refusal to formalize unions between males.
Which made a scene at one of the recent protests particularly poignant.
Rebecca Kaplan, a newly elected Oakland, California city council member, told those gathered outside City Hall how upset she was with the passage of Proposition 8. According to a news report, she “roused the crowd by blowing a shofar, a ram’s horn blown as a wind instrument in Biblical times. She said it represented a call for solidarity.”
Only it doesn’t. It represents a call for teshuva, the Hebrew word for repentance, literally “return” – to the teachings of the Jewish religious tradition.
© 2008 AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]
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