Thursday, April 7, 2011

Family Matters

Wahoo, Personal Anecdote Time!

I have mentioned before that a close relative of my girlfriend's is very religious and is a member of the clergy in a Christian sect that discriminates against women (in ordination) and same-sex couples (in marriage). Shortly after my girlfriend and I attended, celebrated, and helped organize, this man's heterosexual wedding, he sent a mass communication to his friends and congregation urging them to sign the anti-gay Manhattan Declaration.

Now, I support the right for religious organizations to not recognize same-sex marriage. I have no interest in being a part of a religious sect that believes my basic humanity and relationship to my girlfriend is inferior to heterosexual lives and relationships. I tolerate, say, the Catholic Church's refusal to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, even if I do not agree with it.

Yet, I also believe that if the government is going to recognize marriage, it must recognize same-sex marriage in addition to heterosexual marriage. And, likewise, religious organizations should tolerate the state's recognition of same-sex marriage, even if they do not agree with it. Religious organizations do not own the institution of marriage.

Unfortunately, the Manhattan Declaration fails this basic test of tolerance, declaring that it is incumbent upon Brave and Awesome Christians to deny same-sex couples state-issued marriage licenses. In this way is Christian "tolerance" a one-way street. Non-Christians and same-sex couples can and do tolerate Christian intolerance of concepts like Treating People Equally within religious ceremonies and leadership, but Christians frame it as a violation of their own religious freedom when they are expected to tolerate the government treating people equally.

I find being around this double-standard to be psychologically harmful. Just as many batterers view themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of abuse, powerful religious groups use their moral capital to declare Others immoral, sinful, and inferior while simultaneously framing these relatively powerless groups as Incredibly Powerful And Dangerous. And thus, when, say, a gay person is in their midst, they give themselves Big-Time Props for not, like, stoning us on their altars.

As a child, I could not escape homophobic situations. As an adult, I can and do consciously limit my interactions with homophobia. So, while I will attend funerals at discriminatory religious institutions, and have attended the occasional wedding at such venues, I do not attend other religious services or ceremonies at un-affirming institutions.

So, back to the religious relative. In the near future, a religious ceremony is going to take place that, apparently, is a Big Deal that many people in the family are attending. Attending this ceremony, for me, would mean taking vacation time, buying a plane ticket, and then ultimately observing a ceremony, the purpose of which is to celebrate this family's choice to raise their child in an institution that tells hir that other members of their family (and more than half of the world's population) are inferior to heterosexual men.

Okay. That's their choice. I can tolerate that from afar. As happy as I am for them about the impending birth of their child and as excited as I am to meet the child, is it unreasonable to choose not to attend this religious ceremony?

On the one hand, as the Lesbian Partner (as opposed to the lawfully-wedded wife), I am already somewhat of an outsider to this family. By not attending such events, I further alienate myself and reinforce the notion that I'm not a "real" part of the family.

But on the other, as a lesbian and a feminist, I find it challenging to reconcile (a) wanting to be recognized as part of the family with (b) wanting to celebrate Important Family Events, with (c) not wanting to implicitly support a religion that is oppressive toward women and LGBT people.

And, once I'm brutally honest with myself, I find that I begin to question how much it is worth to earn acceptance from those who not only tolerate intolerance, but expect one to be complicit in it in order for that person to viewed as a Real Family Member.

I think, the older I have gotten, the more I have come to value the family, friends, and community that I have consciously created, joined, and become a part of by choice. As I gradually began to let go of the idea that unhealthy family interactions had to be endured because of shared bloodlines, I began to heal.

I'm not saying that works for everyone, just that it is what works for me.

So my question to you is, if you are a feminist, woman, LGBT person, and/or atheist, how do you negotiate going to Important Family Events that are religiously-based, sexist, and/or homophobic?

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