Marriage Equality, Beyond the Lying

From upper left: Rick Warren, Dick Cheney, Chief Justice Ronald George, and Mary Ann Glendon.

From upper left: Rick Warren, Dick Cheney, Chief Justice Ronald George, and Mary Ann Glendon.

My first essay for the L.A. Progressive was about Proposition 8 and the lies that self proclaimed Christian activists were telling in order to promote their bigotry. It seems almost ridiculous to catalog the number of violations of the Commandment against bearing false witness that these “Christians” embraced in order to sell their ballot measure.

Today, only a little after the California Supreme Court’s decision on the marriage equality cases was announced, I received an email from another Family Law attorney. He proudly stated that he had received his “advanced theological degree” before he decided to go to law school. And then he proceeded to criticize me for referring to Proposition 8 as religious bigotry. This attorney is proud of his Christianity and proud of his support of Proposition 8. Then he went on to tell me that the campaign to keep marriage equality out of California has decided to claim that Proposition 8 was never about religious belief, and that the corporate churches were not its main proponents.

His email reminded me of Rick Warren, the for-profit televangelist who raked in millions preaching anti gay hatred last year, and then spoke at the Presidential inauguration. After his inaugural appearance, Warren went on national TV to denounce anyone who claimed that he had spread anti gay bigotry. He claimed that he had never spoken against gay marriage or in favor of Proposition 8. Warren simply lied.

His self importance was so delusional that he forgot that not everyone hung on each word he uttered, never remembering what he had committed to videotape only days or weeks before. When video of him preaching hate immediately surfaced, he had no shame. He just used the episode to beg for more funds to “defend” himself against those who would tell the truth. And he put a couple more million in his pocket.

It is not only Rick Warren and the emailing attorney who lie about their religion to promote their political goals. Less than three weeks ago, Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon refused an award from Notre Dame because it meant sharing a stage with President Obama. Professor Glendon claimed that she had to be loyal to the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion rights and that her faith and duty to the church made her stay away.

But professor Glendon had been a zealous advocate for, and partisan of the Bush / Cheney oil wars. She was blunt in rejecting the Catholic Church’s condemnation of our invasion of sovereign nations. She took the position that the Pope and the church were wrong when they condemned torture and the indefinite imprisonment of people against whom no evidence existed. And she was a loyal supporter of Bush’s belief that the death penalty is always good, even against the mentally ill and the innocent, despite the Catholic Church’s clear condemnation.

Because she is a private citizen rather than a public servant, we will never know how many millions Glendon made investing in war profiteering corporations while she rejected church teaching on the death penalty, torture, foreign invasions, and other issues. What we do know is that her refusal to share a stage with Obama was modeled by Cheney’s refusal to stand in the new president’s presence on inauguration day. And that her willingness to lie about her position and her reasons is part of the model given to us by Rick Warren and my email correspondent.

This penchant for lying, with apparent enthusiasm, gives us some guidance about how to proceed in any campaign to advance marriage equality. First, we must understand that these for-profit religionists lie because they know that they will not make as much money and will not be as successful at the polls if they tell the truth. They know and understand that the truth is on the side of marriage equality.

Reread that please. The truth is on the side of marriage equality. NOT, the truth is on our side. The us-versus-them mentality is their argument. If we adopt it, we weaken our own characters.

This is like no fault divorce. Many people opposed it. But others said it would be better for husbands and wives than the old system of private eyes, sneaking around and poking cameras through bedroom windows. And it did help husbands and wives. But children were even greater beneficiaries, as the level and character of the warfare between their parents changed.

A generation after the old fault system of divorce was eradicated, children and young adults today are so free of the damage done by fault-based divorce that they can’t even imagine the bad old days. Similarly, many young women today speak in ways that show they have no idea what life was like before the women’s liberation movement. They are better off not knowing.

So it is, and will be, with marriage equality. The lies and fear mongering of the people who profit from such things will not long withstand the truth. Sure, they will have their transitory triumphs, as with Colin Powell’s lies to the United Nation and Rick Warren’s lies about preaching bigotry. But the truth will out. We know now that there were no WMDs to justify the no-bid contracts and the colonial wars. We know now that Jesus never condemned either gay marriage or abortion, no matter how many billions televangelists have made lying about either issue. And we know that children being born in California today will grow up reading about the religious effort to preserve bigotry, and they will not understand what the books are talking about. They will be better off not know the sting of that discrimination.

Do we help this process by lying about the opponents of marriage equality or about judges who apply the law as they honestly see it? It is said, and I believe it without having hard evidence, that at least one of Chief Justice Ronald George’s sons is gay. Yet today, he wrote the opinion that will prevent that son from marrying the man he loves. Do you believe he did that out of spite for his son? Out of lack of caring? Out of devotion to some extremist, pro-discrimination ideology?

I don’t. I do believe that lies catch up with people. I believe the lies of the Bush – Cheney administration are part of the cause of their party’s recent disintegration. I believe Cheney’s current campaign of repeating lies that have been so clearly discredited is one of the most effective devices today against any serious conservative discussion getting traction.

I also believe that we do not want to lay the ground for such a legacy in the progressive community, or the gay rights community, or any other community attempting to address and correct social problems. It will be wrong morally, and damaging practically, to promote marriage equality by lying about its opponents.

That is not to say that it is wrong to question the logic of bigots’ arguments. If a black minister stands in front of the TV cameras denying the genetic science of sexual preference, it is proper to ask him if his religion also aligns him with the 19th and 20th century southern preachers who denied the biological science of negro equality with caucasians.

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It is important that we not let the forces of for-profit bigotry and lying set the tone or the terms of the debate. Shorn of the trappings of office, Cheney seems a pathetic billionaire, terrified that he will be indicted before his pacemaker quits. Sitting on her Harvard chair, professor Glendon looks pathetic protesting that her views can’t survive the scrutiny of an honest academic debate or even the sunny glare of a graduation podium.

The inevitability of marriage equality will be achieved sooner if we focus on pointing out how pathetic the fear mongers are and how hollow their lies, than if we join them in lying as we attempt to advance our cause.

Tom Hall


Published by the LA Progressive on May 28, 2009
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About Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family lawyer in West Los Angeles. He is from Boston, and was raised in Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers) to think that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people in techniques for disciplined nonviolent demonstrating. After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make a comfortable life. The Bush administration shocked him back into social concerns. Now he’s working to see that the Obama administration lives up to its progressive promises. Tom can be reached at ProgBlog@aol.com