In a recent article on the Politicus website, Scott Rose took Maggie Gallagher to task for her work opposing same-sex marriage as chairperson of the National Organization for Marriage. It would be easy for me to sit here and criticize Scott’s writing as angry and filled with over-the-top rhetoric. But as a member of an organization that’s set the standard for the oppression of people like him, I feel like that would just be heaping more pain on these folks. I do want to address a term he used repeatedly throughout the piece, though; apartheid. Now, when most of us think of apartheid, we tend to think of the policy of ultra-rigid segregation imposed by the white minority government of South Africa, a policy that existed from the 1950’s until it was dismantled in the early 90’s. The United Nations defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” Another definition from Dictionary.com and says apartheid is “any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.” So, with these definitions in mind, does our treatment of LGBT people rise to the level of apartheid?
Answering this question requires us to look at how LGBT people are treated in the United States, by the government and by the church.
- Are we seperating LGBT people by denying them the same rights as heterosexual people? The answer is yes, we are and our denial is through both institutions mentioned. Throughout this country, states (southern states, especially) are passing constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. With the exception of a couple of mainline denominations, LGBT people are prevented from becoming clergy and, in many cases, from even joining a church. Because of the influence of the church and the government, LGBT people are marginalized in dozens of different ways every day.
- Are “inhuman acts committed” against LGBT people? Absolutely, on a regular basis, they are denied employment, shunned, attacked, even killed. Gay teens have the highest suicide rate of any group in the country, suicides brought on constant messages from their schools, their churches, their government, even their families that somehow, because of the way they’re wired, they are worthless, worthy of derision and shame.
I have to say that, according to both definitions, we are most definitely practicing apartheid against these folks.
Now, many people would argue that this is not apartheid, because people in the LGBT community choose this lifestyle. They base this notion on several scriptures found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. For them, these scriptures clearly say that homosexuality is a sin; actually, an abomination that deserves death. For others (me included), the interpretation of these passages does not support this belief. ReligiousTolerance.org has an excellent entry on the both sides of the argument and, since they do such a good job, I’m not opening that can of worms here. Suffice it to say that biblical literalists don’t have the last word on the subject. While many liberal Christians see the treatment of LGBT people as a social justice issue, others don’t. They subscribe to the belief of our more conservative brothers and sisters, that anything other than a heterosexual orientation is a choice we make. Looking at the way we treat our gay brothers and sisters, I ask who the hell would choose that kind of life?
For me, the answer to the question posed in the first paragraph of this post, “Does our treatment of LGBT people rise to the level of apartheid?”, is that yes, it does. With that answer, I to have to admit the complicity of an institution I am heavily involved in: the Church. That’s the big C (universal) Church in general and, for me, the United Methodist Church in particular. I’ve detailed what I believe is the shameful way the UMC handles this subject in several places (here, here and here). We who call ourselves Christians (i.e. followers of Christ) should not participate in any institution, system, group, etc. that practices exclusion in any form whatsoever. All of us, Methodists and others, need to stop hiding behind legal structures, conferences and biblical interpretation and stand up for our oppressed brothers and sisters. To do otherwise negates the sacrifice of the One we purport to follow; a sacrifice that was offered up for every living being on the face of this earth, no matter who they love.