I was sad, though not altogether surprised, to hear that Anchorage citizens yesterday voted against a very basic measure of civil rights for gay and lesbian folks. The popular ballot measure was very simple: the city of Anchorage would include verbage saying that when hiring they would not discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation. The city voted that such discrimination could in fact continue, or at least they couldn’t be bothered with including a few words that might desparage such discrimination.
The measure on the ballot was for city hiring, hiring for public position. It was not a mandate for private businesses, at least as far as I know. In other words, good, loving, Christ-following, salt-of-the-earth Christians could still feel free to discriminate against gay and lesbian people in their own hiring practices. The ballot measure was only for public positions.
I am ironic and bitter, I confess. I am also ashamed. It is Christians, plain and simple, who stand in the way of equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people. I’d like to be generous with those conservative Christians and sympathize with their point of view: that they fear a “gay agenda” and the downfall of society by the so-called “corrupting influence of gays.” I do have a certain measure of understanding. However, I know people who are gay and lesbian. They are my friends. They are good. They are normal. They are also extraordinary because they have had to overcome hate and prejudice. And, of course, they are denied equal treatment under law. A gay couple is not legally treated the same as a married couple.
As far as I know, most of the blame is on Christians, and it grieves me. If Christians would simply step out of the way, then fair-minded, tax-paying gay and lesbian couples could have the same rights under law as everyone else. In the Anchorage initiative, one Baptist church alone invested $80,000 to mobilize voters against gay and lesbians.
In addition to being contrary to the way of Christ, from a purely non-religious, secular perspective, denying civil rights to anyone endangers the rights of all. The law is trivialized if it is not applied equally to all. That is why lady justice is often seen blindfolded. Martin Luther King made this point time and again. Tampering with civil rights is a serious issue, because the law means nothing if it is not applied to all, without prejudice.
From a historical perspective, though, there is reason to be optimistic. Twenty years ago there were no such voter initiatives. There were no states where a gay or lesbian couple could be married. The idea that gay and lesbian people could have equal rights was virtually unheard of. In addition, younger people, even younger conservative Christians, see the folly in denying a people group equal rights, simply because you do not morally agree with their lifestyle. Lastly, I am proud of our Episcopal diocese in Alaska. Our Bishop endorsed the voter initiative, and many Episcopalians were behind the measure. So, I keep hoping.