I hope some of you took part in the happy celebrations this past week after the Supreme court ruled to nullify the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman and to validate the right of all of us to choose to marry the person we love. There are, last count I saw, 1138 Federal rights given to married couples in the US, so there is a lot at stake for many families, and a lot to celebrate.
It was a tight vote, 5-4, and the court chose to not make their own decision regarding California’s case challenging the state’s federal court decision that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional so they passed up this opportunity to protect the right to gay marriage throughout the country. Still, this is historic and has opened doors to gay and lesbian couples to now have their commitments, families, identities, and love honored in the ways straight people have been able to for hundreds of years.
Another story with less coverage also gave me hope this week and I want you to know about it. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus Christian Ministry group one of the most influential groups in the ex-gay movement, has announced that he has closed Exodus. Not only has he shut down this organization, he has openly spoken out, apologizing for the harm Exodus has done. For 37 years this group, and several others, have been selling people the idea that “reparative therapy”, usually a series of painful and/or shaming aversion techniques, and prayer will turn people straight. In 2009 the American Psychological Association made a clear statement that reparative therapy does not work, is in fact harmful and that being gay is a natural thing and not something that needs to be changed. Still groups like Exodus kept going. For Alan Chambers to come forward now and say he was wrong, that he has caused unnecessary trauma, is powerful. It will not change the horrible experiences that many people went through because of reparative therapy, but Chambers apology may change some minds in the Christian community that looked up to him, the people who Chambers now described as, “imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical”.
To read Chambers full apology go to http://exodusinternational.org/2013/06/i-am-sorry/
So it is a time for celebration. It is also a time to recognize that tides do turn and even our enemies can sometimes hear us if we keep talking to them. As we continue to fight for equality and compassion around the world, it is also perhaps important for us to ask ourselves if our own hatred or fear are getting in the way of us moving forward in the way we know is right. To ask, if we have stopped talking to certain people, if we have given up on people’s ability to change, if we are doing our own demonizing. Maybe Alan Chambers can inspire us to ask ourselves, are we willing to forgive – when appropriate - and start a new era? Are we willing to let our hate change, disappear, make space for something new?
On December 6th, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints published new website opening up a new kinder conversation around homosexuality than they have been known for I the past. Their key statement reads,
“The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
Even though this may not be all we could hope for in terms of acceptance of homosexuality as a natural and healthy part of human sexual expression and identity, it is a huge step. For the church to acknowledge that study after study, and story after story, have shown that sexual orientation is not a choice but rather an innate part of each of us, changes how society must respond. To honor that a person is born loving who they love and attracted to who they are attracted to, then to persecute them for the qualities they were born with (one could say qualities that are “god given”) is unfair and unkind. I have heard this from Catholic priests when I was in Uganda who told me directly, “if we come to believe that homosexuality is a part of the person when they are born, we will have to treat them differently. This would fundamentally change how we see this issue”.
Now the new statement by the Mormon church, will not affect Catholics in Uganda, nor is it necessarily going to stop the church from trying to limit homosexual freedoms or rights for gay and lesbian couples. But it will require a new approach, it will validate the experience of the many gay and lesbian people who know, for them, love and desire is not a lifestyle choice. And it does call for love and understanding; that is a big step.
The United Nations Human Rights office recently released a publication calling for international human rights protections for LGBT people. The 60 page publication, titled Born Free and Equal, outlines five core obligations requiring national attention: protecting people from homophobic violence, preventing torture, decriminalizing homosexuality, prohibiting discrimination, and safeguarding LGBT people's freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. If these recommendations are taken seriously it could protect and change lives for many people.
Some of the recommendations I am especially excited to see:
- Asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution on account of one's sexual orientation or gender identity may be a valid basis for an asylum claim
- Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, including all laws that prohibit private sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex.
- Protect individuals who exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and freedom of assembly from acts of violence and intimidation by private parties.
This statement is a huge sign of progress for human rights. The tides, they are a changing…
You can read and download Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity booklet here.