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James Peron recently posted an article where he discusses the heroic actions of a gay man, Tori Johnson, who sacrificed his life to end the hostage situation in Sydney and allow his fellow hostages to escape.

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The article is interesting—and worthy of discussion—for a number of reasons. First, rather than a discussion of one man’s heroic action, it’s a collage portraying the heroic actions of several gay men in recent history. I’m ok with this. For those in society who are stigmatized, negatively profiled, and traditionally have to deal with the effects of public suspicion, criticism, harmful stereotyping, and so on (whether it be gays, blacks, Muslims or Mexicans), it’s important to share these stories and remind the public that these people are also patriots, heroes and social contributors.

That being said, I don’t think it’s fair or helpful to try to portray any of these groups as better than they are, or as better than anyone else. The real point to be made is that they are the same as you and I. The fact that someone is gay or Muslim, or Hispanic, is incidental. There are white, gay, and Muslim criminals. There are white, gay, and Muslim heroes. Rich people, poor people, intelligent people, talented people, handicapped people, and every other social sub-grouping you can imagine is made up of all sorts of people—white, gay, Muslim, Hispanic and otherwise.

Tori Johnson was a hero who just happened to be gay. Actually, he may have preferred that his sexual orientation not be a part of the story, but I do think it’s important that people be loved and appreciated for the entirety of who they are; so, yes, Tori Johnson was a gay hero—and that’s an important story.

Now, whether Tori Johnson was a second class citizen is another question. He certainly died without fundamental human and civil equalities being afforded him, and that is a shame. However, I find of equal importance the discussion of the suffering from social stigma these men often endured—the excommunication from family and friends, social stigma and isolation, the accompanying depression and symptoms of severe emotional pain. All of this considered together is shamefully intolerable and completely unacceptable.

As a Christian, I do believe in good and evil. I believe there are “sins” to be avoided and “virtues” to be gained. I believe committing adultery against one’s spouse is a sin. I believe giving to the poor is a virtue. I believe lying to damage someone’s character is a sin. I believe offering hope and encouragement to others is a virtue. However, I know people who fall in both categories.  Quite honestly, all of us are a mixture of virtues and vices. In fact, one of the fundamental defining principles of Christianity is that “all have sinned.” “There is none righteous, no not one.” If Christianity teaches anything, it teaches that humans are equal. We are all in the same boat. Even if I define this, that, or the other as “sin”, that affords us no basis for treating another human being with anything other than love, respect and dignity—for I too am a sinner.

Where I part ways with the author is when he says,

If [Prime Minister] Abbot wishes to honor the heroism of Tori Johnson he should push for marriage equality.

I couldn’t disagree more. That’s the worst reason ever given for passing any law. They should pass an equality law only because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the only reason to ever pass a law—because it’s just. We don’t (and shouldn’t) pass laws to honor people.

Now, in fairness, whether a gay marriage bill should be passed is a separate issue. All people deserve love, respect and dignity. Whether they should have the legal freedom to engage in certain preferred activities is a completely separate question, and if certain freedoms are denied does not necessarily make them “second class citizens” in the sense the social stigmas do.

For example, hypothetically, if a former marine who was decorated in combat, served on a Seal team that apprehended major terrorists, and later died in heroic action saving a family from a burning building, and during the inquiry into the heroic marine’s life it was discovered that he was into bestiality or that he had a romantic relationship with a 12-year-old girl, would this author recommend that we pass laws to recognize and legalize marriages to one’s favorite pet or to underage children in order to honor this marine? Doubtful—unless he’s insane. But this marine would still deserve his honor for his unselfish and heroic actions. He would deserve to be loved as a human being—albeit, like the rest of us, a “sinful” human being.

Here’s the thing: the “marriage” issue is really a two-pronged issue. On the one hand, marriage is a long-standing “religious” institution, which is why marriages are traditionally performed in churches. The religious elements find same-sex marriage to be in direct conflict with their religious values and thus oppose inclusion. Many ministers make no distinction between man-man marriages and man-beast marriages, or man-child marriages for that matter. A “marriage” can only be between an adult man and an adult woman. As an equal rights supporter, I’m fine with not messing with religious tradition.

The second prong of this “marriage” issue is the social contract—what the state recognizes. Are community property laws going to apply? Can you get joint filing status and tax benefits associated with other life-partnerships (traditional marriages)?

This is the issue that needs addressed. If the church doesn’t want to perform a ceremony for a same-sex couple, they shouldn’t have to; but if a couple is willing to sign a lifetime commitment contract, the state should be willing to recognize that life-partnership and afford them the same equality under the law that traditional couples receive. But the state should do this because it’s right, just and fair—not to honor Tori Johnson or anyone else.

More importantly, whether or not the state ever does the right thing, we who hope to fancy ourselves as “good” people—Christians especially—should treat every human being with the same love, dignity and respect that we want to be treated with, because at the cross the ground is level.

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