One of the remaining socially acceptable expressions of bigotry in the US is anti-gay bigotry, although much progress has been made in recent years due to the efforts of advocacy groups such as GLAAD.
I think this has it’s roots in the fact that as a nation we don’t take seperation of church and state seriously, and never have. It has always been “God and Country”, from the time that the Battle Hymn of the Republic vied with God Save the South to see which side God liked the most.
In the past this has resulted in considerable social strife – from anti-Catholic riots to institutional anti-semitism to McCarthyite purges. The excesses of Nazis sensitized us to the dangers of anti-semitism and the McCarthy era sensitized us to the overreaching of triumphant christianity. By the time of the election of a Catholic president and the civil rights movement we seemed to be entering and era that kept state endorsed religious doctrine in it’s place.
The Catholic church, however, is not native but is run by a foreign power and was not affected by American public opinion.
Its battle against birth control and determination to secure government funding of its’ schools and charities continued unabated. American Catholics may not have agreed – and even may have used birth control themselves – but that didn’t matter because the Bishops run the show.
When the Catholic church expanded it’s battle against birth control to a battle against abortion and got a strong emotional reaction from its flock, Jerry Falwell and the Christian Coalition noticed. Abortion rapidly became a rallying cry of Protestant denominations too. They had a winner.
And the burgeoning gay rights movement ran smack dab into this confluence of church and state and Anita Bryant. Today opposition to gay rights is a “religious” legal issue for American christianity, right alongside abortion.
But this time they don’t have a winner.
Yet the idea that God trumps Country is strong in the American DNA, and remains the major obstacle for GLBTs achieving equality. Followers of the anti-gay religions still have sympathy for subtle expressions of bigotry even though they consider themselves personally liberal and free of bigotry, as long as the expression of bigotry is couched in terms of religion.
Here’s an example I saw this morning, discussing military “chaplains”:
A new moral difficulty for some chaplains occurred in September when the Army repealed its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals.
“For those whose faith says homosexuality is a sin, it poses a huge problem,” Macauley says. “Are they now required to deny a tenet of their faith? Part of their role in the military is to teach – to provide a source of faith for soldiers. What happens if they teach that homosexuality is a sin? What happens when a gay couple seeks counseling?”
It is a requirement of the job of a military chaplain to provide support to ALL of their troops and to put aside any doctrinal teachings of their particular denomination.
It is true that this requirement is burdensome to some chaplains. Lt. Gordon Klingenschmit has achieved great notoriety claiming that his religious beliefs are being suppressed by the military because they won’t let him preach to Jewish soldiers that they must accept Jesus or burn in hell.
Few of us have sympathy for Lt. Klingenschmit if he insists on preaching that Jews go to hell in his official governmental capacity – but it is amazing how many have sympathy for Chaplain Macauley who wants to preach that gays go to hell.
That’s what happens when you mix religion and government.