This past weekend, my husband and I drove from Ohio to North Carolina so that I could participate belatedly in a hooding ceremony for my doctorate, which was actually awarded to me last year. While we were there, we attended Sunday services at an Episcopal congregation we had been involved with while I was in grad school. North Carolina voters had just passed a traditional-marriage amendment to the state constitution. The congregation had done some activism opposing the amendment, and the diocese had adopted a resolution in opposition as well. The vicar’s sermon was dedicated to coping with the disappointed aftermath.
As we chatted with the vicar afterward, she told us again how badly she felt about the passage of the amendment. She was so visibly down about it that I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “I’m grateful you feel badly about it,” I told her. “But for us, this is the same old same old.”
Earlier in the week, I had talked by phone with a former professor of mine who had told me that he felt optimistic the amendment would not pass. I was surprised by his optimism–particularly considering that he’s Jewish and has argued on previous occasions that the U.S. should indeed be understood as a “Christian nation” given how influential Christians have been in shaping American politics and culture. With that take on things, I would have expected him to be more clairvoyantly pessimistic about the strength of conservative Christian support for the amendment. I certainly wasn’t surprised by the outcome.
Let me revise that last statement. I was surprised to see how strongly some straight religious liberals I know–the Episcopal vicar, my Jewish professor–have come to identify with the cause for gay marriage. We’re past the stage where this issue is gays and lesbians trying to get straight progressives to sympathize with “our” cause. It’s become “their” cause, too. They’ve become more invested.
I don’t know how this issue will play out in the end. Will the defense-of-marriage movement eventually go the way of the pro-segregation or anti-miscegenation movements–movements that can no longer be “respectably” championed? Or will this issue be more like abortion–large numbers of voters falling out on both sides for decades to come, the country divided up into states that allow gay marriage and states that don’t, and religious conservatives constantly pressing back against what gains the marriage-equality folks manage to make? I have a hunch it will be the latter, but I favor gloomy predictions as a matter of policy. (It’s a policy that assures I will only ever be pleasantly disappointed.)
Whatever happens, we’ve arrived at a point where America’s Christian majority is divided on the issue in numbers big enough that we can no longer talk about a cultural consensus. The fact that Christians, specifically, are divided strikes me as key to that state of affairs. If gays and lesbians hadn’t won over Christians, I don’t think we’d be seeing public attitudes on this issue shift as dramatically as they have. That’s my armchair hypothesis, anyway.