The upcoming other side of history

Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The odds are that Arkansas legislators supporting an effort to reinforce Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage and seek the impeachment of a Pulaski County judge who ruled the ban unconstitutional will be on the wrong side of history. And if trends continue, that particular side of history may be less than one full generation away.

According to a recent Pew report, support for same-sex marriage has risen in the past 10 years – coincidentally, the same length of time that Arkansas’ Amendment 83 banning same-sex marriage has been in place. From 2004 on, “there are substantial differences in opinions across generations,” noted the Pew report.

Overall, the polling conducted by the Pew Research Center since 1996 shows a clear shift in opinion about same-sex marriage. In 1996, 65% of Americans opposed such unions, with only 27% in support. By the year 2004, opposition fell to 60% and support rose to 31%. In 2010, 48% of Americans surveyed by Pew opposed same-sex marriage, and 42% were in support.

The tide shifted in 2011 when 46% of Americans surveyed by Pew supported same-sex marriage and 45% opposed. In the 2014 survey, 54% of Americans surveyed said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, and only 39% of Americans opposed same-sex unions. Among Millenials and Gen Xers, support for same-sex marriage is even stronger than the combined survey results.

It may not be coincidental that the shift in opinions related to gay marriage comes as fewer Americans attend church. Another Pew report shows that 39% of survey respondents in 2003 attended church at least once a week. That dropped to 37% in 2013. Americans who “seldom/never” attend church was 25% in 2003, with that number rising to 29% by 2013.

Religion has certainly been a driver – if not THE driver – of political power and policy for centuries. There are enough books and research to fill the average U.S. mega-church relating to how biblical language has been transformed through the centuries to fit the various political necessities of Popes, European monarchies, colonial governments and others seeking to control policies and populations. The discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and many other scientists were typically refuted – with several discoverers and their families exiled or executed – by religious leaders using scripture. Why? Because such discoveries often were in conflict with religious teachings.

Religion has been at the core of most U.S. historical political debates, especially with social issues or civil rights. Slavery, the rights of non-property owners to vote, the right of women to vote, the right of women to own property, prohibition, segregation and many other social policy debates have had a decidedly religious element. This is especially true with same-sex marriage rights.

Biblical scripture (“servants to be obedient to masters” – Ephesians) was quoted to support slavery, and in the book of Timothy, Paul said it was a sin for slaves to not obey even non-Christian masters. Prior to the Civil War, church leaders used these and other quotes to not only support slavery, but to claim that abolitionists were speaking against teachings of the Bible. With words that would ring similar today, pre-Civil War church and political leaders claimed that efforts to end slavery were pushed by groups and other countries who wanted to end the American experiment.

One of the oft-quoted scriptures used by Southern and Northern religious leaders to defend slavery, comes from Genesis 9:25-27: (25) “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. (26) He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. (27) May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

It was argued at the time that the black population is a descendant of Canaan and therefore slavery was supported by scripture. Old and New Testament Scriptures noting the need for a “pure Israel” and that Christians should not be “unequally yoked” were the basis for learned men and women – including U.S. Presidents – of American History to defend racial segregation. Those same bible verses were also used to oppose interracial marriage.

Passages in the New Testament books of Corinthians and Romans appear to be certain in the denouncing of homosexual acts, with Romans 1:27 noting: “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Century-long debates continue about the accuracy of Greek language translation throughout the modern Bible. Some theologians believe scriptures denouncing unnatural sexual acts were focused on the abuse of young children by men and women and not a judgment on relations between consenting adults.

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Following World War II and with the rise of the Soviet Union, support for limiting the rights of blacks, women and other minorities saw religious arguments mixed with claims that progressive views on race and civil rights were Communist attacks on the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States. Again, expanded civil rights were assigned to efforts to weaken and destroy the United States.

Back in present-day Arkansas, opinions on same-sex marriage may be changing. In 2004, 75% of Arkansans voted for Amendment 83, the amendment that banned same-sex marriage. A January 2014 Talk Business-Hendrix College poll found among 520 likely Arkansas voters that 50% continue to oppose same sex marriage.

No one can write with certainty about what the next few Arkansas election cycles or state or federal judicial rulings will deliver with respect to laws on same-sex marriage. What is more certain is that historical perspective and quantifiable generational trends suggest that same-sex marriage in Arkansas will be a non-issue sooner rather than later.

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Comments

Thank you Michael

This is one of your finest columns. You present an excellent panoramic view of the influence of religion - particularly what today would be classed as fundamentalist Christianity - on public policy in the United States as well as other varieties of it in world history. Your quote by Dr. King seems to be borne out by history and I certainly hope continues to be. I want to also say that not only has fundamentalism affected Christianity, it also affects other religious traditions both historically and at the present time.

Much Ado about nothing

Nowadays, almost half the women under 30 years of age have shacked-up permanently or before getting married. We can deduce that marriage doesn't mean as much as it has in the past. So same-sex marriage is equally as insignificant. Society has bigger problems to solve without getting bogged-down with personal choice marriage issues. In my opinion homosexuals are mentally ill. Still,Gay marriage doesn't mean we're all going to Hell in a hand basket...We're all doomed anyway. Let's move on.

Nowadays And Future Doom

Great comment C.O. Habit and agree that we have a whole lot more than Gay Marriage to worry about in our city and our country. Lets move on and discuss what will happen when our government can no longer print money that has any value.

Far from a great comment

the advancement towards equality for all is far more important than your dismissiveness suggests. Your caveman opinion aside, creating a culture of inclusion, aspiration and unity far transcends your particular point of view. Give the next generation a gift your shortsightedness refused to give to those who grew up beside you.

what about the men?

C.O., re your comment that half or more of the women under 30 have shacked up w/o getting married shows that they don't value marriage. Well I guess this means that the men shacked up with them don't value marriage. Wow, what manly leadership. Most of the history perpetrated by religion that Michael refers to has been by men. My friend Mr. McGoo read your comment and asked if you view women as second class. What should I tell him?

It Is What It Is

The shack ups could all be second class citizens or maybe its the new America but the real issue is getting people back to work so they can all afford their habits without support from big brother. If you want women to be second class citizens then get a visa to the Middle East.

The problem is it keeps bending until it bends the other way

If given a bit of power at first the formerly oppressed tend to become petty tyrants themselves..Freire As I stood there reading the Equal Opportunity sign it became quite easy to figure out which one would now be fired first and which ones would only see that fate if there were enough other types of people to go with them. This is what now is called equality here in the bastion of human rights, the place that shows the world the best way, the United states of America. Should be as easy to overcome this hurdle as people with no ID's voting..everybody fails to bring their ID. Just say you're gay, have you ever heard of a judge making someone prove it? Let them get married as many times as they want..the lawyers can use the business.
If given a bit of power at first the formerly oppressed tend to become petty tyrants themselves..Freire As I stood there reading the Equal Opportunity sign it became quite easy to figure out which one would now be fired first and which ones would only see that fate if there were enough other types of people to go with them. This is what now is called equality here in the bastion of human rights, the place that shows the world the best way, the United states of America. Should be as easy to overcome this hurdle as people with no ID's voting..everybody fails to bring their ID. Just say you're gay, have you ever heard of a judge making someone prove it? Let them get ...>> Read the entire comment.