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Jason Collins and Equality


This past weekend, I canvassed for gay marriage-marriage equality, more precisely-in Rhode Island. It was my first time canvassing for anything and I...uh...was not very good at it. A vocal proponent of equal rights for years and years, this was my first time taking a step into active politics in pursuit of it, and over the course of three hours of knocking on doors I got one confused old woman to tell an answering machine "that gay marriage thing...I for that."

As someone who studies religion for a living-studies, not necessarily practices-there are all kinds of things I could tell people. If you read the Bible, the "sin of Sodom" is not a desire to have gay sex, but to rape angels, which is a horse of a color so different and funky it may actually be a badger. The people of Sodom, hearing that Lot had gotten some visitors, showed up at his house demanding to publicly gang-rape them. Where homosexuality enters that, I could not tell you.

Does Leviticus say that gay sex is a sin punishable by death? Yes. Does it say that making anointing oil is punishable by death? Yes. Deuteronomy 22:23-25 says that BEING raped is punishable by death and Exodus 31:14 says breaking the Sabbath is. Seeing your wife naked when she's on her period. Masturbating. Being a rebellious son. It's not clear that it's punishable by death, but according to Leviticus 19:19, you can't plant your field with two different kinds of seed, or wear an article of clothing made of more than one kind of material.

The problem is, there's no one for whom this kind of conversation makes a difference. Either you don't need it, or you don't believe it because the Bible is something in your heart that you know so well you can ignore what it says for what it means which, conveniently, is the stuff you agree with. What's unfortunate about this stance is that it shows who the bigot is and it's not the Bible.

Or rather, your "enlightened" version of an extremely bigoted book-what do you want from something written over 700 years between 900 and 200 BCEish-didn't feel like enlightening some serious darknesses. And because it's your choice, it is on you.

In other words, it's not the Iron Age composite religious tradition. It's you.

Here, at a liberal northeastern university, I know lots of gay people. In Texas, I didn't, and I don't think it's because there weren't any. Only insane people believe societal factors have anything to do with being gay, the number of people who would choose a lifetime of being persecuted is pretty low. All societal factors do is determine whether or not you feel safe being yourself.

If you are out there and you are an impediment to someone feeling safe, for whatever reason-for anything-you should be ashamed of yourself. Don't make a defense, no one cares what you think you're defending.

Society does not need you making a portion of humanity, children of god like us, if any of us are, feel subhuman, wrong, perverted, unsafe to protect an idea which, whatever the justification, means that human beings who love each other cannot embrace that love without fear. Or, that those who seek love can never have it-not it and a business career, not it and a political career, not it and the continued respect of family and friends, the only choice there is about being gay in a place that is not a safe space.

Jason Collins became the first active athlete to come out, today. People can say it's not a big deal because being gay isn't a big deal, but then, why is it that no other active athlete has? Just too busy to get around to it? They were going too, but they had to get to practice, then there was some grocery shopping to do and it just slipped their minds?

There's nothing wrong with being gay, which should be obvious, but isn't. We didn't canvas for "gay marriage" we canvassed for "marriage equality". We didn't canvas for "gay rights" we canvassed, again, for equality. One of the people canvassing with me ran into a couple, an interracial couple, who were pretty salty about gay marriage.

I wonder what they'd say if they knew that a 2012 Public Policy Poll of the state of Mississippi found that 29% of likely GOP voters believed that interracial marriage should be illegal, and 21% in Alabama-where anti-miscegenation was actually on the state law books until 2000.

People think it's a new argument. That gay marriage is disruptive to society which, supposedly, is built on male-female, two parent households. But the only thing which a household needs is love---one parent, two parents, of the same or different genders, if you grow up with love, you grow up well. Anything else is nonsense.

And anyone who imagines it really is a different argument than those against intermarriage, than those against women voting, than those against owning slaves, then any crisis in American history which has begun with the idea that what is equal among white men need not be equal among those of a different gender, race, or sexual orientation-you're fooling yourself. And you're making a fool of yourself.

You're ugly, and we don't need you.

Good on you, Jason Collins. There will come a day when we don't need someone to be the first anymore, to take the hit, but that day is not today.

And while we're celebrating a very public, very high-profile act of courage, we'll think, too, of all the acts of courage in all the hidden places. Because all over the world, and all over America there are places where people are doing what Jason Collins did without the profile to be sure of safety, without the media to shepherd their announcement, and without its protection. I

don't pretend that Jason Collins' act of courage will make their lives better--it might, it might not. More exposure is more acceptance--but more exposure is also more exposure. For Jason Collins there will be, of course, more high profile slurs, but it's the slurs in the hidden places that kill, and no one ever knows. It's all the people suffering in silence, bearing with courage an unbearable world that I am thinking about today as Jason Collins takes this important, this immensely difficult step.

I hope, as the commercial says, that "it gets better". But it is everyone else who must be better to allow that to happen, for the world is as we make it and in this respect we have not made it well, not yet, and in many places far from it. For the NBA's players and its scribes, that time is now-and it couldn't come soon enough.

It is 2013 and the first active pro athlete to EVER come out has just done so, and is a national story. Think about that, the shame of it. Though I am so, so proud of Jason Collins, that fact does not feel good to me.

May there come a day, not too far from us, when all of us may be who we are without fear.