Appeared at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival
Bravely tackling one of the most politically and religiously divisive issues in contemporary America, documentary filmmaker Daniel Karslake presents a consideration of the intersection of scripture and homosexuality. Profiled are five devout families who each have dealt with the disclosure that a relative was gay or lesbian. Discussion is given to the importance of mutual understanding and unconditional parental love, while often-cited Biblical passages come in for scholarly interpretation and reconsideration. “Admirable and moving.” — Salon.
Family, love, equality.
A wonderfully introspective documentary of the highest caliber, that I wept several times throughout it, and was ultimately given tremendous hope that it may be able to transmit in a very thoughtful way a lasting message. It ends on a very positive note and is summarized so wonderfully by the Nobel prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying: “I can’t imagine a god that would punish me for being born black, and not being white. I can’t imagine a god who would punish you for being born a woman and not born a man. I can’t imagine a god who would punish you for being born homosexual, and not being heterosexual.*” As the film closes the amazing friend of the cause Cyndi Lauper sings an acapella version of her hit True Colors.
Needless to say I wept like a baby, who wouldn’t? It is very hard to craft a movie, especially one about as divisive a subject as the juncture of the scripture and homosexuality. It is too easy today for documentaries to take on circus like atmosphere not unlike those Michael Moore crafts whom I’m very glad he did not take this up as a subject for a film. Or in the very good ‘Saving Marriage’ which chronicled the political and historical nature of the landmark decision in Massachusetts. While an amazing snapshot of those times, and dutifully records very camera ready gays and their heartwarming stories almost taken from the Hallmark Channel movie yet to be made. While the protesters, or the opposition who were rallying and organizing to enact a constitutional amendment to quickly reverse it are featured equally and alongside chronologically. The problem with their presentation which was probably by and large fair and representational – was that I laughed, as a woman boarding a bus after the rally wept about how the gay protesters had called her names. This is probably not funny to watch a woman terribly upset that someone had called her names, but she was weeping not just for the names she was called but out of fear that the institution of marriage was going to crumble. I obviously laughed because like Wanda Sykes said so eloquently – if you don’t like gay marriage – don’t get one.
This is such a simple enough proposition. I still chuckle because I don’t understand how extending these rights to gays and lesbians actually devalues the institution or that those who are currently married are somehow afflicted. It defies logic. I will not bore you with the idea that marriage has always been a religious institution and while I do not favor gay marriage, I support equal rights for all. In fact further to my view of marriage it has traditionally been something arranged, monetized, and became civil as a way of incorporating into the body politic or Leviathan. As Thomas Hobbes encapsulated: Bellum omnium contra omnes. Helping to incorporate this into the civil universe has taken centuries. Marriage is not just a heteronormative facility, it is the way in which we most fully experience our country, our identity, and experience politics viscerally. It is also the source of some of the greatest rancor in this country when it comes to modernizing it. This is not from secularists, but from the religious backlash.
The war now raging, and most recent setback in California, could obviously be explored as a human rights issue. We could discuss concretely as they did in Saving Marriage; real lives, real struggles, and provide rather grotesque or unflattering images of the opposition. This would not solve the problem. In fact out of the Prop 8 vote, the thing I’m most ashamed of – are the demonstrations after, which produced graffiti on the Church of Latter Day Saints. I don’t even remember what they wrote, but it might as well have been my house & said “Die Fag!” I hardly think by emulating homophobic behavior it makes a very good case. Nor do I even think it is indicative of all the people who peacefully protested around the country or fought so hard in California before the vote.
Yet we have this image, the racist rhetoric that surrounded it, and the lovely lesbian I saw who said that the passing of this Proposition who said that she felt less than a citizen now. While I have friends who were married under this law and earned respect in their state, I am here to remind them and others like them in California and the rest of the country that you will indeed still be a second class citizen and you were before Prop 8 passed. I will remind you gently that President Clinton passed DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) so your country of which you are a citizen first, and state secondly, does not and will not recognize your full citizenship until it is repealed. Our new President has promised to reverse it, at which time you can be and should receive full citizenship. Yet if you filed a federal tax form, even after your marriage, you must have realized that you were not enjoying the full benefits of first citizenship.
This may seem very dour of me to point out a rather obvious fact, I do not mean to rain on your wedding cake like this was MacArthur Park. Nor will I elaborate my obvious displeasure with the people who organized to defeat it. What I would have suggested for them, and what I still suggest for all of the people licking their wounds and realigning for the next fight is to watch this movie. While I’m devoutly agnostic it moved me greatly to see scholars talk about the interpretation of the bible to persecute my people. This dialectic does not produce a single solution. It does not, by engaging in this argument, provide a simple and logical solution that will somehow usher in a new enlightenment to the non-believer or the faithful. It is all about interpretation.
What does lead me to hope is the work and the outreach and civic activism of people involved in this film who had their revelations through personal struggles confronting their families. At conflict with the church, or their life, they had to overcome this in the very personal arena to move into the realm of advocacy. It is not enough to think that through politics or logic one can overcome a legacy of intolerance and oppression. Indeed the law is there to enact justice for the minority who would otherwise not be protected from mob rule. It seems as if the law should be on our side, so why isn’t it? Perhaps the same thing that would enact laws that create a separate but equal state and perpetrate it until there is a peaceful nonviolent revolution.
This movie made me think about a great deal of things in depth, even while the lives were unfolding before me, and I could see some of the climaxes in advance. These are mostly stories of coming out and the inherent conflict with scripture, and ‘bible literalists’ and the self-righteous James Dobson and his focus on the family who would arrest a family as opposed to take their letter. Dobson by the way is not a minister – but the leading proponent in converting homosexuals into repressed conformists to his ideologies.
In shedding light on this subject, it should and will go a long way to converting the unconverted, when they see the pain and suffering caused by their actions, preaching, and teachings on the subject. Until a human toll is placed on it, until it is made into something less than foreign, and more immediate – we will never have any progress.
Episcopal Bishop Rev. Gene Robinson is featured throughout and his story is very heartwarming. Also highlighted is Dick Gephardt’s family and lesbian daughter which was extremely profound. Yet it reminds me as I watched history unfold this week – how when I first encountered gay marriage in DC, when a couple petitioned (and I just happened to be privy to their private life through a friend of mine – and it was not ready for Lifetime TV or Logo), just how implausible I thought the subject was to me personally. Never in my lifetime would I see gay marriage – it was more of a fairy tale than anything else. But just as many African Americans witnessed something they never thought in their lifetime would happen, I’m adjusting to the fact that I may live long enough to see justice for all.
My personal stance is that marriage should be abolished. Period. I think that if gays truly wanted to have an impact they would transform civil unions and partnerships into the only legally recognized and equal status they deserve. Marriage seems like an antiquated notion to me, and yet I support all my friends straight or gay who engage in them. In severing it from the bond that religion has had over it – you would naturally circumvent and go a great deal farther in propelling the human race into a new age of enlightenment. This is exactly what the evangelicals fear, but they don’t understand it either. It would not nullify the contract you make with your god, it would just elevate the non-believers and secular institution into the prominence. Since all religions do not view marriage the same way, or have the same guidelines, it is up to the state and country to define that standard and they have through laws and legislation. So just as when Obama’s parents united it was still illegal, I’m hoping that with persistence my dream of a union or partnership that recognizes it is being entered into by humans and not just god’s children, and that they should all be equal. Anything less should be an abomination.
When viewing Milk, in the context of those films mentioned here, it is true that art can imitate life and show us a greater meaning in it. Even if it conveniently forgets that the Reverend Jim Jones and his kool-aid cult followers helped to strike down the proposition. While this may not seem wise given our hindsight or feelings about the aftermath – it was critical. Likewise facing our enemies may call for alliances that we may find make us uncomfortable. The GLBT movement is the least monolithic of all, and under its present leadership, I’m not sure it will ever find a way to mobilize and bring about the change it so desires. I personally was disgusted with every single person who spoke out against Rick Warren, and chose to speak for me, and the outraged masses. I certainly couldn’t disagree with the pundits on TV more – Andrew Sullivan does not speak for me. In fact the many years ago when he used to cruise me in DC’s discos I wanted to spit on him, and still in some way do. Even if he did support Obama.
If you want to build a bridge then I say reach out to these communities who oppose you. Don’t protest & vandalize, or don’t let it end there. In each person sharing their knowledge and compassion with others, and finding the common humanitarian thread, believe it or not you can make things happen. Choosing Love over Hate is the only way. In the teachings of Martin Luther King you would find a nice road map, don’t make your only commitment to show up with snarky signs and protest, don’t let the people who are on TV and the blogosphere capitulate for you, for in not one of them did I find anything other than quick ‘let’s get upset and pressure this or that’ into happening. Like pulling a Snicker’s commercial because it is homophobic – it is knee jerk. Go to Church, not just your church, but one where you may not feel welcomed. Go with love, and go with conviction that the only reason they hate you is because they don’t know you, and they don’t know what it is like.
Watching these families struggle with their pain reminded me just how damn easy I’ve had it, and how eternally blessed I was at coming out at 16 in the late 70’s. I am reminded of the struggle and enormous progress my parents have endured, not just to overcome their misunderstandings, but to become champions for the cause. I remember trying to educate my grandmother when she decried her opposition to gay marriage. With the caveat that I didn’t support it per se, I did support the dissemination of equal rights, and explained to her what the denial of those rights did to people who were in committed relationships. While I may not have changed her mind, just as she was finding Jesus, as all my kin do right before they die. The case I made was passionate and I hope compelling.
That is what this movie does, I don’t feel as though it will part the waters, but it will shed a sensible light on a complex, dark issue that continues to plague us. After all – the church and scripture was used for a very long time to support slavery, because it was the prevailing wisdom and cultural norm of the time. It is also hopeful even at its saddest moments. If you haven’t seen it – do. Arrange a showing at a fundamentalist church near you, invite someone from Bob Jones University over and have a potluck. Discuss it afterwards. That is the way, that is the light, and that is our only hope.
*(this is from memory, not a transcribed quote – so there may be a good deal of paraphrasing)