Mum's the Word on Prop 8

Richard Rodriguez on the church and same sex marriage

New America Media, Audio, Sandip Roy Posted: Oct 20, 2008

Editor’s Note: Churches have thrown their money and muscle behind Proposition 8 which would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. But essayist Richard Rodriguez says the real energy has moved away from the pulpit and into the homes. Richard Rodriguez is the author of Brown – The Last Discovery of America.

In the end it might come down to our mothers.

In a few weeks California voters get to vote on Proposition 8 which could eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Richard RodriguezAs the polls seesaw, noted author Richard Rodriguez is pinning his hopes on mothers. Over fifteen years ago he’d written about mothers arriving in San Francisco from small towns in the Midwest, clutching a scrap of paper with an address scribbled on it, to take care of sons with AIDS. A few weeks ago, Rodriguez says a woman came up to him in Utah. She said that as a Mormon she’d been always taught to honor her family. But her church is now telling her she must ostracize her gay son. “So the very church that tells me that family is crucial, is also telling me it’s not that crucial,” she told Rodriguez. “It’s often the mother, it’s very rarely the father, who says these things to you,” says Rodriguez reflectively.

Both sides in the fight over same sex marriage understand this. In an ad running in Indian and Pakistani magazines in California, Gurkirpal Kaur Dhillon, poses with her grandchild. “My grandkids, Mira and Kabir bring so much joy to my life,” says the white-haired suburban grandma. “But Prop 8 threatens to take away our right to a happy home by banning my son from marrying his life partner.” On the other side, a recent television commercial from the Yes on 8 camp shows a little girl running up to her mother telling her about how she learned in school that a prince can marry another prince.

Although the Mormon Church added its muscle to the Yes on 8 campaign, and the Catholic church just removed Father Geoffrey Farrow who came out as gay (and against Proposition 8) to his congregation, Rodriguez says the energy has moved away from the pulpit and into the home. “What’s radical right now in the gay community is not simply my love for (my partner) but the fact that so many gay friends of mine have children,” says Rodriguez. “In some ways the most radical figure is the daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney who recently gave birth to a son, Samuel, which is a nice Biblical name.” Rodriguez admires the willingness of the Cheneys to acknowledge their grandson. “That’s where the energy’s going to come from,” he says. “It’s not going to come from within the liturgical circle. It’s going to come from communities no longer wanting to live with a child who’s on the outside.”
Prop 8
But it is also true that when Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004 some of the strongest opposition came from some of the most family-oriented communities. Chinese Americans led the protest in San Francisco. Black churches and Hispanic preachers opposed it from the pulpit. But Rodriguez says having a gay child or grandchild complicates the issue. “My own family will vote against Prop 8 precisely because I am their uncle or brother or son. When the family dynamic takes over, orthodoxy gives way,” he says. “In families where there is a strong religious sense of family, for example my own, it would be impossible for me to sin my way out of my family.”

For Rodriguez it’s no coincidence that the fight over same sex marriage is happening at the same time as churches are wrestling with the role of women. Geoffrey Farrow in Fresno, in fact, told his congregation that the issue had been brought to the fore for him through conversations he’d had with women about the ordination of women priests. “These are simultaneous events – women are not going back to the kitchen and gays are not going back in the closet,” says Rodriguez. “Prop 8 is merely a last gasp movement to try to control what is already out of the door.”

For Rodriguez, the anxiety around same sex marriage is linked to the anxiety so many men feel about a world where so many women are raising boys and girls without a man around. “This Olympic swimmer (Michael Phelps) who is the hero of the world, and who is the stands cheering him on, but his mother?” he says. “It’s becoming more and more clear to me that the notion of family is going to become the mother’s prerogative. (Prop 8) is a last attempt by people who feel threatened by a world they cannot control.”

It doesn’t mean, he adds, that Prop 8 will not pass. But he says it’s important to remember that the word “marriage” really belongs not to sonnets and poetry, but in divorce courts. “The more powerful word is love, the more powerful concept is love, do I love you, do you love me?” he says.

Richard says the fight for the right to that word has moved out of the churches and into the homes. In Gay Pride Parades the biggest cheers these days are often not for the drag queens in feather boas but for lesbian soccer moms pushing their toddlers. In the Castro the protests about sex toys in shop windows come not from outraged churchgoers but gay dads. In his book Days of Obligation, Rodriguez wrote about the delicious irony of gay men challenging the foundations of domesticity while living in Victorian houses in San Francisco’s Castro district. As they now stand at the corner of 18th Street and Castro distributing No on 8 badges to protect marriage, could the Victorians be having the last laugh?

Rodriguez chuckles and says what is radical is that gay life has moved from “the Polk Street sex scene at night” to “the day time neighborhood of the Castro with its churches and dry cleaners.” “This is no longer something you do in the dark,” he says. “My sisters and brothers have in their wills that in the event of their deaths I am to raise their children. That assumes a kind of moral seriousness to my life which is more radical than the permission to have my sexual life in private, in the dark.”

Listen to Richard Rodriguez speak about same-sex marriage on New America Now, NAM's radio show on KALW 91.7 FM


Related Articles:

George Takei and Brad Altman Become Spouses for Life

Get Us to the Church on Time – Gays Rush to Marry Before November

Chinese Media Changing Its Tune on Same-Sex Marriage

Editorial: First Day of Gay Weddings in California

Be Gay, Be Anything You Want – Just Not Single

I have seen The Future, and it's San Francisco

Page 1 of 1


User Comments

Mia Harrison on Oct 24, 2008 at 11:39:00 said:

I'm between voting "no" on prop 8 and not voting at all on the matter.

As a young person, a Black woman, I strive to think critically and not accept anything at face value, I am well aware of the plight of the African-American struggle, and get personally frustrated when I try to express my confusion with gay marriage and it is compared to African-American's and their struggle for freedom and equality.

I don't believe I am "homophobic", I have friends whom I love dearly that are apart of the LGBTQ community and believe that they should be treated with respect and dignity as human beings.

I even believe that people have the right to be with whoever they want to be with, but I cannot deny the natural, scientific, obvious reasons why heterosexual couples would have the union of marriage vs. homosexuals.

I feel like normalizing the marriage of gay and lesbian couples doesn't acknowledge the true purpose and intent of marriage being between a man and a woman.

And then, there are those who would argue, that there was a law banning blacks to marry whites, but half the time I'm not for black and white unions because, although I come from a multi-racial background, these unions are usually that of a black man and a white woman which also further enforces beliefs of internalized racism within Blacks.

I'm apprehensive about sharing these thoughts because I am usually on the other side of the fence and reading such a thing could potentially lead people to believe that I am ignorant and write me off as a homophobe.

Like I said, I'm between voting No (because I don't believe in discrimination, especially at the hands of the government), or not voting as to absolve myself of any say in the matter and let whatever happens happen, or even a small part of me that questions voting yes (because ultimatley I don't believe heterosexual and homosexual marriage is the same thing)

Invariant Memory on Oct 23, 2008 at 15:34:10 said:

Hi Glenna.

I think you were replying to me and not to HiveRadical.

Unfortunately, the First Amendment extends you the right to free speech, but not the right to respect. You are free to say what you want, but please expect to be called on your disinformation and hypocrisy.

For instance, I do not have respect for your opinion because:

- You do not respect the existing legal rights of gays and lesbians and are willing to exercise that disrespect by writing discrimination into the constitution for the first time in the state's history.

- You do not respect the truth when you describe California SB777 as "indoctrination". The simplest Google search proves you wrong. SB777 is an anti-discrimination bill that prohibits teachers from discriminating against students based on "disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, [or] sexual orientation". It has nothing to do with teaching the "gay/lesbian lifestyle". Are you really arguing that you favor discriminating against students based on any of these categories? If so, please say so; if not, why are you misleading us about SB777?

You say "All people should be treated with kindness and respect". If you believed this, you would not be voting to strip away people's rights by writing discrimination into the state constitution. I am exercising a difference of opinion with you, however strongly worded; you are determined to vote away my rights.

I am tired of Yes on 8 supporters wanting it both ways. Either you are for discrimination (vote yes) or you are against discrimination (vote no). These are your opinions: own them. Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

Glenna on Oct 21, 2008 at 12:02:22 said:

Please consider that we hold differing opinions...and respect each other\'s right to see it as we do.

With all due respect, I do not feel my opinion constitutes \'institutionalized inequality\', but rather maintains what I believe is good for our nation/society. We have laws and regulation on a host of behaviors we feel are detrimental to our society. Some may feel they are hindered by these laws/regulations, but in fact they are for the greater good.

There would be \'institutionalized\' indoctrination of the gay/lesbian lifestyle to our children in the public schools if Prop 8 fails (See California SB777). That is something that violates the rights of those who are opposed to this lifestyle.

All people should be treated with kindness and respect, including Prop 8 supporters.

CarlosnLA on Oct 20, 2008 at 17:53:10 said:

Imagine there's no countries...It is'nt hard to do....Nothing to kill or die for...and NO RELIGION TOO....Imagine all the people living life in Peace.

Invariant Memory on Oct 20, 2008 at 16:58:52 said:


There is a difference between social ostracism for unpopular views and what you are supporting with Prop 8, which is institutionalized legal discrimination against an unpopular minority. Social ostracism is unfortunate, but apparently an inevitable symptom of human tribalism. On the other hand, stripping people of their existing rights by constitutional amendment - which is what Prop 8 seeks to do - is entirely unnecessary and avoidable. In fact, using the constitution to deny rights and institutionalize inequality is unprecedented in its sheer wickedness. This is why people call you a bigot.

Glennna on Oct 20, 2008 at 15:47:31 said:

As a member of the LDS Church, I think it is important to be clear about the position of the church regarding gay/lesbian family members and the whole issue on the same-sex marriage issue.

Clearly, we respect every person's right to choose their life's course and feel they should be treated with love and respect.

However, we hold firmly to the position of traditional marriage because it is our belief that God created man and woman and marriage with the intention of them creating homes where children can be raised with a mother and a father. While this doesn't always happen, where it does, the children have the greatest chances for happiness and well adjustment.

Marriage should be a sacred commitment between a man and woman for the purposes of having a family. Sometimes, heterosexuals don't take this commitment as seriously as they should. But, never-the-less, that is the most ideal situation for children to grow up in.

We do not promote the gay/lesbian lifestyle and are in favor of Prop 8, as are other Christian faiths, because it upholds our values and beliefs in the order that God has established for his children on earth.

We do not want the gay/lesbian lifestyle to be promoted/taught to our children in the schools, which it would be if Prop 8 does not pass. Teaching these values belongs to the home/family, not the state.

Again, all people should be treated with respect, inlcuding those who do not condone the gay/lesbian lifestyle.

None of the Domestic Partners rights would be affected (which is every right of marriage)if Prop 8 passes.

There is no discrimination in Prop 8. It simply maintains traditional marriage between a man and a woman~ the bedrock of our society.

However and with whomever others want to live, they may.

To change the definition of marriage infringes on the beliefs/rights of those who uphold marriage as it has been since the beginning of time. And that is what 61% of Californias have previously said. Thankfully, we all get to vote and let our voices be heard. There is no discrimination in this.


AlexT on Oct 20, 2008 at 12:29:56 said:

Discrimination? These kinds of articles make it seem as though same-sex couples were barred from sitting in the front of buses, not allowed to hold jobs, or restricted to living in ghettoes and housing projects. Before they were allowed to \"marry\" in California same-sex couples had the same legal priviliges and protections as hetero couples. The only difference is the label of marriage, which is much more than a commitment between two people. It is the formation of a family which includes procreation and the rearing of children. The voters of California have already spoken once to preserve the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. It should remain so.


HiveRadical on Oct 20, 2008 at 08:23:44 said:

This is absurd to say that the LDS/Mormon Church is having people ostracize family members who choose to engage in homosexual behavior. We don't condone it, but that doesn't amount to ostracizing, if it does then I've been ostracized plenty by many in california for my personal views and beliefs. Why this insistence on confusing accepting and condoning? Why am I expected to choose between embracing others choices or being called a bigot?

Russell on Oct 20, 2008 at 05:11:37 said:

I am a believing, orthodox, and well-informed Latter Day Saint...and I couldn't disagree more with my fellow sister's assessment about homosexuality within the Church.

While the doctrine clearly states that homosexual acts are not approved, there is absolutely no move to "ostracize" anybody within anyone's family...the message is precisely the opposite. We need to extend an increased measure of love and caring during this time when close family members might disagree with the Church's position.

I understand that such statements gum up the political machinery not only of the opposition but also the Church's (what a poor way of energizing a base, asking that you love and support one's opponents?). However, anyone who believes that LDS seek to shut family members out based on sexual orientation would be woefully ill-informed.

JoeB on Oct 20, 2008 at 04:07:41 said:

Fellow Californians,

Please help millions of Californians just like you reject and defeat discrimination and inequality by helping with your vote and giving a big, fat NO to Proposition 8 on November 4th.

California Proposition 8 is a HUGE threat to civil rights and an insult to Californians. Prop 8. is authored by those who don\'t support equality for all Gays & Lesbians who are human beings with dreams like you and I. Supporters of Prop. 8 simply do not want others to have the blessing and protection of marriage under California law. Ever.

The official definition on your official California voting ballot states the truth:
[Proposition 8 eliminates rights of same-sex couples to marry by changing the California Constitution.]

Millions of fair-minded, forward-thinking Californians and I firmly believe that Prop. 8 is nothing but total and complete institutionalized discrimination and inequality. Passing this hateful and unequal measure that singles out a community of California citizens would be completely hurtful and disastrous to tens of thousands of our Gay & Lesbian friends, relatives, colleagues and loved ones in committed relationships; many of whom which have already made the ultimate commitment of love and have gotten married.

Prop. 8 would diminish our California; The Golden State that is known throughout the world for it\'s embrace of all people and a huge ten steps backwards for progress in California and the historic issue of Civil Rights in America.

Quite simply, Proposition 8 is the removal of a citizen\'s civil rights, removal of equal recognition and protection of marriage under the law and most significantly, adding institutionalized discrimination to California\'s Constitution. This is profoundly wrong and it\'s insulting to all Californians.

Together, we can defeat discrimination and inequality on November 4th. Together, we can make Proposition 8 nothing but a bad memory.

Your compassion, voice, support and vote are absolutely essential.




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

Election 2008


Advertisements on our website do not necessarily reflect the views or mission of New America Media, our affiliates or our funders.