The Civil Rights Movement of the Century

In this carefully researched book review essay, the author connects Zach Wahls’ memoir to the debate on opening Boy Scout membership to homosexual youth, and to the broader struggle for marriage equality overall. Note the attention to sentence variety, the specific and effective word choices, as well as the variety of evidence brought to bear on the author’s argument. ~Ayers

            In the past fifty years the United States and other westernized countries have seen a great change in society, where things once considered taboo by the public became common and widely accepted, either as moral or politically correct. The most important aspects of this change are those of civil rights and public respect of minorities and women, the legalization of interracial marriages, and the public acceptance of birth control. These things were originally considered immoral and unacceptable, but as the world modernized these ideas became increasingly accepted and even occasionally viewed as the correct and humane things to do. The gay rights movement for marriage equality of the twenty-first century is in a similar position; there are individuals who once viewed it as sinful yet now are supportive of advancing marriage equality, those that have no intent of ever accepting gay marriages as “true” and “holy” marriages, and those that may not have a solid stance on either side of the issue. This final category of individuals causes the debate to be more diverse than expected, adding a third point of view to be considered.

            The issue of gay marriage is one that has an impact on nearly every person’s life, whether it is in school, the workplace, Boy Scouts, or a place of worship. There are people on both sides of the argument that have strong opinions about whether or not gay marriage should be legal. The argument has many facets, such as if one can identify as homosexual and still be an active member of the Christian church, whether or not homosexuals can marry under a religious title, should gay marriage be supported by those that value strong family values, whether or not homosexual couples (married or not) can adopt children, should homosexuals be allowed to participate in or even lead children’s activities (such as scouting or sports teams)?

When approaching these issues, one must remember that those involved with the argument are people, with strong feelings towards those that are a part of their lives, whether they are a gay couple that wants marriage equality or a straight couple that believes that marriage should be exclusive to a man and a woman. Both sides have either loved ones that they are fighting for the right to marry or have loved ones that they are fighting to protect from same-sex marriages. This argument is not one between political parties or even religious denominations; it is an issue between groups of people that have complex feelings and emotions over the topic.

In Zach Wahls’ book My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, he describes his experience being raised by lesbian parents and the situations in which he faced adversity, as well as the positive impact of being raised by these two women had on his life.  Wahls is an Eagle Scout, and his mothers helped him reach this rank in the Boy Scouts of America despite their current ban on gay adult leaders. In the book he finds the values of scouting important and discusses throughout that his mothers helped instill these values into him while growing into a young man (Wahls, Littlefield, 2012). Despite that they are gay and the program does not endorse the participation of leaders that identify as homosexual at this point in time.

Wahls argues that his upbringing by same-sex parents was not harmful to his development, but that the two-parent home that he was in was actually conducive to strong family values. In the book he also discusses the adversity that his family faced, especially in the legal sphere and uses these ideas to show that it is valuable to society to allow same-sex couples the right to marry, not necessarily as a religious union but rather as a civil union meaning the government respects the couple’s union.

Although the United States in particular are gradually adapting to accommodate same-sex couples, there is still a long way to go. Wahls does not talk a lot about how much legislation and progress individual states and private organizations have made in recent years, but focuses on the family and social aspects of the marriage equality issue, which is an important aspect. The book was published in the spring of 2012, by this point in time the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York as well as the District of Columbia all had legalized same-sex marriages. At this date in May of 2013, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington have also legalized same-sex marriage. Delaware and Rhode Island have passed legislation that will go into effect later this summer that will allow marriage equality within their states (Freedom to Marry, 2013). While the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America had voted to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as pastors or in other professional positions within the denomination (ELCA News Service, 2009).

Wahls does address the fact there has been some progress in the state of Iowa, his home state, yet he does not talk about the promise that these other states legalizing gay marriage brings. The progression of the movement is ongoing, and needs to be viewed as such. At this time there only three more states that have legalized same sex marriage (Maryland, Maine, and Washington all during the November elections of 2012), yet the nation is very aware of the changes that are pro-gay rights. With the recent discussion of DOMA (the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act), there has been an outpouring of public conversation, both support and dissatisfaction, on the internet via blogging and other social media sites. The public greatly supports the progression of the movement (Woodruff, Kurtz, Ashburn, 2013).

At the time of the publication of the book the Boy Scouts of America had done very little to address the issue of the ban on gay scouts and gay leaders, although groups both supporting the ban and criticizing the ban have been in existence for quite some time, only within the past year has the organization attempted to address the issue themselves. Initially the BSA announced that there would be a vote about the ban at a large meeting in the late spring, but with a lot of negative feedback, this was postponed so that the board would have time to consider the public’s response (Wian, Pearson, 2013). However, in late April they moved to lift the ban on gay members only, leaving gay leaders still out in the cold (Eckholm, 2013). This is a huge amount of progress, though. Those in support of equality for gay people, whether it be marriage or just society, need to remember that this is a monumental change for an organization that is greatly dependent on support from religious groups (mainly the Catholic church and the Church of the Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church)) and strongly encourages their members to have a religious affiliation of some sort.

There have been many Eagle Scouts that have renounced their ranking because of the previous ban on gay members on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that promotes equality for members and leaders within the scouting community, there have been upwards of 375 former Eagles that renounced their title because of the policy, many have not gone as far as this, over one million people have signed an online petition opposing the LGBT ban (Scouts for Equality 2013). This issue is not going unnoticed. Although many are unsatisfied with the recent change of policy, that it has not gone far enough, it is a step forward for the movement and needs not to be ignored.

Churches also need to be able to accept homosexuals for the people that they are and allow them to participate within the congregations and worship alongside those that share faith in the same god as them. This is currently acceptable in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; as stated earlier this denomination allows homosexuals that are in committed relationships to serve as pastors or in other official church positions (such as on staff at a church or as teaching classes)( Cadge, Olson, Wildeman, 2008).

This idea that churches should be accepting of, or at least willing to learn about, homosexuality in regards to being involved within the church is not exclusive to the Lutheran Church, other churches such as the United Methodist and the Presbyterian Churches have encouraged individual churches to learn about and discuss the inclusion of gay people into their congregations; that acceptance is what a loving and welcoming church would show homosexuals (Cadge, Olson, Wildeman, 2008). Acceptance of homosexuals in these congregations is on a church-by-church basis at this point however, and the denominations have not publicly released statements requiring churches to allow homosexual members.

The Republican Party, a group that generally ends up with the blame of alienating homosexuals politically, has been encouraged by one of their prominent leaders, Jon Huntsman, to be accepting and understanding of homosexuals and to extend marriage equality to same-sex couple. He has said that his own marriage has been a wonderful part of his life and that something as simple as marriage should not be kept away from a group of people. The cause for marriage equality should be a conservative one, marriage and family values are important to the conservative cause and allowing homosexuals the right to marry does not limit these family values, if anything it would encourage them (Huntsman, 2013). Two family homes are always encouraged, it does not matter if the parents are of the same sex or not. This group that has often not supported marriage equality should be mindful of the real impact that these people could have on society if allowed to marry, a positive impact in regards to family values.

The discussion of same-sex equality is ongoing, there are small advancements that are made regularly, but these steps forward are only that: steps. The movement and those pushing for advancement of gay rights should keep in mind that change rarely ever happens immediately. Generally the trends move towards a public support of those that identify as homosexual, whether it be for marriage, social equality, or within private activities such as churches and Scouting. The issue is greater than one individual family, and has a greater impact on more than just families in general; everybody that wants a better society for all minorities needs to agree that things take time to change and may eventually change if they remain persistent. The topic is wildly diverse and changing every day, and advancing towards a more equal society.

Works Cited

Cadge, Wendy, Laura R. Olson, and Christopher Wildeman. “How Denominational Resources Influence Debate About Homosexuality In Mainline Protestant Congregations.” Sociology Of Religion 69.2 (2008): 187-207. Academic Search Elite. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.

Eckholm, E. (2013). Boy scouts move to lift ban on gay youth members. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/us/boy-scouts-move-to-lift-ban-on-gay-members.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

ELCA News Service. (2009). ELCA assembly opens ministry to partnered gay and lesbian Lutherans. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. [News Release]. Retrieved from http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4253

Freedom to Marry. (2013). Where State Laws Stand. Retrieved from http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/where-state-laws-stand

Huntsman, J. (2013) Marriage equality is a conservative cause. The American Conservative. Retrieved from http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/marriage-equality-is-a-conservative-cause485/

Scouts for Equality. (2013). Renounced eagles. Scouts for Equality. Retrieved from https://www.scoutsforequality.com/renounced/

Wahls, Z., Littlefield, B., (2012). My two moms: Lessons of love, strength, and what makes a family. USA: Penguin Group Incorporated.

Wian, C., & Pearson, M. (2013). Boy scout leaders put off vote on gay membership. CNN U.S.. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/06/us/boy-scouts-policy

Woodruff, J., Kurtz, H., & Ashburn, L. (2013, April 1). Why facebook went red and pink over same-sex marriage. PBS Newshour. Podcast retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/media/jan-june13/dailydownload_04-01.html

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