On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while en route from Southampton in England to New York City. I don’t need to say much about the disaster. There are documentaries and movies enough on the subject. The most poignant aspect for me about this story is the breakdown of survivors and those who died. The majority of the victims were men, as men were expected to give up their seats on the lifeboats for the women and children. 1,387 men died in the water that night.
The greatest number of casualties were, not surprisingly, amongst the third class passengers, of which there were 706 altogether. 84% (387 of 462) of male and 54% (89 of 165) of female steerage passengers perished. 66% (52 of 79) of their children didn’t make it either. The second class didn’t fare much better. Of the 168 men, 154 (92%) were lost. The second class women were luckier: of 93, only 13 (14%) died. Amazingly, all of the children in second class survived.
In first class, the men bore the heaviest toll, with 66% (118 of 175) never making it to New York City. Still, that’s significantly less than the lower two classes. Of the 144 women aboard in first class, only 4 (3%) died; and of the 6 children, only 1 didn’t make it.
That’s a lot of numbers, but those numbers speak volumes in terms of the human loss of life, of the drama of that story and of the terror and hopelessness that these people went to their deaths with. These were 1,514 individuals with their own unique stories, loves and losses that died in the water that night. Doubtless some of them died believing that their merciful God would save them or at least accept their souls into heaven—probably the greatest and cruelest tragedy of all.
It also speaks to the subjective standards by which human lives were weighed. Your chances of survival on the Titanic that night were predetermined by how much you paid for your ticket, and therefore how valuable you were based on your class. Steerage passengers were corralled below decks like animals and had little access to the lifeboats.
This brings me to my topic for today, which is a familiar topic for many who follow this blog: the religious opposition to gay marriage.
Today the ironically named conservative group Minnesota for Marriage posted a new “marriage minute” which addresses the question: “I have heard people talk about same-sex marriage interfering with ‘Religious liberty’ principles. What does that mean?”
This is probably the most popular argument from religious conservatives—that if marriage is redefined as genderless it will result in the persecution of religious individuals and groups. Churches that refuse to perform same-sex marriages will lose their tax-exempt status (which I and many others don’t think they should have anyway). Christians who speak out against same-sex marriage or gay rights will be thrown in jail. Christian businesses that refuse to, for example, print wedding invitations for same-sex couples will be fined or lose the business altogether. Basically… GAYPOCALYPSE!!
This is one of the loudest talking points for conservatives. They have the nerve and audacity to cling to the Constitution in order to protect their right to discriminate—laws never intended to enshrine religious discrimination or prejudice. Quite the opposite. As a cartoon on the website Slap Upside the Head reads, “Not being able to treat gays as second-class citizens makes me a second-class citizen!” ThinkProgress had a great article about this a few months ago titled “Inside NOM’s Strategy: Use ‘Religious Liberty’ As A Catalyzing Red Herring.” In it, they quote from a memo that included the following passage:
We have learned how to make the coercive pressures on religious people and institutions an issue in the United States. We will use this knowledge to raise the profile of government attacks on the liberties of religious people and institutions in Europe, both for internal domestic consumption in Europe and to halt the movement towards gay marriage worldwide. Our goal is to problematize the oppression of Christians and other traditional faith communities in the European mind.
So yet again, conservatives are resorting to fearmongering and post hoc reasoning in order to scare the Faithful into the voting booth in November. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, this is precisely how Hitler was able to gain support in Germany: by manufacturing a threat (in this case, that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s financial woes) in order to rally the people to his side. And as we know now, it worked quite effectively. Here we have groups like NOM and Minnesota for Marriage doing exactly the same thing in response to the “crisis” of the looming threat of gay marriage.
Why shouldn’t a business that refuses a gay couple for no other reason than their bigoted religious beliefs be sued? True, a business has the right to serve whoever they want to serve; and in Maryland, special provisions were put in place guaranteeing that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. And frankly, we gays should boycott businesses that are not GLBT-friendly. However, at the risk of evoking an overused trope, there was also a time when it was acceptable for businesses to refuse to serve black patrons. As time went on, those businesses were pressured into change not by the government but by public opinion that came to view such behavior as prejudiced.
I say this a lot, but there is no reason other than homophobia bolstered by religious dogma for the GLBT community to be treated differently than the rest of hetero land. Their “scientific” studies are being discredited left and right. The medical and psychological communities haven’t been able to find anything wrong with gays. At what point do we just say “Enough!” to these people? We hear their fear, but we’re doing nobody a service by accommodating this nonsense.
Religious liberty ends where it senselessly tramples on the civil rights and liberties of citizens, and stands in the way of the inalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.