OutUK Archive Item
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.

Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Imagine No Religion

The first time I heard John Lennon sing “Imagine” all the way through and really listened to the words, “Imagine there’s no heaven ... and no religion, too,” I found the concept, well, hard to imagine. Thirty years and a long spiritual journey later, I realize that it may be necessary to “imagine no religion” if gay civil rights are ever to be achieved. That’s because the biggest single obstacle to turning around the demonization of homosexuals is in the Judeo-Christian concept of homosexuality as an “abomination.”

For me as the parent of a gay adult child, rejecting this concept is not a problem, mainly because I set aside my own Christian upbringing some time ago, for reasons that have nothing to do with church teachings about homosexuality. For me, rejecting those teachings has been a healing experience that allowed me to open up my mind and heart to the good that can be found in all sorts of religious faiths. I have no interest in converting anyone to my beliefs and try to show respect for those who follow a particular religion. Unfortunately, not all religious systems are committed to similar open-mindedness, which is why we have the conflict about homosexuality within many religions.

While the debate is not limited to Christianity, it is there that the matter seems to heat up the most — at least in the Western culture of which I am most familiar. It is from members of Christian churches that the gay community of which I am a part — not only homosexual folks, but their family and friends as well — has most frequently experienced un-Christlike rejection, hatred and hypocrisy. It is in these churches that the teachings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth have been twisted so that homosexuals are discouraged from trying to receive the love of their divinity, while those who judge, who hate, who commit other practices regarded by Christians as “sins” are not treated in the same manner.

This type of divisiveness is rejected by all religions of the world. While Christianity is taught, “God hath made of one blood all nations of men,” the Jewish tradition states, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Islam teaches that “All creatures are the family of God; and he is the most beloved of God who does the most good unto His family.” In Hinduism, the teaching is that “Human beings all are as head, arms, trunk and legs unto one another.” And Shintoism reminds humankind, “Do not forget that the world is one great family.” Unitarian Universalism calls for its members to have “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.” These are just a few examples. I’m sure that Buddhists, Wiccans, Confucianists, Pagans, Taoists, Sikhs and any group that I’ve inadvertently overlooked all have comparable beliefs.

So where does anyone in any religion, in any part of the world get off saying that one group of people — i.e., gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual people, for the purposes of this article — is any more sinful or acceptable in the shadow of a higher power than anyone else? How very presumptuous for a General Convention of say, the Episcopal Church USA to vote, one way or the other, on singling out anyone from having their “lifelong committed relationship” receive a spiritual blessing? It would seem that any relationship based on love should be celebrated with a blessing — whether it’s a heterosexual or homosexual couple committing their lives to each other in physical or spiritual friendship, or even someone who wants to celebrate a commitment to a dog, cat, parakeet, giraffe or species unknown.

It is one thing for Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Mormons or any other Christian denomination to adopt exclusionary policies against homosexuals within their own hallowed walls, but when these practices spill over into the concept of basic human rights, “exclusion” becomes “exclusive” and the churches’ practices become inhumane.

Recent movements in a number of states to pass “Defense of Marriage Acts” which deny recognition to any same-sex marriages performed by other states (something that hasn’t happened, although same-sex civil unions have been performed in Vermont) are fueled at their roots by religious conservative political movements operating on the “abomination” theory derived through purposeful mistranslation and misinterpretation from the Book of Leviticus. The proponents of this movement to deny gay people equal status with their heterosexual counterparts are very good about quoting the Judeo-Christian bible as their basis.

I have found, though, that when these same people are asked to defend their position on democratic principles alone, without any reference to scripture, they become almost tongue-tied, because the position, in terms of basic ethics, is indefensible. I recognize the need for people to create celebrations that mark the milestone events of life — births, marriages, deaths and many others. The church is just one way that these events can be celebrated, but it is not the only one. Most relationships are in a statement of loving commitment long before they are legalized through a piece of paper issued by the state or by a ceremony presided over by clergy.

One thing that gay people have proven over the years is that marriage has existed for years without official acknowledgment. Look at the lives of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears for well-known examples. To paraphrase a character from “Treasure of Sierra Madre,” “our kids don’t need no stinkin’ piece of paper or no stinkin’ preacher,” but it would be nice for them to have that option if they wanted it.

It’s going to take time for nations — particularly the U.S. — to realize that a marriage rite and the right to be married are not the same thing. Churches do have the right — right or wrong — to exclude homosexual people from being full participants under ecclesiastical law, but ultimately, the country, if it wants to be a pure democracy, will have to follow Vermont’s leadership and extend legal recognition to same-sex couples.

Until then, maybe we should remember the advice comedian Lily Tomlin, playing radio evangelist Sister Boogie Woman, gave to an old couple who wanted to “get it on” despite their nursing home regulations that prevented men and women from being alone behind a closed door. “I believe all that Jell-O they serve you at that nursing home has gone to your heads,” Sister Boogie Woman advised. “The answer is so simple: Do it with the door open! Do it with the door open! They’ll soon let you close that door!” I guess that’s what it’s all about. Keeping the closet door open and never letting anyone force gay couples from hiding their love for each other again.

Published 17th July 2000


search | site info | site map | new this week | outuk shop | home | outback | more



  UK gay lads | Gay news UK | Gay travel and holidays UK | UK & London gay scene

OutUK features the latest gay news, advice, entertainment and information together with gay guides to cities and holiday destinations around the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. There are hundreds of galleries of photos and videos of the sexiest gay guys plus intimate personal profiles of thousands of gay lads from all around the UK.