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The 'Religious Liberty Quiz' and Why I Wrote It

The bill in Arizona was, thankfully, vetoed. But it's not going to be the last time a bill like this is introduced. The next stage of the struggle for equal rights is coming.
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It's funny when you write something that you think is timely, and you find out that, sadly, it is not. Let me explain what I mean. About 18 months ago I wrote a piece about religious liberty. It went up on Huffington Post and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people. At the time I wrote this piece on my personal blog explaining why I had written it:

"I wrote the piece on my phone last week while sitting watching the Republican National Convention with my partner. That is not to say that this is an anti-Republican post. Not at all. (I know some wonderfully inclusive Republicans and some of the rhetoric at the DNC on this frustrated me just as much.) It's just to say that was the occasion for its writing.

You see, my partner and I are marrying one another this November at her UCC church in Boston. We are blessed by the fact that our marriage will be recognized legally in both our state of residence and the state in which it is performed. More importantly, it will be recognized by our church. It will not, however, be recognized by the federal government. The question of whether it will be soon, and whether it will be in more states, is causing an increase in calls of "religious oppression" from anti-gay religious folks.

Getting married two weeks after the presidential election, in a year when debate over equal marriage is more divisive than ever, adds a whole other layer to the stress of wedding planning. It means that every quip about equal marriage feels like a referendum on your own upcoming marriage. (And really, between the catering and the invitations, I already have more than enough to think about.)

That's why watching the RNC, every slight about "real marriages" and "real families" cut us to the quick. And every reference to "religious liberty" used to deny my partner and I the rights we deserve just offended me. My partner and I are religious people who love God. We love the church. And we love Christ, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. But the fact that our neighbors, and our Christian brothers and sisters, were claiming that they were the oppressed ones here, was not just offensive; it was ludicrous.

My partner and I want basic rights. And our basic rights do not intrude on anyone's religious liberty. How that has become so convoluted, I don't know. But those who would use religion to claim they are being victimized by the rights of others, are being intellectually, and religiously, dishonest. No one is forcing churches to marry gay couples. Any clergy member will tell you that they are legally free to deny marriage to any couple for any reason with impunity. They know that, but they spread false fear to their communities in an effort to deny the rights of others. Meanwhile, our own church, which blesses our marriage, is being denied equal legitimacy under the law by the actions of these religious groups who attempt to withhold legal recognition from the marriages other religious groups bless.

So here we were, sitting in our living room, watching politicians say that the marriage of a minister and a seminarian would destroy religious liberty in America. And it's so offensive, so painful, and just so, so false. This is the stuff that used to make me want to drink. Now it just makes me want to fight harder for my rights, and the rights of my partner, and the rights of all of us...because, gay or straight, this is about all of us.

That's how the quiz was born. Because it's important for the ones who have oppressed others for so long to understand that they, in fact, are not being oppressed. I know what oppression feels like. I grew up gay in the Bible belt. I was bullied in the name of religion. That's not what "religious liberty" is about. THAT is oppression. And I'm thankful that, finally, my own religious liberty is being taken seriously by more and more of my fellow citizens. I hope the quiz helps more to be able to realize what "religious liberty" really means."

I thought that was the end of the piece. But this week, with a discriminatory new law came out of Arizona, and the old "protect religious liberty" battle cry grew longer, I started to see this piece shared again and again on social media. And the first thing I thought was, "that's strange...I wrote that over a year ago."

But the second thing I thought was, "I guess not that much has changed."

To be fair, things have changed in the past 18 months. My wife and I did get married, and less than a year later our marriage was federally recognized. For same-sex couples around the country things have indeed changed in very fundamental ways.

And yet, we have a ways to go. Because laws like the one in Arizona are backlashes against the repeal of DOMA and other civil rights advances. It's clear now that the tide has changed when it comes to gay rights, and so a new battlefield has been chosen: religious liberty.

It's a tricky change-up designed to make people believe that gay people are holding churches and restaurants hostage and forcing them to do our bidding. Of course, no one is talking about religions that bless civil rights for LGBT people. And no one is talking about how religious extremists have used their faith before to try to deny gender and racial equality. Instead, we are somehow caught in this red herring of a debate.

The bill in Arizona was, thankfully, vetoed. But it's not going to be the last time a bill like this is introduced. The next stage of the struggle for equal rights is coming. For those of us who don't want the clock turned back, and for those of us who don't want to see our faith hijacked by extremists, remembering a few basic tenets about what religious liberty really means will continue to be relevant.

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