Long war, decisive battle
For it is. As I pointed out here, American fundamentalist Christianity has chosen to make the fight against gay rights something of existential significance, their "hill to die on". Republicans in state after state push laws protecting the "religious freedom" to shun, exclude, and reject gay people. Scott Lively wants to confront gays with "the threat of the mob" bearing "pitchforks and torches". Leaders like James Dobson and Tony Perkins are threatening a new civil war or revolution. Mike Huckabee says the US is "moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity", and remember, this man is not some backwoods preacher in a swamp, he's a serious contender for the Republican Presidential nomination. The Family Research Council has held 21 days of prayer seeking divine intervention in the Supreme Court (Good As You blog has covered this in depth).
Superficially this seems odd. The Bible never quotes Jesus as mentioning homosexuality. Gays have been gaining social acceptance for decades, and gay marriage has been legal in some states for years, with none of the supposed dire consequences materializing. At most, a half-dozen merchants have been prosecuted for flagrant violations of established anti-discrimination laws. Churches have not been forced to marry gay couples (and they won't be, just as they can still refuse to marry divorced people or mixed-race couples or anyone else they object to). Hate speech like "homosexuality is a sin" has not been made illegal anywhere in the US, and the First Amendment guarantees that it can't be. There is no sign of the religion professed by 83% of Americans being "criminalized". By and large, the growing acceptance of gays has had no concrete effect on its opponents' lives at all. So why are they so desperately invested in this battle?
I think the real issue is not just the fight for gay acceptance but the much broader, more fundamental, and harder-to-define struggle of which it is part. I call this larger struggle "cultural de-Christianization", the process of rolling back and driving out an alien occupation of the Western mind. This has been going on for at least four hundred years on many fronts, including the rise of science and the scientific world-view (notably the work of Galileo and Darwin), the rise of secular government, the decoupling of civil law from the Christian taboo system, the gradual re-sexualization of mass culture and the public space, the decline of fervent religious belief among populations in most Western countries, the equality of women, the acceptance of sexual relationships forbidden by the taboo system, and many other areas. A comment I've seen with increasing frequency on right-wing sites over the last couple of years is that the US is becoming a "pagan" country. And in a deep sense, it is.
The beginning of the Dark Ages was marked by the destruction of the remnants of the Classical civilization by Christianity (and by Islam, in the east and south of the old Classical world). The wreckage of that pagan civilization, warped and polluted by Christian taboos and dogmas, eventually evolved into Western culture as we know it today (again, in the east and south, a parallel development happened under the "occupation" of Islam). In their own twisted and shallow way, the fundamentalists know this -- and know that the war they thought they had won sixteen centuries ago is now being re-fought.
[This is, by the way, touching on my fundamental vision of the world -- I'll eventually have a lot more to say about it, but that's a matter for future posts.]
Well, one of the sharpest divides between the Judeo-Christian-Islamic taboo system and the Classical culture was their attitudes towards homosexuality. In the three great cultures of the Classical world (Greek, Roman, and Persian), homosexuality was an unremarkable and ordinary part of human behavior; in Greece, bisexuality in males was even a social norm informally institutionalized by society, though same-sex marriage, in the formal sense, did not exist. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam condemn homosexuality in the harshest terms, as a sin worthy of death, a penalty which is actually enforced today in several Muslim countries, as it was by Christian rulers during the Dark Ages. For that matter, homosexuality was still brutally punished in much of Europe as recently as the 1950s and in much of the US until the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003.
This, I think, is the real reason the fundies are so agitated about the gay-rights battle -- losing that battle is a clear sign that they're losing the overall war. Mass social acceptance of homosexuality, crowned by legal and broadly-accepted gay marriage, marks a shift of American culture from Christian to "pagan" on a deep level.
This was adumbrated back when some Christian denominations began debating the possibility of female clergy. I remember conservative Christians arguing that the idea was dangerous because it was "pagan" in spirit, and they were right. When you hear the word "priest" spoken in English, you think of a Catholic priest, but the word "priestess" evokes something pagan and ancient. Priestesses existed in many pagan religions of the Classical world, but female clergy have not traditionally been part of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
But the present fight over homosexuality is far more fundamental. Allowing female clergy has little impact outside the denomination that chooses to do it, but the new acceptance of homosexuality is sweeping the whole society.
There are battles which foreshadow the outcome of a war even if the war's end is still a long way off. Stalingrad and Midway were examples. After those battles, years of hard fighting remained, but it was pretty much a foregone conclusion which side was going to win. In the war to roll back Christianity's mental occupation of the West, the fight for gay rights is such a battle.