The Beam In Our Eye

Ever since I heard that opponents supporters of Proposition 8 had filed suit to invalidate all the gay marriages that have taken place in California, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the fact that someone, somewhere had to actually initiate this process. That means that someone, somewhere must have decided that the best use of his or her time was not to perform some act of kindness or generosity, not to stand up for justice or to comfort the afflicted, not even to try to turn a profit, but to decide to get together a lawsuit in order to break thousands of people’s marriages apart. That person could have gone to the beach, or worked a stint at a food kitchen, or taken up hang-gliding, or done any number of things, but instead he or she thought: why not do my best to tear thousands of people’s lives apart, people who are not bothering them, people who only want to be married and have anniversaries and argue about who has to take out the trash, like anyone else.

It’s a pretty strange way to choose to spend your time, if you ask me.

The LA Times has a profile of a couple who worked to get Proposition 8 passed, and are still working for the legal challenge to California’s existing gay marriages. Here’s what motivates them:

“The Ferreiras like life in their gated community in the eastern suburbs of San Diego. Their house, nestled at the end of a cul-de-sac, is comfortable, with plenty of room for them and their three grown children, who still live at home.

But the Ferreiras are afraid of what is happening to the world beyond the gates.

“I’m just seeing our morals and everything just deteriorating before us,” Robbie, 49, said one recent evening.

“The first time they wanted to take prayer out of schools, we as believers should have stood up,” said Abel, who was recently laid off from his job as a salesman of manufactured homes. “Every time you give them a little bit, they want more.” (…)

One Sunday about a year ago, Garlow [their pastor] told his congregation what he thought the consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage would be.

Pastors around the state would be required to marry gays, he said. Businesses would be forced to recognize gay marriage. Schools would begin teaching children that gay and lesbian lifestyles are the norm.

“The thing that affected me the most was knowing that my grandkids are going to be taught this ungodly and sinful act as if it’s OK,” Robbie said. “I thought from that point on, ‘No. I will fight for them. I don’t have them yet, but I’m going to fight for them.’””

Somehow, they didn’t manage to check out the truth of these claims. What does it mean to say that “businesses would be forced to recognize gay marriage”? Do supermarkets or Home Depots or pet grooming facilities normally have to take a position on the validity of people’s marriage? Wouldn’t pastors be protected by the First Amendment? And about those schools: would kids be taught that gay marriage is OK? And if so, so what? Last time I checked, parents are quite capable of telling kids when they disagree with teachers, and kids are quite capable of not believing everything their teachers tell them.

(Parenthetical note: it’s odd how when politics enters the picture, people sometimes acquire a faith in the Svengali-like powers of teachers that makes absolutely no sense at all. In normal life, we know that overbearing or biassed teachers are more likely to annoy their students than anything else, and that even good teachers are not always believed. In politics, people sometimes assume that normal, obstreperous kids and adolescents are somehow transformed into docile, sheeplike beings who accept every word their teachers say. As a teacher, I find this very selective faith in us and our awesome powers quite perplexing.)

In any case, the Ferreiras didn’t just call their friends and put up signs for Proposition 8:

“For 40 days, the couple gave up coffee and didn’t eat for 12 hours a day. And Robbie gave up “Days of Our Lives,” the soap opera she had been watching since high school.”

Mr. Ferreira has just been laid off. All three kids are still at home, which probably means they’re struggling too. The couple lives in a gated community. They are frightened by what lurks outside. I can see that. What I can’t see is forgetting about compassion and charity, or neglecting such Biblical injunctions as not to cast the first stone unless one is without sin, and to worry about the beam in one’s own eye before turning one’s attention to the mote in another’s.

If we worry about our morals deteriorating, surely the best place to start addressing that problem is in our own lives. We all have more than enough sins to occupy us. When we have extirpated them all, and learned courage, justice, generosity, and mercy, there will be time enough to worry about other people’s marriages. And I suspect that once we have learned those things, we will not find the fact that some couple in love wants to get married at the top of our list of concerns.