The Court brushed aside the entire history and meaning of marriage in our tradition.

This was the reaction of Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organisation for Marriage, to the decision by the California Supreme Court to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage. There’s something in what she said that really struck me – “marriage in our tradition”; I have to wonder whose tradition she is referring to. She presumably thinks she’s referring to American tradition, yet it certainly doesn’t sound like a nation which has a long (and bloody) history of chucking out and legislating against outdated and unfair practices like slavery, racism, ageism and sexism. She could equally be referring to Californian tradition, yet the Golden State has its own fast-growing reputation for both respecting and protecting minorities’ rights and leading the American nation in social progress.

The “tradition” she speaks of fits better with the religious marriage of conservative Christianity than the civil marriage of most Western nations. It seems to me that, as is so common with religious conservatives, she is confusing the secular traditions of American government with the religious dogma of those Christians opposed to gay marriage.Many openly LGBT people consider ourselves to have been unequivocally rejected by Christians like Ms. Gallagher; for centuries they have been at the forefront of opposition to equal rights for LGBT people – just as they opposed equal rights for non-Whites and women. To them we are outsiders, second-class citizens – in extreme cases of prejudice, not even fully human. So why should LGBT people have any respect and desire for the tradition of marriage when Ms. Gallagher and others like her, those who would be the gatekeepers of that tradition, treat us with such utter contempt?

Despite millennia of rejection, revilement and insults from other Christians, many gay people refuse to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, and instead continue to see value in many of the traditions of the Church – including the stability, honour, responsibility and respect that marriage promotes in romantic relationships. Many who seek the continued state recognition of same-sex marriage are deeply spiritual and religious people – frequently (though not exclusively) Christians – and rather than seeking to destroy it, as Ms. Gallagher claims, we wish to honour and protect it for future generations. Just as Ms. Gallagher’s “tradition” denies LGBT people the right to participate in and benefit from a civil institution to which all other citizens have access, our faith requires us to seek access to that institution, and the faith of our straight brothers and sisters drives them to support us in our quest. Those who believe that same-sex marriage is blessed by God seek to have our religious faith – our “tradition” – recognised as fully equal to all others, and state recognition of same-sex marriage is an important step towards this. So for us this fight is about the end of discrimination against our religious beliefs as much as our sexuality.

Ms. Gallagher’s comment betrays an attitude which concerns more than just marriage equality, however: it displays an assumption that her beliefs grant an intrinsic right to impose her particular brand of theology – her “tradition” – on the American government and people. If she is willing to force her beliefs on one religious group with whom she disagrees, she must be equally willing to oppress others in the same manner – and this makes her, and others like her, a threat to the religious freedom of all whose beliefs are even marginally different.