Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 9 News List

The pink posse takes on America

Gay is the word in living rooms, churches and political chambers across the US this season

By Paul Harris  /  THE OBSERVER , NEW YORK

Despite the show's success, gay rights is still a hugely divisive issue in America. It taps into debates over tolerance and traditional values and reflects a split between America's multi-ethnic, multicultural cities and rural areas, especially in the deep South, where prejudice against homosexuality still runs strong.

No area has been more controversial than the church. The appointment earlier this month of an openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church, the US branch of Anglicanism, has riven US society. The decision by a convention of the church to approve the appointment of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire was marked by passionate protests. Some people wore ashes on their foreheads as a sign of penance and mourning. A few wore black armbands. In a church a few blocks from where the bishops were meeting, some worshippers wept in the aisles.

"The Episcopalians will be a dead church in 10 years. They are going to die out over this," said Wildmon.

But when Bishop Robinson was introduced to those assembled at the convention, many of the 800 people assembled broke into spontaneous applause.

Bishop Leo Frade of the diocese of south-east Florida voted in favour of the appointment of the gay bishop only after several days of fasting and prayer, and was the only bishop in Florida to back the decision. He said: "We do not need to fear controversy or opposing views. Our Anglican heritage has been strengthened by diversity and dissent."

The Episcopal Church in America has long been divided on the subject, and gay members of the clergy are nothing new. In San Francisco, with its large and powerful homosexual population, gays and lesbians are ordained in the local church. Across the South, however, it is a different story. Wildmon's organization is based in Mississippi and he is in no doubt about local churches' position in his deeply conservative state. "It is a tragedy when a Christian denomination starts to give in to the political winds of a powerful gay lobby," he said.

Gay marriage will be the next battlefield. A landmark Supreme Court decision in June threw out a Texan law forbidding gay sex and could now pave the way for same-sex marriages to be recognized in law. Comparisons have been made with the historic Supreme Court decision in 1954 that opened the way to desegregating southern schools and let black and white pupils attend the same institution.

The site of the battle has already been chosen. It is liberal Massachusetts where several gay couples have fought all the way to the state's Supreme Court to win the right to be legally married. Now that decision is due. In fact it is late. The court should already have handed down its decision, but it has been delayed for unspecified reasons. Campaigners speculate that it is to digest the implications of the Texas decision. "Everyone is holding their breath. This is the big one," said Seomin.

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