Gay Marriage and Burning Black Churches

After the Supreme Court announced that lesbian and gay people had the right to marry everywhere in the US, some Southern states announced their intent to ignore or otherwise resist the ruling.

And perhaps as proof of the limits of legal equality in the face of hate, a number of black congregations down South were left sifting through the ashes of their churches — several from acts of arson; for others, lightning is being blamed.

I always did wonder about church burnings — if the culprits thought that it was black voices lifted in prayer that ended slavery or got them out from under that heavy white thumb of the Jim Crow laws. I wonder, also, how come they aren’t afraid of the God they usually profess to believe in, burning down His modest little Houses.

Or perhaps they believe black people themselves are an abomination unto the Lord, like gay folks, and that the Almighty God is too weak to act on His own behalf, apparently needing the gasoline and matches only a human can provide. Which is perhaps why they also engage in the bombing of abortion clinics and gay bars, the corrective rapes of lesbians, the slaughter of godless immigrants at our southern border.

I’m not sure we need to explain it to stop it. Hate and logic are not always friends. Hate’s found more often in the company of fear. Fear and violence. And even if we manage to unravel a bit of white supremacy, straight supremacy, and the rule of men and we win rights like marriage, those of us who are hated and feared should keep in mind the limits of legal protections in a country where we adore violence so much we let our toddlers play with guns, and if they shoot each other, or us, well… That’s the price of freedom.

Because what is this American love of guns, but a fascination with violence, the willingness of the owner to imagine killing at their own discretion, on their own behalf as judge, jury, executioner? No gun owner ever just says, “I like guns, so what? They’re fun.” They invoke Liberty, Self-Defense, the Constitution, claiming threats to their Person, their Property, to their Way of Life, to this Great Nation. And it’s us they’re afraid of. Naming the Communists, the Cities, the Blacks. The Illegals. The Gays. The Fascists who will force them to vaccinate their children when some minor celebrity has condemned them.

Shaking in their boots, they whip out their guns and actually do kill — kids in hoodies, or their spouses up at night to get a glass of water. Their children coming home from college. Or they transform their fear into acts of terrorism against communities or individuals that seem to represent actual or symbolic threats. Churches and synagogues are burned. The black man dragged to death behind a pickup truck, the fag left splayed on a fence, the dykes in dumpsters, the butchered trans woman in the gutter.

Not that these victims don’t have their own hates, their own fears. You don’t have to listen at keyholes to hear black preachers denouncing queers, or women going after dykes (that’s not a woman), or immigrants after each other because in many ways we humans are all wolves, marking our territory, baring our fangs.

Nothing terrifies us more than watching others progress. A black president drives those crackers crazy. Immigrants are accused of taking black jobs. Now gay marriage. Dang. Nobody will stay in their place, they say. Everybody claiming everybody else wants what they have. And so often, in fact, we do. We want the same jobs at the same pay, the same homes, the same safety. The same rights and responsibilities, and wedding cakes. Or at least a chance at them. So of course we’re all afraid.

Because, while it may be theoretically true that freedom is not a pie that has a limited number of pieces, equality always does threatens someone. Remove racism from housing policy in Chicago, and there would be a lot less money in white pockets and a white family might have to live next to blacks. Or worse, noisy Mexicans. Allow women to be educated, you may be expanding the work force, tapping an unclaimed resource, but some inadequate man somewhere will lose his job. And allow same-sex marriage, allow… change, and anything at all could happen.

People feel that possibility in their bones. And some, it terrifies. The powerful do not like to lose their power. Even the poor fight over scraps. And what’s left for the straight couples who in their loveless marriages no longer have the pleasure of seeing our queer faces pressed against the windows of their miserable homes?


Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota.