Why Atheists Should Care About The Prop 8 Trial

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I feel a little bad for my atheist readers. While there’s typically a happy blend of LGBT issues, higher education issues, and atheistic issues on ZFb, the past two weeks have been pretty heavy on the LGBT. I want to dedicate this post to my atheist readers and implore you to continue reading my blog in the same way, because the Prop 8 trial is of massive consequence to the freethinking community.

Now there have been plenty of posts urging people to care about this case. I wrote one last week directed mostly at queer folks and allies (which is still a great introduction to the trial). Audrey Bilger had a great piece on Huffington Post about why straight folks should be following the trial (and Marcy Wheeler offered a stirring addendum). But why is this important to atheists? Here are a couple simple, yet profound, points to consider.

» Most atheists support gay rights.

This might seem obvious, but I don’t think I’ve ever met an anti-gay atheist. Human rights are fundamental to humanists, so I’m sure there are many folks out there who do hope that the result of this trial is in favor of marriage equality. This is great, but we need your support and participation in discussing the issues of the trial with other people. As I wrote before, this is an important opportunity to raise awareness.

» Atheists and LGBT folks are similarly demonized by religious groups.

The plaintiffs (those opposing Prop 8 in this case) have made a compelling case that “upholding traditional marriage” is just code for religiously motivated discrimination. As with the gay community, it is religious groups who demonize skeptics, festering the stigma that we’re all amoral, selfish, and out to destroy the fabric of society. It’s almost an identical stigma, and as a member of both communities, I sometimes get confused as to which I’m being attacked for.

» Science is being attacked.

It’s no coincidence that many prominent atheists (Richard, PZ, etc.) are also scientists. Religion and religious beliefs do not stand up against scientific inquiry, and scientific discoveries have often been presented in stark contrast to popular church views (heliocentrism, evolution, etc.). The study of sexual orientation is not a strict “hard” science (though new friend of the blog Jude assures us there are many biological components), but it is surely scientific! I’m a social scientist myself, and I’d contend that psychology and sociology are just as important to defend! They are still based on scientific inquiry and making sure assumptions aren’t made without compelling evidence.

The cross-examinations from the past two weeks have made it quite evident that the defense is trying to attack science. A lot of the strategy has been to cite older studies (which are less informed or even poorly constructed), point out old conclusions, and then try to suggest that science is “wrong.” Sometimes they seem to even pride themselves if they get one of the plaintiffs’ experts to simply say something they can quote out of context to make it sound like they’re winning.

Truly, this is a spectacular display of religious privilege challenging the veracity of science. It’s no coincidence that many have been comparing this trial to the Scopes Monkey Trial (including this piece yesterday on P8TT). Sure, we’re discussing equal rights instead of free speech, but the tactics are exactly the same. It’s not surprising that the defense has also worked very hard to keep the proceedings as hidden from the public as possible. They say it’s out of fear of reprisal or that it might become a “show trial,” but the only reason it would become that is because of the outrageous nature of their tactics.

Already, we’ve learned that historically and presently, religion is the biggest obstacle to gay rights. We’ve also seen astounding evidence as to covert cooperation among various religious organization (who would normally never work together, like Catholics and Mormons) to campaign against the rights of gays and lesbians. Proposition 8 is a religious law, and religion is on trial.

» Proposition 8 is about stifling the voice of the nonreligious.

I shan’t belabor the point any further. Proposition 8 is the clearest example we have of the religious majority trying to inflict its views of morality upon the entire population. It is the very thing that atheists most oppose.

I’m not suggesting that atheists need to start marching in pride parades (though they often do and I’m glad!), but the LGBT community needs all the support it can get. While not every gay person will always agree with or support a nonbeliever’s nonbelief, we’re all in the same boat in terms of the oppression we experience at the hands of the religious right. Not only are atheists important allies, but nonbelievers actually have quite a bit at stake in this case.

If you are an atheist and you read this blog regularly, I hope you will keep reading it regularly as I continue my coverage of Perry v. Schwarzenegger. I started this blog addressing both LGBT and atheist issues because they have to be addressed in the same way. I hope you will recognize what a threat to freedom from religion this case presents and use it as an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of respecting knowledge over belief.

Catch up on all my coverage in my Perry v. Schwarzenegger archive.

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