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The Biggest Threats We Face From Conservative Religion

Our economy runs on the fossil fuels of oil, gas and coal, but our society runs on the fossil fuel of religion.

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These campaigns are invariably led by Christian conservatives who appeal to prejudice and homophobia dressed up in the guise of "protecting marriage." The question is inevitably never answered -- protecting marriage from what, exactly? Would allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry harm heterosexuals somehow? Would it negatively affect existing marriages in any way? Of course not -- a moment's clearheaded thought should make that obvious enough. But religious conservatives have effectively prevented that moment of clarity by clouding their followers' minds, inciting paranoia and hysteria and whipping up the flames of hatred. Their rhetoric is virtually indistinguishable from the pre-civil rights era opposition to interracial marriage, although the comparison hasn't seemed to trouble them.

Some states have carried anti-gay hysteria even further by banning gay people acting as foster parents or adopting children, regardless of their qualifications or their ability to provide a loving and stable home environment. Showing the revolting depths of their hatred and prejudice, some state legislatures have proposed laws that would prevent gay people from adopting children, even if they are related to them, or that would break up preexisting adoptions by gay parents that were performed legally in other states if the parents merely traveled through the state in question with their child.

The most appalling part of this is that the people behind these efforts claim to be "pro-marriage" and "pro-family." How can these claims be considered anything other than the opposite of the truth? They are not pro-family; they're fighting against gay families and doing their best to tear those families apart. Nor are they pro-marriage: they're in favor of restricting marriage, of keeping it off-limits to people they disapprove of. A person who was in favor of marriage would want to make marriage accessible to as many groups of people as possible.

There are two more stories worth recounting that shows the depths of religious anti-gay hysteria, and offers a frightening glimpse of what these would-be theocrats would like the law to be. In December 2006, a schism within the Anglican church over how to treat gay congregants boiled over, as two large, wealthy, conservative parishes in Virginia with over 4,000 members voted to secede from the American branch of the Anglican Convocation and align themselves with the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its ultra-conservative archbishop Peter Akinola. Akinola is the head of the second-largest branch of the Anglican church, with around 17 million members, about one-quarter of the denomination's entire global membership. He's also spoken in support of a horrendous Nigerian law that would punish any homosexual activity, private or public -- even something as inoffensive as holding hands -- with five years imprisonment. Even if not all the members of the American churches agree with Akinola's beliefs, they evidently don't consider them to be a deal-breaker either.

The religious right's obsession with sex, and more specifically its wish to punish people who don't conform to its ideas of sexual propriety, shows up in other contexts as well. Consider the growing problem of religious pharmacists who refuse to fill certain prescriptions because they disapprove of the use of the drug being prescribed. There's been a rash of Roman Catholic pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control pills -- even to people who aren't Catholic -- because Catholic dogma forbids the use of contraception. In at least one of these cases, not only did the pharmacist refuse to fill the prescription, he refused to return it to the patient in an attempt to prevent her from having it filled at a different pharmacy. And in many states, legislatures are debating so-called "conscience clause" laws that would explicitly make these actions legal.

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