I really liked reading this and learning about this history. Do you guys have something good to say or share?

The State of California began recognizing same-sex marriages in June 2008, and stopped doing so upon Election Day five months later, when Proposition 8 passed in a flurry of religiously-based hysteria and fear-mongering. We all know that story.

But would it surprise you to learn that this is only the latest example of same-sex marriage falling victim to religion in California? In fact, this region has a centuries-long tradition of approving gay unions and incorporating them happily and productively into mainstream society. And, horrifyingly, it also has a history of outside religious organizations stepping in and destroying that norm, throwing shame and abuse on the communities that approved it, and driving LGBT individuals back into the closet.

Same-sex relations took a variety of forms among the Native American tribes who lived up and down the West Coast before the 18th century European/Christian invasion. Although different tribes saw their LGBT members differently, the common thread was an understanding that sexuality and gender are not black-and-white, either/or propositions. Some individuals crossed those traditional lines and completed initiation ceremonies to become recognized as something different. They were often seen as being more spiritual or gifted than their neighbors, and were recognized as a peaceful influence that helped preserve society. Almost universally, these LGBT individuals were considered highly desirable mates and held in great esteem. They married chiefs or became chiefs themselves.

That all ended when the Spanish missionaries arrived. Sound familiar? Discovering a social order which did not conform to their morality and which they could not comprehend, the Europeans imposed their own false standards on the people of the future California, reinterpreted what they saw according to the most negative aspects of their own narrow worldview, and forcibly separated LGBT individuals from their partners and families. In many cases, the missionaries even ripped the “deviants” out of their communities and transported them hundreds of miles away to reprogram them and negate any chance that love and compassion might heal the wounds inflicted by this alien religion. Anybody heard this story before?

It's telling that these historical LGBT individuals were, until recently, referred to as berdache, a bastardized French word meaning a young male prostitute. Native American scholars have suggested that a better term is "two-spirit people." This reflects the understanding that such individuals incorporated elements of both genders within them. The European's heavily religious view rendered them completely clueless.

The more we learn about the European conquest and settlement of what became the U.S., and the more we discover about the tribal societies that were in place here before their arrival, the more we understand that the process was terrible: physically violent and socially devastating. We are beginning to be rightly horrified and ashamed at what our forebears did to pave our way here on this continent. How is it, then, that we can fail to recognize the echoes of those outrages in our own recent history? Once again, in 2008, a bunch of foreign missionaries imposed themselves on us and our private lives. They did their utmost to destroy something which was working beautifully, and which was not hurting them, or anyone else, in any way.

Honestly, do we really need to relive the sins of fathers quite so literally? Really?

Photo credit: army.arch