I thoroughly enjoy my copy of the Professional Geographer, a journal of the Association of American Geographers. It never fails to provide some thought provoking material.
This month’s issue didn’t fail to do just that.
An article by Gerald R. Webster, Thomas Chapman, and Jonathan Leib, titled Sustaining the “Societal and Scriptural Fence”: Cultural, Social, and Political Topographies of Same-Sex Marriage highlights some very scary politics within the southern United States.
From the abstract:
Those opposed to same-sex marriage in Alabama made effective use of various social constructions that are deeply embedded within a “moral” geography, situating the state as a fenced-off bastion of “religious traditional values,” a common theme throughout the American South. In this vein, social boundaries and territory were demarcated as a powerful political act in Alabama, a strategy that situated the state as hetero-normatively “in place,” while deeming sexual minorities as “out of place.”
Wow. That’s a pretty heavy accusation. But really, it’s not an accusation but a detailed account of fact. Christian Alabamans do use politics and an adherence to place to ensure that their way of living is preserved. That’s the whole point. The article goes on to illustrate just that.
The authors start out by describing the general malaise of marriage protection laws in America. This map kind of says it all:
Figure 1 – States that have passed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Source: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (scanned from the Professional Geographer).
Webster et.al. describe the scalar politics and religious fundamentalism that has lead to the culture ‘wars’ in the United States as well as Alabama. Indeed, when we are talking about abuse, murder and the systematic reduction of gay rights in that state, I guess it does amount to a war. And that’s best described by this statement coming from the former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore:
Homosexual conduct is, and has been considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct violates both the criminal and civil laws of this state and is destructive to a basic building block of society – the family. – 2002
But it gets worse, voting guides distributed by the Christian Coalition of Alabama (2006) listed the consequences if an amendment to ban same-sex marriage wasn’t passed:
Public schools will be forced to embrace homosexuality, Adoption laws will be instantly obsolete, The health care system will stagger and perhaps collapse, and Religious freedom will almost certainly be jeopardized
When you have someone as fervent as Roy Moore behind a cause and willing to use religion in politics, just how are we to view same-sex marriage objectively, let alone any other issue? Please, tell me, what does the health care system have to do with same-sex marriage? And religious freedom? Do Alabamans really think that if same-sex couples were allowed to marry that that would somehow negate their right to worship their (bigot) god? Where on earth did they get that notion?
The article goes on to describe the authors’ statistical analysis of race, religion and class within Alabama in regards to the same-sex marriage referendum votes. They found that:
…there was an interesting turnout pattern with lesser rates of participation in urban areas such as Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa, and abnormally high rates of turnout in some lesser populated, rural and overwhelmingly white counties in northern Alabama such as Franklin, Marion, Lamar, and Pickens.
The voting pattern maps are interesting and one of these days I’ll juxtapose them onto some maps produced by Warf and Weinsberg on religious diversity (see my post Geography of No Religion). I’m sure there is a correlation.
So, just how does the societal and scriptural fence get built? Why such divisions? Well, as many of you may notice in your own neighborhoods or out on that ‘innocent’ school playground, humans tend to divide themselves by race, class, and religion. Alabama is no exception.
According to Webster et al., the majority of votes in the Alabama supporting the same-sex ban came from counties with overwhelming white and overwhelming Christian conservative populations. They noted that in counties with a diverse population (Madison County) and in counties that had a large African American population less than 75 percent voted for the ban. The authors go on to find a statistical spatial correlation between the anti-gay rights agenda and the socio-demographic variables (percent Black, percent religious conservative, percent urban, percent with a college degree, median household income, percent between the age of 18 and 34, and percent creative class).
A few of these correlated statistics are presented in the article in map form, but I’m just gonna show one:
Figure 4 - Factor II: Race and religion factor scores by county. Source: Webster et al. (scanned from the Professional Geographer).
Webster et.al. conclude:
Those most opposed to same-sex marriage in Alabama have made effective use of these socio-geographic constructions to control the landscape in their moral terms, a powerful political act. Religious fundamentalism played a central role in the spatial outcome of the Alabama vote, situating the state as a fenced-off bastion of “religious traditional values,”…
Lord help us…