Leave it to America's rural South to be both the home of leading liberal Democrats, as well as the last bastion of embarrassing religious bigotry. Are these bigots living in the dark ages? Don't they know about the Internet, TV, and that it's not 1955 any more?
Itawamba County in northern Mississippi is one of those places nobody has heard of. It has just over 20,000 residents total, and only three towns (the largest has 3,000 residents). Itawamba had only two claims to fame: Tammy Wynette, the wonderful country singer/songwriter, was born there, as was Delphia Spencer Hankin. What, you never heard of Mrs. Hankin? Why, she lived to be over 110 years old!
But this week Itawamba County got a new claim to fame when religious anti-gay intolerance and bigotry catapulted high-school student Constance McMillen into the national news. She wanted nothing more than to attend the high-school prom with her sweetheart like the rest of the students. The trouble is, her sweetheart is her girlfriend, and Constance wanted to wear a tuxedo.
The school principal said no, the ACLU came in to defend her rights, and rather than allow gays at their prom, the school board simply cancelled the prom outright. And even though the school board didn't point a finger at McMillen and say it was her fault, everybody knows she is the cause.
Can you imagine that? Ms. McMillen is being blamed by her entire high school for having the prom cancelled! The senior prom is one of the most memorable and fun events of the entire high-school experience. It's the last social event before friends go off to college, get jobs, and start families. Although the formal graduation marks the end of high school, it's really the prom where students mix and mingle, dance, make out, lose love, find love and mark the end of their childhood.
Now many of them are blaming McMillen for their loss. You can bet that she already faced discrimination for her lifestyle choice, and now she's blamed for blowing the entire prom. One hopes that most of the kids are directing their anger where it belongs, at the cowardly and bigoted school board (and the parents who elected them), but it's a good bet that there is plenty of anger directed her way instead.
One of the biggest flaws with religion is that its morality is frozen in time. The stories that we call the Old and New Testaments were written between about 2,800 and 1,400 years ago, by priests and politicians in the Middle East, living in a desert culture using stone- and iron-age technologies. Have we learned nothing in 2,500 years? Are we completely incapable of learning, of advancing our morals and ethics as society advances? In a world of the Internet, cell phones, camera surveillance, bioterrorism, space travel, and buildings 800 meters tall, do we really need to look to goatherds and priests who lived 2,500 years ago for the final answers to all of our questions?
My congratulations to Constance McMillen for having the courage of her convictions. This can't be easy for her. I suspect this won't be the last time Constance makes a few ripples in life.