27 June 2015

The SCOTUS Ruling on Gay Marriage

I have three issues with conservative Christians' reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision about gay marriage (and, in case anybody missed it, about the overall question of the citizenship rights of gays, marriage aside): one to do with civil rights and democracy, one to do with the (mis)understanding of the role of the SCOTUS, one to do with the Bible’s view on homosexuality.

1) Civil Rights & Democracy. Conservative Christians are making the argument that in red states, huge majorities are against gay marriage, so the SCOTUS decision is a subversion of democracy, effectively disenfranchising millions who have voted in referenda over the years to prohibit gay marriage. On many other subjects, I might agree that the overruling by nine people of the votes of millions of people would be an outrage. (Right, Mr. Scalia?) But this issue is about civil rights, and you cannot morally submit basic civil rights to a vote. In the late 18th century, slavery was still permitted even in northern states (except, bless their liberal hearts, Vermont), so if you had conducted a national referendum on slavery, I have little doubt slavery would have come out the winner. Would that have made slavery morally right and provided it legitimacy? If you had held a referendum on women's rights (particularly the right to vote) in, say, 1850, I guarantee you the all-male electorate would have soundly rejected the notion. Would that result have morally justified oppressing women? If, in 1930s Germany, you had submitted to referendum the question of Jewish rights, what do you think the outcome would have been? Would that outcome have justified the Holocaust, simply because a majority deemed it acceptable to strip a minority of its rights? (Heavens, I am only two paragraphs in and I’ve already fulfilled Godwin’s Law!) The majority simply does not have the moral right to take away basic freedoms from the minority. Ever. And by the way, that concept was best spelled out by Founding Father James Madison, most notably in the Federalist Papers, those documents most venerated among conservatives. And yet this key concept is downplayed by conservatives to the point that even the venerable Heritage Foundation doesn’t mention it in their introduction to the Papers.

2) Role of the Supreme Court. I have heard many a conservative Christian say since the ruling, that SCOTUS either doesn’t have the right to decide such matters, or shouldn’t be so ‘activist’ when considering such issues. To the first point, I would refer you to the paragraph above: we need a body that fights the tyranny of the masses. But my feelings on morality aside, I would point out what is obvious to anyone who knows even a little about the Supreme Court: that since 1803, the Supreme Court has indeed been recognized as the final arbiter in judicial review, so they absolutely do have the right to rule here. And to the second point, notice that, pretty much without exception, conservatives always endorse legal decisions that reinforce their prejudices and don’t mind if these clearly smack of judicial activism, while they reserve that term for any decision with which they do not agree. And since we are talking about legal history, let me insert here that the vilest thing I have heard yet is a comparison of this ruling to Dred Scott, the infamous 1857 SCOTUS ruling that codified the idea that African Americans were not even to be considered as citizens worthy of rights. That ruling stripped a whole people of their rights, while the ruling in favor of gay marriage did the exact opposite, insisting that we recognize our LGBT brothers and sisters as citizens who absolutely deserve equal rights and the privileges afforded to other Americans.

3) Biblical perspective. Of course, more than anything, conservative Christians insist that no matter what earthly institutions may say, the Bible commands us to condemn homosexuals and, by extension, their right to marry. I am the wrong person to challenge on this: I was a devout Christian the first couple of decades of my life, and, more relevantly, (unlike, I would say, 99% of Christians), I have actually read the Bible, cover to cover. Twice. So grab your wet-suit and let's deep-dive this from a Biblical perspective. (Note in advance that I am not even going to go into the quite demonstrably false statement that Biblical marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Why bother when a meme sums it up so well?)

Many people opposed to homosexuality (and who thus feel entitled to condemn gay folks) cite various passages from the Bible. The most obvious is Leviticus 20:13: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." The problem with this verse is not actually the verse itself - it's pretty clear in its proscription. The issue is that if you rely on the Old Testament for your morality, there are many things that many a Christian does that are equally prohibited, e.g. eating shellfish, getting divorced, committing adultery, laboring on the Sabbath, and so on. So why this selectivity? If you can be murdered for being gay, you are equally liable to have those same stones kill you for working on the Sabbath, for doing something as mundane as picking up sticks on that day. (No, seriously, it actually cites that as an example in the book of Numbers. Look it up.)

Ah, says the clever Christian, but Jesus came along and replaced the Law and washed away all previous sins with his forgiveness, but then he reinstated the prohibition against homosexuality in the New Testament itself by mentioning it several times there! Ha! Gotcha! Well.....except no. Let's break it down. First of all, even post-Jesus you are still bound by Old Testament law (including fun stuff like selling your daughter to her rapist for 50 shekels and going to hell if you suffer an accident or disease that damages your 'manhood'....seriously, have you READ this book?!). See Matthew 5:17-18, the words of Jesus himself: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." [Emphasis mine.] So here we see Jesus saying that all that old-school stuff stays in effect. Now you're in a pickle here, Christian literalists. If Jesus didn't come to replace the old Laws, you're in trouble, and for one obscure sin or another, you deserve to be stoned to death (or worse: see above about selling your daughters, dads).

But  let's go deeper, since Christians might say I have misinterpreted Jesus's words in Matthew (though these words seem very straightforward to me). Let's say the old Laws are therefore gone. But gays are still condemned by verses from the New Testament, right? Not so fast. That I know of, there are three verses about homosexual activity in the New Testament, and the very first thing to notice is that none represents Jesus's personal stance or his own words. (He mentions homosexuality exactly zero times.)  So let's look at those three verses.

All three (in 1st Corinthians, 1st Timothy, and Romans) had better be disregarded by Christians for their own sakes! Read 1st Corinthians chapter 6 (and stop being a cafeteria Christian for once and read the WHOLE CHAPTER!): homosexuality is simply one among many equally condemned sins. That's right, 1st Corinthians makes no distinction between a gay person's 'sin' and, say, an adulterer's sin, or that of an idolater or a thief or a drunkard or slanderer or swindler. So if you use 1st Corinthians to condemn gays as sub-human abominations before the Lord, my Christian friend, you better watch yourself. That piece of candy you stole in second grade; that time you got drunk back in....well, yesterday; that time you cheated on a test or lied about an enemy: according to the Bible, all are regarded by God as equally reprehensible. So stop looking at that sty in your gay neighbor's eye and see to the plank in your own (to paraphrase Matthew 7:5).   

(Interesting side note here: the part of chapter 6 that mentions homosexuality has an overall context of prohibiting lawsuits among Christians. So that divorced, Christian, litigation-specializing lawyer who cheated on his ex-wife is WAY WORSE than the gay man or woman he condemns, in terms of sheer volume of sin committed. Still more fascinating is that the second half of that chapter has to do with sexual immorality, but it fails to mention homosexuality by name or inference at all, though to be fair, it doesn’t mention, say, adultery by name, either, and we can safely assume that would be condemned. The point is that nowhere in the Bible is homosexuality called out as being any worse than other sins like adultery.)

First Timothy chapter 1 and Romans chapter 1 are no different than Corinthians above: homosexuality is simply listed as an equal among those other sins that our Christian brothers and sisters commit all the time (but which for some reason they see as less evil, which I am sure is not at all self-serving). But lest one think I am skimming over this because these verses weaken my point, here are the verses in question: 

1st Timothy: “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (The ‘me’ here is Paul; oddly, for a book called Timothy, the writer is not Timothy, but Paul; Timothy is the recipient.) 

Romans chapter 1: Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

[Here is where the lazy Christian stops reading, since his or her own prejudice has been sufficiently reinforced. Alas, there is more.]

“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” [Emphasis mine.]

Bottom line: if gays deserve to be cheated of their civil rights, or even killed, because their ‘sin’ is mentioned in the Bible, then almost every Christian alive deserves the same fate based on sins they have all committed, sins that nowhere in the Bible are called out as being any worse or better than homosexuality

One last point in order to address the obvious, last-ditch attempt conservative Christians can make in rebuttal here. They claim that the difference between gays v. gossips, slanderers, thieves, the greedy, the lustful, divorcees, adulterers, et al, is these latter do not live their lives in constant, unrepentant opposition to God, that they at some point stop committing their sins. Someone who commits adultery, for example, may do it only once and then plead for God's forgiveness and be absolved, while the gay person 'chooses' to spend his or her life in constant rebellion. I shouldn't need to point out the obvious flaws here, but for the sake of thoroughness, I will. There are two problems: 

1) People in this latter group in fact rarely seem to stop living in defiance of 'God's will'. How many gossipers do you know who stop gossiping? Ask Newt Gingrinch's ex-wives how contrite he was when he cheated on them and divorced them. Ask Donald Trump how many times he has been married and divorced. (Christians conveniently forget that only a spouses's 'immorality' excuses divorce, per Jesus himself.) Ask the Christian investment banker if he ever stopped being greedy from the day he finished his MBA to the day he lay on his deathbed. Know a lot of people who stop lusting until age begins to rob them of it, quite against their will? Of course, there are outliers, but the bottom line is that a group of LGBT-haters screaming 'God hates fags' is full of people in a constant state of sin and quite unrepentant. Which brings us to the second point. 

2) Gays are the only people conservative Christians are constantly trying to punish through legislation and institutionalized prejudice. Do we have laws against adultery? Not anymore. Greed? Please. It's the foundation of our economy. Lust? People try to limit it, but with limited success (and one suspects they like it that way). (Besides, without lust, we'd lose 80% of the internet.) Gossiping? How much do you figure TMZ alone makes every year, and how many people view it? Thievery? We choose to impose real penalties on only a subset of thieves. If you steal a car, you can go to jail for years. But steal from millions of homeowners and your company - not even you personally - pays a fine and you move on. No, alone among all these 'sinners' are gays, because what conservative Christians can't allow themselves to admit is that most of them just can't relate to that 'sin' the way they so easily do to lust, greed, gossiping, adultery, etc. In short, they find it 'icky' and then build up their case from there. But you being grossed out by something doesn't give you the right to persecute those who do it. People's basic human rights cannot be stripped away because their behavior simply doesn't appeal to you.

So from a civil rights, legal, and Biblical point of view, conservative Christians simply do not have a leg to stand on here. They may on a visceral level disagree with everything I have written here; but on a factual level, they can provide no meaningful rebuttal.