Sunday, April 28, 2013

Opponents of Marriage Equality Seek Governmental Support for Intolerance

A local columnist recently promised “straight talk about gay marriage,” but instead wandered around in crooked circles.

He made the usual arguments against equality of marriage: he thinks his God doesn’t approve, it wasn’t done in the past, and it’s bad.

But our Constitution and traditions forbid basing governmental decisions on  religious belief.

Further, we don’t know how Jesus viewed gay love.  We do know He preached love and tolerance.   The four “official” gospels do not report Jesus discussing homosexuality. In certain gospels, though not those the Catholic Church chose to include in “the Bible,” Jesus not only approves of it but is said to lie with another man on at least one occasion.

The columnist, Neal Hooks, argues that gay marriage wasn’t traditionally permitted.

Mostly it wasn’t; but past conduct can be a treacherous guide to what’s right.  We enslaved people, sometimes honestly believing they were inferior.  We put married women’s property in their husbands hands.  We branded adulteresses with scarlet letters.

It’s also not quite accurate that marriage has always been between one man and one woman, with no dispute on that point in recorded history.  The 19th Century Mormons were pretty much at war with the United States over conflicting definitions of marriage.  In parts of Tibet where women were scarce, a woman could marry two brothers.   The Roman emperor Nero is said to have married men – twice.

Currently, thirteen countries have legalized same-sex marriage.

We learn as we develop, and develop as we learn, both as individuals and as a society.  We are learning that a non-negligible proportion of the population is naturally disposed toward homosexuality.  We are learning that gay unions can include love, and that a loving same-sex couple can nurture and raise wonderful children.  We are learning that what may seem “natural” to some need not define that word for science or society.

It’s true that during the 1960's we in the Movement did not speak up for gay rights.  Most of us were not even aware that some friends and comrades were gay, or of the angst our ignorance caused them.  I regret that, just as folks today who call same-sex relationships “unnatural” or “immoral” may someday regret hurting kids they know who are secretly gay.  A new book, Does Jesus Really Love Me? chronicles the author’s heartbreaking experience growing up gay in a fundamentalist family that viewed him as “lost.”

Why is gay marriage “immoral”?  Because opponents don’t like it?  Because their churches don’t?   No one faith defines morality for all of us; and laws change as our society grows.

There are numerous religions in the world.  In some countries it is illegal and immoral for a person to practice Judaism, or for a woman to walk with her face uncovered or speak to a man to whom she is not closely related.  Few of us would assume that because religion dictates those rules they are right.

At one point, after appearing to use evolution to prop up his argument, Mr. Hooks adds, “Not that I believe in evolution.”

That’s a curious view.  Your religion is something you believe in.  As others believe in theirs.  Even without objective evidence, you have faith.  That’s part of the beauty of religion.

Abundant evidence supports evolution.

Of course, the world’s best scientific minds could be wrong.  As retired NMSU professor Bud Wanzer once remarked, if our civilization died out and some future civilization’s archeologists studied it, they’d conclude that human beings got smaller between 1948 and 1978.   Otherwise why would our cars have gotten so much smaller?

Still, until someone presents a better explanation of the available facts –something more than “It must be wrong because it contradicts sacred texts” -- evolution looks like the smart bet.

As to the claim that studies show that among homosexuals there are more STDs, obesity, domestic violence, mental illness, depression, and suicide, some of that might be true.  Much of it seems highly dubious.  With regard to mental illness, depression, and suicide, mightn’t those trends be driven by precisely this attitude that being gay is abnormal, sinful, shameful, and dangerous?  As to obesity, let’s not look at people’s sex lives but at McDonald’s, Coke and Pepsi, and the strangle-hold Monsanto has on politicians in both parties.

The reassurance that “no one is taking away homosexuals’ rights to do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes” falls a bit flat.   Quite recently, gays had no such rights.  A decision penned by Justice Kennedy, who’s still on the Court, told Texas it couldn’t jail folks for gay sex.  That was in 2003.   Folks argued against that decision in much the same words, that it was “immoral” and God didn’t approve.

  Hooks closes by claiming his opinions are based on practicalities and on “faithfulness to God . . . we are all sinners.  The only difference is I am not asking the government to justify mine.”  I’m not sure what his sins are, but if they include adultery or the consumption of alcohol, or even certain sexual practices with a consenting heterosexual spouse, they are sins our government, based in part on people’s religions, has considered criminal.

From the perspective of my religion, which preaches love and tolerance, the folks opposing marriage equality are doing just what Mr. Hooks denies doing: they are asking the government to justify their intolerance by continuing to forbid gay couples to marry.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, April 28, in the Las Cruces Sun-New.  For those who did not see the op-ed column cited in mine, go to Sun-News blog and search Neal Hooks.  I believe it was published April 12th. ]

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