Commentary on current events, politics, government, and popular culture from John Sheirer, author of the book, Make Common Sense Common Again.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Marriage Equality's Constitutional Trump Card

Last month when the Supreme Court heard arguments about marriage equality, Facebook lit up with countless posts supporting everyone's right to be married. I was happy to see all of the red equals signs and clear statements in favor of equal rights for all people. The posts came from a wide range of my friends: long-time liberals, curmudgeonly contrarians, independents, and just basically kind-hearted and open-minded people. The "like" button got a workout as I clicked my support for these posts.

Of course, social media is never a place for universal agreement. But the folks against marriage equality mostly remained silent on the subject. None of my friends posted any "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" nonsense, mostly because anti-gay ideology is now being called out for what it is: bigotry. But I was surprised by one specific response. My sister Pam posted a graphic reading, "This person supports love" with an arrow pointing to her profile picture. Go Pam! "No one could be against love," I thought.

I was wrong. One of Pam's conservative friends commented that Pam's post was "insulting" to him.  When I commented, "Would you prefer the message, 'This person is against love?' Pam's friend launched an extended attack on marriage equality from a religious perspective. Here's a summary of his view: God is against homosexuality, so it's morally wrong because it says so in the Bible and because God is life, and homosexuals can't have kids, so they will lead to the death of the human race, but it's rude for people to call me a bigot because of my beliefs.

The idea that anyone knows what God may be for or against has proven to be pretty arbitrary over the years. More than a century ago, some people used God and the Bible to advocate for slavery. And in far more recent history, even in my own lifetime, people argued for outlawing interracial marriage based on religious grounds. Those embarrassing aspects of American history are eerily similar to the current religious argument against marriage equality. A few short decades from now, will the folks fighting to prevent marriage equality today be viewed with the same disgust as the slavery apologists and racists of history? Yes, that's very likely.

Generally, the folks who claim that they know what God wants are hijacking God as an involuntary character reference while voicing what they want--slavery and racial segregation, for example. But even if they seriously have God's best intentions in mind, Christianity has so much more to offer than narrow-minded condemnation of homosexuality. As my friend Wayne Barr has noted, the King James version of the Bible has 788,280 words, and only 338 of them touch on homosexuality. That's a whopping 0.042%. And the founder of Christianity, Jesus himself, referenced homosexuality exactly never. Comedian and pundit John Fugelsang adds that the Bible has about seven verses directly referencing homosexuality but more than 4,000 relating to helping the poor. So a Christian anti-gay focus isn't just questionable morality--it's questionable Christianity.

The current Christian right's obsession with homosexuality remains a mystery. If being gay is a "sin," it's certainly not the only sin identified in the Bible. I have some questions for Pam's Bible-condemns-homosexuality friend. Did he bring a honey-cured ham to his Church's Easter potluck dinner? The Bible forbids eating ham. (Leviticus 11:7-8). What if the weather had turned warm and he brought a chilled shrimp platter instead? The Bible says that's an abomination (Leviticus 11:10). What if he wore a tank top and showed off that tattoo he got as a rebellious teenager long ago? Another abomination (Leviticus 19:28). And if that tank top was made of a poly-blend fabric? Hellbound! (Leviticus 19:19). What if someone there spoke up about some religious issue and happened to be a woman? Bam--big sin! (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). And what if he had been called into work and couldn't attend the potluck? Working on the Sabbath--yet another sin! (Exodus 31:14-15).

Those are only a few biblical "sins" that most Christians ignore. I'm not making fun of the Bible or God or Christianity. But I am questioning the thinking skills of people who pick and choose some Bible versus and conveniently forget about others. Why doesn't anyone rant about the evils of  shrimp and ham? Why aren't tattoo and polyester cases being taken to the Supreme Court? The answer is that people may not approve of tattoos or polyester, but there's usually no emotional, visceral bigotry against body art or synthetic fabric. My sister Pam's conservative friend was sincerely offended that anyone would consider his condemnation of homosexuality to be bigoted. But how can a statement such as "homosexuals will lead to the death of the human race" be interpreted as anything other than bigoted? He conveniently ignores the fact that gay people are perfectly capable of bringing life into the world and being parents, either by birth or by adoption. As Justice Elana Kagan pointed out, we don't prevent anyone too old to reproduce from marrying, so preventing only gay people from marrying is nothing more than bigoted discrimination.

Some self-described Christians argue that legalizing marriage equality between any two consenting adults will lead to other sins. That's a classic slippery-slope fallacy at best, and intentionally ignorant at worst. Conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly says marriage equality could lead to a human being marrying a duck. Failed politician Rick Santorum says it could lead to man-on-dog sex or polygamy. Professional hate-monger Rush Limbaugh says it could pave the way for him to marry his own couch--although I'm not sure how his current wife or three ex-wives would feel about that. What part of "two consenting adults" is so hard to understand?

Most important, whatever people think of the weak religious case against marriage equality is irrelevant. The United States is a nation of civil laws, not religious doctrine. If the law says that I can marry my wife Betsy, then it can't simultaneously prevent my friends Jim and Paul from marrying each other. The Constitutional application is simple: the Fourteenth Amendment specifically says that all citizens have "equal protection of the laws," and the First Amendment tells us that religious beliefs don't trump the legal equality of all American citizens, no matter their sexual identity. Why is that such a difficult concept? The four Supreme Court justices appointed by Democratic presidents surely understand that basic fact. Let's just hope that at least one of the five Republican-appointed justices can put the law above discrimination--whether that discrimination is disguised as religion or not.


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