The primary source for the opposition to gay equality and therefore gay marriage is the oft-quoted statement: “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it.”
Since one can cite six passages – none by Jesus – that declare that same-sex activity is an abomination requiring the death penalty (Leviticus 20:13), that raises an unsettling question. Scripture also requires the death penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10). Since no campaign exists for a law or amendment to put gays or adulterers to death, the biblical commandments noted do not “settle it” because, obviously, they are not followed.
This selective biblical literalism – also embraced by every person needing justification for a drink (“Eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart” - Ecclesiastes 9:7) – can be termed the Pick-And-Choose Method of Biblical Interpretation.
It is argued that because the church and society have historically limited legal marriage
toone man and one woman, that tradition shouldn’t be changed. Historically, the church has at times forbidden divorce – the Catholic Church still does. Matthew reports that Jesus restricted divorce (“except for unchastity”) and remarriage. That doesn’t “settle it” for ministers who remarry divorced church members, avoiding “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”(Matthew 5:32).
Before 1966, the only legally permissible reason for divorce in the state of New York was adultery – not life-threatening abuse, sexual incompatibility or desertion. Divorce lawyers maintained a list of persons willing to testify as the “other party.” That divorce law, based on an arbitrarily selected biblical passage, was sensibly changed, as anti-gay-marriage laws, similarly based, should be. We correctly changed tradition, right?
In the Bible Belt, Southern states forbade interracial marriage until the “activist” U.S. Supreme Court overturned such laws in Loving vs. Virginia (1967). An amazing conclusion had been reached by a judge in Virginia that God put blacks in Africa and yellow persons in China and never intended for any races to mix. Anti-interracial-marriage laws were changed, God’s alleged intentions notwithstanding.
Most of us who engaged in traditional Christian marriage experience our marriage neither disturbed by gay marriages nor by interracial marriages. Is allowing gays to marry, encouraging marital fidelity, more destructive to the institution of marriage than divorce? Are two loving fathers or two loving mothers more damaging to children than dysfunctional abusive parents who married traditionally?
Gay couples do not produce children, but no one insists that childless couples, by reason of physical impairment or choice, violate God’s intentions for marriage. Elderly widows should remain unmarried? Marriage has a wider meaning than procreation.
In Griswold vs. Connecticut (1965), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law banning the sale of contraceptives in Connecticut. The court ruled that any majority faith tradition has the right to compel its members to follow its teachings. However, it has no right to impose its teachings, by law, on unwilling nonmembers. This decision – applied to the anti-gay- marriage law in N.C. – means that Southern Baptists may vote to exclude ministers and members who participate in a gay marriage. However, they would be legally disallowed from preventing persons of other faiths or no faith from such participation. No minister may be legally required to perform a gay marriage nor should any be legally prevented from doing so.
Although the N.C. constitutional amendment banning gay marriage passed by a majority vote, the judicial system exists, in part, to overturn majority votes when laws or amendments deny justice to minorities. This is not illegal “activism” by judges but rather their constitutional mandate.
Injustice is not made more palatable by the pious phrase:
“We love the sinner but hate the sin.” Gays would much prefer not to be refused a job or to be legally fired, condemned to hell, bullied, often driven to suicide, rather than to be loved by allegedly “Bible-believing” opponents
It is commonly suggested that we call the union of gay persons something other than marriage. Translation: Only “normal” couples should be allowed to participate in a traditional marriage. Gays are normal citizens, just different, deserving justice and equality. Geneticists conclude that the gene factor is definitely involved. No argument is persuasive that being Asian, black or gay is a matter of choice.
If one believes that the end of the world is “soon” – a belief promoted for perhaps 2,000 years – no one is harmed except, perhaps, the believer. However, sincere but misguided beliefs subsequently placed into laws that harm other individuals must be aggressively opposed, as the U.S. Supreme Court will, in all probability, decide shortly, overturning all anti-gay-marriage laws.
Bernard H. Cochran, Ph.D., is a retired professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Meredith College in Raleigh.