I’m a Christian. I’m also a Democrat, with political tendencies that would be characterized by today’s measures as roughly “left-center.” To be honest, I don’t really know what that means, other than that I’m apparently a heathen anomaly. Overall, I believe liberalism is the stronger ideology for the advancement of the human race, though I also understand that reality bears the requirement of occasional pragmatism. I also believe that, as a big picture, liberalism is far closer to the teachings of Jesus than the bizarre form of conservatism being practiced today. Because of this, my opinions will likely not fully agree with anyone on anything. I don’t expect you to fully agree with my complex stances on the issue of same-sex marriage. In fact, I’m still confused at how big government liberals are the ones standing up for LGBT rights, and so-called limited government and concerned about privacy conservatives are so eager to know what you do in the bedroom and damn you to hell for it.
My hope is not for you to read this and say that I’m right. In general, I encourage dissent, because I’m fully aware that I could be wrong. My real hope is for you to say that I’m fair, and perhaps you will step out of the box with me and see the spectrum of opinions, as opposed to right or wrong, left or right, black or white, gay or straight.
I want to break this into three distinct categories. I intend to show, first and foremost, that this conversation becomes far less controversial, indeed almost non-controversial, if we assume and expect a metaphorical wall standing tall and strong between church and state. I will also show that, as opposed to the popular Christian perspective, the evidence against same-sex marriage is not so clear-cut. In fact, it just might be shaky enough that erring of the side of not dehumanizing another human being is preferable. None of this, however, is as important and impactful as an understanding that the language we use within the controversy makes it far more confusing than it needs to be. All of this can be so much easier, with far fewer words than I’m about to drop on you. I would ask that you reserve your opinions until you’ve read the entire piece and have a few moments to reflect on it. This is not surface-level stuff, so please do not treat it as if you’ll find the answer on a bumper sticker.
Church and State
The separation of church and state, despite popular belief, is not worded as such in the U.S. Constitution. Rather, it was an interpretation published by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause from the Constitution. Going back even further, the idea was first promoted in writing by the Flushing Remonstrance (not to be confused with the Universal Remonster), which was a statement written by a group of English Citizens in the mid-17th century in response to the governor of New Netherland banning all religions except the Dutch Reformed Church, and the following resulting persecution of Quakers. None of the signers were Quakers. They just thought it was stupid to persecute the Quakers for being Quakers. Imagine that…they were fighting for the rights of others to worship differently than them.
The wall of separation has since been held up as precedent numerous times by the Supreme Court, namely because the Founding Fathers that were responsible for religious liberty and the Establishment Clause in the Constitution were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of which urged the interpretation using the wall metaphor. The Supreme Court has decided on multiple occasions that because the author of the concept of the wall metaphor was a key player in entering religious liberty into the Constitution (Jefferson), his later writings on the topic can be extended and understood to essentially be part of the Constitution, much the same way that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution in their decisions set Constitutional precedent.
The reason this is important to the current controversy of same-sex marriage is because this wall separates the controversy into two distinct parts that have no reason to overlap: should same-sex marriage be allowed by the state, and should same-sex marriage be allowed by the church. From the state side, the wall makes it absolutely clear. The fight against same-sex marriage comes directly and only from the Bible, and because the religious argument should be separate in matters of state, there is no religious argument allowed in the debate. A same-sex couple going to the courthouse and getting married, filing joint tax returns, being with their partner on their death bed, and enjoying all other benefits our country offers to married couples can be based in no part on anything that establishes religion in a matter of the state. This is undeniable. In this way, the wall of separation protects the state from the church.
It’s important to note, though, that this protection is two-sided. The wall of separation is equally as necessary to protect the church from the state. The state does not have the right, even if same-sex marriage is legal within the state or even as federal law, to force a same-sex marriage on the church. In this way, the wall is used to protect the church from the state. It is absolutely necessary, when interpreting the idea of this wall of separation, to understand it from both sides and understand that it is for each to protect from the other, so that neither can exercise control over the other or encourage corruption within the other.
It is also important to note that none of this means that a business can refuse to offer services to someone based on a sexual orientation that goes against their religious beliefs. Commerce follows different rules, and frankly, if you’re a business and you’re picking and choosing your customers, you’re doing capitalism wrong.¹
What the Bible Says
The Bible, specifically a couple passages in Leviticus, is the absolute foundation for the movement against same-sex marriage, to the point where some people are so excited to share their judgment of homosexuals that they get the verse tattooed on them…apparently not realizing that a chapter later, Leviticus also bans tattoos. This guy is all down with Leviticus 18:22:
22 Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
Apparently that’s the only important one to him, because if he had read any furtherc he would have come across Leviticus 19:28:
28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. (emphasis mine)
And that’s just the start of this hypocrisy. Leviticus also says you shouldn’t cut your hair on the sides or ever shave your beard. It says several times to observe the Sabbath, but that doesn’t keep supposed Christian Republicans from pushing for a legal 7-day work week. You’re also forbidden from mistreating a foreigner in your land. There goes another decent chunk of Republicans. You’re not supposed to hold a grudge or seek revenge on anyone in your land. and since the death penalty is almost 100% based on revenge, most of Texas might as well just throw in the towel and prepare for hell fire. I could go on with much of the Old Testament, but hopefully you get the point. There was a reason these things were written at the time they were written, and at the time all of those reasons were extremely valid and necessary. But many were changed, or more appropriately, verified and clarified by Jesus. You know, the guy this entire religion is based upon. Read the Beatitudes, and you’ll see a lot of “You have heard that it was said…” followed by the stated law, sometimes from Leviticus, followed by, “But I tell you…” where Jesus clarifies the law. This is not a contradiction, but rather a fulfillment of laws that are perhaps no longer necessary to serve their original purpose. In fact, Jesus almost directly states this in Matthew 5:17-18:
17 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. 18 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.
So, did he do it? Did Jesus fulfill the law? My guess is that if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be a worldwide religion to celebrate his fulfillment of the law. Think about some of the things in Mosaic Law that were no longer part of the law after Jesus fulfilled it. Do we still sacrifice animals to atone for our sins? Of course not; He was the ultimate sacrifice, fulfilling the law to take the place of animal sacrifice. Every time he pissed off the Pharisees for “breaking” the law, he was actually fulfilling the law. So why assume that Jesus fulfilled some parts of the law, but not others?
Many of the laws in Leviticus, even the ones that seem weird, served a very logical purpose in the context of the time period. A popular one in any Leviticus argument is the ban on eating pork products. Any hardcore Christians out there willing to swear off bacon for the rest of your life?
I mean, come on, we bake a ham to celebrate the Resurrection. If it seems like it’s a law that God just dropped on us like a troll, just to see us squirm, then it’s time to look at that law from a logical perspective, and within the context of the rest of the Bible. Without proper refrigeration methods, pork products would go bad extremely fast, so God told them to not eat them. Either that’s the reason, and it’s now okay to eat pork since it can be properly preserved, or God has a nasty streak where he does mean things just to screw with us. Occam’s Razor would suggest the former. In much the same way, a ban on homosexuality at the time served a purpose. The Israelites needed to build and grow their population, and quickly, and that can’t happen when people are dying from spoiled pork and engaging in sexual activities that don’t lead to procreation. Now, fast forward to today, where the world is suffering from water shortages, energy shortages, and all kinds of other issues attributable to the ridiculous rate of population growth. Is procreation really as necessary today as it likely was then?
It’s important to note that I’m not offering my specific opinion on interpretations of the laws in Leviticus. Though it may seem like I’m pushing you in a direction, it is not my intent. My intent is for you to stop and think for a second. What if you’re wrong, and what would that mean in regards to the way you’ve treated homosexuals in your life? Nothing in the Bible is so clear-cut that you can rely on knee-jerk reactions because you find something icky. For straight people, you could even apply a template of Pascal’s Wager and come to the conclusion that acting with respect towards others has the best chance of preserving your own soul. If homosexuality is a sin, then you have treated a sinner with respect, just as Jesus did. If it’s not a sin, then you haven’t judged someone unfairly.
The Gay Gene and the Myth of Choice
Regardless of how you feel on anything I’ve written so far, if you take nothing else away from reading this, please take this. The question of whether homosexuality is a choice has been phrased poorly from the beginning, and all because of the word “choice.” For decades, scientists have been looking for the “gay gene,” that little part of a homosexual’s DNA that creates homosexual feelings. If it could be proven as a real thing, the entire debate would change dramatically, as this would mean that discrimination of homosexuals is no different than discrimination for skin color, for being born with a disability, or having the nerve to be born as a woman.
**One more thing to think about: hermaphrodites are born the way they are…does that mean God created a loophole around his own law? Even more interesting to think about is how the rules translate in the case of someone that has had a sex change. If a female is attracted to other females, then has a sex change and becomes a male, is that another loophole? I feel like if this law is really so important that not following it will cause hurricanes, God wouldn’t be so ambiguous and leave significant portions for us to just figure out on our own**
Moving on… The evidence of the so-called “gay gene” is generally inconclusive at this point. Both sides of the debate are certain the debate is over and their side is right. I’m not here to tell you which is right and which is wrong. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter. Because even if there is nothing coded in our DNA that decides sexual orientation, it is still most definitely not a “choice.” It’s not as if a young man grows up liking girls, then changes his mind and “chooses” to like guys instead. You’ll find many homosexuals that had earlier relationships with the opposite sex, but ask them if it was because they truly were attracted to the opposite sex. It’s more likely because it was the only way society would include them. So for the sake of argument, let’s use a hypothetical default sans a biological reason, and show that an environmental reason should be equally as powerful in any discrimination discussion as any biological or genetic characteristic.
Start by viewing this through the perspective of someone else. You are not you in this exercise; your new background provides you with a very different childhood and very different feelings on many topics. Imagine being born into a family where the father is an unloving and terrible person, and let’s just say that this lack of a loving father played some role in your attraction to the same sex later in life. Please note that this is a hypothetical; I’m not trying to somehow diagnose homosexuality. Now, if this situation were to take place, as many who argue against genetic sexual orientation would claim, the decision to be attracted to the same sex is still not a choice by any definition of the word choice. Perhaps it’s the father’s fault, but if so, why punish the son for following a natural inclination that may or may not have been the result of his lack of a father. So either it’s genetic and they don’t have a choice, or it’s environmental and they don’t have a choice, or it’s a combination of both and, shockingly, they don’t have a choice. So please, let’s just remove the idea of “choice” from the debate altogether. It may be genetic, it may be biological, or it may be environmental. For all practical applications, it really doesn’t matter. None of them involve choosing one or the other.
The reason I find this so important is because I think straight people try to simplify sexual orientation so that we don’t have to think too much about it. It’s difficult to have empathy when one can see no circumstance which would require them to make a “decision” about liking men or women. It’s so ingrained in me to be attracted to women…WOMAN, I meant woman, singular. Aw hell, my wife never reads my blog. I think I’m safe.
Examining your own sexual orientation is an important self-reflection. If I’m judging someone for an action that they take or feelings that they have, I’m basically saying that I understand the circumstances because I face the same challenges. But this is extremely and entirely false. I have never had to ask the question: do I like men, or do I like women? It was just natural for me to be attracted to the opposite sex, as it is natural for others to be attracted to the same sex.
Life is easy being straight. I don’t have to worry about what people will think of me for being attracted to my wife. I don’t have to worry about losing my job or being treated unfairly at work by a homophobic boss. I don’t have to worry about getting beaten up for no other reason than my sexual orientation. I didn’t have to walk around campus during my college years and read signs saying that God hates me. If the love of my life is sick, I get to sit next to her in her hospital bed, and she gets to be with me if I’m sick. It’s too easy for straight people to disregard all of the hurdles and discrimination and pain and humiliation that some people have to go through just because they have a different predisposition, even though, as I feel I’ve shown pretty clearly, it wasn’t their choice. So if you ask me if homosexuality is a sin, my answer is this: I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, and it’s time for Christians to move on. If it is indeed a sin, then you’re not going to change a homosexual by hating them or treating them as though they’re damaged and scary.
I mean, this gets talked about as if you could just toss out the rest of the Bible and base your entire life on this one verse in Leviticus and you’ll be golden with God. Recently, as Indiana passed their controversial religious “freedom” bill, a local florist named Melissa Jeffcoat was asked why she wouldn’t serve to homosexuals. She predictably said because it’s a sin. Then she was asked if she would serve to an adulterer, or someone that didn’t honor their father and mother. Her response, and I cannot make this stuff up, is that she would because adultery is a “different kind of sin.”
Okay, if we’re going to start grading the sins, let’s take a quick look at this. Homosexuality gets a short blurb within a book of the Bible that also tells you not to have sex with your daughter and/or goat (by the way, for those saying gay marriage is a stepping stone towards people being able to marry animals, you’re missing a key contextual point…consent). Not committing adultery is a Commandment…you know, of the infamous Ten Commandments? Charlton Heston? In fact, it was such an important commandment in the Old Testament that Jesus doubled-down on it in the New Testament. Matthew 5:27-28:
27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Do you know where it is in the Bible that Jesus says homosexuality is the worst of all sins, or worse than other sins? Of course not, because he didn’t.
This sin that far too many Christians think is an automatic ticket to hell, no forgiveness here, was so important that Jesus talked about it exactly zero times. But he did say something about how you should or should not judge others, even if you believe what they’re doing is a sin. Matthew 7:3-5
3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Only when you yourself are sinless will you be able to see clearly to help someone else avoid sin. If you are not sinless, then how do your sins compare to mine or anyone else? Have you never lied, cheated on your spouse, even with just your eyes, dishonored your mother and father, placed a celebrity on a pedestal equal to or higher than God, stolen anything, worked on the Sabbath… When you have all of these covered, and are sinless as only Jesus was, then and only then do your judgments carry weight in the eyes of God.
¹ In a strange twist of irony, one of the ways odd ways to combat a bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve the LGBT community would be to reinterpret and extend corporate personhood from Citizens United v. FEC. By establishing the corporation as a single entity unto itself in regards to political donations, the entire concept of the corporation, and all commerce, changes significantly. And in some cases, hilariously. No longer could corporations and business owners transfer their own religious beliefs onto the entire corporation, because the corporation is its own entity. Corporate personhood has its pros and cons, so perhaps corporations would be less interested in the pros if they are also saddled with the cons, which would be the result of strengthening corporate personhood. Not saying that’s what I want to happen, but it’s an interesting twist, no? The nerd in me digresses…