Tag Archives: Same-Sex Marriage

Polite Abhorrence

This is what discrimination and hatred look like in polite society.

When considering the possibility of a ministry to these people [in same-sex unions], a distinction must be made between those who have made a personal, and often painful, choice and live that choice discreetly so as not to give scandal to others, and those whose behaviour promotes and actively – often aggressively – calls attention to it.

That was from paragraph 116 of the Instrumentum Laboris recently published by the Vatican. I read about it on CNN’s Belief Blog, where the headline was Vatican softens tone toward gays and lesbians. CNN says the Vatican was softening its tone. So why do I call this discrimination and hatred?

We are so acculturated to this sort of polite abhorrence that we don’t notice it. Allow me to recast the sleepy, pastoral language more plainly. The boldfaced words draw directly from the Vatican’s statement.

We prefer to minister to homosexuals who are ashamed of themselves — those whose choice has been painful. Ideally, they will stay discreetly in the closet. If they were to make their same-sex union known, we would be scandalized. It is important that they avoid causing us pain, but it is entirely good and appropriate if they feel pain. Our pain is bad; theirs is good.

In case there’s any doubt about the continuing second-class status of homosexuals in the Catholic church, we have this four paragraphs later:

Should a reasonable doubt exist in the capability of persons in a same sex union to instruct the child in the Christian faith, proper support is to be secured in the same manner as for any other couple seeking the baptism of their children. In this regard, other people in their family and social surroundings could also provide assistance. In these cases, the pastor is carefully to oversee the preparation for the possible baptism of the child, with particular attention given to the choice of the godfather and godmother.

Again, very polite and very condescending. There’s the tight-lipped, smiling nod in the direction of treating same-sex couples “in the same manner” as heterosexual ones. But does anyone think that a heterosexual couple would be scrutinized to the extent that baptism — the rite without which a soul is doomed (paragraph 1250 of the Catechism here) — would be called “the possible baptism of their child”? Or that there would be nervous fidgeting about other people providing assistance? Or that particular attention would be given to the choice of godparents?

The whole world loves the new pope and the changes he is bringing to the church. Even I love him. I hope that the current trend toward welcoming everyone continues and in 10 years homosexuals will be neither living scandals nor second-class parents.

Vladislav Tornovoi and the Homosexual Threat

On May 9, 2013, in the Russian town of Volgograd, Vladislav Tornovoi was raped and mutilated with beer bottles and then beaten to death with a brick. One of his friends confessed to killing him because Vlad had allegedly disclosed he was gay.

How can this sort of thing happen in the twenty-first century? I can only observe that the crime took place amidst an increasingly anti-homosexual climate in Russia.

Also in 2013, Uganda is coming close to passing “one of the most punative anti-gay measures in the world” — a law that is known as the Kill the Gays Bill because an early version mandated the death penalty for repeat offenders.

Russian president Putin casts his anti-homosexual campaign in moral terms. In this he has the support of the head of the Russian Orthodox church. Uganda is a Christian country and a plain-text reading of certain Bible passages (e.g., Leviticus 20:13) would seem to place their proposed law squarely in the center of God’s will.

However,  I would like to propose to my morally conservative and Christian friends another way of looking at this. I’ll introduce it with a parable that I heard more than once in evangelical circles. The original meaning of the parable pertained to dating behavior, but I will suggest how it could apply here.

A wealthy man wanted to hire a chauffeur. His house was sited high on a mountain, and was only accessible by a narrow, treacherous road. He told each prospective chauffeur that if he could demonstrate great skill driving on that road, he would get the job.

The first candidate drove up the mountain maintaining a distance of only three inches from the down-mountain edge. “Not good enough,” said the wealthy man.

The second thought he could do better. He piloted the car a mere two inches from disaster all the way up. “Sorry,” said the man.

The third was so skilled that he could maintain a distance of less than an inch from the edge all the way up and down. “You’re not the man for the job,” said the rich man.

The fourth man drove the car slowly and as far from the edge as possible, both up and down the mountain.

“You’re hired,” said the employer. “You’re the only one I trust to keep me safe.”

Intolerance is like trying to drive close to the edge. We think we can participate in an intolerant sub-culture without any real harm, but that may not be true. In Russia and Uganda (and, yes, in the United States), we have seen how a climate of intolerance can lead to murder.

I now pose a question to all pro-life Americans: Which do you think is the greater threat to life: homosexuality or intolerance? In light of your answer, where should we focus our energy?

If you’re still not sure, you might want to watch another video:

For the chilling result, skip to here.

Welcoming Hate Speech

Jonathan Rauch has a thought-provoking article in the latest issue of The Atlantic: The Case for Hate Speech. He says,

The critical factor in the elimination of error is not individuals’ commitment to the truth as they see it (if anything, most people are too confident they’re right); it is society’s commitment to the protection of criticism, however misguided, upsetting, or ungodly.

It takes a lot of courage to protect the speech of your misguided opponents. You must have confidence that your ideas will prevail in the end, and you must have the patience to wait.

In fact, Rauch not only protects but encourages the airing of his opponents’ views. As he says regarding an opponent of same-sex marriage:

Most fair-minded people who read his screeds will see that they are not proper arguments at all, but merely ill-tempered reflexes. When Card puts his stuff out there, he makes us look good by comparison. The more he talks, and the more we talk, the better we sound.

I think this is similar to the faith one must have in due process of law. Even though you know the suspect is guilty, you must follow due process if society is to work. Shortcuts and cheating have a corrosive effect that is far more serious than one unjust acquittal.

If I have faith in one thing these days, it is in the power of information. Even false information is true information about those who are spreading it.

Here is one of my favorite movie moments of all time. Where Sir Thomas More defends the idea of giving the devil the benefit of the law, think of giving crazy people full freedom to state their views.

No Rest for the Wicked?

But the wicked are like the troubled sea,
when it cannot rest,
whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked.
Isaiah 57:20-21 KJV

No rest and no peace for the wicked? That may be true in some ways. If you’re a fugitive being hunted by the CIA like Edward Snowden, you are doomed to a life without rest.

However, in one very important way, I find that life is much more restful now that I’m one of the wicked. I can accept people as they are. I can sincerely wish their dreams will come true. I don’t have to be anxious because their wishes and actions are not what God supposedly wants them to be.

Back in my evangelical days, if one of my children had abandoned the faith I would have been incredibly anxious. Now, I only want my kids to live with integrity, whether that’s with faith or without it. As they have emerged into adulthood, their take on the faith in which they were raised has varied, but they all have very high integrity. I get to enjoy each one of them without worrying over their souls.

It’s not that I think every possible way of thinking or acting is just fine. There are still things that bug me a great deal. The world’s troubled seas still cast up mire and dirt.

During a storm, it is a bad idea to tie your boat to a fixed dock. It can be dashed to pieces. Far better to moor or anchor your boat where it can adjust itself to face the wind.

In yet another surprise from my deconversion that  I find that I am safer, happier and more at peace when I’m anchored in open water.

Overriding Your Conscience

[This post is a Beagle’s Bark.]

I’ve been trying to stay away from atheist videos and blogs. They only get me torqued up about religion and I’m trying to move past all that. However, Pat Condell can be very incisive and, well, fun to listen to … so I dipped into one of his videos today.

A disclaimer: Mr. Condell makes no distinction between the various flavors of religion. In that respect, I don’t share his views. There are religions that seek transcendence (the subject of his video), yet do not have the attributes that are the real target of Mr. Condell’s ire. So, FWIW, here is Mr. Condell.

The part I wanted to discuss in this post starts at 2:57.

…surely if anything can be called intuitive knowledge, it’s a sense of morality: this sense of right and wrong that we’re all born with. … It’s called a conscience and it’s one of the many magnificent senses we’ve evolved with which to navigate and make sense of this infinitely rich and subtle world we’re lucky enough to live in.

Religion doesn’t give you a conscience, despite what it claims. It takes the place of our conscience by overriding it. … This is why religious people can often do inhuman things — things they wouldn’t dream of doing if not for their religion. Their conscience has been quarantined and supplanted with dogma, and dogma has no conscience because it isn’t human.

Again, not all faiths override your conscience. However, I think people in my own former faith are starting to be aware of the possibility. More than one person I know well has left evangelical Christianity primarily because it was trying to override their conscience by condemning homosexuality, which they knew to be just the way some people are, and not a sin. My acquaintances are not homosexual themselves, but they had gotten to know some homosexuals and see their situation through a lens other than evangelical dogma.

My church’s position on homosexuality was not a factor in my deconversion, but its insistence that the Bible is God’s Word even though it commands slavery and worse was the most important and final reason why I left. My conscience told me that if there was such a thing as right and wrong, the Bible was not a sure way to find it.

As a believer, I used to think that God’s ways are higher than our ways and that’s why religion had a right to override my conscience. Ultimately, though, I could no more deny my conscience than I could deny my sense of sight.

Moral Imagination

I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.

That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way

So began Senator Rob Portman’s commentary yesterday in The Columbus Dispatch.

What was the “something that happened” that led to his change of mind? It wasn’t well-reasoned arguments from the other side; nor years of in-your-face tactics from such groups as ACT UP; nor (primarily) a re-examination of the Bible. Rather, it was the fact that his own son had some out as gay.

A beloved human face on the issue totally transformed it. That’s great, right?

Well, yes, in one way it is great, but there was a very incisive exchange about this on the Public Radio call-in show, On Point. The first caller said:

If we have to wait for every legislator of every party to have a personal experience with an issue … — [and] this will sound harsh but — have a loved one get raped; have them get AIDS; have them come out of the closet; get shot in a theater or school — then what is it about us as a human family that we cannot understand that just because it doesn’t happen to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to someone?

I mean, maybe Rob Portman should know someone who’s poor, or who doesn’t have a job, and maybe that would change him [as a conservative Republican]. (Time 6:20 in the audio at the top of this page.)

Tom Ashbrook (the host) summed it up:

Does it have to be personal before we can see the issue?

Guest Jack Beatty agreed:

What a comment on moral imagination!

This failure of our moral imagination – this inability to put a real face on moral decisions unless a face we know is thrust in front of us – has certainly been my own failure many times. It seems to be one of humans’ built-in cognitive biases. We weigh the opinions and stories of those we know and love much more heavily than the circumstances of strangers.

How can we do better?

One way is to spend time with people who are unlike us. One of my daughters happened to meet many lesbians at her college. Overt homosexuals hadn’t really been part of her world up to that point, but once she got to know some, she became much more sympathetic to their concerns.

Another is to imagine those we love in the situation in question. Are you against publicly funded healthcare? Then imagine your father out of a job, unable to afford insurance, and diagnosed with a break-the-bank illness like cancer. Your family can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket. Should society let him die?

What do you think? How can we strengthen our moral imagination and become more empathetic?

Marriage Is Not the Government’s Business

President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage
has gotten people talking. I am late to the party, so maybe I can toss in a question that few people are asking.

Why should anyone need the government’s permission to marry?

The whole thing smacks of feudal times, when serfs needed their lord’s approval to marry. Today, we have freedom. Shouldn’t we be free to make a basic commitment to each other without the government’s say-so? We don’t need the government’s permission to commit ourselves to a particular god; why should it decide which interpersonal commitments are up to snuff?

Let’s get government out of the marriage business.

Wherever government now relies on marriage to determine something, let it use a civil contract. And I’m not talking about civil unions. What I have in mind is much more fine-grained. There could be contracts to establish a household for tax purposes, inheritance contracts, living will contracts, contracts to raise adopted children together, and so on. In each case, the restrictions on who could execute the contracts would be based on the relevant factors for that type of contract, not on the religiously charged concept of marriage.

If you talk with those on the Religious Right, who style themselves as the most ardent defenders of marriage, it’s clear that for them marriage is a religious institution, and their faith makes it especially hard for them to accept the idea of same-sex marriage. But can we not see that even in the context of faith, marriage means different things to different people?

Our country is supposed to allow everyone to practice their faith (or lack of faith). How do we have freedom of religion when we prohibit Muslims from following their custom of polygamy? And have we forgotten that the founders of the Judeo-Christian tradition were polygamous as well? (Yes, Abraham, Moses and many of the other patriarchs had multiple wives.) Finally, does anyone else see irony in the fact that the Republican platform of 2012 will almost certainly include a “one-man-one-woman” plank, and standing squarely on that plank will be … a Mormon?

Did you know that the Bible nowhere defines what it takes to be married? Certainly heterosexuality is assumed, but it’s remarkable how little the Bible actually says about the mechanics of getting married. There is no particular ceremony to follow, and no particular vow to take. And it isn’t until the New Testament that monogamy is unambiguously held up as the ideal. More to the point of this post, no government is invested with the authority to “declare you husband and wife.”

How have we Americans, of all people, ended up with a government that arrogates the right to define marriage not only according to one particular religion’s definition of it, but a late-arriving definition at that?

The first amendment  to our constitution expressly tells government to stay out of the religion business, but we have taken a long time to realize the full implications of that wisely drawn boundary.

  • The first prayer of the Continental Congress (admittedly predating the First Amendment) closes with, “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” Recent prayers  are generally less sectarian.
  • The history of blasphemy laws  in the United States may surprise you. As late as 1977, Pennsylvania used its law to prosecute a man who named his business I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. My own state’s general statues still threaten jail time for those who “reproach Jesus Christ.” Yet, one by one, we are realizing that these laws are unconstitutional.
  • It wasn’t until the 1960’s that many people thought twice about things like prayer and devotional Bible reading in schools. Now most Bible advocates realize that a time of silent reflection is probably the most that our constitution will allow.

We have gradually realized that the government does not belong in the prayer business, nor should it police blasphemy. Isn’t it time to realize that it should get out of the marriage business, too?

Let’s go back to the traditional practice of marriages that are covenants between free people – people chosen by each other, not by the government.

Those who want religion to be part of their marriage can enroll a religious leader to conduct a ceremony; those who don’t can pledge their commitment in front of friends or all by themselves. Most marriages will still be between one man and one woman, but a minority will not.

If it’s important for some groups of people to maintain a distinction between their brand of marriage and others, they could copyright a design for special rings.

Wait. That would be kind of like where we are today. Well, I’ve gotta go. One of my kids is asking me to read The Sneetches.