Introducing logic into religious discussion is considered terribly impolite, but the uproar over gay marriage makes such rudeness unavoidable. Many conservatives-particularly those affiliated with the religious right-insist that the Bible prohibits tolerance of homosexuals and makes same-sex civil marriage an abomination. And some liberals, too, say they cannot endorse full equality for gays in marriage, because doing so would violate their faith.
These arguments from both ends of the political spectrum are no doubt deeply sincere. On closer inspection, however, they’re also profoundly hypocritical.
First consider John Kerry, almost certain to become the first Catholic politician nominated for President by a major party since 1960. The Massachusetts Senator twice voiced his opposition to restrictions on gay marriage, at the federal and state levels, because he believed that such legislation would deprive gay couples of equal rights under the law. Now he says that although he still opposes amending the Constitution, he might support a carefully worded amendment to his state’s charter that would reserve marriage for heterosexual union. According to him, the states should be free from interference by the federal government on this issue.
Mr. Kerry has said he opposes gay marriage as a matter of “personal belief.” If his belief stems from religious commitment, then he should explain why he has adopted strong positions on reproductive rights (and gay rights) that clearly violate the teachings of his church.
However strained Mr. Kerry’s arguments may sound, they are models of enlightenment compared with the “biblical” justifications of bigotry emanating from the right. Mr. Kerry is also no more conflicted on this subject than President Bush, who said four years ago that the states should be able to “do what they want to do” regarding gay marriage, but now realizes that his conservative base wants a Constitutional amendment restricting state action.
An old joke is that Republicans believe so firmly in marriage that they do it over and over and over again. The living exemplar is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a veteran cultural warrior and now well into his third sanctified union. His half-sister Candace is a lesbian, but he has spoken out against her right to the same conjugal relationship that he has indulged so frequently and vigorously. Why would he deny her the same happiness he has repeatedly enjoyed? Why, he wants to protect the sanctity of the marital institution-by upholding the biblical proscription against homosexuality.
Interpreted as literally as the religious right insists it must be, the Bible sets out certain clear rules concerning sodomy, matrimony and various other human activities. For example, the Bible says that Mr. Gingrich should not have divorced his first two wives, because marriage is a lifetime commitment. Then again, the Bible says that Mr. Gingrich wouldn’t have needed to divorce wife No. 1 or No. 2 just because he wanted wife No. 3, since any man can always take an additional wife or concubine (which in the former Speaker’s case could be updated to mean “Congressional staffer”).
The only obstacle Mr. Gingrich might face would be the inability of wife No. 3 to prove her virginity at the time of matrimony-a sad circumstance requiring that she be stoned to death. By the way, under biblical law all three wives should be considered Mr. Gingrich’s personal property, along with any slaves he happens to own.
Slavery is endorsed by the Bible, which can also be read to outlaw interfaith and inter-racial marriages. Yet neither Mr. Gingrich nor his cronies on the religious right supports slavery or opposes marriages that cross religious or racial lines. They don’t expect to be struck dead for masturbating or talking back to their parents. They don’t seem terribly troubled by divorce, and they certainly don’t believe in stoning anybody to death for adultery. If they did, an alarming number of their Republican friends in Congress would be deceased by now.
To accommodate modernity and personal convenience, Holy Scripture is susceptible to broader, more liberal interpretations-even among the self-proclaimed conservative moralists. Only gay people are to be held to the ancient literalisms.
Are there not other reasons to oppose gay marriage? Conservatives complain that legalizing gay marriage will undermine the traditional institution, but they can’t explain how. They say that marriage is intended for reproduction, but they don’t explain why we sanction the infertile, the elderly and the intentionally childless to marry anyway. They profess concern about sexual fidelity, personal responsibility and family stability, but they won’t allow gay people the recognition to fulfill those same values.
Perhaps their minds might expand if they listened to Lorence Wenke, a courageous conservative Republican and fundamentalist believer who serves in the Michigan state legislature. Despite severe pressures from colleagues and congregation, he publicly opposes his state’s version of the “marriage amendment.” Mr. Wenke may lose his legislative seat, but he spoke out because discrimination violates his democratic principles and Christian values.
“It’s all about this double standard and unequal treatment,” he said. “It’s just not fair.”