Thursday, November 13, 2008

Homophobia, Christianity and Me

Sodom and Gomorrha, a painting by :en:John Mar...Image via Wikipedia
This is a post I've been working on for a couple of months.  I kept hoping I wouldn't have to post it.  I've been putting it off in hopes the urge would just pass.  But, instead of it going away, the issue keeps coming up over and over again. So, I guess I have to make the post and face the consequences.  The issue is homophobia in the Christian community.  On one of my message boards, we have been discussing "acceptable" scapegoats.  Homosexuals, for many of us, are one of the last few acceptable scapegoats.  This article will be rated PG-13.  If you're sensitive about language or "sex-talk", you'll want to skip this one.
Why Now?

The prompting for the timing of this post has, I guess, been my joining an "open and affirming" church in the past few months.  What I have been faced with since joining an open and affirming church is this.  While many churches are (at least somewhat) open, very few are actually affirming, when it comes to homosexual relationships.  The Vineyard (where I used to attend) had a Sunday morning service a few years back where homosexuality was one topic in a series where we talked about the "really tough issues".  While the Vineyard was "open"- saying that homosexuals were welcome, it was quite clear by the presence of Exodus Ministries that the Vineyard was not affirming of homosexuality or homosexual relationships. Exodus Ministries helps gay people go straight and they were there to let the homosexuals among us know there was hope to change to live the "right way".  In the next several
paragraphs I want to talk about my journey as it relates to struggling with this issue, look at both sides
of it and tell you where I stand on it now.  As I do this, I'm sure I'm going to offend many on both sides of the issue.  So, I apologize in advance for any offense.  None is intended. But, I think it's time for some frank, politically incorrect talk about this.  Pussyfooting around it doesn't do anyone any good.  I'm going to be brutally blunt about this in hopes that it causes some people to think and rethink (as
I've had to do about this).

Some Life Changing Events

When I was younger, there was very little talk about homosexuality.   Ironically, I was a very shy, sensitive kid who liked to dress well.  And I didn't have a girlfriend or date until late in life.  But, when I did hear about homosexuality, I was taught, as any "good Christian",  I started out thinking that being gay was a sin and certainly homosexual sex was a sin. I think at one time my parents (and maybe others) thought I was gay.  I was teased about being effeminate (about the worst things you can do to a boy).  The culture I grew up in taught and reinforced homophobia.  Honestly, to this day, I have trouble with how to deal with very effeminate men. From a Christian point of view, I thought it was clear that the Bible says that a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman.  Then there's Sodom and Gomorrah.  And there's Paul talking about homosexuals. Come on.  What could be clearer than the verses in the Bible about homosexuality?  All six of 'em.

Now, I could write a book on what the Bible says (and doesn't say) about homosexuality.  But, then one of those life changing events happened.  The issue became real for me when my uncle (who was gay) was murdered several years ago.  Honestly, I have to just assume my uncle was gay.  No one every talked about it.  He and I were very close.  We never talked about it.  He was my mother's best friend.  But, to this day, almost 20 years since his death, I've never heard her or anyone in the family talk about him being gay. After he died, I just could not accept the thought of G-d eternally torturing him either for being gay or for not being a part of a church that wouldn't have accepted him the way he was.  This was my first real crisis in dealing both with my feelings about homosexuality and about the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT).   Being faced with that put a face on two issues that I had only had to deal with in the abstract before. It made me realize how absurd what I had been taught really was and forced me to look for a new way to think. 

A few years later, I met a woman on-line who was (is) a lesbian.  She had been married, had a child and had been a Christian.  But, when she "discovered" she was a lesbian, the treatment she got from the church caused her to re-examine her Christianity and she ended up becoming a Wiccan.  She just could not deal with a church that could not deal with her (or any femininity in G-d, but that is another story).  I became very good friends with Edie.  We used to debate religion incessantly.  I learned so much from her.  I wish I could tell her that now.  But, we lost touch a few years back.    I assumed that since she had a few failed relationships with men, she had turned to women out of frustration.  Surely she had "converted" to being gay out of brokenness. I can understand how this could happen.  Who would want to deal with men? Men are neanderthals.  I much prefer the company of women (and not just sexually).  Over the years that Edie and I corresponded, I really got to know her and her partner (as well as you can get to know someone via email) and I was forced to really look into the homosexual issue and Christianity.  Why did her being a lesbian drive her out of Christianity? If "we" were telling her she was wrong, there had to be a good reason.  I wanted to deal with Edie compassionately.  But, I couldn't condone something that the Bible clearly condemned. 

Homosexuality And The Bible

One day when I was in the bookstore, a book title jumped out at me "Straight & Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexual Debate" by Thomas E. Schmidt.  I jumped at it.  It promised me compassion and clarity on this issue- from a Biblical perspective (which was very important to me at the time).  I have to say it is a very good book (not great). The author examines the scriptures concerning homosexuality and seems to reluctantly come to the conclusion that homosexual sex is wrong based on scripture. But, it is no more wrong than any other sexual sin or any other sin.  I could tell when I read the book that he was compassionate towards homosexuals.  But, he still called them out of homosexuality and condemned homosexual sex as a sinful act.   Just as unmarried heterosexuals sin when they have sex, homosexuals sin when they have sex, outside the bounds of marriage.  Since marriage isn't possible for homosexuals (biblically speaking), all homosexual sex is sin.  Interesting position we put them in, isn't it?

The author points out the dangers of homosexuality- namely the prevalence of promiscuity amongst gay men, the increased risk of drug abuse, suicide, pedophilia, etc.  And, he discusses the great Nature versus Nurture debate coming down on the side that homosexuality is not in-born, is caused by environmental factors and therefore is "curable".

Compared to anything I had read to this point, this book was extremely compassionate and it is the view I held for many years.  Before you're too hard on me, I think this is probably a necessary step along the road to us homophobes accepting homosexuality.  I guess it's a step some might be able to skip over.  But, it was where I was for a while and I've recently seen others making this first step. We who have moved beyond this need to be patient and remember where we were at one time.  Let me explain the position to those of you who might not be familiar with it.


"Homosexuality is brokenness, but no more (or less) brokenness than we all experience.  I struggle with greed, you struggle with homosexuality.  But, struggle we must.  A homosexual who just gives into to his homosexuality is like an alcoholic who just gives in to his drinking.  Even if homosexuals are born with the tendency (which I really doubted), it was no different than an alcoholic with a genetic predisposition to drinking.  The dangers of the gay lifestyle made it quite clear to me that it is sinful.   To me, anything that causes harm to oneself or others is sinful.  The fact that so many gay men are so promiscuous, the fact that anal sex is just about the perfect way to transmit a disease if you were trying to, the suicide numbers in the homosexual community, the alcoholism and drug abuse, all of these things associated with the "gay lifestyle" made it clear to me that it was a brokenness and not "God's best" (as a friend said to me the other day).  Even without using the Bible for ammunition, just from a natural perspective, I can make a pretty good case against homosexuality.  If we were all homosexuals, the species would quickly die out.  A man and a woman provide a nice balance for each other when raising children, each modeling different traits.  Men and women are anatomically designed to fit together.  The way the penis fits into the vagina is obviously the way nature intended it.  Anything other than that is just against natural law.  When heterosexuals make love, it's so beautiful and completely transcending that we can't imagine anyone wouldn't like it if they could just find the right partner. So, since heterosexual relationships are the "ideal", everyone should at least try to live up to the ideal.   If you cannot, we'll have compassion on you. We'll accept you into our group as long as you struggle against it.  But, something is obviously wrong with you."
This is the open but not affirming position.

The Next Step


What I didn't realize at the time was that many of my arguments against homosexuality were based on the flawed logic so many people use to assume a cause and effect relationship from circumstances.   I assumed since so many people (especially men) living a homosexual lifestyle were involved in other destructive behaviors, there must be something about homosexuality that caused those other behaviors.  The reality is that often when we see two things coincide statistically, the causes are much more complex than we'd like to admit.  For example, the fact that more gay men are prone to suicide and other self-destructive behavior is often cited as an example of how the "homosexual lifestyle" is self-destructive. But, given the fact that homosexuals are often treated like dirt in our society, is it really any wonder they have a higher incidence of these problems? The promiscuity of so many homosexual men (the bath houses, one night stands, anonymous sex through peepholes, etc.) is often taken to be a given when it comes to homosexuality. But, what would it be like if we were affirming of homosexual relationships? Would so many gay men still lead this lifestyle?  I suspect the answer is "no"; not so many would live the dangerous, destructive lifestyles they are living now.  Having said that, surely there are some gay men who just are plain-old horn-dogs.  Let's face it, most men will have sex anytime, an where with anyone.  Most heterosexual men, if given the opportunity and no consequences would have sex with just about any woman who didn't say "no".    So, you get a bunch of men together who can have sex with each other and, you've got a problem.  It does seem (I don't have current statistics on this) that most gay men are not in monogamous relationships.  And, many mmonogamous relationships among gay men are short-lived. But, that does not mean that is a necessary characteristic of the "gay lifestyle".  While I don't think our being more affirming of homosexual relationships would end the craziness among so many gays, I think it's worth considering.  And, let's look at it the other way.  Could our being affirming of men (or women) in committed homosexual relationships do any harm?

I wasn't satisfied with the open but not affirming position. So, I had some more wrestling to do.  The next book I read on the Bible and homosexuality was Daniel A. Helminiak's "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality".  Again, this was when I really cared about what the Bible said about this issue and I guess I was looking for a way to be a little more compassionate than I thought the Bible allowed me to be.  Don't get me wrong.  I still care very much about the Bible. But, if the Bible is wrong about something, I'm not scared to say so (like slavery, women's rights, stoning smart-aleck children and wearing blended fabrics).  This book is excellent in examining each of the (very few) passages in the Bible where many people think the Bible condemns homosexuality.  If you're one of those people who thinks the Bible is clear on the issue of homosexuality, I highly encourage you to get this book.  I think if you approach this with an open mind, this book will convince you the Bible is silent on homosexuality.  The book examines each passage from its historical and social perspective and looks at the original languages (Hebrew and Greek) to try to discern the author's true intentions.  I have discussed this book in great detail with those wishing to cling to the notion that the Bible condemns homosexuality and that homosexuality = brokenness = sin.  What this book does not even claim to do is to say the Bible affirms homosexuality.  The bottom line is that the Bible is basically silent on the issue of same sex relationships largely because the idea of homosexuality as we understand it today was not known back in biblical times, before the advances we have made in human psychology.  But, even setting that aside the passages in the Old Testament that talk about homogenital sex are largely in the chapters with the Jewish purity codes (the same boring, weird passages that tell people not to plant two types of seed in the same field, or to wear clothes made of blended fabrics).  The passages in the New Testament (Paul) are referring to dominant, unequal relationships of men having sex with young boys and the like. There is not a single mention of God's disapproval of committed, equal relationships between two men or two women.  My position currently on the Biblical
view of homosexuality is this:  I don't think Bible says a word about committed, caring homosexual relationships.

Drawing A Line

Some people, in an attempt to be "compassionate" think we should be accepting and affirming of all types of lifestyles.  I'm not one of those people.  I've known three gay men in my life (known on a deep personal level).  One of them was murdered in what was probably a drug related murder.  He lived a short life and never had a committed relationship that I'm aware of. He was murdered in his early 40s.  I remain convinced he was involved in the subculture he was involved in because of his lifestyle.  While I think we contributed to his death (contributed a lot), I remain convinced it was because of his lifestyle that he was in the situation he was in when he was murdered.  This man was my uncle whom I loved dearly   Another  gay man I knew died in his mid-30s of what I'm pretty sure was AIDS.  I say pretty sure because his family would never admit it.  He was never in a committed relationship either.  The third is still out there living a promiscuous and dangerous lifestyle and is miserable doing it.  He's not happy with either himself or with his life.  His lifestyle is making him miserable.  Hopefully, it's not killing him.  I don't affirm this type of lifestyle and I don't think the Bible does either.  Many straight and homosexual people (gay men especially) seem to equate being gay with living a life of danger and of self-destruction.  Multiple, anonymous sex partners is wrong on so many levels.  I wouldn't be a loving, caring compassionate person if I didn't say so. I will not tell people this type of lifestyle is OK.  I think it is sinful. It's harmful to mind, body and soul.  It harmful to yourself and others. Homosexuals, like heterosexuals should avoid promiscuous, dangerous sex in uncommitted relationships.

The Debate

The debate rages on in the Christian community and in society at large. But, the reality is it's just a matter of time before gay marriage is approved. I said it first about ten years ago and I'm more sure of it now than I was then.  If it doesn't happen in our generation, it will happen in the next.  Other than Christian homophobia, there's just not much reason against it.  Defense of heterosexual marriage doesn't require a ban against homosexual marriages.  It's not like we're all going to switch to being gay just because we can get married to someone of the same sex.  There's this irrational fear that homosexual marriage will somehow damage heterosexual marriage. Actually, I have never thought that.  My reasoning against homosexual marriage was that, as a society, we place marriage between heterosexuals as a desired state because it leads to a more stable society.  So, we offer incentives for that by giving people who are willing to stay in a committed relationship certain advantages.  I still think that argument makes sense.  I think we should promote things that good for a stable society.  But, if it makes sense for heterosexuals, it makes sense for homosexuals, too.  Even if we don't see homosexual relationships as the ideal, certainly a committed homosexual relationship is better than what we are driving many people to now.  And, let's face the reality that we heterosexuals are doing a pretty good job of destroying marriage all by ourselves.  The divorce rate is crazy high.  People live together before marriage like marriage means almost nothing.  Having a child before marriage is often
a conscious choice now.  Allowing homosexual marriage would have zero-impact on heterosexual marriages.  What it could do is bring more stability to homosexual relationships.  What it could do is raise the self-esteem of homosexuals and begin helping some of the problems cited earlier in this post.  What it could do is teach us all to be more compassionate and tolerant of those who tastes are not exactly like our own.  I must confess, I mistakenly voted for the protection of marriage thing on the ballot in Ohio a while back.  I will not do that again.

A Couple of Distractions

There is something I wanted to say to those fighting for gay rights.  As an African American, I have to tell you that equating homosexual rights to the civil rights struggle of Blacks in the 60s just doesn't work on so many levels that, I think, it just hurts your cause.  It leads to us pointing out to you the differences between your struggle and ours rather than focusing on the issue at hand.  It is just a distraction.   Let me tell you what I mean.  Being born Black is not a choice, it's not even debatable.   I'm Black whether I choose to perform an action or not.  It's obvious I'm Black when I walk into the room.  Being a homosexual is (arguably) a choice.  But, what is not debatable is that you have to declare yourself a homosexual for anyone to know.  And, others define you as a homosexual based on the actions you take.  Again, we can slip into the unimportant debate of nature versus nurture on this issue.   This is the second distraction. I say we let this go.  Let's move on.  It's one that homosexuals can't win.  If we determined that homosexuality is a congenital trait, straight people would to look for a cure.  Recently a Southern Baptist leader made the bizarre statement that while homosexuality might be genetically predetermined, it's still a sin and that he would be in favor of trying to find a cure.  This led to condemnation from both the religious conservatives, who want to insist homosexuality is a choice, and from the homosexual groups, who want to claim that homosexuality is not a choice and therefore cannot be a sin.  Frankly, I think it's a moot point.  But, my personal opinion is some people are born homosexual and I think some people may become homosexual due to life experiences.  I think some (particularly gay men) are broken in many ways as is evident from their behavior. But, again, we have a chicken-or-egg thing here and I don't think debating about the cause of homosexuality does us any good when it comes to how we should treat homosexuals.

A Reason For Hope

I like the growing compassion I'm hearing in the Christian community (it's better than things were).  As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of people are taking this necessary first step to being open and affirming.  Brian McLaren wrote in January 2006 about the subject and encouraged us to speak with wisdom and love- which I really liked.  But, he failed to take a stand, which I didn't like.  He said:

Perhapswe need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the "winds of doctrine" blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.
Sorry Brian.  I love ya man. I think this is a good start.  But, I don't think we have five years to wait on this issue.  I know I said something about patience earlier.  But, I think we need to take a stand now. If we're wrong, we can correct our course later.  Five years?  Then, possibly five years more?  What about all the people suffering in the meantime?  I'd prefer to err on the side of love, compassion and acceptance.   So, that's where I am for now.

In case you have read this to this point and think I'm some great accepting guy or the poster boy for being accepting of homosexuality, let me set the record straight.  I originally intended to title this article "Confessions of a (Recovering) Homophobe" and I am just that.  While I am not as homophobic as some, I am more homophobic than I'd like to be.  I have come a long way.  But, I have a long way to go.  I still view gay people based too much on their sexuality.  Our sexuality is just a very small part of us. How much of time the time do even the most libido driven of us spend having sex?  The answer for me is not as much as I used to.  Why is it we allow this one issue to define so much of who we are? I'm
looking forward to the day when we think of homosexuality as just not that big a deal and as inconsequential as whether someone is left-handed or right-handed.

Peace,
Brian

originally published in March 2007.  In light of the passage of Proposition 8 in California recently I thought it worth republishing now.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I think you expressed your viewpoint very well. Your progression of opinion over time makes a lot of sense. I don't agree with all of your ideas and opinions (I have, from a very young, age believed that people do not choose to be gay, but are born that way), but very interesting to read.

Debbie

Portia said...

I appreciate that you were brave and honest in your post. It is clear that you stated how you have come to believe about this situation, and not to sway anyone to feel the same way. I wish we had more honest dialogue like that. It has not been pretty out here in Cali-land after the Prop 8. I am hoping we can build positive dialogue and work towards common ground. We may not all agree, but I think we can achieve something better. I did the same thing you did in Ohio years ago (only I was in Georgia), and had the chance to change my opinion this time, casting a No Vote on 8. But it took me 4 years to fully change my mind. So, I know this process, even for supposedly liberal (more like blended) California, will take time. Keep us in your prayers.

Someday said...

It is my personal opinion that grown people have a right to live their lives according to their own values and moral code as long as that lifestyle is not causing direct harm to another.
Like you, I don't agree with homosexuality personally, and have opinions that I won't elaborate on here, but I don't have a right personally to prevent another from living their lives as they see fit. I do have a right to my opinions and to the morality I teach to my children, but I do not have a right to force that morality on other adults.

What is going on today in the aftermath of the people's vote to constitutionally ban gay marriage has me thinking. They followed the legal process to ban gay marriage in a democratic manner. Being that this is still a democracy, if I were a Californian, I would have to respect the process and conclude that in this case, banning gay marriage was both fair and just, despite my personal opinion opposing such a ban.
I would not be so quick to accept any federal ban however, because if people are oppressed by California, they still have a right to cross the state border and find a less oppressive state. It's not so easy to escape an oppressive federal Government.

The reaction by those who supported gay marriage in California is appalling. They are trying to blame black people? They are burning holy books on church property? Someone is sending white powder to churches?
Go out and protest, make noise in the streets, have rallies and parades, but reacting like this will only prove to the people who already fear them that gay people are dangerous.
Now is the time for statesmanship and honest debate. Not reactionary attacks on others.

Blessings

brian said...

Portia,

I hope you get Prop 8 repealed soon. Back when I voted for the "defense of marriage" in Ohio, I was still in the mode that, as Christians, we have to be against something. I was running out of stuff to be against and homosexual marriage is an easy scapegoat. As I discuss this on my Universalist list, I can see myself a few years ago in their arguments. They are scared that they are becoming too "open and affirming" because we've always been taught Christians must be defenders of all that is right and decent. And, not only for ourselves, but for everyone else, too.

This was a difficult post for me to write. I took a lot of flack for it the first time I posted it.

Peace,
Brian

brian said...

Someday,

I hadn't heard of those protests. They are wrong and counter-productive. So many times I've heard gays compare their struggles to the civil rights movement. They should take a lesson from MLK then.

I think public sentiment is shifting in favor of gay marriage. Or, at the very least, civil unions. There is no point in setting that back by acting like fools.

Peace,
Brian

Gregster said...

Brian,

I have had a 180 degree turn on this issue since my days in the church. I personally know three gay men in long-term relationships of at least ten years. These guys did not seem to have the destructive tendencies of the stereotypical gay man.

You post is the most honest and balanced opinion on the subject I have read in a while. A Psychiatrist friend of mine said that much of the destructive behavior associated with homosexuality can be traced back to the need to cover it up. Society tells these men that they are perverts from the time they are old enough to see themselves as gay.

Brian McLaren's proposed 5-year moratorium idea would at the very least be a step in the right direction. I think evangelicalism always needs a boogey man to point to as the reason society is not perfect. They are going to have Barak Obama to demonize for at least four years. So maybe they could ease up on gays for a short period.

brian said...

Gregster,

Thanks for your comment. I too have done a 180 degree turn on this and (barely) been able to stay in the church while making the turn.

Brian McLaren's 5 year moratorium, at first, seemed to me like a great idea. But, I really don't think it's bold enough. Why not err on the side of love and compassion and then, if the church feels it's made a mistake, correct course then? Just not making a decision for five years doesn't seem all that helpful to me.

Peace,
Brian

karen said...

I've had a dialogue with a friend who lives in California. Gays are able to have civil unions with full rights of "married" folk (which, marriage now is two-fold. We all have a 'civil' union; marriage is usually an 'in the eyes of God thing). My friend opposes the "marriage" word because it would open a floodgate to "lifestyle education" in public schools. He is concerned about confusion in youngsters.
I'm not judging either side here, just mentioning another take on it.

Anonymous said...

If we were all homosexuals, the species would quickly die out.

Likewise, if we were all to follow Paul's advice in 1 Cor 7:27, "Are you free from a wife? Then do not seek a wife", the species would quickly die out.

But my observation here cannot be an argument against celibacy. Celibacy is a choice and not everyone will want to choose it. Thus celibacy is no threat to the species.

Likewise, this can be no argument against homosexuality, even if homosexuality is a choice.

(And if it is genetic, simple Mendelian genetics demonstrates it will not show up in 100% of the population.)

brian said...

Anonymous,

I see your point. If homosexuality is genetic, we can see that it will not overtake the species and actually threaten us. And, if homosexuality is a choice, like celibacy, not everyone will choose it, like celibacy. So, the threat to the species is not a valid argument against homosexuality.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brian. I hoped I could contribute something useful to the discussion here, because I appreciate your writings so often.

Let me pose a friendly philosophical challenge. It is asserted by some that Prop 8 and other gay marriage bans do not constitute an invidious discrimination based on sexual orientation, because they although they impose a restriction, the restriction applies to all people equally. In other words, you, a straight man, could not move to California and marry a man. And so both gay and straight people are forbidden from marrying someone of the same sex. Gay people are fully permitted to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Doesn't this mean that the anti-gay-marriage laws must be ruled Constitutional, because they apply equally to gay and straight people?

-- Aaron

brian said...

Aaron,

You bring up a point I made myself back when I opposed gay marriage/civil unions. And I think it's a point most people overlook. The law that does not allow a man to marry a man is not necessarily anti-gay because it does not restrict gay people from marrying. Gay people are free to marry people of the opposite sex. Whether they want to or choose to is another matter. The law, as it is, restricts same sex unions (for whatever reason). The law applies equally to straight people and homosexual people. If my friend and I suddenly found ourselves widowed or divorced, we could not form a (nonsexual) union to raise our kids as a family.

I think on a purely constitutional basis, this is a valid point.

I read an article recently where a gay man said that gay people would be better off admitting that by asking society to accept gay marriage, we are changing the definition of marriage. I actually agree with that. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman and acknowledging gay marriage is a fundamental change in what marriage has always been. That does not mean we should not do it. But, it might mean we have to make different arguments for it. While disallowing same sex unions might be constitutional (for the reason you gave above), that doesn't necessarily make it right.

Anonymous said...

Brian, I must object to the statement that "Marriage has always been between a man and a woman". Gay marriage existed in Rome and was legal there until 342. Marriage in Rome was a civil institution; there was no legal distinction between civil unions and marriage, as all marriages were simply civil unions. Rome was one of the major inspirations for our American republic. That's not to say that America must do as Rome did, but it's worth mentioning that we are at least as much a Roman nation as we are a Christian nation.

Anyway, back to the American Constitutional question. I plucked the wording of my question from the Supreme Court ruling of Loving v. Virginia, which overturned antimiscegenation laws.

Virginia "argues that the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause, as illuminated by the statements of the Framers, is only that state penal laws containing an interracial element as part of the definition of the offense must apply equally to whites and Negroes in the sense that members of each race are punished to the same degree. Thus, the State contends that, because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race."

In other words, because white people were prohibited from marrying black people but allowed to marry white people, and because black people were prohibited from marrying white people but allowed to marry black people, the laws against interracial marriage should be held as Constitutional.

But the Supreme Court rejected this argument in 1967, ruling that "we reject the notion that the mere 'equal application' of a statute containing racial classifications is enough ... the Equal Protection Clause requires the consideration of whether the classifications drawn by any statute constitute an arbitrary and invidious discrimination."

Thus the Constitutional question is not answered simply by equal application. If it is discriminatory and injurious to prevent gay people from marrying the people they love, while straight people may marry those they love, this may be an unconstitutional violation of equal rights.

The Supreme Court in the Loving case also held that "marriage is one of the basic civil rights" and a "fundamental freedom". Regarding basic civil rights, "separate but equal" may sound nice in theory but in practice it is inevitably discriminatory and unequal. Those well-meaning folks who wish for civil union and marriage to be separate but equal institutions will be disappointed.

-- Aaron

brian said...

Wow, Aaron, I feel like I walked right into a trap on that constitutional thing.

First, thank for the history lesson. OK. Marriage hasn't all times and all places been between a man and a woman. There has been the exception you pointed out (and I'm guessing there have been more). But, for the most part, the vast majority of time and place it has been understood to be between a man and a woman. Allowing gay marriage is a fundamental shift from what has been traditional for a very long time. That is not not a valid argument against it. But, I think it's a fact we do well to acknowledge. Bringing up the fact that the Romans (whose society became notorious for something we would not want to emulate) is not going to sway most people to be in favor of gay marriage. Yes, I know a lot of our law was based on Roman law. But, these are also the people who had public executions, threw Christians to the lions and had no problem with men having sex with boys.

It's interesting that the Supreme Court saw racial discrimination in marriage that way in 1967. I had no idea. Not being well versed (or at all versed) in Constitutional Law, I thought that equal application would be enough to make a law non-discriminatory. For reasons I've stated earlier though I think it's fallacious to compare being black with being gay. There are some similarities. But, there are some major differences. Rather than getting sidetracked with discussing how the two things are not the same, I'd prefer to focus on why homosexuals should be allowed to marry which is the side that I am on now.

The bottom line for me is this. I think we should look at the issue of gay marriage not on whether we can constitutionally continue to deny them the right to marriage (which I thought you were saying) in your earlier comment that there was some merit to that. Even if there were a way to constitutionally continue to deny it, that alone does not make it right. Nor, do I think we should simply say that just because marriage has always been defined as being between a man and a woman that is reason enough to deny it to gay people. I'd rather look at what impact gay marriage would have our our society and on gay people. And, of course, if they are being denied their constitutional rights, that is reason enough alone to end the debate and give them their rights.

Anonymous said...

The Roman society wasn't necessarily something to emulate, I agree. Though you didn't mention it, they were yet another society that utilized slavery as an engine of economic growth. That said, some of those Roman gay marriages were between consenting adults who lovingly committed to one another, and I would not want for history to completely pave over their memories.

There are definitely similarities and differences between black Americans' civil rights struggle and the current situation of gay Americans. I thought Leonard Pitts said this well:

"No, the black experience and the gay experience are not equivalent. Gay people were not the victims of mass kidnap or mass enslavement.

No war was required to strike the shackles from their limbs.

But that's not the same as saying blacks and gays have nothing in common. On the contrary, gay people, like black people, know what it's like to be left out, lied about, scapegoated, discriminated against, held up, beat down, denied a job, a loan or a life. And, too, they know how it feels to sit there and watch other people vote upon your very humanity, just as if those other people had a right."

As a gay white man too young\












to fully emotionally understand the times of Dr. King, I primarily rely upon the words of gay black people like Pam Spaulding who've experienced both forms of prejudice and can speak personally of the similarities and differences. But that doesn't necessarily help me communicate my experience to straight black folks, so I appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

It's empirically a mistake to suggest that both situations are exactly alike. And a discussion that descends into arguments that "we've suffered more" and "no, we have" is ultimately unproductive. But when we find that some of the common and even fair-sounding arguments against gay marriage were in fact invented by white supremacists of generations past, I think that ought to give us pause.

And yes, my Constitutional question was a carefully laid trap, but a friendly one. Just an opening for discussion. Thanks for taking the bait. ;)

Anonymous said...

(Sorry about the weird whitespace)

brian said...

Aaron,

I appreciate the dialog and I've got no problems with the trap.

As a black person I can tell you that the first time I heard the comparison between being gay and being black I was really taken aback. At the time, for me, being gay was a moral thing and most definitely a choice. Now that is debatable. But, gay has a behavioral component to be identified by society as gay. You're not gay (by societal standards) unless you behave in a certain way. One has to self-identify as gay whereas I was declared black the day I was born (by others), will die black and would be black if I never opened my mouth about it. I think I pretty well laid out the differences, as I perceive them, in my post and I really think it's not only not productive but counterproductive to debate about which is worse. There are some similarities, true. And, for some people it might help to point out that some of the same silly arguments used against interracial marriage are also used against gay marriage. But, when people try to equate the two, they fall into a trap, IMO. The differences are significant enough that you can really mess up your case by saying We allowed interracial marriage, therefore we should allow gay mariage." I realize that is not what you are saying, BTW.

I think as a black man, I should be (and am) more empathetic to the plight of gays. I think it's the same for women. Any oppressed group should be able to more easily understand how another oppressed group feels. One thing we do have in common with gays is waiting for others to give us our basic human rights.

Thanks for your comments. Keep 'em coming. I appreciate hearing your perspective.