Church and State

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Over the weekend, there were several protests around the country about Proposal 8. A Balloon-Juice contributor, Michael D, had a short post about it this weekend that is worth the few moments it will take to look at. The Episcopalian minister in the embedded video clip has some reasoned arguments to make as to why there is biblical justification for gay marriage (we'll get there in just a moment...don't go nuts yet), and Ashton Kutcher stumbles his way through an endearing "Prop 8 is bullshit" diatribe. It's both of their points that really got me thinking about the role of the government and religion in the gay marriage issue.

Religion

First, the minister. He warns, before he starts, about "throwing scripture at each other." From there, he makes the case that biblically, divorce is the worst aspect of relationships; that Jesus spoke much more of divorce and adultry than any other part of marriage. From this minister's perspective, one does well to encourage monogamy and stability. It is the support of monogamy and stability that represents "conservative family values." In general, I agree with his statements.

What really got me thinking was his initial statement: "if we're going to start throwing scripture at each other, which is always a dangerous thing..." I recall an old email that went around some time ago that railed against "Dr." Laura Schlessenger, who had a show a few years back in which she heavily quoted scripture as justification for her viewpoint. This email quoted other parts of scripture that we ignore in modern times, like when it is okay to chuck stones at people or kill them. The point is this: if we are indeed to use biblical justification for public policy, we should be careful what we wish for. I think this is the Episcopalian minister's point, in a way: the overarching lessons are what we should be concerned about. Stable, happy families are what we should support, not one type of religious law.

On a whim, I googled "religious jutification for slavery." Lo and behold, plenty of references.


Genesis 9:25-27:And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.[King James version]

This appears to be the basis from which all other justifications for slavery and/or segregation arise. A curse is put on generations of one guy, who if I remember correctly, saw his dad naked, laughed about it, and told his brothers. From that horrid mistake, generations were seen as slaves (it appears that there was some opinion that Canaan settled in Africa).

In fact, there are several passages in the bible that specifically regulate slave ownership in some way, shape, or form. I'm not a biblical scholar by any means, waffling back and forth between agnosticism and Presbyterian-Lite as I do, but whereas the bible seems silent on prohibiting slave ownership (save for, of course, The Golden Rule), it lays out sets of rules specific to the conduct of slave ownership. Some examples:

--Exodus 21:20-21 - And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
--Leviticus 19:20-22 - And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.

On and on...I found at least 10 examples where the conduct of a slave-owner is laid-out, from emancipation of the slaves to punishment of the slaves.

I bring this up, because we either agree that we pick-and-choose what aspects of the bible are relevent to modern life, or we take a literalist view. We accept everything that it has to say as The Truth, literally, or we agree that it serves as a guiding light to help us each individually make important, morally-based decisions. The key is individually. "Dr." Laura certainly uses it as a moral compass, but the hole in her argument is all of the canon law she chooses to ignore (various demands on the appropriateness of stoning, killing, beheading, drowning, and the like) because it is not relevant or even normal or moral in modern society.

Eventually, in the Mid-1800s, we largely agreed as a nation that slavery was bad, despite many impassioned speeches by, among others, Jefferson Davis, about the biblical and moral imperative of slave ownership ("[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation."). Yeah, we had to kinda fight a war over it, but the point was made: slave ownership is immoral in modern society. In the 1920s, women could finally vote, despite much biblical evidence to womens' supposed inferiority (which we now know, according to Mrs. Smitty, that the opposite is true). In the 1960s, further discrimination, however biblically justified, was legislated away. In 2008, we elected a black President.

Like the Episcopalian minister in the video clip referenced above, we should be careful to start throwing around bible verses, and recognize religion as an individual's guiding principles alone, and not some source for the justification of legislation that discriminates against people or creates a 2nd class citizenry. If I put my mind to it, I could justify anything...any behavior...by picking the biblical verses that suit my needs, however out of context they may be. One has to take the bible as a whole, which is globally about treating our fellow man with respect and to be a friend and neighbor when people need it. Obviously, God did not and would not condone slavery. We can say that now, though one hundred and forty years ago, people might not have been so sure that He didn't. But, as we now disregard biblical passages either justifying slavery or laying-out rules for the ownership of slaves, perhaps we should look at a similar disregard for any passage that advocates for the discrimination of anyone. Discrimination, no matter how justified in the bible (which again I don't think any of this stuff is), just doesn't, or shouldn't, apply in modern society.

Government

Now, Kutcher's statements. His whole point, however rambling, was that Proposal 8 is discriminatory. The height of irony to me in the Proposal 8 battle was the aftermath. According to the Los Angeles Times, "an exit poll of California voters showed that black voters sided in favor of the measure by margins of more than 2 to 1."[November 6, 2008] A group that has fought discrimination at all levels just voted in massive numbers (statistically speaking) to discriminate against another minority group. Some else's turn, perhaps?

All snark aside, Proposal 8 creates a class of citizenry that does not get to enjoy all of the privileges afforded to every other American. Marriage is one of those funny things, in that it has both State as well as religious implications. Ostensibly, marriage can happen in a religious setting without State-sanction. But it's the question of the State's involvement in marriage that I am looking at.

If you subscribe to the view that the reason for marriage is procreation, then should we disallow sterile couples from marrying?

If you subscribe to the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and is a union before God, I would say that in the affairs of State, God and religion have nothing to do with marriage. The State does not grant a license to marry based on your standing as a Christian. If memory sevres me, you can get a marriage license so long as you have the $50 is cost me here in Michigan. I was never asked my background, my religious belief, or my moral code.

Restricting a right OR a privilege (both of which people have argued marriage is) based on whether or not it aligns with my religious belief is not something the U.S. Constitution protects. Then why not allow rape or murder? Because rape and murder violate the victim's right to keep living and enjoying their rights and privileges, as well as the fact that they are morally wrong. All gay marriage is, to some people of faith, is morally wrong. It doesn't violate my rights that two guys (or women) get married.

So, again, California (and Michigan 4 years ago) has passed a referendum that removes the ability for one self-selecting group of individuals to enjoy the same thing that everyone else gets to do on a whim.

Simply stated: from a religious standpoint, anyone is allowed to believe that homosexuals should not get married and that God will not recognize that union (and in fact may "punish" it). But as soon as that person backs laws that disallow homosexual marriage, they are a supporter of discrimination. There is no philosophical difference between forcing blacks to use different drinking fountains, and actually passing laws to that effect, and disallowing gays the benefits of monogamous, loving marriage.

26 comments:

Bob 10:28 AM  

First of all, good piece. I am NOT the person who should ever quote scripture to make any point.

Second, I think I am in Kutcher's camp. The mythology of America is that European Americans came here to escape religious persecution and founded a country that prohibited the establishment of a state religion. Now we have groups of people who regularly act like Christian victims, but work at every turn to establish their belief systems in state constitutions and statute around the country.

Yesterday right-wing ass-bag Newt Gingrich was quoted as saying:

“Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us...”

No. In reality, the liberals in this country have probably been too nice. Liberals have been respecting your right to believe whatever nutty things you want to believe, but for the last few elections, you have been imposing your religion on state law. It seems to me that maybe the left has had enough of your disrespect for the separation of church and state. Newt, if you would mind you own business, I am sure the GLBT community would be more than willing to leave you alone.

GabFest 10:56 AM  

I agree with the point of your post. And I think that 50 years from now, disallowing gay marriage will be tantamount to disallowing interracial marriage.

However, I've heard a lot of complaining because Obama doesn't want to take up the banner of gay marriage. I know that my perspective isn't as sensitive as it might be if I were personally affected by this, but should we really care if politicians won't allow "gay marriage"? What if they want to create a new instutution for gay couples and call it "alliance" or something like that? Might be a way to get around these state constitutional amendments...

Smitty 11:05 AM  

Hey Gabe!

What if they want to create a new instutution for gay couples and call it "alliance" or something like that

A duck by any other name is still a duck. People opposed to it would still use it as their straw man.

but should we really care if politicians won't allow "gay marriage"?

This is my point. No, we shouldn't. Nobody should. It is none of their business, as much as it is none of my business.

As I reflect on what really happens with things like Prop 8 or Michigan's amendment passed a while back, I come to this: laws are meant to equalize us. They are passed so that there is no special advantage and we are all on a level playing field. it's why murder is against the law, and why it's illegal to do insider trading. But laws like this remove that equality. That's why it is so wrong.

Bob 11:13 AM  

But laws like this remove that equality. That's why it is so wrong.

Amen.

Maybe we should come to the point where government has only a small regualtory role in marriage. We would need to have regulation of divorced assets and we need to protect children, but really, why shouldn't marriage just become a private contract between two individuals?

It seems to me that when we start defining what is an acceptable marriage, we have already crossed the line into state-sponsored religion.

Smitty 11:14 AM  

we have already crossed the line into state-sponsored religion

Which is really what the religious right wants. Plain and simple. That is their goal.

B Mac 11:23 AM  

Prop 8 was the cherry pit in the otherwise-yummy pie that was Election Day.

The good news is that the divide is largely generational. Within a couple of generations, Gay marriage will be an accepted social institution.

And well it should be. In what twisted world would one of our most progressive states vote for this trash? It's not as if it required all Californians to get gay-married. It affects no one, in any way, except for those poor bastards who just lost the right to marry.

If you have 6 free minutes, I recommend Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on the subject.

GabFest 11:30 AM  

A duck by any other name is still a duck. People opposed to it would still use it as their straw man.

I know, I'm just saying. I'd love to see people freak out and say that the gays are ruining the institution of "alliance". They would have to come up with a whole new line of rhetoric. And if all Californians DID have to get gay-married, my couple of choice would be the Governator and Kelsey Grammer. Suck on that, Fraser.

We have a GRC event tonight, by the way. 6-8 at 621.

Smitty 11:32 AM  

Suck on that, Fraser.

Literally.

Can't make the GRC tonight...a long-awaited Date Nite with the Mrs. is finally coming to fruition.

steves 12:37 PM  

Excellent piece. I had been mulling over a post on this for a while now, but hadn't gotten around to actually posting.

I think you are missing an important point. The fact that anti-gay marriage measures have been passed outside the Bible Belt seems to indicate that it isn't just the religious who are opposed to gay marriage. California is hardly the stronghold of the religious right. The fact is that most people, at this time, are not ok with gay people being married.

Therefore, the argument that this is a separation of church and state issue is pretty weak. There are many laws that have some bais in religion, so that doesn't elevate it to the level of a state sponsored religion that would offend the first amendment. I took a Con Law seminar in law school and we spent most of the time discussing the DOMA and the arguments against it. For the most part, it took a pretty vague reading of the Equal Protection Clause to get to any point that said there was a right to gay marriage and most of the people in the class were of the opinion that gay people should be allowed to be married.

I will admit that I tend to take a more restrained view of the Constitution because of the potential for judicial abuse.

Personally, I think that gay marriage proponents took the wrong approach. I suppose it is easy for me to say, since I am straight and married. Forcing the courts to decide is what caused many states to pass constituional amendments which will make it even harder in the future to have any kind of gay marriage. I honestly don't know what the right approach should have been. An incremental approach may have been more successful, since civil unions seem to be more palatable.

The reality is that there are many religious people that have no problem with gay marriage, such as myself. We live in a secular state that has no business imposing a certain belief system on everyone. As was mentioned, adultrey is a sin, but there a few of those laws still on the books.

If it were up to me, the State would remove any mention of the word marriage from their laws and would only allow civil unions between adults, gay or straight. If you wanted to be "married", then it is up to whatever belief system you have, but the state would no longer perform marriages.

Bob 12:59 PM  

If it were up to me, the State would remove any mention of the word marriage from their laws and would only allow civil unions between adults, gay or straight. If you wanted to be "married", then it is up to whatever belief system you have, but the state would no longer perform marriages.

I would buy this. Seems like the state being the broker of "marriages" is where it crosses into religous territory.

Maybe this is what the right is fearing as the "destruction of marriage".

steves 1:19 PM  

I would buy this. Seems like the state being the broker of "marriages" is where it crosses into religous territory.


This has always been the case. The State has always set the rules, such as how old a person needs to be and what degree of consanguinity is acceptable. There were also preventing the mentally ill and people with STD's from getting married. Many of these have little or nothing to do with religion.

Bob 1:28 PM  

The State has always set the rules...

Do the courts see this is protecting the public? The reason I ask, is if the courts don't see preventing gay marriage as public protection, wouldn't they be more willing to throw it out?

steves 1:59 PM  

Do the courts see this is protecting the public? The reason I ask, is if the courts don't see preventing gay marriage as public protection, wouldn't they be more willing to throw it out?

This gets into the concept of judicial review and what standard applies. It depends on if you are dealing with a right or some other area. In an area that is not a right, the courts defer to the legislature. If you are dealing with a right, then certain tests apply. At this time, gay people are not considered to be suspect class, such as race or national origin, which would trigger the highest level of scrutiny.

I don't know if the protecting the public argument has been made. I doubt it, as it is pretty weak. The "traditional" argument has been made and the courts have taken this into consideration.

B Mac 2:11 PM  

The state has always set the rules...

Yeah, but the state has also set the rules on sex. You can't have sex with anyone under a certain age, or in certain relatioships of trust, or with family members.

But once you are clear of issues of protection of societal interest, the state has to back off. The days of the enforcement of sodomy, miscegenation re: sex, and "seduction of an unmarried woman" laws (although that one, to my great amusement, is still on the books in Michigan) are dying quickly.

The same arguments were used for sex; "if we let these deviant sexual behaviors happen, then society will implode into a pile of immoral boning and evil stuff, and modern life will cease to function".

Surprisingly, the world has not imploded thusly.

Smitty 3:12 PM  

The fact is that most people, at this time, are not ok with gay people being married.

You may be right. Hard to argue, given that in the last 2 Democratic-swayed election cycles, multiple state-level anti-gay-marriage referendums have passed. Part of the meaning behind my post is that I do thinks it's discriminatory, and that I have reason to believe that this, too, will pass. A lot of people used to be okay with no women voting. But this stuff changes, and I think it will change. I just get to bitch on my blog about what bullshit it is right now.

the argument that this is a separation of church and state issue is pretty weak

I actually didn't mean to suggest that is is a church-and-state issue (even though, um...it's the title of the post...I just couldn't think of another title). I was trying to get to the point that religion and the state, in this case, are mutually exclusive. Make sense??

Sopor 3:19 PM  

Great write up, and good discussion following the fact. I wish I had something intelligent to add to the conversation, but most of what I could say has already been said.

All I can say is that I agree that it is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS for the state to dictate what is and isn't marriage, or what the purpose of marriage is.

Gotta wonder... is this the result of a nation being originally settled by Puritans? (Probably not, but curious anyway...) For example, how do the Australian people feel about issues like this? (Gotta go do some research...)

Sopor 3:24 PM  

Wiki to the rescue!
Same-sex relationships in Australia

In summary, apparently, in AU same-sex relationships are not recognized federally, though many states and territories are moving to or already have started recognizing the relationships for at least SOME if not all rights given to "straight" marriages.

Rickey Henderson 4:08 PM  

Rickey is not a big fan of anyone who curses the name of Canaan...

Mrs. Smitty,  4:45 PM  

Some people who base their reason solely on religion will always believe being gay is wrong - that's fine, we all have our value systems and beliefs. However, the government is supposed to believe all men (and woman) are created equal and should attempt to govern as such. (Yes, I know, these are rose colored glasses, the government does not always seem to be looking our for our best interests, but something in the last few weeks gave me hope again...)

B Mac 5:32 PM  

the government does not always seem to be looking our for our best interests

Shhhhh, Mrs. Smitty... Don't say that too loudly. The FBI is listening. Probably the CIA, too.

steves 6:50 PM  

But once you are clear of issues of protection of societal interest, the state has to back off. The days of the enforcement of sodomy, miscegenation re: sex, and "seduction of an unmarried woman" laws (although that one, to my great amusement, is still on the books in Michigan) are dying quickly.

I tend to agree with this notion, but the State tends to disagree. There are thousands of laws and regulations on the books that are passed to "protect us" or just willy nilly. Look at the laws regarding alcohol sales in Pennsylvania. Look at the vast majority of gun laws. Look at many drug laws. All of these are passed under the notion that we are being protected.

The flip side of this is State power. Absent some fundamental right to the contrary, the state has the power to act in areas that may not have anything to do with what is best for everyone. I'd like to think this wouldn't happen, but we all know it happens more often than not.

In regards to Michigan's adultery law, IIRC, no one has been prosecuted under this since the late 1940's. I seriously doubt it would survive a Constitutional challenge.

All I can say is that I agree that it is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS for the state to dictate what is and isn't marriage, or what the purpose of marriage is.

The State provides certain benefits and rules in regards to marriage, so it only stands to reason that they have some say. If you get married in a church and don't follow the statutory guidlines, you are not married in the eyes of the state.

B Mac 8:05 PM  

In regards to Michigan's adultery law, IIRC, no one has been prosecuted under this since the late 1940's. I seriously doubt it would survive a Constitutional challenge.

You are correct, but a couple of years ago the Michigan Supreme Court (in dictum) hinted that because (a) Michigan has the law on the books, and (b) there is another law making any felony in which sex occurs 1st degree criminal sexual misconduct, TECHNICALLY, adultery can be punished by life in prison.

As could, presumably, Seduction of an Unmarried Woman.

Mike 7:21 AM  

the State would remove any mention of the word marriage from their laws and would only allow civil unions between adults, gay or straight. If you wanted to be "married", then it is up to whatever belief system you have, but the state would no longer perform marriages.

Hear, hear.

And great post, Smitty.

Andy 9:58 AM  

Late to the game, but...

Wow! Awesome post. Nice job, Smitty. I completely agree. I won't go through all the comments offered. I agree with Smitty and most of the amens thrown up afterward. The problem, though, is that I don't think the general public is ready for this. People seem to be generally discriminatory in nature. And the gay community is an easy target.

It is also discouraging when traditionally discriminated-against communities are willing to discriminate against others. When this was considered in Michigan, the African-American community was staunchly against gay marriage. That blew my mind.

I will say that my county (Ingham) and Washtenaw were the only two counties to vote against this. Kudos for us, I guess.

But when liberal California votes for this, you know people just aren't ready for gay marriage. This could be something that the Supreme Court needs to weigh in on (like Brown vs. Board of Ed for school segregation).

sideshow bob 1:59 PM  

I often think about how wonderful this world might be if religious people used their energies to help and comfort, rather than pile on, the stigmatized victims of social inequalities.

And I hate to get of topic here, but it kind of scared me how much I agreed with Kelso. He totally had me until he endorsed scrapping NASA later on in the show.

George 3:48 PM  

Lots of great stuff here, but as someone in CA I have to make this point--don't be fooled into thinking CA is so liberal. It's pretty much two states, the lefty-leaning, ocean-clinging part and the dry as dust much more right (if not right) part. So while people think of the Castro or West Hollywood and assume CA is one happily gay place, that's far from true.

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