26 June 2013

Mountains, molehills, and same-sex marriage.

Back in October 2010, I participated in a synchroblog on same-sex marriage. Considering the current events (namely the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act), I thought I’d repost it here.

This month, the bloggers whom I synchronize topics with—the synchrobloggers—are discussing same-sex marriage. Which isn’t a controversial topic among Christians… unless you’re okay with it, or even for it.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights group, delivered a petition to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Specifically, to Boyd K. Packer, president of their Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the number two guy in their church. They asked him to rescind some comments made in a sermon he preached on 3 October 2010. According to the Associated Press, Packer had said,

Some suppose that they were born preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.

It can be argued that the impetus for Packer’s statement comes from his personal prejudices against gay people. It can equally be argued that it comes from a very widespread interpretation of the bible. It reflects what most Mormons—and most evangelical Christians, heretic Christians, conservative Jews, and Muslims—believe about homosexuality: It’s biologically unnatural, it’s kinda icky when you think about it, and the lifestyle that’s cropped up around it is far too fixated on deviant behaviors and materialism—and recruitment of our young people. Oh, and there are verses appearing to condemn the practice in the bible. Therefore it’s not God’s idea, and sin.

We can debate about which came first, the prejudice or the scriptures. But your average conservative monotheist will almost invariably say it’s the scriptures. It’s not true, but it’s what they’ll say. The implied argument—which likewise isn’t true—is, “You know, if it weren’t for these pesky anti-gay verses in Leviticus and Romans, I would have absolutely no trouble with you gay people. But I’m hamstrung by my bible. I can’t go against it. That’d be going against the God who inspired it.”

The reason we know this isn’t true, of course, is that if we could ever set aside the bible, let’s be realistic: Not a single one of these folks—except the closeted gay ones whose rhetoric is meant to hide hypocrisy or a hidden lifestyle—would ever make an instant 180° turn and embrace homosexuality as an acceptable alternative to heterosexuality. It’s ridiculously obvious by what they’ve said in the past. Namely the the slurs, the gay jokes, the slams, and the hate speech they’ve preached in the past, under the label of “bible truths.” The bible justifies not a single word of it. Jesus in fact teaches the contrary: Gays are your neighbors, so love them. And if gays are your enemies, love them all the same.

But even though the impetus for most folks comes from prejudice, not bible, the fact is there is a bible, and it’s widely interpreted to say God doesn’t approve of homosexuality. That’s where the Human Rights Campaign’s petition is simply na├»ve. The Mormons are going to read it as saying, “Please stop preaching and following your religion’s scriptures. They’re not true and they offend us.” How can any believer, who believes their scriptures, realistically respond to such a petition?

(Especially an email petition. A giant list of email addresses just doesn’t have the same impact as a giant list of physical addresses. But that’s another rant.)

Anyway… I was supposed to discuss same-sex marriage, wasn’t I? Right.

Naturally, if you’re prejudiced against gays (whether you blame your prejudices on the bible or don’t), you’re against same-sex marriage. You figure it’s bad enough people are having gay sex, but to legitimize it with the word “marriage” is simply awful. Once that becomes legal, society is gonna find it near-impossible to ban the queers outright, and round them up into concentration camps, and apply electrodes to their genitals in order to jolt the gay out of them. As it stands, you’re still harboring a secret hope that some form of this Clockwork Orange style scenario might yet one day play out… just like when white people used to dream of deporting all the blacks to Africa. But that dream will die once they can legally marry one another.

Okay, maybe you’re not so twisted. Hope not. But to listen to all the screeching against same-sex marriage, you start to get the picture that the scenario I just related would make far more of these folks chuckle than cringe. I didn’t make it up, you know. Some therapy centers [like the now-defunct Exodus International] are attempting similar tactics as we speak. I wonder, as I was telling my best friend last night, how these folks would want to have any sex, even heterosexual sex, after that’s been done to them. The minds that think nothing of such techniques seem a lot more interested in society than the individual, and when you turn the Kingdom of God upside-down like that, the stench of evil creates a disquiet even among good church-going folk who only want to see God’s laws upheld, no matter if involuntary enforcement has to violate the human mind.

For them, legal same-sex marriage means defeat. For gays who want to marry one another, it likewise means victory. (And for gays who really don’t want to marry one another, who saw the ban as a convenient excuse to avoid commitment… well, I’m not going to deal with them today. I’m just gonna be quietly amused by their internal conflict.)

For me it honestly doesn’t mean anything one way or the other.

I believe marriage is a sacrament. I also believe in separation of church and state. The state has no business declaring what is a sacrament and what isn’t. Ergo the state has no business officiating any marriages at all. Straight or gay, Christian or pagan: The state legitimizes none of them. They can’t legitimize a baptism. Nor should they be able to legitimize a marriage, regardless of what the social customs are in our culture. Just because England had no separation of church and state, and officially recognized marriages, and that custom was carried over into our common law, doesn’t legitimize it at all. Custom and tradition is not an adequate defense. It’s still wrong.

All any state should be able to do is recognize domestic living arrangements. For everyone. That’s all. And really, the only reason they need to do so is to sort out financial liability, tax liability, child custody, next of kin, and other legal necessities. You don’t need to be “married” for any of that stuff. Gays have had all these privileges ever since people realized domestic partnerships grant all the benefits of marriage. That’s as far as any state should go. No further, or it violates the First Amendment and establishes a religion: A secular one, a religion which bypasses the churches, and has regularly allowed people to get married despite what any church teaches, despite any standards every church has for its members.

Of course, in applying this scenario, there are gay churches, so there will be gay marriages. But since the state will recognize no marriages, homophobes won’t have to worry about the state legitimizing anything. They can continue to think, to themselves, that none of those gay marriages count, for to them they won’t. And gay couples, if it amuses them, can reciprocate and consider the homophobes’ marriages not to count, since bigots obviously don’t understand how Christian love works in the first place. Problem solved.

But a live-and-let-live solution like this won’t work for those who don’t approve of homosexuality. After all, they think it causes tornadoes.

Now, if I stop there, I’ve neatly dodged several questions. But I’m not going to do that.

The above lays out my public view on the whole issue. That’s the answer I usually give. Naturally I have personal views. And most of the reason bigotry continues to exist and flourish is because people never share their personal views. They give impressive public answers… and then quietly undermine those answers in favor of their personal prejudices. It’s like all those white folks who were totally in favor of integration in the 1950s, but they’d never sell a house in their neighborhood to a black family. ’Cause you know, property values. Or the fear of what the neighbors might think. Apparently confessing your bigotry wasn’t okay, but confessing your gutlessness was.

Well, I confess: I’m bigoted.

I always have been. I was raised to be. Dad’s firm paranoid belief is that every gay man is probably interested in him, and given the chance will try something. Mom strongly believes they’re a bad influence. I’ve told gay jokes. I’ve believed the stereotypes. I’ve bought into the anti-gay propaganda. That is, till I met actual gay people, dealt with them as human beings instead of political forces to oppose, and was reminded by God that they’re just as much his kids as I am.

The only way to be truly unbiased is to admit your biases and compensate for them. (Which is something people really ought to tell Fox News, but that’s another rant.) Not over-compensate: Liberal guilt creates just as many problems as bigotry. If I were wracked by liberal guilt, I expect my response to the whole same-sex marriage idea would be the same as the general public’s: “Sure! Let ’em get married! The more the merrier! They can get married at my house if they want! I’ll even perform the ceremony! For free!” And my big plastic fakeness would be off-putting and creepy, ’cause I’m a rotten actor. I would squirm throughout, and in order to alleviate my tension I’d lash out in small, subtly undermining, quietly destructive ways. (Woe to those who don’t hold their liberal-guilty “friends” at arm’s length, for scratch the veneer and you’ll find a bigot desperate to escape and take savage vengeance upon the nearest victim.)

I don’t overcompensate. I still can’t biblically justify same-sex marriage. Sorry. I know my liberal friends would really like me to. They’d love to say, “My scholar friend has looked at the history behind the anti-gay verses in the bible, and concluded these were actually condemnations of paganism, not homosexuality.” I do actually think a fair case can be made for that. But I also think an equally fair case can be made against homosexuality.

As far as homosexuality is concerned, I’m largely agnostic: I don’t know whether it’s sin, and I’m not worried about it: There are so many other sins, bigger sins, to worry about. If I had to pick a side, I’d err on the side of caution. It’s probably sin. But maybe my bigotry is tipping me that way. I make no claim of infallibility. But again, far more has been written in the scriptures about injustice, irreligion, the works of the flesh, the love of wealth, and inhumanity. Heck, more has been written about the kosher laws.

So since it appears way down on God’s list of priorities, it’s way down on mine too. It’s no different than any other sin I choose to overlook in friends and family. It’s there, but it’s forgiven; let’s go have coffee. You wanna get married to your same-sex partner? Fine; better you’re in a stable relationship than trying to hit on everyone who walks by. Does it matter whether I personally approve? After all, the only one whose approval you should desire is God’s. Work that out with him. I’m fine. Stop changing the subject because I want coffee.

Hardly the ringing endorsement some folks want from me—in one direction or the other—but that’s where I am right now. Ask me again in a decade.

The October ’10 synchroblog:

Links to the other synchrobloggers are in the pull-down menu above. Switching the menu takes you to that blog. Read ’em; see what you think. I always find it interesting to see how many people independently come to the same conclusions I do; at least I know I’m not totally off the deep end. But then again, maybe we collectively are.