John Sheirer: Marriage equality’s trump card the Constitution
NORTHAMPTON — Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments about marriage equality, and Facebook lit up with countless supportive posts from a wide range of my friends: long-time liberals, curmudgeonly contrarians, independents and a pleasant variety of good-hearted and open-minded people.
Of course, social media is never a place for universal agreement. None of my friends posted any “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” nonsense, mostly because anti-gay ideology is now being called out for what it is: bigotry. But I was surprised by one specific response. My sister Pam posted a graphic reading, “This person supports love” with an arrow pointing to her profile picture. Go Pam! “No one could be against love,” I thought.
I was wrong. One of Pam’s conservative friends commented that Pam’s post was “insulting,” and he launched an extended attack on marriage equality from a religious perspective. Here’s a summary of his view: God is against homosexuality, so it’s morally wrong because it says so in the Bible and because God is life, and homosexuals can’t have kids, so they will lead to the death of the human race, but it’s rude for people to call me a bigot because of my beliefs.
The idea that anyone knows God’s viewpoint has proven pretty arbitrary over the years. Long ago, some people cited the Bible to advocate for slavery. In recent history, people argued for outlawing interracial marriage based on religious grounds. Those embarrassing aspects of American history are eerily similar to the current religious argument against marriage equality.
Generally, the folks who claim that they know what God wants are hijacking God as an involuntary character reference while voicing what they want — slavery and racial segregation, for example. But even if they seriously have God’s best intentions in mind, Christianity has so much more to offer than narrow-minded condemnation of homosexuality. My friend Wayne Barr notes that the King James Bible has 788,280 words, but only 338 of them touch on homosexuality. That’s a whopping 0.042 percent. And the founder of Christianity, Jesus himself, referenced homosexuality exactly never. Commentator John Fugelsang adds that the Bible has about seven verses directly referencing homosexuality but more than 4,000 relating to helping the poor. So an anti-gay focus isn’t just questionable morality — it’s questionable Christianity.
The current Christian right’s obsession with homosexuality remains a mystery. If being gay is a “sin,” it’s certainly not the only sin identified in the Bible. I have some questions for Pam’s Bible-condemns-homosexuality friend. Did he bring a ham to his Church’s Easter potluck dinner? The Bible forbids eating ham. (Leviticus 11:7-8). What if the weather had turned warm and he brought a chilled shrimp platter instead? The Bible says that’s an abomination (Leviticus 11:10). What if he wore a tank top and showed off that tattoo he got as a rebellious teenager long ago? Another abomination (Leviticus 19:28). And if that tank top was made of a poly-blend fabric? Hellbound! (Leviticus 19:19). What if someone there spoke up about some religious issue and happened to be a woman? Bam-big sin! (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). And what if he had been called into work and couldn’t attend the potluck? Working on the Sabbath — yet another sin! (Exodus 31:14-15).
I’m not ridiculing Christianity — just pick-and-choose beliefs. Why doesn’t anyone rant about the evils of shrimp and take polyester cases to the Supreme Court? The answer is that there’s usually no emotional, visceral bigotry against food or synthetic fabric. Pam’s conservative friend says he’s not a bigot. But how can “homosexuals will lead to the death of the human race” be interpreted as anything other than bigotry? He conveniently ignores the fact that gay people are perfectly capable of bringing life into the world and being parents, either by birth or by adoption. As Justice Elana Kagan pointed out, we don’t prevent anyone too old to reproduce from marrying, so preventing gay people from marrying is nothing more than bigoted discrimination.
Most important, whatever people think of the flimsy religious case against marriage equality is irrelevant. The United States is a nation of civil laws, not religious doctrine. If the law permits me to marry my wife Betsy, then it can’t simultaneously prevent my friends Jim and Paul from marrying each other. The Constitutional application is simple: the Fourteenth Amendment specifically says that all citizens have “equal protection of the laws,” and the First Amendment tells us that religious beliefs don’t trump legal equality for all American citizens, no matter their sexual identity. Why is that such a difficult concept?
John Sheirer of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at email@example.com.