Thursday, December 16, 2004

There's Nothing Right About the Religious Wrong

By Steve Charing

Religious fundamentalists have been attacking gays and lesbians since, well, the times of The Old Testament. It didn’t just begin when the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts handed down its historic and controversial decision whereby it ruled that gays and lesbians cannot be prohibited from marrying in that state.

It just seems that way.

President Bush has derided the ruling by "activist judges" in Massachusetts and the ensuing maverick marriages in San Francisco, Portland, and towns in New Mexico and New York State. Since then, gays and lesbians have been in the crosshairs of relentless attacks — both covert and overt — by the religious right. This was manifested during the recent elections when voters in 11 states overwhelmingly voted for amendments to their constitutions banning same-sex marriages. Moreover, many political observers concluded that in the pivotal state of Ohio where such a measure was on the ballot, the increase in voter turnout helped President Bush. This is due to the fact that among those voters, "moral issues" (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) were paramount in their minds.

The tactics used by Republican activists during the campaign were of the scare variety: inserts, leaflets, whispered sermons in churches, as well as misleading radio ads in largely African-American populated areas. Most propaganda asked the same inflammatory question in one form or another: "Do you want two men who live down the street kissing each other in front of your children?"

Emboldened by the final election results, the religious right sees an opening for an all-out attack on gay people in the legislatures in the form of prospective appointments to the federal courts and the Supreme Court. They also see President Bush as owing them and therefore an instrument to achieve their goals.

The first post-election shots have already been fired. Fueled by these anti-gay victories, around 70 pastors announced they are planning to stage a large demonstration in Annapolis to ensure that same-sex marriage is never permitted in the Free State. Why this vitriol? It’s all about the sin of homosexuality in the minds of these religious fundamentalists.

To be sure, the Bible, and Leviticus 18:22 in particular, calls homosexuality an abomination, which makes it a sin. But so are a lot of other practices in Leviticus. A woman wrote a letter in The Baltimore Sun denouncing the pastors’ proposed demonstration by saying, "On a recent Sunday, my husband had bacon for breakfast. He trimmed his beard, pulled on a sweater made from wool and nylon blend, and went outside to rake leaves. Typical weekend activities? Yes—and they are all forbidden in Leviticus." She went on to point out that people in Maryland enjoy eating crabs, planting more than one kind of seed in the garden, getting tattoos, and marrying women who aren’t virgins. These are also "forbidden" activities.

Let’s be clear: The religious right’s opposition to same-sex marriage or other aspects of the "homosexual agenda" is based on bigotry, pure and simple. The Leviticus reference to homosexuality is merely an exercise in cherry-picking scripture to suit bigoted impulses. Though they will deny it, most of these Bible thumpers intensely hate gays and deplore any validation of the "gay lifestyle," whatever that may be. Their revulsion is so deeply rooted that they consistently oppose hate crime legislation, measures to ban bullying in schools and other actions to protect gays. If they had their way, they’d have us locked up in camps. Some are outwardly advocating killing gay people. The Internet is full of such commentary; check out for example.

The religious right is too close-minded and intent on destroying progress for lesbians and gays if they cannot actually eliminate them. It will be nearly impossible to convince followers of the right otherwise. One hardly ever hears these fanatical hypocrites condemn the other practices prohibited in Leviticus. The Bible thumpers must have winced when slavery was done away with as the Bible was never "amended" to reflect God’s "new views."

Why don’t we stone adulterers while we’re at it? Probably it is because they’re heterosexual.
Why is it that Jesus never uttered a disparaging word about homosexuals, let alone stoning them? Perhaps these fundamentalist Christians should pay more attention to the teachings of Jesus.

Aside from their general contempt for homosexuality, the religious right’s arguments against same-sex marriage largely center on the tradition of marriage of being between one man and one woman. That had not always been the case in some civilizations. Yet they erroneously believe the prospects of same-sex marriage would ultimately destroy it as an institution. They ignore the fact that heterosexuals themselves are destroying the institution as more than half of all marriages fail.

On the other hand, all gay people are trying to do is fortify marriage by showing they want to be a part of it. In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages have been occurring since May, not a single heterosexual divorce in that state has been attributed to gay and lesbian weddings.
Disappointingly, we cannot count on the very group of people whom we helped forge civil rights victories decades ago to be amenable to equality for lesbians and gays. Many culturally conservative African-American ministers are joining hands with the same religious right who had used Scripture to endorse slavery. It is shameful that a group whose people who had been subjected to so much discrimination in the name of God would, itself, promote bigotry against others.

I cannot think of one factor that undermines the institution of marriage more than the proliferation of out-of-wedlock births. People who produce these children side-step marriage and procreate anyway, leaving single mothers to cope with the daunting responsibility of raising children by themselves. According to the Brookings Institution, each year about one million more children are born into fatherless families. Of these, approximately two-thirds are African-American — a decidedly higher proportion than the general population.

If they are sincerely concerned about the durability of marriage, instead of condemning gays, why don’t these black ministers rail against out-of-wedlock births? Why don’t they protest the economic conditions that make marriage a poor option for many African-American males? Why do they disenfranchise so many gay African-Americans thereby contributing to the "down-low" problem? Why don’t they use their pulpits to correct some of the social wrongs in their own communities instead of demonstrating, as these ministers plan to do, against gay people from marrying?

The answer is homophobia. They teach it in the churches and they teach it at home. With the Bible being waved around and passages used selectively to defend bigotry, it is a formidable task to persuade the religious right that they are wrong.