Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Gay marriage, the Bible, and miscegenation

As I've noted previously, both the religious right and its political wing, the Republican Party, have made it clear that they intend to make gay marriage a major issue in the 2004 election, especially now that the Massachusetts high court has overturned the ban on such unions:
Last week, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, said for the first time that a federal marriage amendment may be "addressed in some form or fashion" in the GOP's 2004 platform, and he indicated that White House and Republican Party officials now are assessing the possible impact of a decision by the Massachusetts court. Gillespie asserted that gay advocates are practicing "religious bigotry" and "intolerance" by demanding Americans condone same-sex marriage.

... Gay marriage could emerge as an important wedge issue that Republicans could use in 2004 to woo traditional Democrats, particularly Roman Catholics. "I can write Bush's commercials right now, attacking Howard Dean for signing the civil-union bill," said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron and a specialist in voting trends of religious groups.

And one of the primary arguments raised by these opponents is that God opposes such marriages, and that "it's in the Bible." Or, as the nice folks at Concerned Women for America put it:
Homosexual marriage will always be an abomination to God regardless of whether a clergyman performs the ceremony. When God calls something unholy, man cannot make it holy or bless it.

You can find similar arguments at Focus on the Family, Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, and particularly Baptist News, which provided the following commentary:
The gay agenda will never win biblically and theologically.

In Leviticus 18:22 and in Leviticus 20:13 homosexuality is referred to as being an abomination to God. An abomination is an outrage, a disgrace, and is detestable to God. This is what God says homosexuality is.

In Romans 1:26-28, the Bible says that "God gives them over," meaning that he lets sin run its course with the homosexuals. Their rejection of God's truth has now resulted in them being given over to their vile passions, letting it run its inevitable course toward the judgment of God. This debauchery exists when women are engaged sexually with women and men are engaged sexually with men. Then God gives them over to a debased mind, which means He gives them over to the depths of their degenerate mind and lifestyle, which is not fitting to God at all. In other words, God lets their sin run its course with them.

Of course, mainstream fundamentalists are not the only ones to cite these passages from Scripture to support their views. So, for that matter, do Christian Identity fundamentalists, who go on to argue (from these same passages) that the Bible demands that homosexuals be put to death. And as always, the Rev. Fred Phelps makes the same arguments.

The BP commentator goes on to say:
Upon the authority of God's Word, the Bible, due to its inspiration being of God alone, and its infallibility as pure as God, and its impression can be made upon all of the world and even in this culture, the Bible gives no sanction to homosexuality at all. Never does God approve of it at all. He never calls it an alternate lifestyle. God is against civil unions of homosexuals. God is against same-sex "marriage." God is against the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry. Never, never, and never does God give any credibility to any issue or act of the gay lifestyle. Therefore, same-sex "marriage" is an abomination to God and any matrimony ever performed to do it is unholy, ungodly and will receive the judgment of God. Same-sex "marriage" is nothing more than an attempt to redefine one of the holiest ordinances of God, marriage between male and female. It is an attack against marriage and family.

What's interesting about these arguments is that precisely the same arguments were raised for years by bigots who wished to prevent interracial marriage, otherwise known as "miscegenation."

"The Bible is against it" was a common argument favoring anti-miscegenation laws for much of the first half of the 20th century. This theme was a favorite at Ku Klux Klan rallies, and indeed the Bible was used to justify any number of lynchings of black people after the Civil War. As Philip Dray observes in At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America:
Sociologist Orlando Patterson has explained the obsessive, riualized killing of black males in the 1890s by suggesting that the South's dominant fundamentalist Christianity combined with its Lost Cause ideology to create a belief system in which the black man was perceived as an enemy within Southern society -- the cause of a humiliating defeat in war and an ever-expanding threat, via miscegenation, to its perpetuity and survival. The black man of the 1890s, particularly one who was sexually, physically, or intellectually threatening, became a logical sacrificial scapegoat in a region mournful of its past and anxious about its future. Patterson writes, "After the trauma of Appomatox, the Southern community had to be restored in the most extreme compact of blood, and its God propitiated in the most extreme form of sacrifice known to man. ... It takes little imagination, and almost no feeling for the workings of the religious mind, to understand how, as the flames devoured the flesh and soul of each Afro-American victim, every participant in these heinous rituals of human sacrifice must have felt the deepest and most gratifying sense of expiation and atonement."

Another classic example of the commingling of religious belief and bigotry to attack miscegenation was Charles Carroll's 1900 bestseller, The Negro a Beast, or "In the Image of God," which blended Biblical interpretations and the pseudo-science of race that was popular at the time to assert that blacks were not really human at all. Carroll asserted they were not part of the "Adamic family" that came from the Garden of Eden, an argument that was a precursor to the current Christian Identity belief system that blacks and other minorities are soulless "mud people." Carroll illustrated the book with provocative drawings, such as one depicting a virginal white bride accompanied at the altar by a gorilla-like black man in a tuxedo. Among its central passages was this:
Woman is the great stronghold, the vital point, of the Adamic Creation. Hence, as along as the marriage relations of the pure Adamic females of a nation, or continent, is confined to pure Adamic males, the pure Adamic stock of that nation, or continent, cannot be absorbed and destroyed by the amalgamation.

This Biblical mythology enjoyed a long life not only in American culture, but elsewhere. Adolf Hitler, in fact, also referred to scriptural passages in developing his own racial theories.

Notably, this reliance continues today among racist extremists. The white-supremacist Vanguard News Network, for instance, rather recently featured an essay titled "What Does the Bible Say About Racemixing?"

And it's probably worth noting that these beliefs float around the edges of even nominally "mainstream" fundamentalists.

Some conservatives, notably Jeff Jacoby, try to distinguish between the anti-miscegenation laws and the widespread ban on gay marriages by arguing that the former forbade marriages because of an immutable characteristic such as race, while the latter is based on a "choice." This is, of course, far from clear, since the scientific evidence of a hard-wiring component to homosexuality keeps mounting. But even if being gay is simply a matter of intention, society does not discriminate against the right to marry based on such decisions. After all, religion likewise is largely a "choice," but people are not forbidden to marry simply on the basis of that status.

Moreover, it is abundantly clear that scriptural passages are perhaps the poorest foundations on which public policy can be based, since (as the above examples demonstrate) they can easily be distorted to justify the most base kinds of prejudice.

Finally, it must be observed that not everyone agrees that the Scripture forbids gay marriage. But then, according to the fundamentalists who thump their Bibles to justify their hatred of gays, these kinds of folks aren't "real Christians" anyway.

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