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Same-Sex Marriage: A Discussion Between Religious and Non-Religious Relatives

By K.R. Bellew

The following is a debate between me and a religious relative who has been raised hearing that homosexuality is a sin, and he believes same-sex marriage is just not the way God intended.

To understand where I'm coming from, I should comment that I'm a married heterosexual and an atheist. I'm defending same-sex marriage because I feel it is unethical not to extend equal treatment to all citizens when marriage is a civil institution—not a religious one. I also defend it because we have a common enemy, so to speak; in that, the religious views of the majority are inhibiting the freedom of religion rights of non-theists in America.

Religious Relative:

That the institution of marriage should be allowed to be totally redefined without the consent of society is hard for me to understand. To say that we must accept it without even a vote seems to me to border on tyranny.

 

Me:

If you don't want a homosexual marriage, then don't have one, but stop forcing your views on others. That's tyranny.

 

Religious Relative:

It goes both ways, Ken. Democracy goes both ways. Forcing me to vote contrary to my convictions is tyranny. To take this to the extreme, if someone wants to marry their pet, I can't stop them, but they can't force me to vote to recognize that as a marriage. I could say the same thing. If you want a homosexual marriage, go ahead and have one, but stop forcing your views on others.

 

Me:

Okay, let's back up a moment and find common ground. How do you define evil? I define it as "If it hurts another person, it's evil." I know there are a few problems with that, just as there is with all moral codes. For example, if you have to decide between two things and both decisions hurt someone. But, all moral codes have that problem. But how do you define evil? Because it seems to me that sex and people's sex lives are at the center of how Christians define evil.

 

Religious Relative:

If I had to define evil with one word, I would say "selfishness." That also has its problems, I know. I think much of what Ayn Rand calls "selfishness", I would call "self- interest". And, some Christians may place sex at the center, but I would think most do not put that at the center of how we define evil. I would tend to agree with you. Hurting others to benefit yourself is evil.

 

Me:

There is nothing about same-sex marriage that comes close to either of our definitions of evil. However, treating them unequally harms them. Therefore, voting for a law that insures inequality is an act of evil by your definition. If people were voting for slavery, would it be tyranny to say this vote is wrong? No, it would be noble to point out that allowing the vote to proceed was unethical, because you should not be able to vote on whether or not to extend freedom to another human. It's also unethical to say that we should vote on whether or not same-sex couples can have equal access to a governmental institution: marriage. Marriage is a civil institution, not a religious one. Marriage requires a license from the government. It affects taxes paid to the government. It is a civil union that must abide by secular laws. I know you say, let them have a civil union, just don't call it "marriage." That's like saying, "Fine, let them ride the bus, but they have to sit in the back." Or—"Fine, let them drink from water fountains, but make sure they drink from the one labeled "Gays Only."

 

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If religious groups want to maintain "holy matrimony," that's their business. They can do whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt people, but marriage is no longer a religious institution. It's a secular one, and all citizens should have equal access to it.

In the late 60's, interracial marriage was under scrutiny. Should we have voted on whether or not races should inter-marry? --No, of course not. It would be unethical for the majority to control this basic human right based on race. At the time, I'm sure someone said that "If we allow interracial marriage, we're opening the door to inter-species marriage." Thankfully, in another decade, the evolution of our morality will view prejudices against same-sex marriages as we view racism today.


Religious Relative:

Ken, this is a difficult issue and some who call themselves Christians have been very hard. Stalin, was also very hard, although some earlier communists decriminalized it. Present day communists, I understand, also have an open view, for the most part. North Korea is fiercely anti-homosexual. I bring that up to point out that it is more than just a religious issue. Same-sex marriage is a totally new phenomenon in our culture.

 

Me:

But homosexuality is as old as time. Same-sex marriage is new because religious zealots have threatened to kill homosexuals throughout American history. It says so right it your holy book (Lev. 20:13). That's why it's called "being in the closet." They didn't want to get killed by lynch mobs of the pious. It's only thought to be evil because your bible and similar men to those who wrote it have said so.

 

Religious Relative:

This too, Ken, is disingenuous. Regardless of what the Bible says, Christians do not advocate killing homosexuals. I can't believe you even said that. I personally look at Jesus' treatment of the woman taken in adultery as my model. Homosexual marriage is not new for that reason. Homosexuality is as old, or older, than the Bible. But even where homosexuality was accepted and widely practiced, marriage was "husband and wife.

 

Me:

My point is that the bible is the root of the prejudices that have existed against homosexuals in America. It's what caused your culture to see it as evil. Gays have been hated and have had violence against them to the point that our government had to create laws to protect them. If a culture's main holy book says that gay people should be killed, it gives many people a feeling that their prejudices are justified, and that they can do whatever they want to gays. Some have been killed for being gay and many have experienced violence. Now that gays have more protection from violence and discrimination they feel more confident to ask for equality for things they should have had a long time ago, just by being an American.

This happened with slavery. The Southern Baptists felt completely justified in supporting slavery because their holy book said slavery was okay. They split their entire denomination over it in 1845. Religion stops people from thinking about the true moral issues, which is what I feel you are guilty of here. You have stopped thinking about whether or not homosexuality is truly wrong. You've decided it is wrong because of the influence of your cultural. Your culture decided it was wrong because of a holy book that obviously has more than a few moral blunders and ethical aberrations.

Matthew Shepard

 

Regarding the photo above of Matthew Shepard, I'm not inserting to accuse you of being homophobic. It's an illustration of the violence that gay people have endured as a result of long-standing Christian prejudice that has shaped the red-neck view that it's okay to mistreat gay people.

By your own definition of evil, "selfishness," you admit that homosexuality does not fall within your definition of evil. So, why do you feel you should get to control this aspect of someone else's life? To me, this is similar to previous efforts in women's suffrage. Women didn't have equal rights, partially because our culture has taken many of its cues for how to treat others from the bible, which clearly places women under man. It shows that women are not to teach men and they should be quiet in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:12). I know many a preacher has tried to explain these away, but these versus have affected our culture's view on the equality of women- especially your generation and before.

When people were brave enough to say that the bible was wrong morally about slavery, people were able to think, "Maybe the bible is wrong about the equal rights of women." And now, the bible is wrong about homosexuality. Gays deserve equality, and that means equal rights to the secular institution of marriage. There is no moral principal being broken by being gay. Just because it's wrong in the bible, does not mean it's actually wrong, which is proved by the bible's wrong view on slavery, genocide and the equal treatment of women.

And you brought up same-sex marriage leading to marrying a pet. Pets do not have fundamental human rights. People do. Gays are people. I think of my gay friends who just want to be in a loving life-long relationship, and it breaks my heart the way people treat them.

We can think up a slippery-slope argument for any human-rights issue. Just because you can think one up, doesn't mean that you shouldn't do the right thing in a given circumstance. People could have said, "If we allow women to vote, the next thing we'll do is allow pigs to vote." All the slippery-slope argument does is allow someone to justify their prejudice when there is no logical reason otherwise.

 

Conversation concluded for now...

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