Tag Archives: gay marriage

Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

Perhaps they should take the hint…

Whilst perusing the latest and greatest the intertubes have to offer this morning, I happened upon the site of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), which bills itself as an “organization of lay Catholic Americans concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization”.  Appropriately enough for this collection of Catholic fundies, its online magazine is called Crusade.  Now that’s what I call tradition!

Unsurprisingly, TFP is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage.  It wrote of the ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8 that the ruling “unmasks how the homosexual movement’s promotion of same-sex “marriage.” [sic] deprives marriage of its rational end, belittles a higher moral law and disregards the majority of California who hold marriage to be sacred.”  Perhaps as a way to demonstrate just how outraged its readers are at the ruling, TFP posted a poll inviting readers to offer their opinion.  Among the choices is “It is an irrational decision denying the nature and purpose of marriage” and “It was a slap in the face of California voters”.

Web site operators should know by now the dangerous terrain they tread putting up online polls.  Over a decade ago, there was the case of Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf winning People Magazine’s online poll for its “50 Most Beautiful People” issue.  More recently, comedian Stephen Colbert topped NASA’s online poll for whom to name its new wing of the international space station.  The lesson is: never assume you’ll get the results you anticipated.  It’s a lesson TFP is probably now just discovering, for when I clicked on its poll results (so far), the following popped up:

 No wonder TFP hates democracy in the church.

No Rational Basis

That’s the sum of Judge Walker’s argument in his decision overturning California’s gay marriage ban (which also seem to nicely characterize the religious beliefs of the ban’s proponents, but I digress…).  To get a good sense why Walker came to that conclusion, here is an excerpt from his decision:

Proponents argued that Proposition 8 should be evaluated solely by considering its language and its consistency with the “central purpose of marriage, in California and everywhere else,…to promote naturally procreative sexual relationships and to channel them into stable, enduring unions for the sake of producing and raising the next generation.”…

At oral argument on proponents’ motion for summary judgment, the court posed to proponents’ counsel the assumption that “the state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.”…

Despite this response, proponents in their trial brief promised to “demonstrate that redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships” would effect some twenty-three specific harmful consequences. At trial, however, proponents presented only one witness, David Blankenhorn, to address the government interest in marriage. Blankenhorn’s testimony…provided no credible evidence to support any of the claimed adverse effects proponents promised to demonstrate. During closing arguments, proponents again focused on the contention that “responsible procreation is really at the heart of society’s interest in regulating marriage.” When asked to identify the evidence at trial that supported this contention, proponents’ counsel replied, “you don’t have to have evidence of this point.” (h/t Reason Magazine)

Just the clueless blathering of a liberal San Francisco judge?  Oh, wait

[R]ecommended by Ed Meese, [Walker was] appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups.

Ouch.  When your ideological bedfellows essentially say you’re full of hot air, that’s gotta hurt.

But…but…won’t someone think of the will of the majority?

This objection, especially when coming from people who should know better, floors me.  I can only think their intention is demagoguery.  The answer to them can be made in three words:  Bill of Rights*.  If the will of the majority is sacrosanct, then the Bill of Rights is superfluous.  Its whole raison d’être is to protect individual rights, particularly those of minorities.  If rights are subject to the whim of transient majorities, then why call them rights rather than privileges?  Coming shortly upon the heals of major decisions regarding the second amendment and gun ownership, supported by many of the same groups now wailing about the reversal of the gay marriage ban, one would think the objection would not even be raised.  The gumption that produces this sort of selective amnesia is breathtaking to behold.

Yet, as noted on NPR this morning, Judge Walker was careful not to couch his decision primarily in terms of law, but of evidence and “findings of fact.”  This makes it less likely that an appeals court will overturn the decision.  As is obvious from the completely vacuous arguments of the defendants, it was easy for Judge Walker to go that route.  It’s almost as if the defendants’ case was entirely…faith-based.

Eventually, those who argue against same-sex marriage will lose, just as they lost against interracial marriage equality decades ago.  As then, there simply aren’t any good reasons to deny any loving adult couple from enjoying the same right most everyone else does – a fact Judge Walker made stellarly clear.  But religiously-motivated action is very rarely ever founded on reason or evidence, is it?  This is what makes it so harmful, and why many seek to contain its pernicious effects to believers themselves.

*Yes, I realize Judge Walker referred to the equal protection clause, which is part of the Fourteenth Amendment, and not any part of the Bill of Rights, which is the collective name for the first Ten Amendments, but the basic principle is the same: the enumeration of rights to protect against, in de Tocqueville’s memorable phrase, the “tyranny of the majority.”

Why atheists cheer for gay marriage

The Washington Post reported recently on the fascinating results of a new poll showing a sharp turnaround in support for gay marriage nationwide.  For the first time, a majority -albeit a slim one-favors such marriages.  Three years ago, a strong majority rejected them.  Gays can thank those under 35 for the shift, among whom support has grown the most rapidly.  While political views tend to grow more conservative with age, gays can justifiably cheer over the news, which is but the latest in a series of favorable portents. (In the wake of Proposition 8’s passage in California last year outlawing gay marriage there, I saw reasons to remain optimistic, but did not believe a reversal in public opinion would be so swift).

Although gay marriage doesn’t touch most atheists directly, I know many follow its triumphs and setbacks like sports fans follow their favorite teams.  The reason I suspect is because opposition to gay marriage encapsulates like no other issue so many of the reasons why atheists reject religion and seek to diminish its influence in the public sphere.  First of all, there is the believer’s presumption that their bronze-age holy books contain some immutable, objective moral code – a code which for the most part they themselves either ignore or selectively apply.  Second, there is the inappropriate intrusion of the believer’s morality into the public policy.  If their religion disavows gay marriage, fine by me, but by what right do they proscribe it in secular law as well?  The logic of their stance is identical to that employed by the mullahs instituting Sharia law.  Third, there is the utter poverty of their arguments, such as the one claiming defense of “traditional marriage” (whatever that is), or the absurd one claiming that believers will experience a wave of persecution as a result of gay marriage.  Finally, there is the sheer hypocrisy of same-sex marriage’s most ardent foes, religions that loudly proclaim marriage is divinely ordained between one man and one woman only, while their Godly founders and “prophets” not only had multiple wives, but some who were barely teens, or even younger.

So gay marriage is a barometer of sorts for religion’s waning influence in areas it doesn’t belong.  Non-believers — as well as believers who firmly uphold the separation of church and state – can applaud to the extent the practice is defined as a civil rights issue, and not a “family values” issue.  Intolerant religious devotees will continue to wail and gnash their teeth as state-after-state legalizes the practice.  That’s fine by me.  They’ll only marginalize themselves and make it that much more difficult to press their faith-based views in other areas of public policy.  And we’ll all be better off for it.

Pssst, guys…

It seems that some liberal/progressive groups are upset over President-elect Barak Obama’s decision to invite Christian pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration.  Warren, who typically sides with conservatives on social issues, is a staunch opponent of gay marriage.

“[T]he sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans,” fumed Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way.

Joe Solmonese, head of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, was even harsher.  “We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination,” he wrote to Obama.

Perhaps if Kolbert, Solmonese, and millions of other liberals had been paying attention during the campaign, they’d know that Obama and Biden are among the same “promoters of an anti-gay agenda” as Warren.  From the vice-presidential debate on October 2, 2008:

IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

It’s up to people of faith, like Warren, to determine what constitutes marriage, according to Obama and Biden.  Doesn’t seem to get any clearer (or ridiculous) than that.  But if liberals weren’t so keen to project their every wish, dream, or fantasy onto Obama during the campaign, their shocked reactions today would be mere shrugs.

Is God punishing California?

When disaster strikes a people, believers of all stripes noisily proclaim it a sign of divine retribution for whatever sins those people were believed to commit. Take Hurricane Katrina. Depending on your religious persuasion, it was either a) a warning against rampant homosexuality, b) justice for America’s support for the removal of Jewish settlers on disputed lands in the Middle East, or c) retribution against America for its “war on Islam.”

That all of these are merely examples of the post hoc fallacy doesn’t phase the believer one bit. So let’s play their game and ask what God is punishing California for.

If you haven’t been following the news, the state recently experienced another found of devastating wildfires. Included in the destruction was a Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara. The fires have been followed by drenching rains, which threaten even more destruction and hardship.

California, you recall, just a few weeks ago passed Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. Clearly, this was an act displeasing to God, who has “poured out His wrath” against the people there, including Christians, in the form of fires and flooding. Or so the logic of the believer leads us to conclude. Curiously, however, you’ll search in vain for any believer pointing this out.

Let’s recap the belief of the faithful:

When the will of God is flagrantly violated, calamity occurs. Whatever actions preceded the calamity, we should repent of and correct.

Since calamity in California occurred following passage of Proposition 8, to be consistent with their own belief, the religious must conclude they defied the will of God. They should therefore repent of their transgression in supporting the proposition and work to immediately repeal it.

Obviously this isn’t going to happen. It’s doubtful the connection was even made in any of their minds. When they fail time and again to consistently apply their own beliefs, why is it any wonder to them they’re the objects of constant derision?

The silver lining to Proposition 8’s passage

Like many in the non-religious community, I was outraged by the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage there.  It was nothing less than the denial of a basic civil right by enshrining a specifically religious viewpoint into law – a stark reminder of the potent power of faith to cause hardship and derail progress even today.

Still, I see reasons for guarded optimism.  At the least, we should recall that states are clearly divided on the issue, which should dampen pressure for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a prospect seriously raised not too long ago.

More important, opposition has progressively waned as time has gone on, with polls showing highest support among the future electorate.  This augurs well for the gay marriage down the road, though it’s cold comfort for gays understandably indignant at present-day discrimination.

To the extent that Christians were heavily involved in passing Prop 8, I think their image will suffer further damage.  Already, protests are being waged against churches in California whose involvement was influential in the proposition’s success.  Mormons and Catholics, two denominations in particular that poured many resources into the pro campaign are currently experiencing difficulties retaining members, and can only be further damaged by a negative backlash.  Polls show Christianity is increasingly seen in a negative light, with even many younger Christians bothered by its overt anti-gay agenda.  A decline in Christian numbers and influence, accelerated by the passage of Prop 8, can only mean good news for gays in the long term.

Are we all subject to God’s Law?

A blog on the The New Republic’s website about the progressive narrowing of the religious right’s social agenda reminded me of a question that’s buzzed around in my head from time-to-time.  We all know this agenda includes banning gay marriage and abortion, because the Bible says these are no-no’s, but the question is, why does the religious right seek to make these social issues, subject to punitive legislation, rather than merely private concerns?

Because God hates them?  Well, God hates lots of things, including adultery, divorce, and linen-wool blended clothing (Lev. 19:19), but no one is proposing to outlaw them, which I suppose is fortunate for a few mega-preachers.

Because they violate the Ten Commandments, upon which the entirety of western civilization is allegedly based?  That might work for abortion (Commandment VI), but gay marriage?  Is there some secret 11th commandment they’re not telling us about?  Should we also ban other religions (Commandment I)?  Playing golf on Sunday (Commandment IV)?

Because Jesus specifically forbade them?  No good there, either; he was completely silent on these issues.

Because they’re personally harmed?  It’s hard to see how two same-sex individuals uttering marriage vows harms anyone.  And wouldn’t aborted babies get a ticket straight to heaven?

Because they’re slippery slopes, leading inexorably to the complete destruction of society? I’d think the religious right would want society to fall into moral turpitude, do everything to hasten it, in fact, since that would fulfill prophecy of Jesus’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-4) and the moving in to their new heavenly mansions.

I’m trying quite hard, but I fail to see the religious right’s method for determining when a Biblical injunction should apply only to themselves, and when it should apply to society as a whole.

Even more curiously, these behavioral autocrats believe that man is inherently fallen and will always do all sorts of nasty stuff.  So why should they even care what any non-believer does?  Are laws against certain sins supposed to make the country more moral?  If so, why not scrap the entire legal code and make the Bible the basis of our laws, turn our democracy into a theocracy?  Because, as we know, that’s worked so well in the past.

As a libertarian, I find their professions of faith in freedom hypocritical.  Liberty is not granted piecemeal; it’s not even a grant, but our inherent right.  The best protection of one’s own freedom is the protection of everyone else’s.  A government with the right to trample on your neighbor’s freedom also has the right to trample on your own.  If the religious nannies really practiced what they preached, they would cease being obstacles and live their lives as an example.

If you wish to observe a particular day as holy or refrain from pre-marital sex in compliance with the dictates of your particular religious brand, more power to you.  Just don’t extend those rules to the rest of us, or you may find yourself living by the rules others think you should live by.