This week's Newsweek has a cover article by religion editor Lisa Miller that just knocked my socks off. It addresses the claim by one fundamentalist homophobic leader after another that marriage equality for same-sex couples is contrary to the teaching of the Bible, and that the Bible prescribed traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
Ms. Miller calmly, thoughtfully, eloquently drives a stake into the heart of that claim.
Her argument goes through several stages. First, she points out that no-one would want to practice marriage as it is laid out in much of the Bible -- a rigidly hierarchical polygamy.
In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found..[A]s the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between "one man and as many women as he could pay for."
Then she looks at what is actually said about marriage. Jesus had no interest in it, and told his followers that he wanted people to leave their families and follow him full time. Paul had no interest in marriage, unless carnal desires became so unbearable that it was unavoidable. Neither ever said anything about "defining" marriage.
Further, she examines the Bible's attitude toward homosexuality, and finds it complex and nuanced. My favorite bit:
If the bible doesn't give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men...The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as "an abomination" (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?
Paul also condemns homosexuality, but Miller argues that those passages are open to different interpretations. Finally, she argues that the spirit of inclusiveness running throughout the Bible is incompatible with having one set of sacraments for straight people and another for gays.
I think this is an important development. Newsweek is your ultimate middle-of-the-road, centrist for the sake of being centrist publication. The tone of the article is calm and sensible. I think this could persuade a lot of people who got duped and voted the wrong way on Prop 8.
I do understand that many readers of this site have no interest in what the Bible says, or in religious arguments over public policy issues. I respect that. But of course, many voters do care about these Biblical arguments, and this article can help persuade many, many of those voters that they have been hoodwinked. I wonder what would have happened if it had come out a couple of months earlier.
One last thing: An Action Item. The fundies are declaring war on this, urging their members across the country to bury Newsweek in emails and letters of protest. Let's support Newsweek. You can click through to the story to boost their traffic, buy an issue from the news stand, and write a note of support to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's mine:
Thank you for the wonderful, thoughtful article on the religious case for marriage equality! I still cannot believe that I read such a carefully reasoned, nuanced piece in a major news magazine. Will wonders never cease.... I understand that the 'religious' right wing are up in arms about this. Ms. Miller, after all, did the one thing one should never do: She looked up the actual text of scripture to see what it really says about marriage. It turns out that the idea that the Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman -- or that it portrays marriage even in a positive light -- is something our fundamentalist activists just made up. It's a fib.
Well, the charade is up. Their crusade against our gay brothers and sisters is not based on anything in the Bible, but on their own prejudice. Learning that is a major piece of progress.
Thanks again. I really learned from the article.
UPDATE. Quite a number of commenters have argued that this is irrelevant, even detrimental, because we should not care what it says in the Bible when we are judging the question of granting equal rights to same-sex couples. I agree, completely, with the principle. Same-sex couples should have the same rights as hetero couples because of the principle, because of basic decency -- just as with mixed-race couples.
But this is still relevant. My guess is that many voters who voted "yes" on Nov. 4 did so because they believed -- incorrectly -- that the Bible laid out a definition of marriage as Ozzie and Harriet. If we can flip a chunk of those votes by simply informing them of that error, let's do it. More subtly: I want to make the following point to those voters:
You know that nice man on TV who told you the Bible said you need to vote Yes on 8? The mister Dobson? The mister Wildmon? The mister Robertson? Seems to be avuncular and concerned and wants to help us understand God's plan?
Well, that man was lying to you. He looked straight into the camera, took a breath, and lied over and over again. If the Bible says anything about marriage, it's that it's an institution that bonds one man and many, many women depending on how many cattle he owns. So, if that nice man on TV lied to you -- why do you think he did that? What kind of a guy do you think he is? What's he up to?
And --- what else do you think he might be lying about?