Cherry Picking the Bible

Mike Pence
Mike Pence (Wikipedia)

The Bible has been in the news this Holy Week because social conservatives are promoting state laws to protect “religious freedom.”

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence recently signed a bill, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said would have allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.  The criticism was so intense that this week the Republican-controlled Indiana legislature quickly passed and Pence immediately signed a revised version of the law that he claimed would prevent discrimination.

Arkansas’s  Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to sign a bill this week, also called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in response to intense criticism that it would also allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.  He then signed the bill after it was revised to be less controversial.

Florida’s Republican legislators are promoting HB 7111, called the Conscience Protection for Actions of Private Child-Placing Agencies, that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to help same-sex couples to adopt based upon religious grounds.

These laws aren’t the first of their kind. Last year Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature passed HB 1062, which critics said would have allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. The criticism was so intense that Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it.

These new “religious freedom” laws result from the realization by social conservatives that the legalization of same-sex marriage across the entire U.S. is very likely, and probably inevitable. They believe homosexuality is a sin because it says so in the Bible, so people should be allowed to treat homosexuals differently – as unrepentant sinners. (They conveniently ignore, however, that the Bible also approves of a lot of things that are considered immoral today.)

These religious zealots are often the same type of people that find no problem with listening to a charismatic preacher or a slick TV evangelist focus on a single sentence, phrase, or word from the Bible to interpret its “true” meaning – even though they say they believe the Bible is the literal word of God.

This cherry picking from the Bible is so popular that I decided to try it too, but without any interpretations. The excerpts I’ve listed below are from the small portions of the Bible that pertain directly to Jesus:

  • “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
  • “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”
Updates

On June 7, 2018, an Arizona appeals court upheld a Phoenix anti-discrimination law that makes it illegal for businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples because they believe that homosexuality is a sin. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which was identified as an anti-gay hate group in 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it will appeal the decision to the state’s Supreme Court.

They Were Always There Among Us

LBGT flag
LBGT flag

When I was a young boy I participated in the popular practice of calling other boys queers, faggots and homos. I don’t believe I was meaner than any of my friends. In fact, most of us didn’t really understand homosexuality. We just knew these were among the bad words we could use to insult each other for the sport of it.

On of my best friends was the youngest child in his family so he usually learned the bad words before I did. He probably taught me how to use most of them. We moved to different parts of the country after we grew up and didn’t see each other for about 30 years. But he recently moved to my town and we reconnected. We were a bit nervous the first time we saw each other again. But within minutes it seemed like we’d never been apart and we agreed we were friends for life, no matter where either of us lived.

Still, a lot of things had changed since we were kids. We got to know each other’s families and it was obvious that one of his sons was gay. I didn’t bring it up because I was sure he already knew it and I didn’t really care. When he finally talked to me about it he was very relieved to find that I understood.

During a recent visit from my sister, who lives out of town, we updated each other about what had happened to all of the kids we’d known growing up in our old neighborhood. (We agreed that Facebook was a great tool for re-establishing contact with people.) She told me that she’d reconnected with a boy we’d both known who’d lived down the street from us, and that he was now openly gay. She said she’d exchanged lots of texts with him and he’d told her that knew he was gay when we were kids, but in those times he was too terrified to be himself.

I’ve noticed, however, that these days more gay people are feeling free to be themselves no matter where they live in America. Maybe I’m just more aware of them now, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For example, there are now popular prime time major network TV shows with openly gay characters – lovable characters. And the spread of legalized same-sex marriage shows that the U.S. has crossed a tipping point in extending long overdue civil rights to gays.

I have a daughter who goes to college in New York City. During my trips to visit her I’ve learned how Manhattan is an important refuge for gay people, a place where they are truly free to be who they are, along with others like them. I think these visits have helped me developed pretty good gaydar too. Everyday I notice people around me that I’m pretty sure are gay.  I didn’t use to notice them very often. But I don’t think that was because they weren’t there. They were always there among us, living in fear.

Shame on us.

A Modern Dred Scott Decision

Dred Scott
Dred Scott (Wikipedia)

On November 6 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in the states of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The decision was contrary to previous ones from other federal appeals courts which had found that same-sex marriage bans violated the civil rights of gay people. It also appeared to conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to let those other decisions stand.

The 6th Circuit’s decision was a 2-1 ruling, with the two judges voting to the uphold the bans being appointees of former Republican President George W. Bush. (The dissenting opinion was written by Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, who was appointed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.)

The court’s decision was written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton. He didn’t address the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, however, but argued that the issue was too controversial for the courts to legalize it.

“A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world,” wrote Judge Sutton.

“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers. Better in this instance, we think, to allow changes through the customary political processes, in which people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way,” he said.

Judge Sutton’s argument is similar to the one used by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling that confirmed the legality of slavery. In that infamous decision, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that neither Scott nor any other person of African descent – whether or not emancipated from slavery – could be “citizen of a state.” Taney, like Sutton, didn’t justify his position by referencing the guiding principles of the Constitution, but with his personal beliefs. Taney said that he thought the Framers of the Constitution viewed blacks as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The Dred Scott decision is considered one of the causes of the Civil War.

Judge Taney’s reputation was forever damaged by the ruling, which is considered to be the worst ever made by the Supreme Court. Judge Sutton, however, is unlikely to achieve the same notoriety because the decisions issued by the Sixth Circuit have been reversed by the Supreme Court more often than any other appellate court in recent years. But he still deserves criticism.

Update

On June 26,2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Constitution guarantees that same-sex couples have the right to get married.

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