Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Civility, unions, and the sanctity of marriage

Last week, New York became the sixth state in the United States to legalize gay marriage.  Predictably, this has been greeted with equal measures of celebration and outrage.  Pat Buchanan, that stalwart defender of America's cultural identity (white, Christian, conservative, and heterosexual) railed about the "death of the moral community" (read his article here), and in particular singled out a column by Richard Cohen that lauds the New York decision as "pretty much saying that since the time of Christ, Western history has been an endless Dark Age dominated by moral ignoramuses and bigots."

This statement is unintentionally hilarious, because the era of western history in which the church had its greatest uncontested power, and was fused seamlessly with the government, is called "the Dark Ages."  And given some of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of god by leaders during the last two millenia, I think an excellent case could be made that the words Buchanan places in Cohen's mouth are factually correct.

There may be something I'm missing here, but the fervently anti-homosexual stance of most of the sects of Christianity has always struck me as perplexing.   Yes, I know that in the bible homosexuality is considered sinful.  The problem is, so is usury (lending money at interest), and yet this is the foundation of our economic system.   You don't hear most Christian pastors railing against banks and mortgage officers, despite a clear prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:19 ("You shall not charge interest to your brother... interest on money or food or anything that is lent out.").

There are a whole lot of things considered sinful by the biblical authors that we don't really worry much about.  Touching the skin or flesh of a pig, for example is supposed to make us ritually unclean (Leviticus 11:7-8 -- "And the pig... is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses.").   This would kind of put paid to the Superbowl, wouldn't it?   Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches would be out, too, which would be a bit sad.

As an aside: my mom, a devout Catholic, always used to make a baked ham on Easter.  A little ironic, that.

So, anyway, the bible is full of prohibitions that no one much takes seriously these days.  But gay marriage, for some reason, is in a class by itself.  It is reviled on the basis of a few bible verses, and nevertheless is the only issue besides abortion which galvanizes the religious right so thoroughly.  Why?  Perhaps it's because the members of the religious right are skeeved out by the idea of two people of the same gender having sex.   Or perhaps it's because they believe that accepting homosexuals as having equal rights under the law will suddenly cause hundreds of little fundamentalist children to say, "Wow!  Good!  Now I can run right out and have sex with people of my own gender!"  I don't know.

I really, truly, don't understand how denying a fundamental right to an entire demographic is a moral stance.  My general feeling is if you don't like the idea of gay marriage, then don't marry a gay.  Your choice.  But how limiting the rights of others somehow "defends the sanctity of marriage" is baffling to me.

I have an idea which would solve the whole thing, actually. How about separating the concept of "marriage" from the concept of "civil partnership" for everyone?  I mean, why are the religious so desperate to have the government sticking their fingers into the Sacred Ritual of Marriage in the first place?  You want to get civilly unionized, or whatever the hell would be the verb form of that expression, you go for it.  Any two adults past the age of consent can have one.  You and your partner can then be recognized by the government as a pair for all the legal purposes, e.g. taxes, insurance, privacy laws, and so forth.   If you also want to get married, then you have to go through the appropriate religious authority in the Belief System of Your Choice, and then -- like any other religious ritual -- you have to abide by whatever the rules of that religion are.

This would basically nullify all of the Attack on Marriage propaganda.  The government would have nothing to say, nada, on the subject of marriage; that would be the bailiwick of the churches, and more power to 'em.   On the other hand, no one would be denied the right to the benefits granted to heterosexual unions; no one would have to fight to get a partner accepted for medical insurance; no one would have to go through being denied access to the medical records of a grievously ill partner because that partner happened to be of the same sex.

The churches, then, would have to turn to other matters besides what people do in their bedrooms.  It might be snarky of me to say that I think some of them would be disappointed to lose this talking point.   Is it just me, or do some of these people actually seem to relish going on for hours on this topic?   Hmm.  Protesting too much, perhaps?

In any case, it would free them up to find some other sin to dwell upon.  I doubt that it will be usury, considering how rich that practice has made many of these churches.  And considering how popular football is, the don't-touch-a-pig one is probably a non-starter, too.  Hey!  I have an idea!  Maybe they could take a page from their past history, and concentrate on denying civil rights to sorcerers.  Here you have something that is (1) clearly proscribed in the bible, and (2) would have no effect whatsoever, because there's no such thing as a real sorcerer, but (3) would still keep the severely religious busy enough not to bother the rest of us.

Could work. I propose a new law, the "Statewide Anti-Sorcerer Act."  Anyone proven to have successfully practiced black magic would hereafter be banned from holding public office.  Hillary Clinton might have some 'splainin' to do about her seances, but for the most part, we could all just go back to our ordinary lives in a country where church and state are supposed to be separate.


  1. Awesome points, thank you for putting this out there. MAny, many people (even Christians) don't realize that God does not level sin. Two men's sexual acts are identical in the eyes of God as my running a stop sign on the way to church (yes, speeding is a sin, because I am disobeying my leader..."Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.")

    I live in the South, and now that brazen, outspoken racism is considered taboo (I didn't say it's gone, you just can't talk about it), the gay community has become the next target for outspoken hatred, for the very reason that it's supposedly backed up by the Bible.

    I am a Christian. The Bible is the Word of God, written by human hand. I do not pretend to know what God thinks of gay people, of terrorists, of child abusers, because God is love. I DO know what God will think of me for hating any of His children. I WILL be judged for showing anything other than love for His people.

    Your sin is your own, but hating you is my sin. I won't do it.

  2. If we go after sorcerers, we may have another witch hunt on our hands..... "Aw, she turned me into a newt!... well, I got better...."