Thursday, September 2, 2004

26. Debate pits rights vs. religion

A passionate and controversial issue heating up the political airwaves at both the state and federal level is the issue of gay marriage. The proposed gay marriage amendment (to protect "traditional marriage") recently failed in the Senate, although the issue will undoubtedly be brought forth again in the future.

At the state level, petitions are being circulated to "preserve" marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In fact, I was greeted by such a campaigner recently at a local establishment. As I politely declined, I noted the irony of the individual collecting the signatures. This irony and the issue at hand is the subject of this column.

The controversial nature of this debate is complicated by the fact that those that differ in opinion argue on diverse philosophical fronts. Gays and Lesbians are asking for civil rights, that is, not to be discriminated based on their sexual preferences and their desire to commit to a life-long partner. In this manner, and for them, the fight is a civil rights issue. Those opposing gay marriage argue predominately on an ideological level. Predominately based in religion, these beliefs stem from The Bible and its monopolistic claim on morality. It's interesting that the arguments rarely cross disciplines. The political right steadfastly avoids the issue of civil rights while the liberals supporting gay marriage tend to tread cautiously around religion and The Bible.

I have previously described discrimination as "inflicting hardship on an individual based on attributes for which he or she has no control over." Understanding that sexual preference is genetic and not a choice, it is, by my definition, discrimination to withhold the many federal and state benefits to gay and lesbian couples that wish to make the same commitment to one another as heterosexual couples make.

The moral claims by those opposing gay marriage fail in the light of religious freedom. This country ensures religious freedom and thus any argument based on the ideology of a particular religious sect, even one in the majority, arrogantly ignores the rights of others to define their own morality. Secular humanists believe that moral principles are tested by their consequences. What negative consequences are to be suffered onto society by extending homosexuals the same marital rights afforded to every other American? Couldn't those in religious opposition concern themselves with their plight into heaven and allow others to "take their chances?"

Moreover, extracting morals from The Bible is a risky proposition across a spectrum of ideologies. And here, the assumption is that most protesting gay marriages do so based on a religious belief. Thus, in effect, the majority of those protesting will point to The Bible as the source of information outlining their moral opinions. And here is the irony of the petitioner at the local supermarket. The petitioner was an African-American female. If the irony isn't obvious, ask yourself if there are two groups of people in the country that has suffered through more discrimination than African Americans and women. And then ask yourself what was often the source of that discrimination.

The Bible describes the subordination due men of their wives, "{older women shall} ...train young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind and submissive to their husbands..." (Titus 2:4-5). It also describes the nature of slavery, "As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you." (Leviticus 25:44).

In greater reflection, The Bible describes marriage, further to that of homosexuality, under a number of specific conditions. If marriage is defined in the Bible, and if it defines our morality, then let us be consistent. For "...whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:32) and "Let them marry whom they think is best; only, they should marry within the family of the tribe of their father. (Numbers 36:6). Where are the proposed marital amendments forbidding the marriage of divorced women and across racial lines? It appears that discrimination is often supported through selected morality.

The arguments on the issue are greater than I presented here, however I believe the core argument to be civil rights versus religious ideology. I realize my arguments may be upsetting to some; but it must be fair to challenge the source of moral standards when it is inconsistent and promotes the same discriminatory ideas that have proved to be fallible in the past.

Furthermore, I just found it a bit ironic that an African-American woman, a member of two groups that had fought for so many years to attain her civil rights, would be taking part in the discrimination effort against others wishing theirs.

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