The Universal Notebook: The Bible is not the law of the land

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The campaign to repeal Maine’s marriage equality act is being led by evangelical Christians and the Catholic Archdiocese of Maine. We can assume that their opposition to same-gender marriage is biblical in nature. But what does the Bible say about homosexuality? And, more to the point, does it matter?

In Leviticus 20:13, the Lord says to Moses, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”

So if the Bible is the spiritual authority for a religious opposition to gay marriage, I guess, strictly speaking, the yes on 1 crowd should be advocating the death penalty for homosexuality (as well as adultery, incest and bestiality).

Fortunately, not even the most fundamentalist Christian could possibly take seriously everything the Bible says.

The Bible is full of ancient superstitions and prohibitions that no sane person would adhere to in the 21st century. Everyone reads the Bible selectively. Deuteronomy 25:11-12, for instance, says that if two men get in a fight and the wife of one them comes to his aid by grabbing the assailant’s genitals, her hand must be cut off. Deuteronomy 22: 20-21 clearly specifies that if a bride is found not to be a virgin, “the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones.” This is the kind of barbaric zealotry that defines the Taliban, not American Christianity.

Religious opponents of marriage equality conveniently ignore all the biblical injunctions that are antithetical to modern civilization, not just the vicious, patriarchal Old Testament death penalties, but also things like the Bible’s condoning slavery, prohibiting interracial marriage and permitting women to be treated like chattel.

What those with religious objections to gay marriage refuse to understand is that it is not a religious issue at all. The sacrament of marriage is unaffected by the granting of marriage equality. Churches that take a traditional view of marriage will still be free to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people if they wish. Same-sex marriage is entirely a civil rights issue, a matter of social justice, just like women’s suffrage and racial integration.

Opponents of gay marriage also need to be reminded that the Bible is not the law of the land. It never has been and never should be. Biblical strictures only apply to those who freely believe. And the United States is not a Christian nation. It never has been and never should be.

As Steven Waldman writes in the introduction to “The Founding Faith” – the best book on the subject of the politics of religious freedom in this country – “The Founding Faith … was not Christianity, and it was not secularism. It was religious liberty – a revolutionary formula for promoting faith by leaving it alone.”

The divine irony, of course, is that we have the constitutional separation of church and state today because evangelical Christians at the founding of the country demanded it. Now the spiritual heirs of those who fought for religious liberty want to force their beliefs into law and onto all of us. Well, not all Christians, indeed not even all Catholics, are opposed to allowing two people in a loving, committed relationship to marry. As children of a loving God, we will be voting no on 1 on Nov. 3.

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beem-edgar-op.jpgThe Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.