Chapter 18. Gays and religion.
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. The Bible
Society’s understanding of gays has changed dramatically in my lifetime. In the past 50 years, homosexual relations have gone from being illegal in every state, to being legal in all states with domestic partnerships authorized in eight states and gay marriage recognized in five states and the District of Colombia. As recently as 1973, homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association and up until 1975 by the American Psychological Association. Until 1961, every state in the U.S. outlawed gay sex. By 2003, it was only nine states, and after the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas all laws prohibiting gay sex were overturned. In that case, writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said gays, “are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. ‘It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.’ [Such a law] . . . furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.” In a short time, gays have moved from being “outlaws” in all states to ever-increasingly becoming “in-laws.”
In the past 50 years, science has not clearly established what makes people gay, but it has established that they are born that way. Gay people are born that way, and it is grossly unfair to apply ancient rules to deny them equality in the modern world. Without religion, there is no reason other than prejudice to deny gays equal rights, including the right to marry. As in so many other instances, religious scriptures, written by men and fixed in time, have been unable to adapt to a changing world.
Religionists have singled out gays for particularly venomous attacks. The battle cry of “god, guns and gays” helped to form a coalition of the rich and stupid, where the rich got tax breaks, pro-business judges and lax enforcement of laws and regulations while the stupid got “protection” from gay marriage and a promise that one day abortion would be outlawed. Hatred against gays has served as a strong fund-raising issue for both the religious right and the Republican party.
Why the majority of religionists hate gays is unclear. Perhaps it springs from the goal of enforcing procreation not recreation when it comes to sexuality. Or perhaps it encourages in-group dedication when a weak minority is singled out for abuse. Having a scapegoat may be useful to religionists. For example, the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina have been blamed on gays. Or maybe the religionists fear same-sex attractions in themselves and prove they are heterosexual by condemning homosexuals. But perhaps it is just a reliable fund-raising technique. Whatever the reason, the negative approach to gays affects a sizable minority. Studies estimate that between 2-10% of the American population is gay. Working with an intermediate figure of 5%, there are 15 million gays in the U.S., more than all the atheists, Jews and Mormons combined. That is a lot of people who are hurt by the religionists’ prejudices.
The negative social environment for gays has had devastating consequences. Gay youths got to see the President of the United States call for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay rights during George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union Speech. Gay teens are two to seven times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. Facing a world of social condemnation and discrimination gays are more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs and tend to die earlier than heterosexuals.
Religionists are happy to assist their gay congregants to feel bad about themselves. Conservative Christians have even started an “ex-gay” movement to encourage self loathing and denial among believing homosexuals. A Catholic group, “Courage” says, “[T]he individual dealing with same-sex attractions truly . . . [needs] to experience the freedom of interior chastity and in that freedom find the steps necessary to living a fully Christian life in communion with God and others. . . . With the endorsement of the Holy See, Courage now has more than 110 Chapters. . . . It has become a mainstream Catholic Apostolate helping thousands of men and women find peace through fellowship, prayer, and the Sacraments.” The Catholic Church, notably, first blamed its pedophile priest problem on Jews, before settling on blaming it on gays. Regarding ex-gay programs, The American Psychological Association says, “Despite the general consensus of major medical, health, and mental health professions that both heterosexuality and homosexuality are normal expressions of human sexuality, efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy have been adopted by some political and religious organizations and aggressively promoted to the public. However, such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.” The “ex-gay” movement is an example of pursuing religious myth to the exclusion of scientific fact, with harmful consequences.
Religious apologists try to find ways around the scriptural condemnation of gays. But the language is crystal clear. The New International Version of the Bible puts it in modern terms: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death.”
It is doubtless that religionists are hypocrites in their application of biblical rules. They do not stone adulterers. They do not stone children who curse their parents. They do not stone disobedient children. They do not stone those who work on Sunday. They do not stone those who say “god damn.” They do not avoid clothing of blended fibers and they do not avoid clipping the edges of their hair or beards. But hypocrisy aside, there is no way to read around the scriptural condemnation of gay sex. The scriptures were written by men and are fixed in time. By the terms the religionists have established, the scriptures cannot now be rewritten to incorporate a modern understanding of gays. If gays are okay, the scriptures are wrong. If the scriptures are right, then gays should be killed.
Therefore it should be no surprise that killing gays is what religionists are demanding in Uganda. Three American Christian evangelists traveled to Uganda in 2009 to expose “the gay agenda--that whole hidden and dark agenda--and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.” Among them was “ex-gay” Caleb Brundidge, whose International Healing Foundation claims to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. The Ugandans took the challenge and ran with it, introducing a bill to increase the penalty for gay sex from less than 14 years in prison to making it punishable by life imprisonment and in certain instances, death. One of the supporters is linked with President Obama’s inaugural invocation reading pastor, Rick Warren. Martin Ssempa, an Ugandan pastor, traveled several times to make presentations at Warren’s church and Newsweek described Warren as “warmly embracing” Ssempa. Warren had visited Uganda in 2008. With regard to Warren’s position on the anti-gay legislation, Newsweek said:
Warren won’t go so far as to condemn the legislation itself. A request for a broader reaction to the proposed Ugandan antihomosexual laws generated this response: “The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”
Ugandan religionists, American missionary provocateurs and even Rick Warren are doing what their scriptures tell them–calling for the death of gays. They are being more honest than their religious peers who mask their prejudice with nicer sounding terms like “pro-family” or “pro-marriage.”
Sadly, the approach of Jewish and Christian religionists seems mild when compared to Muslims. The Koran has multiple verses condemning homosexuality, and the application of Islamic law results in harsh penalties for gays in most Muslim countries.
I have often asked myself, “what came first, religion or hate?” Hate and religion enjoy a rich marriage, and that relationship is particularly clear in the area of religion and gay rights. That is not to say that hate will go away when religion goes away. Hate will remain. But religion creates an effective vessel for hate. Religionists do not need to create a “we hate gays” club, they can join a socially approved religion and mask their prejudices with phrases like, “we follow the law of god.” The haters can get the support of liberal apologists who give money to the church and would not dream of discriminating against their gay friends, but whose church leaders regularly lobby and organize to deny equal rights to gays.
Religion is a vessel for hate and it is based on myths and lies. There is no compromise available between religion and gay rights. If religion is right, gays should be killed. If gays are equal human beings deserving respect and dignity, then religion is a lie. My position and the position of most atheists is clear: gays deserve equal rights and religion is a lie.
Transforming belief into law.
As with so many other issues, religionists are not satisfied with applying their rules to themselves, they use their position of power to make others comply with their beliefs. Equality for gays is probably the most important civil rights issue our generation will face. In countries where religion is less important, gays are granted more rights. The ten countries that recognize gay marriage are among the least religious: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. In contrast, countries that provide the death penalty for gay sex are among the most religious: Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. Within the United States, the most religious people are the most likely to oppose gay marriage. Eighty-one percent of evangelicals oppose gay marriage, joined by 69% of those who attend church weekly and 67% of all Protestants, while only 25% of the religiously unaffiliated share that view.
The California Supreme Court, when asked to decide if gay people in California had the right to marry, phrased the issue in terms of civil rights:
[T]he change in this state’s past treatment of gay individuals and homosexual conduct is reflected in scores of legislative, administrative, and judicial actions that have occurred over the past 30 or more years. (See, e.g., Stats. 1975, ch. 71, §§ 7, 10, pp. 133, 134 [revising statutes criminalizing consensual sodomy and oral copulation]; Governor’s Exec. Order No. B-54-79 (Apr. 4, 1979) [barring sexual orientation discrimination against state employees]; Morrison v. State Board of Education (1969) 1 Cal.3d 214 [homosexual conduct does not in itself necessarily constitute immoral conduct or demonstrate unfitness to teach].) Thus, just as this court recognized in Perez that it was not constitutionally permissible to continue to treat racial or ethnic minorities as inferior (Perez, supra, 32 Cal.2d at pp. 720-727), and in Sail’er Inn that it was not constitutionally acceptable to continue to treat women as less capable than and unequal to men (Sail’er Inn, supra, 5 Cal.3d at pp. 17-20 & fn. 15), we now similarly recognize that an individual’s homosexual orientation is not a constitutionally legitimate basis for withholding or restricting the individual’s legal rights.
The California Supreme Court granted gays the right to marry in June 2008. A group called the “renewal project” started a “Protect Marriage” campaign to put discrimination against gays into the California Constitution thus overruling the California Supreme Court. Initially, public opinion supported gay marriage by as many as 17 points over opponents. Frank Shubert and Jeff Flint of Schubert Flint Public Affairs said, “When we signed our firm up to manage the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign to put the traditional definition of marriage--one man, one woman--into California’s constitution . . . we had ‘no chance’ to win the campaign.” But the religionists flexed their muscles. Protect Marriage raised almost $40 million. Anti-gay Proposition 8 was supported by an array of religions including Mormons, Catholics, evangelical groups, Focus on the Family, and President Obama’s choice to give a prayer at his inauguration, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church.
Although Mormons comprise only 2% of California’s population, the Mormon Church played an important role in the fight against gay marriage in California. Mormons gave over one-half of the total $40 million raised to fight gay marriage, and perhaps as much as 71% of the total money raised. In an article analyzing their win, Shubert and Flint said, “Even though the LDS were the last major denomination to join the campaign, their members were immensely helpful in early fundraising, providing much-needed contributions while we were busy organizing Catholic and Evangelical fundraising efforts. Ultimately, we raised $22 million from July through September with upwards of 40 percent coming from members of the LDS Church.” The Mormon Church directed members to donate both their time and money in opposition to gay marriage, and 45% of Protect Marriage’s out-of-state contributions came from Utah, where 72% of the residents are Mormon. Jeff Flint estimates that Mormons made up 80 to 90 percent of the early door-to-door volunteers in California. Trying to deflect complaints about Mormons influencing the outcome, Shubert and Flint spread the blame to all religionists, “Members of the Mormon faith played an important part of the Yes on 8 coalition, but were only a part of our winning coalition. We had the support of virtually the entire faith community in California.”
For about seven months, gays in California had the right to marry. But in November 2008, the people of California passed proposition 8, amending the state constitution and mandating that, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The measure passed by a 52% to 48% margin, the early support for gay marriage was overcome by a powerful religionist campaign.
Gay marriage in Maine faced similar defeat and Mormons, allied with Catholics and other religionists, played a key role. The Maine legislature passed a bill allowing gay marriage, but the law never went into effect because of a 2009 ballot initiative. The Catholic Church began the petition drive to overturn the law. The Catholic Church added special collections to its religious services where it encouraged members to give money to help to defeat gay marriage. Just as in California, early poll results showed voters favoring gay marriage. The anti-gay marriage group, “Stand for Marriage Maine,” hired the same public relations firm that worked for the religionists in California. The Mormon-linked National Organization for Marriage provided more than one-half of the funding. The gay rights opponents used similar tactics to the California group, claiming gay marriage and gay sexuality would be taught to school children. The religionists prevailed in Maine, overturning the gay marriage law by a 53% to 47% vote.
Mormons have been leaders in the campaign against gay marriage for years. Mormons are adamantly against gay marriage. The Mormon Church’s statement on gay marriage says, “[M]arriage is neither a matter of politics, nor is it a matter of social policy. Marriage is defined by the Lord Himself. . . . It is not an institution to be tampered with by mankind, and certainly not to be tampered with by those who are doing so simply for their own purposes. There is no such thing in the Lord’s eyes as something called same-gender marriage. Homosexual behavior is and will always remain before the Lord an abominable sin.” Mormon involvement in this issue started with the effort to defeat gay marriage in Hawaii in the mid-1990’s. In Hawaii, the Mormons established the secretive pattern they have duplicated in other states. Mormons provide the money and control the group while hiding their role and allowing other religionists to be out front. Utah, 72% Mormon, in 1995 was first state to enact a “defense of marriage” law, which additionally provided Utah need not recognize same sex unions from other states. Utah, unsurprisingly, is the lowest ranked state in the U.S. when it comes to favoring equal rights for gays. The largest contributor to the anti-gay Maine group was the “National Organization for Marriage.” An opponent of the group has filed a complaint claiming the “National Organization for Marriage” is a front for the Mormon Church to funnel funds into anti-gay campaigns. The National Organization for Marriage provided the largest initial contributions to challenge gay marriage in Maine, and $1.9 million of the total $3.8 million raised throughout the campaign. The National Organization for Marriage, which refuses to identify its funding sources, is currently fighting gay rights in a number of states and on the national level.
The strategy has been highly effective. Thirty states now enshrine prejudice against gays in their constitutions. For example, the Ohio Constitution provides, “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” Gay rights opponents have already used the Ohio ban to challenge a city domestic partner registry, and some fear the amendment could ban insurance benefits for same sex partners, or the right to make medical decisions pursuant to a durable power of attorney.
Not surprisingly, the largest contributor to the Ohio Amendment was a nonprofit group called “Citizens for Community Values,” which gave $1,182,1239, or 98.94% of all donations. The next largest contributor was an individual who gave $2,000. After a complaint that the “Citizens for Community Values” group would not disclose its donors, an investigation was begun but later dropped because all Republicans on the panel opposed it, and there were not enough votes to go forward. The role the Mormon church played in the Ohio amendment has not been disclosed, but the pattern is familiar.
There is one bright point about Mormon involvement. Mormons, a small minority, by targeting their time, money and effort, have had an oversized impact on the gay rights debate. As one commentator put it, “Without the LDS [Mormon] church, gay marriage would remain settled law in California.” This is troubling on one hand, but inspiring on another. Atheists are as numerous and economically powerful as Mormons. If atheists organized, we could have similar impact on important issues. In fact, the potential pool of atheists (especially if you include “nones”) is larger than the Mormon population.
Religionists are not satisfied with beating up gays within their congregations. As with so many other issues, they use their position of power to force their scriptural values on others. The bumper sticker slogan, “Against gay marriage? Don’t have one,” does not satisfy religionists. They instead use their power to apply their rules to everyone, enshrining discrimination against gays in the constitutions of 30 states and the laws of 41 states. Religionists’ hateful treatment of gays is an ongoing problem.