below is a piece i wrote on facebook prior to the november 2008 election. i’m posting it here now so that i can refer to it in a forthcoming post. enjoy! (and forgive the caps – i don’t usually do that ; – ) – bc
Christians are regularly asked to vote upon political measures that have tremendous secular significance but often possess few ethical or religious implications. These include tax increases and school bond measures. As a result, Christians are routinely divided along typical political lines, such as party, gender, or age on civil issues, with their faith playing no observable role in many of these decisions. But on certain occasions, Christians are faced with issues and ballot propositions that force them to vote along a different demographic line: that of faith. These measures have included issues of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, among others. This year is no exception.
California’s Proposition 8 has emerged as a high profile issue on the November 2008 ballot because of its simple, yet highly consequential implications for the definition of marriage in the eyes of the state. In fourteen short words, Proposition 8 states: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” While the proposition is intentionally terse and simply stated, its repercussions are far-reaching and unambiguous.
Proposition 8 would amend California’s constitution so that only heterosexual marriages are recognized by the state. This would overturn California’s existing marriage laws, which presently allow for same-sex marriage and its accompanying benefits. The benefits of state-recognized marriage include visitation rights in a hospital, authority to make decisions on the partner’s behalf in the case of incapacitation, social security, disability, Medicaid, military, veterans’, and other financial benefits, Native American eligibility status, first time homebuyer assistance, joint income tax filing status, child support enforcement, and estate and gift inheritance, among others. A complete list of the 1,049 federal laws in which marital status is a factor can be found in the US General Accounting Office’s letter to House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde on Jan. 31, 1997. Thus, there is a great deal of civil benefit to being recognized as a married couple in California.
Prop 8 is Not a Judgment Against Homosexuals or Homosexuality
Proposition 8 is not a judgment against homosexuality or homosexuals. It is a referendum on the civil benefits of same-sex marriages, with no affect upon the doctrines of any religious group. Yet many Christians will be voting for Prop 8 because of their moral opposition to the practice of homosexuality, which is forbidden in numerous biblical texts. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (NIV)
Homosexuality is clearly listed as a vice in 1 Corinthians 6. Yet, many Christians have singled out homosexuality as a greater threat than the other acts listed, and same-sex marriage has been elevated by the proponents of Prop 8 as the symbolic example of the immorality of the state’s civil law code. Never mind that the 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 passage lists several other sins such as drunkenness and adultery that are said to preclude individuals from inheriting the kingdom of God. And yet, there are no ballot initiatives that call for the elimination of civil rights and the nullification of state recognition of marriage for those who have ever been drunk or participated in extra-marital affairs. For some reason, homosexuality is singled out in this list as a sin that requires a constitutional amendment to protect the faith from the danger of homosexual couples enjoying the same civil rights as heterosexual couples.
Singling out homosexuality as an act that warrants a revocation of civil rights for married couples is a clear double standard of Biblical interpretation. For instance, Luke 16:18 states, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” According to this line of reasoning used by advocates of Prop 8, those who are divorced are adulterers, and thereby ineligible to inherit the kingdom. And yet, we see no ballot proposition limiting marriage to those who have never been divorced, even though the Bible clearly defines the act of remarriage of divorced individuals as adultery.
It is also important to draw a distinction between Biblical reasons for exclusion from the kingdom of heaven (which is the context of 1 Corinthians 6) and state civil law. The prohibition against homosexuality might be a prohibition against entering the kingdom of God, but it is not said to be a reason for not having a marriage recognized by the state.
The Myth of a “Traditional” (i.e., Biblical, Christian) Marriage
Proponents of Prop 8 argue that the measure will defend “traditional” marriage. However, proponents of Prop 8 are very careful not to use the words “Biblical” or “Christian” for fear of betraying the real reasoning behind their cause. Rather, they allow voters to supply their own reasoning for not wanting the state to recognize same-sex marriage. Many Christians argue in favor of Prop 8 because of their belief that the sanctity of marriage is rooted in the Bible and its teachings. However, an examination of the Biblical text reveals that Christian marriage is not as “traditional” as one might assume.
The Apostle Paul has a very low view of marriage. In fact, Paul encourages Christians not to marry at all. In 1 Corinthians 7:27, Paul states, “Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.” (NIV) Paul then continues to counsel Christians that while marriage is “not a sin,” Christians should ideally not marry at all. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “If you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” (NIV) Again, Paul discourages Christians from marrying at all, including heterosexual marriage.
Thus, the entire argument that marriage is a God-ordained union between a man and a woman, and that this union is the preferred social institution for Christians is a myth that has been promoted by the church for millennia. The very issue of whether or not to have heterosexual Christian marriages was debated within the text of the Bible itself. For every passage like Genesis 2:18 that reads, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’,” (which ironically does not deal with marriage at all, but with the creation of females), or Ephesians 5:21-31 (which instructs those Christians that did, in fact, choose to be married or that already were married), there are other verses like 1 Corinthians 7:8, which states, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.”
Neither Jesus nor Paul ever married, and Paul continued to preach against Christians getting married, allowing for marriage only as a concession to those who could not “practice self-control” and wanted to have sex. Thus, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Paul only allowed marriage for those who lacked the self-control and discipline necessary for what he understood to be the more devout, single life as a Christian. Thus, while the proponents of Prop 8 argue that people of faith ought to fight to preserve “traditional marriage,” Christians who actually read their Bibles know that there is no consensus on a Biblical, Christian, “traditional marriage,” and that the very question of even whether or not to marry is debated in the Bible. Marriage in the Bible is far more complex than simple “traditional Christian marriage” that proponents of Prop 8 attempt to portray.
The Tactics of the Yes on 8 Campaign
The “Yes on 8” lobby is attempting to make this election into a vote on homosexuality. They are hoping that Christians and other people of faith will equate a yes vote on Prop 8 as a stance against the “sin of homosexuality” as defined in the Bible. However, this is not what Prop 8 does. Prop 8 seeks to overturn existing California law and deny civil rights to certain individuals based upon their sexual preference as defined by religious tradition.
Christians have been told that same-sex marriage is a threat to the sacred union of marriage, and that were Prop 8 to pass, the state would be able to dictate religious doctrine to religious groups. The Yes on 8 lobby routinely claims that if Prop 8 is not passed, a civil authority (i.e., the state) can impact their religious rites. This is simply not true. The state cannot affect the religious definition of anything, nor should it. A no vote on Prop 8 will do absolutely nothing to a religious organization’s understanding, sanctioning, or recognition of their own understanding of marriage. All a no vote on Prop 8 will do is continue to allow for secular, civil recognition of same sex marriages, and the civil rights, benefits, and privileges thereto appertaining.
California’s recognition of same-sex marriages will do nothing to alter any religious group’s definition of marriage. The Catholic Church will continue to view only marriages performed by a Catholic priest as religiously valid. Likewise, Mormons will continue to insist that only Mormon marriages (preferably in a Temple) will be acceptable as valid Mormon unions. Muslims and Jews will also continue to be allowed to define marriage as their traditional interpretations dictate.
Popular Vote Does Not Equal Constitutionality
State recognition of same-sex marriage is already the law in California. Prop 8 seeks to overturn this law by using a direct ballot initiative to amend the constitution and prohibit same-sex marriage. A direct ballot initiative was employed because our elected California state legislature is smart enough not to pass legislation that is deliberately unconstitutional. Likewise, California judiciary officials are wise enough to overturn any legislation that attempts to deny the civil rights of state citizens by implementing legislation that is based solely in tradition, religious or otherwise. The fact of the matter is that proponents of Prop 8 are seeking a popular vote via ballot initiative because they know the only way that the legislation can even be put before the public for consideration is to play on the fears of the population and call for a popular vote. However, a popular vote does not always equal constitutionality.
Some will certainly object and argue that the laws recognizing same-sex marriage in California are merely the product of “activist judges” legislating from the bench and imposing their will on the majority of California voters, who previously voted in March of 2000 to ban same-sex marriage under California Prop 22. Have no doubt that should Prop 8 pass, it too will be struck down as unconstitutional, despite being voted for by a majority of California citizens. This is due to the fact that just because a majority holds a particular opinion of belief does make that belief constitutional. Likewise, a popular vote does not keep particular religious belief systems from trampling on the civil rights of state citizens.
Take the issue of slavery in southern states in the 1850’s for example, or the desegregation of public schools during the civil rights movement. Were a ballot initiative proposed that amended a southern state’s constitution to guarantee the right of slavery or segregated schools, a majority of voters may have voted based upon their conscience or their religious beliefs to retain slavery and segregated schools. The results of these votes, however heartfelt, would have violated the civil rights of many citizens of the state, particularly African-Americans. Thus, it is possible, and sometimes necessary for courts to step in and strike down unconstitutional laws, even if a majority of voters support the measure. It is possible that on rare occasions, hatred, intolerance, or religious tradition can so pervade the populace that people vote to violate the civil rights of others. It has happened in the past and we rightly look back on our actions during these periods in disgust, asking how any civilized nation can openly and actively violate the civil rights of its own people. Yet here were are in 2008 dealing with a similar ballot initiative in Prop 8.
The proponents of this simply crafted proposition are relying on voters to supply their own reasoning, and for many, fears, prejudices, traditions, and religious beliefs for supporting the measure. And because there have been few Christians that have stood up and opposed Prop 8, a good case for the religious rationale behind opposing Prop 8 has not been offered. Regardless of how convincing the public policy and civil rights reasons might be, many Christians will not feel comfortable voting no on Prop 8 until a broad, theological case is made for allowing same-sex marriage to be recognized by the state. Therefore, the remainder of this editorial will provide the theological reasoning for voting no on Prop 8.
The Argument from Slavery
The process of separating civil law from Biblical teaching on issues of social importance is nothing new. Christians have had to deal with similar social issues in the past. In fact, several other Christian social positions based in scripture, which were also once endorsed by the state, are no longer held by civil government. That is, the government has stricken down laws that were rooted in Biblical teaching, because even though they had the support of the Bible, they were deemed unconstitutional.
The most obvious example that comes to mind is the aforementioned issue of slavery. Up until the Civil War, and unfortunately far beyond the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling that desegregated public schools in the south, the argument in favor of the practice of slavery was based upon religious tradition rooted in the Bible. And unfortunately, the Bible is very clear about its stance on slavery. Colossians 3:22 states, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly.” (NRSV) 1 Peter 2:18 says slaves should obey even harsh slave masters, stating, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” (NRSV) Ephesians 6:5 goes so far as to equate one’s service to one’s master with service to Jesus himself, stating, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” (NRSV) Obviously, as far as the Bible is concerned, the state practice of slavery in Rome was not a core civil rights issue that required addressing. Rather, it was simply accepted.
And while the Apostle Paul argues in Galatians 3:28 that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female “in Christ,” as far as Roman state practice of slavery was concerned, the Bible makes no call for the abolition of slavery, and Jesus makes no grand “I have a dream” speech. In fact, the Apostle Paul argues quite the opposite. When a slave named Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon, the Apostle Paul instructs the runaway slave to return to his slave master, writing only to Philemon to ask that he not punish the defecting slave because he had become a Christian. Far from a call for the abolition of slavery, the Bible clearly accepts the practice, and defends it with stern admonitions to slaves to accept their fates and obey their masters.
Despite the fact that the Bible essentially endorsed slavery, the United States rightly abolished the practice. But this serves as an example that while the Bible may teach a certain way on a certain social matter, it is incumbent upon Christians to do what is righteous as freedoms are won over time. Slavery was abolished by abolitionist Christians even though many southern Christians used Biblical verses defending slavery to argue on its behalf. Today, the proponents of Prop 8 are employing the same tactics to argue for tradition, and when possible, are using Biblical teachings about homosexuality to defend their position. But it does not change the fact that what they are proposing via Prop 8 violates the fundamental state civil rights of some citizens, just as slavery did 150 years ago.
The Argument from Women’s Rights
Another example is the portrayal of the role of women in the Bible. On several occasions in the Bible, women are instructed to “remain silent” and to “submit to their husbands.” 1 Corinthians 14:34 states, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says,” demonstrating that the early church simply accepted the existing law of women remaining subject to men. 1 Timothy 2:12 states, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent,” again reinforcing the notion that women are subject to men’s authority. Colossians 3:18 reminds women, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” arguing that submission to their husbands is ordained by God. Ephesians 5:22-23 makes the case for a hierarchy among men and women more clearly, stating, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” All of these Biblical examples have been used in the past as scriptural support for the subjugation of women, in marriage, in the church, and in the realm of civil government. When combined with the history of the subjugation of women that existed long before the Bible was composed, the Biblical injunctions against women, especially against women assuming leadership roles, were used in part to deny women the right to vote in many Christian nations, including the United States.
But many Christian women began to argue for equality, despite the Bible’s teachings. When the Women’s Suffrage movement began in France in the mid-eighteenth century, women began to argue for equal civil recognition under the law. In the United States, the movement culminated in the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1920, which prohibits states from denying any citizen the right to vote because of a citizen’s sex. Yet despite this progress on behalf of women, the Equal Rights Amendment, which was adopted by the US House of Representatives in 1971, and US Senate in 1972, still has not been ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states needed to ratify the amendment. It may not be mere coincidence that despite the fact that 35 of the 50 states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, the area of the country that chiefly has not yet ratified the ERA is the southern Bible Belt. Additionally, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979. Interestingly, while the US has signed the treaty, it still has not ratified the CEDAW convention, making it the only developed nation still not to do so.
Despite the progress women have made in the civil realm, there is still much to be accomplished before there is genuine gender equality in the United States. One cannot help but wonder if we are still faced with what can only be described as the unwillingness of many Christians to grant civil rights to women because of the enduring Biblical traditions against granting women authority over men. And while women have achieved the right to vote in the civil realm, and the opportunity to work many of the same jobs for nearly equal pay in the secular realm, women have yet to achieve equal progress in the religious realm, be it Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. This is due to the fact that despite the state’s persistent march towards equality among the sexes, the civil realm simply does not have the power to influence the teachings and beliefs of these religious organizations. This is a key point to remember when the proponents of Prop 8 argue that state recognition of same-sex marriage will influence a religious organization’s power to define marriage as they see fit. If many religious faiths and denominations are still opposed to allowing women equal authority in the church, synagogue, and mosque, how much influence does the state really have over these religious institutions? And why will the state suddenly have more power with regard to the definition of marriage than it does with the role of women in the church?
The Argument from Divorce
Another example of a Biblical teaching that is not expressed in civil law is the remarriage of divorced persons. If Biblical sin is the standard by which Christians are denying same-sex couples the civil rights that come with marriage, then why are other actions described as sins by the Bible, such as divorce, not also grounds for the denial of the right to marry. The Bible speaks plainly about divorce, stating in 1 Corinthians 7:11 that a divorced individual should be reconciled to his or her spouse, and should not remarry. And there is no doubt that in most cases, divorce negatively affects child rearing and gender roles (or lack thereof) in divorced, single parent homes—an argument made by proponents of Prop 8 as to why same-sex couples should not marry. Why is same-sex marriage treated differently than divorce, when both are stated as reasons not to marry?
To most Christians, divorce is just as much a sin as homosexuality. And yet, there is no proposition on the ballot arguing that the state should only recognize marriage as between a never-divorced male and female. Likewise, there is no proposed state proposition that would prohibit divorced individuals seeking to remarry from receiving state marriage benefits. This is because as far as divorce is concerned, Christians have learned to separate the scriptural teachings on divorce from the civil and state ramifications of it. Divorced individuals have the legal right to remarry in this state, even thought the Bible argues against it. Why should this be different for same-sex couples seeking to get married?
The Threat of Christian Sharia Law
Why is it important to discuss issues of slavery and women’s rights in the United States in a debate about Prop 8? Because the arguments that proponents of Prop 8 are making are the very same arguments that many Christians made during the abolitionist movement and the Civil War era, and about the Women’s Suffrage movement during the 1920’s and even up until today. We should not make the same mistakes again.
During slavery and Women’s Suffrage, Christians were faced with an ethical dilemma; Should Christians adhere to a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Bible, which endorsed and defended the practice of slavery and the subjugation of women, or should they part with these inhumane and civilly irresponsible practices, even though they are sanctioned in the Bible, and defend the civil rights of those who were being denied them? In the end, Christians made the right choice, but the decision was not an easy one. The division among Christians was so great, the nation fought a civil war, in part, because of the economic implications of this grave ethical decision. It was a time where many Christians decided to break with their simple, traditional interpretation of the Bible, and their previously held insistence that the Bible’s teachings be wholly integrated into civil law. Instead, many Christians adopted a new hermeneutic, or way of reading the Bible, distinguished its teachings from the civil laws of the state, and voted to abolish slavery and the subjugation of women in the civil realm on the grounds of unconstitutionality.
The same principal must guide the hearts and minds of Christians today. Regardless of one’s personal stance on homosexuality—sin or permissible, a life choice or something genetically inherited, biblically abhorrent or the by-product of ancient fears and traditions—Christians must today distinguish between their religious beliefs and state civil rights, just as our ancestors did when they made the difficult decision to abolish slavery despite the Bible’s sanctioning of it. It is the only way to guarantee the civil rights of our citizens. Likewise, it is the only way to protect against a far greater threat: the creation of the Christian equivalent of sharia law.
“Sharia law” is the use of a particular interpretation of Islamic law contained within the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, for civil administration. Simply stated, it is the use of a religious text and set of beliefs to govern all aspects of civil society. This is the kind of civil law that is used, for instance, by the Taliban to keep women veiled, in Saudi Arabia to keep women from driving, and in Iran to banish and punish homosexuality. We in the West rightly decry these abuses and criticize the use of religious traditions to suppress the rights of a state’s citizens. And yet, when religious fundamentalists in the United States insist that state law only define marriage according to their particular religious interpretation, they embark on that same pattern of religious lawmaking. This same brand of religious fundamentalism has been used to oppose the abolition of slavery in the South, women’s right to vote, and mixed-race marriages in the United States. And now, this same brand of using the Bible and “tradition” to dictate civil law now backs Prop 8.
It is clear to see that the use of a religious tradition to suppress the civil rights of citizens is not only unconstitutional, it is the Christian equivalent of sharia law. It is also vastly hypocritical and inconsistent. Christians in California cannot, on the one hand, argue against the abuses of sharia law in Iran, while at the same time argue that civil rights be limited and state law be determined by traditional religious interpretations of marriage. It is the epitome of hypocrisy, where we become the very thing we despise.
If California citizens begin down this slippery slope of allowing religious institutions and traditions to define marriage for the state, we run the risk of becoming like modern day Israel. In Israel today, only marriages performed by Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, or Catholic officials are considered valid under Israel’s state law, despite the fact that a high percentage of the population are Reformed Jews, Protestant Christians, or agnostic, with no religious affiliation whatsoever. There are no civil or even mixed religion marriages in Israel. This is due to the fact that some religious entities, in this case a minority of Israelis adhering to Orthodox Judaism, continue to define marriage based upon their own religious interpretations. Israel has allowed their civil marriage laws to remain hijacked by Orthodox religious councils, who continue to dictate what is and is not acceptable for the state. And while many legislators in Israel are moving towards ending this unfortunate tradition, some here in California are hoping to adopt this trend and allow religious tradition to define state marriage law.
We cannot allow any religious traditions, or a coalition of them, to dictate state law. The separation of church and state must be maintained, even in this very sensitive issue.
It is ok for Christians to vote no on California Proposition 8. Prop 8 is not a sanctioning of, or judgment upon, homosexuality. It is about equal treatment under the law for California citizens. Prop 8 does not redefine marriage for religious institutions. Prop 8 does insist that same-sex marriages have the same equal protection under the law as heterosexual marriages.
Prop 8 asks the question: should religious institutions define marriage for the state? If so, another question must be asked: should the state be in the business of deciding what forms of marriage are valid? If so, what religious institution or consortiums thereof get to decide? Catholics don’t accept protestant marriage, and only see Catholic weddings as valid. Mormons don’t accept non-Mormon marriages, and insist that only marriages performed in a Mormon temple allow the couple to remain married in the afterlife. Orthodox Jews only accept Orthodox weddings, and Muslims likewise only accept Islamic marriages as valid. Who gets to decide?
The solution is a simple one. All “marriages” in California should be understood by the state as “civil unions.” This would separate the church from the state, and distinguish between the religious aspects of the sacred union of marriage as defined by one’s particular religious tradition, and the secular aspect of the union as defined by the state. Religious traditions would be free from state influence to define marriage as they see fit, and the state would be free from religious influence to administer the benefits of civil unions. This solution also renders moot any judgment upon homosexuality. People of faith can continue to debate whether the practice is right or wrong, while the state is free from any and all religious debate on the matter. Religious institutions could continue to marry their adherents according to their views and sacred rites, while couples would continue to fill out civil union licenses to confirm the union in the eyes of the state. Religious institutions can continue to define marriage as they see fit, while the state can define civil unions in a non-discriminatory manner.
The one common denominator for all marriages in the state’s eyes is that each couple files a marriage license with their respective County Recorder’s office. The state should not distinguish between which religious organizations’ beliefs are valid and which are not. Fortunately for us, this is already the case in California. A couple can already choose to be married by a non-religiously affiliated Justice of the Peace at a local courthouse. Thus, as far as the state of California is concerned, there is no binding religious obligation imposed upon marriages performed in the State of California. We should not allow Prop 8 to change this. If all marriages are defined as civil unions under the law, California would progress a long way towards finding a solution for this divisive issue.
As a Christian, I believe it is important to bless and not curse, forgive and not judge, and to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. And as an American and a California citizen, I also believe it important to abide by the law, and when given the opportunity, vote for laws that extend equal rights to all citizens, allowing all persons the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Proposition 8 stands in the way of both of these goals in that it allows a particular religious interpretation to influence and mandate state law. This is a clear violation of the constitution.
It is possible for Christians to vote no on Prop 8 on religious, civil, and public policy grounds. It is not the state’s place to discriminate against or impose limitations upon the civil recognition of marriages based upon race, class, religion, or sexual orientation. I ask Californians, especially Christians, to look within their hearts and ask themselves whether we want to treat homosexuals today as we treated women in the 1920’s, and blacks in the 1850’s. Will we look back in 40 years’ time in disgust and shake our heads and ask how we ever voted to deny civil rights to groups based upon a personal sexual choice? Or, will we as Christians choose to distinguish between our personal religious beliefs and civil law, and show the true power of Christianity: its mercy, humility, and self restraint?
I humbly, yet strongly urge everyone to vote no on Proposition 8 on November 4, 2008.
Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
October 30, 2008
Filed under: california, gender issues, marriage equality, politics, religion Tagged: | california, christian, divorce, fundamentalism, gay marriage, homosexuality, marriage, prop 8, proposition 8, same-sex marriage, sharia law, slavery, theology