if m.i.t.’s methodology is correct, i may be outed against my knowledge

researchers at boston’s massachusetts institute of technology (m.i.t.) have apparently developed a way to determine whether or not someone is gay (well, at least gay on facebook). this new technological advance purports to determine statistically whether or not one is gay by examining a person’s facebook profile, including the sexual orientation of one’s facebook friends.

…two students in a course on Internet ethics and law designed a program that looked at the profile information—including gender and sexuality—of a person’s Facebook friends and analyzed the information to predict the person’s sexuality. The students called the program “Gaydar.”

as many of you know, i’m a huge facebooker. in fact, facebook was instrumental in helping me win carl kasell’s voice on my home answering device on ‘wait wait…don’t tell me!,’ the npr news quiz. and i’ll tell you right now: i have many facebook friends, including many gay facebook friends. up until recently, my relationship status has always been hidden (in keeping with my now six-year old policy of ‘my private life is none of your business.’) likewise, i have regularly written against california’s proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in california (see also here and here and here). likewise, i am single, clean, in shape, in my mid-thrities, use a mac, drive a hybrid prius, own a cat, love coldplay, regularly write poetry, work in west los angeles, and have generally been described as a ‘metrosexual’ (however one defines it).

so i am curious (not bi-curious, just curious): what will the m.i.t. researchers conclude about me? imho, the fact that i’m writing about this betrays what i already think their conclusion will be. i don’t care if m.i.t. or fresno city college is running the numbers, statistically, i’m gonna make a few blips on the so-called ‘gaydar.’

but should this be the case? should we assume that advocates for same-sex marriage and those who love listening to ani difranco sing ‘little plastic castle’ are themselves gay? part of the reason i never answer the question of ‘are you gay’ is because so much of the anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage lobby relies on the assumption that those who show solidarity with gay causes must themselves be gay. they may never say so aloud, but they rely on the assumed implication to marginalize the person at church at work within certain social circles. while this may not necessarily be the case, every time a straight man emphatically answers, ‘no!’ to the question of, ‘are you gay,’ it perpetuates this assumption. of course, there are some occasions where the question can and should be answered (like getting hit on in a bar, or a party, or a library, or a public lecture, or at sbl, or at church or, well, you get the picture). but, when someone inappropriately asks, ‘are you gay?’ for reasons of marginalizing the one questioned, straight men need to begin answering, ‘that’s none of your business.’ the sooner straight individuals stop answering the question, the sooner those asking will learn that is an inappropriate question to ask.

while statistical correlations can sometimes indicate certain likelihoods, these statistical trends cannot and should not be used to stereotype, pigeonhole, discriminate against, or define individuals. being friends with, hanging out with, or spending time with individuals of certain persuasions does not result in one being of a similar persuasion. was jesus a prostitute? a tax-collector? a leper? a drunk?? black friends do not make me black. muslim friends do not make me muslim. straight friends do not make me straight. and gay friends do not make me gay. likewise, one who supports the civil rights of homosexuals is not necessarily gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that), just as supporting the civil rights of women, blacks, or straight white males does not make one a woman, black, or a straight white male. we should be free to love one another and do business with, eat dinner with, worship with, marry, live next to, and simply befriend individuals of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, and sexual orientations without being chastised for being friends with them.

i am very comfortable with my masculinity and i do not need to act macho, make fun of homosexuals, denigrate women, or drive a muscle car to try to convince prove to the world i am straight. to me, raging, macho heterosexuals are just as annoying as flamboyant, in-your-face homosexuals. why can’t we simply comfortable with who we are? let the quirky be quirky. let the nerds be nerds. let the gregarious be gregarious. let the soft-spoken be soft-spoken. let the straight be straight. let the gay be gay. and let those who cannot accept those who are different from themselves (or some contrived religious ideal) remain alone in their insecure, judgmental, cookie-cutter, tract housing, suburban, plain vanilla lives.

as for me, i shall continue to state what i have always stated: i like what i like, i’ll date whomever i’ll date, and my sexual orientation is none of your business. i shall continue to add gay and straight friends alike on facebook, and will not ignore their friend requests because they happen to declare a different sexual orientation than my own. and if researchers at m.i.t. want to think i’m gay, it’s fine by me. from what i’ve experienced, they won’t be the only ones.

question for the ‘yes on prop 8’ supporters: who can caster semenya marry?

South African gold-medallist Caster Semenya

South African gold-medallist Caster Semenya

i have a question for all of the california ‘yes on proposition 8’ supporters and others who support bans on gay marriage:

who can caster semenya marry?

it was revealed that south african olympic runner caster semenya is an intersexual individual (traditionally called hermaphrodites).

South African gold-medallist Semenya, 18, has both male and female organs, it was claimed…Semenya is claimed to have NO womb or ovaries — and has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone.

first, i want to say that i can’t possibly comprehend what it must be like growing up as an intersexual individual in a society that sees issues of gender in such a markedly binary manner. gender issues are confusing enough if you are merely male or female, but to grow up in a sex-obsessed world arguing about issues of same-sex marriage as a hermaphrodite? this seems incredibly difficult.

i want to lend my support and sympathy to caster semenya, not for her physical makeup – she should be proud of who she is. but, i want to encourage her to stay strong in her life as an olympian and a woman (the gender she has chosen).

however, i cannot help but ask a few questions to those that oppose same sex marriage and to those that oppose women’s full inclusion, participation, and leadership in the church.

who can caster semenya marry? can she marry a man? would you let her marry a woman?

can she preach in a church? can she lead singing? can she serve as an elder? a pastor?

while these questions are answered quite simply by those of us that support gender equity and same-sex marriage, the answers are a little more difficult for those wishing to impose traditional (and quite physiologically ignorant) opinions on the matter. the bible speaks of male and female, but does not consider asexual, hermaphroditic, or other intersexual individuals. quite frankly, hermaphrodites do not fit the ‘biblical’ paradigm that many wish to enforce.

hermaphrodite_symbolhow can we continue to impose male/female gender regulations from a book that fails to address intersexual individuals upon a modern society. studies show that about 1% of all children born express some degree of sexual ambiguity, and 1 in every 2,000 newborns is born in a pronounced intersexual state. sure, these individuals are in the extreme minority, but if christians truly believe that every individual person is loved – and most say uniquely created (some might say intelligently designed) – by god, how can we impose gender restrictions upon individuals that possess both genders? it is no longer acceptable for fundamentalists simply to argue that the only acceptable christian lifestyle for intersexual individuals is lifelong abstinence. it is no sin, and they (nor their parents) did nothing wrong.

it is time for christians (and jews, and muslims, and peoples of all faiths) to recognize that some social institutions mentioned in the bible are no longer valid in modern society. the bible allows for slavery, but modern society has condemned this practice. the bible not only allows for, but at times commands genocide, but modern society has condemned this practice. likewise, the bible promotes the continued subjugation of women and homosexuals based upon antiquated and scientifically ignorant understandings of what it means to be a human with gender. it is time we once and for all did away with calls by christians to continue to ban same-sex marriage and women’s participation in church worship and leadership. it is time to accept that not all people in christ are ‘male and female’ (gal. 3:28) and realize that like its endorsement of slavery, the subjugation of women, homosexuals, and intersexual individuals is no longer acceptable.

Full Text of Dr. Cargill’s Remarks at the Pepperdine GSEP Panel Discussion on Racism and Homophobia

Remarks for Pepperdine GSEP Panel Discussion Entitled:

Promoting Social Justice: Confronting Racism and Homophobia

By Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.

March 24, 2009

Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology

WLA campus – Howard Hughes Center

6100 Center Dr., Los Angeles, 90045 (Room 203)

Before I begin my prepared remarks this evening, let me first extend my thanks to Pepperdine University, to the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, to Dean Margaret Weber for her leadership, and to those who worked hard behind the scenes like Vanessa Jahn to bring about this event. I want to publicly praise Dr. Weber and GSEP for their interest in an open dialogue about the issues of homophobia and racism, and the Christian’s role in this debate. I believe the only way we will ever come to terms with issues like gay marriage and California Proposition 8, racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of social injustice, is to participate in open, professional, respectful, and constructive discussions with those individuals and groups with whom we disagree. I commend this forum, the other panelists, and GSEP’s willingness to discuss this topic in the midst of the ongoing debate. Thank you for your invitation, and I appreciate the opportunity to address you this evening and participate in this panel.

And now to my prepared remarks.

On March 5, 2009, Pepperdine University School of Law Dean Kenneth Starr, a former U.S. Solicitor General, and Independent Counsel investigating President Clinton, presented oral arguments before the California State Supreme Court in defense of California Proposition 8. Dean Starr’s arguments were given in response to a legal challenge brought by several gay rights organizations as well as state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office seeking to overturn the November 2008 California ballot measure Proposition 8, which overturned an earlier 2008 California Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the state of California. The fourteen-word proposition read simply: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” And while this proposition was intentionally terse and simply stated, its repercussions are far-reaching and unambiguous.

The November 2008 vote resulted in a simple majority of Californians overturning state law, and amending the state constitution to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages. In filing their legal challenge, the state Attorney General’s office asked the court to invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that certain fundamental rights, including the right to marry, are inalienable, and that the civil rights of a group in a minority cannot be dictated by the mere popular vote of a majority. For his part, Dean Starr’s argument focused less upon gay marriage, and more upon the legal issue of whether the people of California have the right under the California constitution to amend the constitution and overturn a specific decision of the California Supreme Court.

The outcome of this legal drama is yet to be determined. The California Supreme Court has 90 days from the date of the oral arguments, March 6, to rule on the case. But regardless of the outcome, we can be assured that one side will protest the ruling, and seek to have yet another ballot measure placed on the California ballot.

While this legal battle wages on, we, as people of faith and citizens of the state must wrestle with additional issues pertaining to same-sex marriage, including, but not limited to issues of social justice, the alienation of those ruled against, and what will be the counseling of and ministering to what could be thousands of families having divorce forced upon them by the state due to the passage and subsequent legal upholding of Proposition 8.

Those of us who are committed to serving, defending, and advocating on behalf of those experiencing social injustice must, to the best of our ability, attempt to maintain certain levels of trustworthiness, consistency, and credibility with society. If we fail to act with compassion and empathy toward those affected by the coming legal decisions, regardless of our opinion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, we risk not only losing effectiveness as individual counselors, confidants, educators, therapists, and advocates, but we risk causing further harm to the already rapidly diminishing reputations of institutions of faith, be it Christianity, Judaism or other faith-based traditions, and increased skepticism of their effectiveness, and dare I say, relevance in today’s society. As professionals, we must maintain a focused level of service to those who are suffering first and foremost, and only then, in a secondary place, to issues of public policy and political position taking.

Unfortunately, this will be more difficult for members of the Pepperdine community, due to the unfortunate events that played out during the 2008 campaign. Pepperdine was thrust into the midst of this debate due in no small part to the advocacy of School of Law Professor Richard Peterson and his very public, very televised advocacy for Proposition 8 and the campaign in favor of “traditional” marriage.

Now, I respect Richard Peterson, and I respect his right to advocate on behalf of the issues in which he believes strongly. For that matter, I respect tremendously Dean Ken Starr and his professional and thoughtful arguments in support of Proposition 8. These men have the right to speak in support of issues they feel important to them, as do I.

But the Pepperdine community found itself thrust into a debate that it tried strongly to avoid. Despite the repeated efforts in the form of press releases and emails to the Pepperdine community to declare a position of political neutrality with regard to Proposition 8, President Andrew Benton could not help but watch the public, the media, and the nation, cast Pepperdine as a fundamentalist, religiously right, politically conservative opponent of same-sex marriage. Despite the fact that the School of Law held open discussions for and against gay marriage, in spite of repeated pronouncements that Pepperdine took no official position on the issue of gay marriage, and despite the fact that there are scores of Pepperdine faculty members and students that opposed and voted against Proposition 8, Pepperdine, its faculty, and most unfortunately, its students were typecast as strident opponents of gay marriage, largely because of the very public role played by Professor Peterson, who became the de facto “Yes on 8” spokesperson.

The Pepperdine community, and specifically those of you in this room committed to working with those potentially affected by Proposition 8, have your work cut out for you. The dilemma for Pepperdine, a prominent Christian University in Southern California, and its students is one of trust and credibility with regard to counseling and ministry to marginalized communities, including homosexuals. How can a Christian university be trusted to counsel and minister to those harmed by the state’s decision to ban same-sex marriage if two of the major legal operatives for the “Yes on 8” campaign are prominent Pepperdine employees? And how do we deal with those who feel some degree of anger, resentment, and frustration towards us because of our affiliation with Pepperdine?

As a scholar in the field of Biblical Studies, I have addressed ways in which we can approach the issues of “biblical sanction” for marriage, if such a thing can be said to exist. For the sake of time, I shall reserve comments on the specifics of my arguments for the discussion period. For a detailed analysis of this issue, please see my essay entitled, “It is OK for Christians to Vote No on Prop 8” on my website, bobcargill.com. In my remaining time, I shall offer only a summary of my argument.

The key to counseling those affected by racism or homophobia from a standpoint of faith is to approach the biblical text with a hermeneutic (or way of reading the Bible) that is thematic, as opposed to fundamentalist or literal, and which understands the Bible as a narrative about individuals of faith written by individuals of faith within a particular social context in a given period in history. This means approaching the Bible not as a blueprint, or as a set of rules, but as a document that records the earliest attempts by people of faith to demonstrate the presence of God through ministry towards the marginalized.

When we approach the text as a body of law to which we appeal in order to draw support for our predetermined positions, we rip verses from their textual and social contexts, and can make the Bible say pretty much whatever we want it to say. This is called prooftexting, and leads to countless problems theologically as well as practically. The alternative is to understand the text as an attempt to communicate a knowledge of God and a care for the suffering to others. This approach sees the text not only as the word of God, but also as a product of the various cultures in which they were written, including Canaanite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. The statutes and directives offered by the biblical text are understood not as rules binding all peoples of all cultures for all time, but as directives for a particular audience in a particular social setting. Approaching the biblical text in this thematic and social way not only allows for the biblical text to remain relevant to societies as they evolve and develop over time, but guards against glaring inconsistencies stemming from fundamentalist readings of the text.

To illustrate the problems encountered by attempting to apply the “rules” of the Bible to all societies for all time, I shall offer a few examples. The examples I have chosen for this exercise have special importance to the issue of marriage, especially those arguing for a “traditional” or even a “Christian” model of marriage.

First, the idea that there exists a singular “biblical” model for marriage is a myth. The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) clearly demonstrates that polygamy was the acceptable marital norm, and that acceptable ways of procuring a wife included working fourteen years for your uncle in exchange for his two daughters (Jacob in Gen. 29), demanding your parents bring you the wife of your choice (Samson in Judg. 14), hiding in the bushes and snatching dancing women (Benjamites of Judg. 21), collecting 200 foreskins of your father-in-law’s enemies in exchange for a wife (David in 1 Sam. 18), killing a man and taking his wife (David again in 2 Sam. 11), marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1), getting a woman as a part of  a land purchase (Boaz in Ruth 4), and of course, just having God make you a wife while you sleep (Adam in Gen 2).

As far as the New Testament is concerned, the apostle Paul clearly states in 1 Cor. 7 that if a Christian ideal exists, it is life as an unwed, single person. Paul goes so far as to offer the timeless wisdom of 1 Cor. 7:28 when he states, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”

Second, Christians have learned to address other social prohibitions mentioned in the Bible in alternative ways. I shall offer three brief examples. The first is that of the social institution of slavery. Col. 3:22 states, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly.” 1 Pet. 2:18 says that 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.” Eph. 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.” Not only does the Bible not view the social institution of slavery as a sin, but on several occasions endorses the practice, adjuring slaves to comply with the institution of slavery. Additionally, in the biblical letter of Philemon, the apostle Paul insists that a runaway slave named Onesimus return to his slave master Philemon. Far from any “I have a dream” speech, the Bible appears to consistently endorse the practice of slavery, that is, if the Bible is read fundamentally.

It is important to underscore the fact that these biblical passages did not magically disappear from the Bible during the early abolitionist movement or throughout the Civil War. In fact, it was conservative, fundamentalist Christians that were openly advocating for the continuation of slavery, citing both tradition and the biblical precedent of the practice of slavery as evidence of “God’s plan” and approval of the continued suppression of the civil rights of certain individuals.

Fortunately, by the time the civil rights movement arrived in the 1960’s, a majority of Americans were prepared to grant equal rights to African-Americans. However in the southern Bible Belt, where a more fundamentalist reading of the Bible is espoused, the integration of public schools had to be forced upon the populace with the landmark judgment in the case of Oliver Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. Thus, the issue of slavery offers us a perfect example of a social practice where the Bible clearly states a position (an endorsement of and comfort with the practice of slavery) that our modern democracy has rejected outright. Modern people of faith have learned to read the biblical verses pertaining to slavery as products of a 2000-year old social environment, and not as eternal mandates for all peoples for all time, and rightly so.

Let us look at another example: 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 Cor. 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 existing laws ordering women to remain subject to men. 1 Tim. 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. Col. 3:18 reminds women, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” noting that a wife’s submission to her husband is ordained by God. Eph. 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.”

There is clear traditional and biblical evidence that argues that women should remain in their “God given” roles as secondary to men. And yet, many Christians have rightly learned to understand these prohibitions as a result of a long history of subjugation of women, including the Greco-Roman period, in which the New Testament was composed. Thus, despite the biblical injunctions adjuring women to remain silent, most Christians have allowed women equal rights, at least in the civic arena, where the issue of Proposition 8 and gay marriage is being debated.

I shall also point out the tremendous irony that women have achieved in civil society what they are still struggling to achieve in the church. Despite Gal. 3:28’s conclusion that “in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female,” it is precisely “in Christ” (that is, in the church) that women still do not enjoy the same levels of equality as they experience in the secular world. Clearly, there is still much work for Christians to do with regard to the role of women in the church.

The third manner in which Christians have learned to reinterpret biblical passages pertaining specifically to marriage that they find to their dislike is with regard to verses addressing divorce. If a definition of “biblical sin” is the standard by which some Christians are denying same-sex couples the civil rights that accompany marriage, then why are other actions described as “sins” in 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 Cor. 7:11 that a divorced individual should be reconciled to his or her spouse or should not remarry. 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 repeatedly made by proponents of Prop 8 as to why same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry. Why is same-sex marriage treated differently than divorce, when both are given as reasons not to marry in the Bible? To most Christians, divorce is just as much a sin as homosexuality, yet, despite clear biblical injunctions against divorced individuals remarrying, we do not see a group dedicated to “protecting traditional marriage” introducing ballot measures and constitutional amendments calling for the prohibition of same-sex marriages, nor for the dissolution of those marriages that have already taken place in which one of those being wed was divorced. 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 though the Bible prohibits it. Why should it be any different for same-sex couples seeking to get married?

Issues such as the practice of slavery, women’s role in society, and issues of divorce clearly demonstrate that Christians can and have learned to separate biblical teachings concerning social issues from modern state law. Despite the Bible’s prohibition or endorsement of certain social practices in the first two centuries of the Common Era, Christians have gradually accepted that the attitudes towards some of these social practices have changed, and have allowed the state to legislate accordingly.

If Christians continue to impose a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible upon state law, not only do we open ourselves to much deserved accusations of blatant hypocrisy, but we risk imposing upon the state the very real threat of a Christian equivalent of Sharia Law—the very thing we condemn in fundamentalist Islamic countries.

But for those of us seeking to live out lives of advocacy for social justice, the issue is not only one of legality, but also one of service and support of all those affected by the same-sex marriage debate on both sides of the issue. Those of us that counsel, teach, and minister from standpoints of faith must overcome this additional societal skepticism. Whether or not one believes homosexuality to be a “sin,” we must all agree that we are to seek opportunities to serve all those marginalized by our state’s decisions, whatever they might be. Regardless of our stance on same-sex marriage, we must commit ourselves to patience, understanding, and support of all those affected by this very real debate.

I want the Pepperdine community to hear me on this: It is simply not enough to declare political neutrality on issues that adversely affect the daily lives of so many of those that live and work among us! For those faculty members and students in the Pepperdine community who oppose Proposition 8, there needs to be a more public and vocal effort made to defend the rights of those being discriminated against and to serve them, even if you happen to disagree with their system of beliefs.

Those Pepperdine employees who promoted and defended Proposition 8 were vociferous and adamant about their position. It is not enough for those Pepperdine faculty members and students who oppose Prop 8 to stand idly by and hold the coats of those who promote Prop 8, and who openly advocate for constitutional discrimination against homosexuals!

The Christian that argues that the prohibitions against homosexuals are effective for all cultures and for all time must also be prepared to declare equally and consistently that the directives endorsing slavery and the subjugation of women, as well as the prohibition against allowing divorced individuals to remarry are equally valid for all times. Anything less than an equally vociferous campaign against allowing women to have authority over men, or in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban divorced individuals from remarrying, lacks consistency, loses all credibility, and well deserves the label of unapologetic hypocrite!

But those of us who seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, will learn to approach the Bible as we do those whom we serve: with patience, forgiveness, empathy, and the kind of service and support that cares for the person, and not for the political position. Of course, some will argue that issues of slavery and the suppression of women are “different” than the present debate over same-sex marriage. They will argue that those were different times, and that we now live in a different society, far removed from the atrocities of slavery and the subjugation of women. And yet, at some point in history, those past issues were the present, and those debates and battles became riots and unfortunately, a civil war. It is my prayer that we do not look back 40 years from now at what we are doing to homosexuals today in the same way we now look back 40 years ago in disgust at what our nation did to African-Americans. Because yesterday’s “they” is today’s “we,” and we now have the opportunity to remedy the discrimination “we” have recently set into law in the name of “tradition.” May we continue to advocate against this grave injustice, and may we do so before any more lives and loving relationships are asked to take a second-class seat at the back of the bus.

Thank you.

It Is OK for Christians to Vote No on Prop 8

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

=======

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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

%d bloggers like this: