On Gay Marriage, Separating Church and State
From time to time, I have been known to engage a dear friend of mine in politico-religious discussion. Her knowledge of the texts is far greater than mine, so the discussion is rarely theological per se. Rather, debate typically relates to the impact of Catholic teaching, particularly with regard to what Americans term ‘social issues’: abortion; gay marriage; contraception; and euthanasia. Other times, we have talked about the work of the Catholic Church, its (sordid) history including during the Holocaust, its (ugly) present with reference to the rape, abuse, and torture of innocent children, and one of my bugbears, the cult of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu.
In this instance, I feel it necessary to critique a mildly coherent blog post on the subject of homosexuality and gay marriage. I should make my position clear on this in the immediate. I believe in the cause of marriage equality, that two consenting adults of any sexual orientation should be entitled to a civil marriage. Moreover, I hope there will come a time when we will look back upon this era, particularly in the United States where the majority of states have proscribed gay marriage, through the prism of shame and disgust which with we view racial segregation and gender discrimination. My only coda is that, since I am someone who values the notion of a Jeffersonian separation between church and state, it would not be fair necessarily to force individual churches and congregations to host same-sex weddings (though I am willing to be persuaded otherwise).
The reason I favour such a wall of separation, in one respect, is that religious communities have absolutely no hesitation in forcing their views upon civil or secular society. Indeed, as my friend so puts it, “We have no right to impose our will on others or force people to live according to the Gospel but we can’t just sit by, twiddling our thumbs and not telling people what it means”. Responding to the order in Mark 16:15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”, and indeed Matthew 1:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”, she adds:
Jesus told us to go out and to preach to the nations, to tell them that God’s love is beyond all bounds, that he sent his son to die for them and to reconcile them to God, that there is a way to find a truly full life and a place to live it, that he has given us so many gifts and we are shown how to use them to our advantage. No matter what century we live in we have to keep speaking up, even though our voice may be unpopular or even ignored, we cannot let the message of Christ go unheard.
This is why it is necessary for her to state that while being a homosexual “is not sinful” since “a person cannot help their sexuality”, homosexual acts “are sinful and go against natural law”. This is often put more succinctly as, Love the sinner – hate the sin.
The canonical source of the Catholic position on homosexuality is clear. As it says in Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind : it is abomination.” Such interdictions against improper conduct are carried through into the New Testament as well. Those who are “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind…shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10); men who “leaving the natural use of the woman, burn in their lust one toward another” are committing an act “worthy of death” (Romans 1:27-32).
In this, the principle problem it seems to me is revealed: the inability on the part of Christian doctrine to move beyond a tiresome obsession with sex, and accept the idea that homosexuality is more than buggery or sodomy, in other words more than simply a form of conduct. Moreover, it is highly illogical and indeed impossible to argue that while gay feelings are inborn, the intimate expression of that love for another person is sinful and must be abstained from in order avoid recompense, even if there exists a deep bond between two people. In fact, Corinthians and Romans make it clear that homosexuality in toto is most unnatural, and that in acting upon instincts innate to one’s nature, one is turning away from god through one’s unrighteous wickedness.
In order to alter Catholic teaching on this matter, a couple of things would be necessary. The first would an alteration of mindset, that Catholicism comes to recognise that homosexuality is more than sodomy but a form of love, and that essential to that love is a need to marry and be enjoined, to express that love privately and intimately, and with time to build a home and family. The second would a kind of doctrinal change, the kind which might very well say that the suggestion in Luke 6:37 that, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged : condemn not, and yet shall not be condemned” might supersede the need to go out in the world and inform all homosexuals that unless they repress their natural instinct, they will certainly spent eternity in hellfire and damnation.
Since I doubt very much that either of these is possible – or least, not without a transformation of the papal hierarchy – once again the case for the wall of separation is made. The basis of the Jeffersonian wall is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. “Religion,” Jefferson added in a letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut which spelt out the nature of the wall, “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God”.
Were we to apply this principle here, we might very well say, not only to the Catholic Church but to all churches and synagogues, mosques and temples: do feel free to preach and discuss your doctrinal nonsense with regard to the evils of homosexuality inside your churches. Indeed, if we were to go further make no law “abridging the freedom of speech” as the First Amendment suggests, then Christians would have the right to preach biblical instructions outside of their churches, in the town square for example (though very much not in our schools).
But even with such rights afforded to you, do not expect the rest of society to agree with you, do not expect us to sit back and listen in silence, and do not expect civil law to make establishment of you by refusing to alter the law of the land as reflect what is fair and what is right. I am of the view that Leviticus 18:22 and all that has extended from it propagate a fundamentally evil notion that gay citizens are not of equal stature to heterosexual ones. Our civil law does not have to recognise this, even if between you and your god, you might think differently. After all, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only,” Jefferson noted, “not opinions”.