Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The strange absence of Bible stories from the gay marriage debate

The referendum on same-sex marriage to be held next year seems destined to be acrimonious and highly contested.

Already the 'Pantigate' episode has prompted threats of legal action, compensation payments and claims of attempts to silence opinions on both sides of the debate.

The central issue in the affair revolves around the role being played by homophobia in the debate.

Some have claimed that opposition to same-sex marriage is by definition homophobic, a view that has provoked much outrage in opponents of the measure.

Rather than making blanket statements which leave no room for further debate, a more revealing approach would be to examine whether there are any arguments against same-sex marriage that are not based on homophobia.

Another feature of the debate so far is the total absence of any reference to religious doctrine by devout Catholics who oppose same-sex marriage.

Instead their opposition is based on the “won't someone please think of the children” principle.

Apparently marriage is all about the kids and as gay couples can't conceive children together they have no right to get married.

Where this convenient definition of marriage comes from is another question, personally I would define marriage as a public declaration of love and commitment between a couple. Whether that couple go on to have children is beside the point.

Opponents of same-sex marriage also claim that gay couples are not as good at parenting as a male-female couples. Research showing otherwise is duly dismissed.

One thing we can be clear on however is that the Catholic Church, most Christian denominations (and many other religions) are unambiguously homophobic.

The official line of the Catholic Church on the subject is: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' ”

The 'Sacred Scripture' includes the Old Testament tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. This story begins with the visit of two magical creatures known as 'angels' to a man called Lot in the city of Sodom. The men of the city (all of them, apparently) took a shining to these two visitors and declared that they wanted to have sex with them. Being a righteous man Lot was absolutely horrified by this idea, so he offered his two daughters to the mob so they could “do what you like with them”, i.e. to gang rape them.

(This is not the only questionable sexual episode involving Lot and his daughters, for details on incest between them see Genesis19: 30-38).

Anyway, the men of Sodom declined the offer, but the two angels were able to stop them from entering the house by casting some sort of spell that blinded them. They then advised Lot to leave the city with his family and to never to look back. Then someone called 'The Lord' destroyed the city and all its people with burning sulphur from the sky. Lot escaped but his wife was not so fortunate, she looked back at the city and was instantly turned into salt.

It seems from the story that 'The Lord' is a remarkable individual. He can conjure sulphur and turn the constituent parts of the human body into sodium chloride. Plus he has a 'The' in his name.

This tale forms the basis of the Catholic Church's opposition to homosexuality, today, as well as the 'religious convictions' and 'genuinely held beliefs' we have heard so much of. This includes the complaints that people are being oppressed because they can't discriminate against gay people due to these beliefs.

The Bible condemns homosexuality, but if anyone actually read the book you would quickly notice the large number of behaviours that are also forbidden, including eating shellfish, wearing clothes made of two fabrics, getting a tattoo or working on the Sabbath.

One rule which may be relevant depending on how heated the referendum debate gets is that under no circumstances can a woman grab the genitals of a man who is fighting her husband. If she does her hand is to be chopped off.

The Bible also contains a wide range of immoral behaviours that are condoned or encouraged by God (which, by the way, includes Jesus), including murder, genocide, rape and slavery.

Why Christian churches cherry-pick the Bible's condemnation of homosexual people and ignore numerous other condemnations in the Sacred Scriptures, like the one about the testicle-grabbing wives, is a question I would love to hear answered.

None of this would matter but for the impact Christian teachings have had on the laws of this country, including teachings based on an anti-gay fairytale written 2,500 years ago.

It also leaves me wondering why supporters of the Catholic Church who are against same-sex marriage do not cite their church's views on homosexuality ('grave depravity', 'intrinsically disordered', etc) when opposing the reform, instead of relying entirely on dubious secular arguments.

One possibility is that they don't share these views, i.e. their opposition to same-sex marriage is totally unrelated to the religious opposition to same-sex marriage their church has.

Hopefully we will have an answer to this puzzle before the referendum takes place next year.