In the political theater that has ensued since President Obama voiced his personal support for marriage equality, one of the more interesting sideshows has been the confrontation of the religious case against it. Obama's "spiritual adviser," evangelist Joel Hunter, has come out publicly against Obama's "interpretation" of the Bible on this issue. Of course I don't think a religious text has any place in the political debate over this issue. I'm very attached to the First Amendment. But something really amazing is happening that is making the public debate well worth it. Religious conservatives are being dragged into a theological debate about the actual merits of the Biblical case against gay marriage.
Last night on "Hardball," Chris Matthews and Barney Frank destroyed Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Perkins, who has been tied to white supremacist groups, was well overdue for serious scrutiny from the media. But more to the point, it's past time for the Biblical argument against homosexuality and gay marriage to be called into question. Both Matthews and Frank did just that referring to points I seem to remember having made myself. First and foremost, the traditional view of marriage presented in the Bible isn't just "one man, one woman." It's one man and multiple women. Most telling on that point -- and sad -- was Perkins justification for the Mormon Church's change of doctrine to disallow polygamy after just having said that the definition of marriage should not change. Said Perkins, "They had to change their rules to become a state."
Oh well. That's okay then... that they accommodated federal regulations that were at odds with their religious beliefs and reading of both scripture and prophecy. It's not like they had a choice. So does Perkins think that polygamy is a perfectly fine marriage model? It's a little unclear. But he looked like he'd been hit with a hammer when Frank pointed out that Abraham took a second wife to bear children and kicked her to the curb when his first wife finally, um, bore fruit.
Throughout this segment both Frank and Matthews kept confronting Perkins with his own words, words he kept trying to back quietly away from. But it was "The Word" that he really had trouble confronting on this issue... because it really doesn't support his argument.
Also confounded by the holy writ on which he claims to base his case was Representative Austin Scott of Georgia. Confronted by California Representative Loretta Sanchez with the fact that the Bible calls for homosexuals not so much to be loved in spite of their sinfulness as to be put to death, Scott countered that that was the Old Testament. Apparently in Scott's world, the Old Testament is not part of the Bible.
Sanchez's point? If we're going to protect the right of military chaplains to act on their religious belief that homosexuality is wrong and disallow gay marriage on military bases, what's to prevent them from acting on their Biblical belief that gay people should be put to death. Crooks and Liars has more.
As discussed, Christian rocker Bradlee Dean seemed to endorse that view a while back and then filed a lawsuit against Rachel Maddow when she quoted him word for word in context. But that is what the Bible says. So if the Bible is your argument against homosexuality, shouldn't you also call for it to be a capital offense?
Most of the time these outspoken Christian critics of homosexuality gloss over the scriptural basis for their claims, and simply present the gross conclusion that the Bible prohibits it as if this were obvious at face value. But it's really not. Aside from how many similar "abominations" escape the ire of the Christian right, even many of the clobber verses they embrace don't mean what they think they mean. A very good write-up here explains that much of what has been translated and interpreted as defining homosexuality actually pertains to things like anal rape during battles, child prostitution, and other genuinely disgusting practices.
Personally, I don't require a Judeo-Christian-centric argument on which to base my views, but for the very observant, it would make sense to really dig into the theology rather than blindly except that God hates gay people. Unlike Mr. Perkins, I don't believe the world is only 5,000 years old and its entire history and moral structure summed up in the Bible -- or even just the latter half of it like Rep. Scott. I believe that even the known history of the world is longer and broader than does Mr. Perkins. In this interview, for instance, he claims that marriage has always been between a man and woman. This, of course, completely ignores the many Native American tribes who allowed for various forms of same sex marriage. (Full disclosure: I worked for the publisher of Living the Spirit at the time of its release. Excellent book. I highly recommend it and would whether I'd worked for SMP or not.)
I'm just glad to see this trope about homosexuality and gay marriage being un-Christian finally being vetted in the media. It's just never been that simple and too many of these religious leaders have been given a free pass on this argument for years. That some of the loudest proponents of religiously based homophobia are finally having their feet held to the fire makes President Obama's announcement well worth it for me.