Remove the Bible from debate about same-sex marriage

Dear Christians, It is not holy to hate. It is not divine to discriminate. It is not sacred to segregate. The U.S. Constitution, not the Bible, is the document that governs the United States. And it is way past time that you stop using the Bible to justify making homosexuals second class citizens. Christians have used the Bible to justify oppression since the founding of America. The Bible legitimized the enslavement of black Americans and the subjugation of women. Not so long ago, Christians used the Bible to justify laws against interracial marriage just as they use it today to justify denying gays and lesbians the right to marry.

”There are people like me of faith,” said Sophia Nelson, author of ”Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama,” ”who don't agree with same sex marriage for the faith reason, the biblical reason, the definition of a man and a woman being married.”

Nelson was debating the issue with author, ordained Baptist minister and Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson on MSNBC's ”The Ed Show.”

Dyson, who supports same sex marriage said, ”We cannot interpret the Bible literally. Marriage is a complicated affair. It's evolved over the last several centuries in a complicated fashion.”

Indeed. What Nelson and other Christians who take the Bible literally ignore is that it is filled with contradictions. Originally written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, a language not even spoken today, it has been translated numerous times and much has been lost in translation.

Christians often use the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah to condemn gays and lesbians and to condone denying them civil rights. But God didn't destroy those cities because of homosexuality. In Sodom's case, according to Ezekiel 16:48-50, it was because her people were greedy and didn't take care of the poor. ”The notion that the story of Sodom illustrates God's attitude toward homosexuality is a modern invention, expressive of modern anxieties,” Jennifer Wright Knust writes in ”Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire.”

”Such anxieties simply cannot be supported on the basis of biblical teachings.” In fact, says Knust, an assistant professor of religion at Boston University and ordained American Baptist pastor, ”There is no such thing as a single, biblically based view of legitimate marriage.”

Marriage is a civil union, a legal contract. We get licenses to marry from City Hall, not the neighborhood pastor. If religious leaders don't want to marry gays and lesbians in their churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, they don't have to. The government, however, should not uphold any law that denies the right to marry to any of its citizens. The role of government is to ensure equal protection under the law. It is the right of Nelson and those who share her views to practice their faith as they see fit. It is not their right to impose their religious, moral or ethical code on the rest of us as North Carolinians did this month when they denied homosexuals even the right to civil unions.

Televangelist Billy Graham ran a full-page ad in 14 North Carolina newspapers stating, ”The Bible is clear — God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” The Bible, which condoned polygamy and even set forth rules for how a man with multiple wives should distribute his inheritance, is anything but clear. And it should have nothing to do with state or federal laws.

”Looking to the Bible for straightforward answers about anything, including sex, can lead only to disappointment,” says Knust. ”It is therefore a mistake to pretend that the Bible can define our ethics for us in any kind of straightforward way.”

Most Christians would no doubt have a problem with the enactment of laws based on the tenets of the Koran or the Torah. So why is it OK to base laws on the Bible?

”Our nation is a democracy, not a theocracy. Our laws should reflect equality and fairness, not discrimination and intolerance,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said when a federal appeals struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage earlier this year. ”Opponents of same-sex marriage have been unable to muster any arguments other than it offends their theology. We have a secular government, and dogma should not and cannot be transformed into law.”

Amen. Jesus said the greatest two commandments are to love God and to love thy neighbor as thyself. Anything less than equality for all is a sin that violates those commandments.

Contact Swan, an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post, at rhonda_swan@pbpost.com