Religious belief shouldn’t supersede state duty

State legislators in South Carolina have introduced a bill that would, essentially, confer a kind of conscientious-objector status to marriage-licensing state officials who oppose same-sex marriage because of a religious belief.

If an official doesn’t want to approve a gay marriage because he or she believes their relevant monotheistic deity says it’s an unholy abomination of the natural order, they don’t have to. This is despite the fact that same-sex marriage bans in many states have been ruled unconstitutional. The Supreme Court continues to mull the issue.

Bills with similar intents have been put forth in Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

To review: if a state official does not want to uphold a state law because it conflicts with a personally held religious imperative, he or she doesn’t have to.

It’s not likely that these bills will pass — although in Texas, who knows? — but their existence, and the existence of humans who are OK with these bills, is disconcerting.

It feels reminiscent of what many states did following the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. While it may have been legal for black men to vote, states did everything they could — poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses — to ensure they couldn’t and didn’t. These targeted measures persisted well into the 20th century, necessitating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a portion of which got struck down in 2013.

Like today, it was the Southern states causing most of the trouble.

The state is supposed to look equally upon its citizens, including the believing, the non-believing, and those who want to marry a member of the same sex.

Outside of adhering to an ancient religious proscription from a small group of desert people who didn’t know the world was round, there’s no logical reason to prohibit gays and lesbians from getting married. Legally, same-sex marriage doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights. Saying it’s “gross” or a “choice” aren’t valid arguments. And even if it is a choice — which it’s not — but even if it is, its choice-ness is irrelevant to its legality.

It’s important also to note that legality and morality are often separate. And even if a person believes in an objective, divinely mandated morality, there’s still a bunch of other people who believe, individually, in a different divinely mandated objective morality. This creates a problem of incongruent divinely mandated objective moralities.

God could not immediately be reached for comment.

As it relates to Christianity, it appears believers accept God’s law insofar as it’s convenient. The common Old Testament punishment for sexual misbehavior, as mandated in Leviticus 20, is death. Today, no one is being executed for adultery. Or cursing at their parents. Or being a psychic. Or being gay.

People tend to a-la-carte their beliefs.

Do I want go to church every Sunday or just on Christmas and Easter? Do I want to not eat meat on Fridays or just during Lent? Or just on Good Friday? The Bible mandates that I kill people who have gay sex, but my uncle’s gay and I once kissed another guy in college and I’m more spiritual than religious anyway, so I won’t do that, either. There’s a church that agrees with me, right?

It’s odd that Christians fixate on same-sex relationships and not another holy law that’s been de-emphasized over the last 2,500 years or so of human intellectual progress. Like “do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of threads,” from Leviticus 19:19. Or this from Leviticus 19:20-21, which OKs slavery and probably rape.

“If a man has carnal relations with a female slave who has already been living with another man but has not yet been redeemed or given her freedom,” it says, “they shall be punished but not put to death because she is not free. The man, moreover, shall bring to the entrance of the meeting tent a ram as his guilt offering to the Lord.”

All of this would imply that God’s laws are not equal, which gets into the inconsistency of revelation, and that’s another blog. But even in the last few decades, Christian religious practice has changed. For example, the Anglican church now allows gay clergy and will even bless same-sex marriages. Clearly, divine law is fungible. But to be fair, its fungibility also depends on the subgenre of Christianity a believer deems most correct. Again, the question of conflicting divinely mandated objective moralities.

Catholics remain opposed to most things gay, but Pope Francis has ruled that gay people are in fact humans and shouldn’t be persecuted. He’s progressive like that. You also know he’s progressive because he’ll wash a woman’s feet — but he’s not crazy. It’s not like he’s going to let women be priests or anything.

Religion should be a private pursuit and not afforded preferential status. It should not be enforced by anyone, especially the state, on those who are unaffiliated, uninterested or just think the strictures of a Bronze Age mythology might be outdated.

Oh, and you know what Leviticus 19:18 says?

“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”


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