Biblical Law or Constitutional Law?

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Faith is as tangible as it is intangible. Religions institutionalize faith. Churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques are visible symbols of religion. I have “Born Again” faith. My faith is a personal matter, despite my just mentioning it. And, as a part of my faith, I respect the faith, religion and symbols of others.

We live in a country where freedom of religion is the law of the land. The First Amendment says, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” I appreciate the importance which faith, religion and symbols play in our lives. But, where I part company with some people of faith is when there is an attempt to establish religious views as Constitutional law.

And that brings me to the current hateful and discriminatory Proposition 8 on the November ballot, the attempt to put into the California Constitution a religious view of marriage,which would actually deny equality to all. This would be done by removing the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Fueling Prop 8 are religions and religious people. Great folk, I imagine, some of whom are genuinely moved by what they feel is God’s word and law. I appreciate that it requires a change in thinking to understand that a couple who wishes to be married in the eyes of the Constitution might be a same-sex couple. This is a change in the accepted norm of marriage. But, I think we all need to understand that our Constitution mandates equal treatment for all citizens: men and women, straight and gay.

We only have to go back to 1948 to learn that the California Supreme Court ruled that people of different racial backgrounds could get married legally to each other, thus throwing out the ban on interracial marriage. That was only 60 years ago. To learn that somebody would place on the ballot in 2008 a Constitutional amendment to ban interracial marriage would be unthinkable. Now, gay men and lesbians want the same right to marry.

Prop 8 does not mandate that religions marry anyone they don’t want to. Today, religions choose who they allow to get married within the rules and traditions of their faith. Some religions insist that both individuals be members of their faith. The Catholic Church has very strict rules around marriage and divorce and will allow interfaith marriage as long as both spouses agree, among other factors, that any children who are born as a result of the marriage will be raised in the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

The Mormon church is very strict. Among other demands, is that both bride and groom must be Mormon. In fact, they will not even let parents of the bride or groom into a Temple marriage ceremony if the parents are not Mormon. And, remember, the Mormon Church during its early years, sanctioned polygamy. In fact, still today, certain sects of Mormonism practice polygamy. That’s why it is so strange that it is the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church which is supplying money to support the passage of Prop 8. At this moment, across Utah, radio and TV spots are telling people to call to relatives and friends in California to vote yes on Prop 8.

Some of the churches are against homosexuality because of certain scripture. For instance, Corinthians 6: 9-10 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a pretty far-ranging indictment of many people. But, why pick on just homosexuals? What about drunkards and adulterers? Will they be next for Constitutional bans? And, “Idolaters”? The Second Commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Many evangelicals feel that Catholics in general are idolaters. Some evangelicals see the statuary, so common in Catholic Churches, as being religious idols. So, could evangelicals get together and pass a Constitutional amendment to ban religious idols, denying Catholics the freedom to worship the way they understand?

Through history, some verses of the Bible were used to show that God was in favor of slavery. For instance Leviticus 25:44-46 says, “Thy bond-men and thy bond-maids which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you: of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land. And they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession, they shall be your bond-man forever.” Shall we have a Constitutional amendment following this Biblical rant?

carl-matthes.jpgNot being a Biblical scholar, and I am aware that debate and confusion swirl around Biblical passages. But the easiest way to deal with religious differences is to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” just like the Constitution says.

Proposition 8 is bringing one viewpoint of the Bible and making it the law of the land. If this is allowed to happen, what will be next? A Constitutional amendment to ban divorce?

Carl Matthes

Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for over 40 years. He is a former president and a current Board member of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America. He was editor of the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter and a former GLAAD National Board member. He has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

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