What Would Jesus Say About Gay Rights?

By Dan Barker

A version of this "Pagan Pulpit" commentary ran on Freethought Radio on August 12, 2006.

The opposition to gay rights is orchestrated mainly by so-called bible-believing Christians. There are no non-religious reasons to be opposed to gay marriage. A modern secular democracy would never base its laws on the worship requirements of the ancient Mayans or Egyptians, so why should we conform to the standards of ritual purity in the three-thousand-year-old commandments of a primitive desert tribe?

However, if you do insist on using the bible as an excuse for hating homosexuals, it doesn't even get you halfway there. Lesbianism, for example, is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture.

You know those Christians who wear those "What Would Jesus Do?" necklaces? I have an answer to that question: "Keep your mouth shut about gays." Jesus never talked about homosexuality at all.

It is true that the Old Testament--the Hebrew scripture--does consider male-to-male sex to be an "abomination," but this appears in the Leviticus "Holiness Code" which is concerned only with religious purity and Jewish national identity, not with what we would consider moral behavior:

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:13)
That word "abomination" means "unclean, for religious purposes," and it is used to describe many other things that we do not consider to be crimes, or even (if you are religious) sins. Menstruation, giving birth, eating the meat of certain animals whose characteristics seemed "abnormal," and so on, were somehow thought to sully the purity of the holiness of God.

The verses just before and after that disapproval of homosexuality command the same punishment for a man who has sex with his daughter-in-law or mother-in-law, because "they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them."

In that same Holiness Code, disobeying your parents was an "abomination" that threatened the stability of Jewish identity, an act which merited the death penalty. Do modern anti-gay Christians stone their sons to death for refusing to take out the trash? Such an outrageous thought is no less preposterous than denying gays the freedom to marry.

Modern homophobic Christians pick-and-choose their moral issues. They would never imagine that the Old Testament death penalty for adultery should be applied in today's world, yet they insist that the Jewish ritual "uncleanliness" of male homosexuality should be made into law.

Probably the most important religious ritual in the bible was circumcision. No uncircumcised male was worthy to worship god. Yet we don't see today's right-wing Christians lobbying to deny the rights of uncircumcised men to get married or adopt children or join the military. And why not? It is because we all know this is not a moral issue; it was only a matter of religious identity.

The same is true with homosexuality. The ancient Israelites and the Apostle Paul and modern right-wing Christians are free to set up their little religious regulations to show how "pure" they are, but in America, they are not free--or they should not be free--to insist that the rest of us must follow their barbaric rules.

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