Conflict over Gay Marriage is Religious Dispute
by Senator John Marty
February 13, 2006

Last fall, a "Minnesota Pastors' Summit" plotted strategy for religious leaders lobbying for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions. They claim they are defending heterosexual marriages from the threat of homosexual ones.

As a father happily married for 25 years, I don't see how somebody else's marriage is a threat to my own. No one has offered a single cogent argument explaining how same-sex marriages -- or any marriages -- pose a threat to others.

My Christian faith not only allows, but encourages committed gay couples to marry. For many Christians, Biblical passages on love and commitment are more compelling than the handful of verses about homosexuality. When I see the love and commitment of same-sex couples, I see this as something that is valued and pleasing to God and therefore worth defending.

Many Christians favor gay marriage and promote making a sacred, lifelong bond between couples who love each other. It is because of our faith, not in spite of it, that we promote marriage and work to strengthen families of gay couples just as we do for heterosexual couples. We believe that a child is better off if his or her parents are committed to each other, regardless of whether it is a heterosexual or same-sex couple.

One key scripture cited by anti-gay-marriage Christians as proof that homosexual intercourse is sinful is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. But a literal reading suggests it is a condemnation of violent gang rape, not homosexuality. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel interprets the sin people of Sodom committed: "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49)

Regardless of what these ministers think the sin of Sodom was, Jesus says that a town's unwillingness to welcome an outsider is worse than Sodom's sin. (Luke 10:10-12) Do these ministers also favor a constitutional amendment banning inhospitality to immigrants?

The other main scripture quoted in support of their amendment is Leviticus 20:13, where gay sex is an "abomination." Despite their stated desire to interpret the Bible "literally", few of these anti-gay-marriage Christians support a literal interpretation of this verse, because it requires a death penalty for homosexuality. A literal reading of scripture also provides a death penalty for equally "sinful" behavior like working on the Sabbath.

Why focus on homosexuality when there are many biblical condemnations of economic injustice and lack of concern for the poor, for every condemnation that they find against same-sex relations?

While anti-gay-marriage pastors do not speak for all Christians, they win some followers among sincere people who feel apprehensive about homosexual attraction and consequently accept the interpretation that homosexuality is "unnatural". After all, for those of us who are heterosexual, it is not part of our nature; therefore it is, by definition, unnatural to us. However, for gays and lesbians, it is opposite-sex attraction that is unnatural.

I've always figured that people who truly believe that sexual orientation is a choice, are those who themselves experience sexual attraction to both men and women, i.e. people who are bisexual. For them, it is a choice. Our views about sexual orientation are colored by our personal experience.

I raise this discussion of religious beliefs about homosexuality and gay marriage because that's what this debate is about -- religious beliefs. These topics are appropriate for religious groups and people of faith to discuss. Minnesotans on either side of the debate should respect the right of others to disagree.

But this religious debate does not belong in the political arena. Churches that oppose gay marriage can refuse to perform same-sex marriages. They can even deny membership to gays and lesbians.

And churches that support gay marriage deserve the same freedom to perform those marriages and to welcome people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender just as they welcome people who are heterosexual.

The decision about whom one should marry is a matter appropriately left to each couple; the decision of a church to consecrate a marriage is appropriately left to each church. I can think of few things more intrusive than having government telling churches whom they can and cannot marry.

Minnesota law already prohibits same-sex marriages. Those who want to put that prohibition in the constitution are trying to impose their religious beliefs on everyone.

Do we really want such a heavy-handed, invasive government? The constitution must respect religious freedom and provide equal civil protection to every couple. Let religious groups decide whether to sanctify gay marriages, but keep the state out of it.

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