The Marriage Equality Debate: We Need More Constitution And Less Leviticus

It is never the job of government to enforce religious law. Nothing could be more dangerous.

It’s almost Halloween, so I guess it’s not surprising that some of the rhetoric by opponents of marriage equality is getting very scary.

Consider this gem by Pastor Robert J. Anderson of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md. Speaking of gay people, Anderson said: “Those who practice such things are deserving of death.”

Maryland is one of four states that will vote on marriage equality next month. Anderson made the comments during a town hall meeting. He quoted from the Book of Romans and opined that if Maryland voters approve same-sex marriage “then we are approving those things that are worthy of death.”

Not surprisingly, there was a strong reaction to this.

“Such rancid comments have absolutely no place in this debate,” Sultan Shakir of Marylanders for Marriage Equality said in a media statement.

Anderson has posted a statement on his church’s website insisting that he does not support acts of violence against gay people. I found it less than enlightening, especially this passage: “The statements in Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:32 (KJV) can stand for themselves. The Bible is very clear on the subject of homosexuality, and I do not need to apologize for God’s word, but I do want to be perfectly clear that I am not promoting violence, bullying, or hatred toward homosexuals and neither is God.”

So, passages in the Old and New Testaments calling for the death of gay people can “stand for themselves” – yet we’re to believe that this fundamentalist doesn’t intend to follow them? People like Anderson often assert that they want to build a “godly” or a “biblical” society. So which parts of the Bible does he plan to impose on us?

Christian Reconstructionists, the most extreme manifestation of the Religious Right, openly embrace theocracy and believe that America’s legal code should be based on the Old Testament. They would mandate the death penalty not just for gays but for adulterers, blasphemers, practitioners of “witchcraft,” worshippers of “false gods,” fornicators and others.

The Reconstructionists are dangerous extremists, but at least they’re honest enough to put their agenda right out there for all of us to see.

As a resident of Maryland, I have followed this debate very closely. It has at times driven me to despair. For example, readers of a weekly newspaper in my area have been arguing about what the Bible actually says about homosexuality.

One week a fundamentalist will insist that the Bible condemns it. The following week, someone else will write in to insist that those passages have been misinterpreted or wrenched from their historical context.

No one seems to grasp that all of this proof texting is irrelevant. It’s precisely because people can’t agree on the meaning of those biblical passages that we don’t base public policy on the Bible or any other scripture. We look to another source as the platform for our rights: the Constitution.

I don’t lay claim to be a biblical scholar, but I know that the Book of Leviticus was written a long time ago for a group of people who lived very differently than we do today.

Leviticus also bans mixing crops in one field, wearing clothes of more than one fiber and the consumption (indeed the very touching) of pigs, among other things. Most Christians today recognize that these laws as outdated and don’t follow them.

But even if many Christians were following those laws – and some Reconstructionists claim to do so – that would be nothing but their personal choice. It is never the job of government to enforce religious law. Nothing could be more dangerous.

At the end of the day, I believe this is what opponents of marriage equality want: their faith’s definition of marriage written into the civil law for all to follow.  Whether they cite Romans, Leviticus or papal decrees is irrelevant. They are seeking to base our laws, which believers of every stripe and non-believers must follow, on religious doctrines held by some.

That’s a wedding of church and state, and I hope voters in Maryland – and other states – understand what's at stake next month.