As the U.S. Supreme Court considers two cases involving same-sex marriage, let's remember the root of the problem of prejudice and hatred. It's religion.
The positive way to put it is that religion has long stood for healthy families and strong marriages, though to say that the biblical model is one-man, one-woman is to ignore a great deal that's reported in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The more truthful picture reveals that over the centuries the major religions have denigrated homosexuality -- or at least homosexual acts, given that they have had little or no understanding of what we today are beginning to understand as homosexual orientation.
Gays and lesbians have been -- and often continue to be -- the targets of virulent prejudice that, in the case of Christianity and Judaism, is based on a misreading of the Bible. (For my essay on what the Bible really says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page. Or if you're feeling especially lazy today, just click here.)
Even love-the-sinner/hate-the-sin congregations get it wrong in that they continue to identify homosexual orientation as a sin.
The problem, of course, is that people who consider homosexuality a sin often have been successful in getting our culture, through our legisators, to adopt policies that fail to protect the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
My hope is that the Supreme Court will look not at the religious aspects of this matter but at the question of whether there is equal protection under the law for gays and lesbians. If justices stick to that, they will make same-sex marriage protected everywhere.
A complicating issue, of course, is that we have a court containing six Catholics and three Jews. If the Catholics follow current church teaching that marriage can occur only between a man and a woman, the equal protection argument will lose, at least for now. And that will be a shame.
What I'm certain about is that same-sex marriage eventually will be considered legal and protected everywhere in the country because it's the right thing to do constitutionally. The court can make that happen this year or it can create additional years of fighting through a misguided or too-narrow opinion. We'll see.
(By the way, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has put together a good collection of resources to help people better understand the same-sex marriage debate. To have a look, click here. And to read religion scholar Mark Silk's take on faith communities adjusting to same-sex realities, click here.)
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THE PRICE OF YOUR NON-BELIEF
We know that people of various religions face persecution in a number of countries around the world. But did you know that if you're an atheist you can be executed in seven countries? Either sort of persecution is ridiculous and governments -- and the people they serve -- must bring an end to this nonsense.
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P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here.