In 2013, Minnesota and other states legalized the recognition of same sex marriage. Other countries legalized the recognition of same sex marriage. In state after state, same sex marriage bans, and bans on recognizing same sex marriages from other states are being overturned by the courts. A recent poll by KSTP, arguably of a too few people to be very representative shows a majority of Minnesotans are pro-same-sex marriage, with a significant minority of those polled opposing. A poll last month by Pew Research showed 61% of young Republicans (defined as under the age of 30) favor same sex marriage. The old bigots of the Radical Right are threatening to try to reverse the progress in LGBT civil rights, in Minnesota, and nationwide.
In comments on same sex marriage on this blog, and in pretty much every locality where the topic has been raised, we hear from those who oppose same-sex equality of all kinds - marriage equality, as well as approving other forms of discrimination, is justified by religious belief, by citing the Bible as authority.
In comment after comment, speech after speech, we hear how SINCERELY this is believed, as if intensity or sincerity made any difference to the inherent unfairness of the opposition in making a group of Americans second class citizens for the sexual orientation with which they are born. (It does not.) That is wrong, that is bigoted, that is engaging in hate, no matter how you try to spin it as being about loving the sinner, but not the sin. This is LYING, and deception, which IS an actual sin.
I have long contended that conservatives consistently and persistently believe things which are not true or factually accurate. The views of conservatives on same-sex marriage are just one further example.
Briefly, there are serious questions of accuracy and validity of both the interpretation and the translation of the texts in question. And there are inaccuracies in the way that religious fundamentalists represent the events supposedly linked to homosexuality in the Bible that are also inaccurate.
For example, in the events surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah, God is reported to have sent two angels, disguised as men, to destroy the city, not because of gay sex being rampant, but because (as recounted in Ezekiel 16:49-50)
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were full of pride and arrogance, overfed, and idle: they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
Is there any indication that ALL strangers visiting either Sodom or Gomorrah are gay-raped? No. Clearly, the townspeople in the Bible account who show up to Lot's house are deeply enraged that these two strangers propose to destroy their city, their families and friends, and themselves. They are seen, so to speak, as foreign terrorists. The form of anger attributed to the townspeople is they want to humiliate, hurt and demean them through rape, an act not of sex or sexual attraction, but of violence, domination and a desire to cause pain and maximum humiliation and helplessness. The involvement of the genitalia of the rapist is not even necessarily involved.
We see consistently, in our modern examples of same-sex rape of men in our armed forces, that these are not crimes of lust, they are crimes of revenge or intimidation. There is no indicator in those actions of sexual orientation; to believe so is to fail to understand the violent, criminal act and who commits it, and why they do so. Referring specifically to male rape in the military by other men:
The acts are rarely homosexual in nature but rather an effort to feel powerful or dominant over others.
That this was the case with Lot and his disguised angel-guests is supported by the offer by Lot of his two virgin daughters to be gang-raped by the angry men of the town; clearly his expectation with that offer was that these were heterosexual oriented men.
If you look at the parts of Leviticus that reference same-sex acts, which may or may not reflect primary sexual orientation, these apply exclusively to the tribe of the Levites, from whom the priestly classes were drawn, and then only in very specific religious ritual contexts.
Why should we care about what might otherwise seem to be splitting hairs? Currently of the 12 milion Jews in the world, there are four divisions, or distinct groups of religious sectarian practice. Three of the four, comprising some 85% of all Jews worldwide, permit same-sex marriage; only Orthodox Jews, of which there are roughly 2 million world-wide, and which are arguably the most restrictive and traditional, prohibit same sex marriage. The Old Testament in Christianity reflects the adoption of the Torah, the quintessential foundational text of Judaism.
Israel, which clearly identifies itself as a Jewish state, is a unique democracy/theocracy hybrid, currently governed by a conservative coalition. That conservative coalition last year proposed legally recognizing same sex marriage last year. It is being recognized as a civil relationship, but it also acknowledge the right of the various denominations within Judaism to perform same-sex marriage.
So we have scripture specific to only one of the tribes of Israel, and then only to those who held religious office, regarding Jewish religious practice, being extrapolated in a way clearly unintended in the original texts by Christians co-opting these texts - and co-opting them rather sloppily - and then applying those texts in a false and extremely draconian, hateful manner that results in the creation of an ostracized group of second-class citizens who are demeaned and even physically harmed, using a false claim of God and the Bible and sin.
That these sections of the book of Leviticus do NOT refer to ALL male-male relationships, or to them in any context other than relating to religious ceremonies is outlined below, from Religious Tolerance.org:
The word "homosexual" was first used in the very late in 19th century CE. There was no Hebrew word that meant "homosexual." Thus, whenever the word is seen in an English translation of the Bible, one should be wary that the translators might be inserting their own prejudices into the text.
Many would regard "abomination," "enormous sin", etc. as particularly poor translations of the original Hebrew word which really means "ritually unclean" within an ancient Israelite era. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (circa 3rd century BCE) translated "to'ebah " into Greek as "bdelygma," which meant ritual impurity. If the writer(s) of Leviticus had wished to refer to a moral violation, a sin, he would have used the Hebrew word "zimah."
This passage does not refer to gay sex generally, but only to a specific form of homosexual prostitution in Pagan temples. Much of Leviticus deals with the Holiness Code which outlined ways in which the ancient Hebrews were to be set apart to God. Some fertility worship practices found in early Pagan cultures were specifically prohibited; ritual same-sex behavior in Pagan temples was one such practice.
Arthur Waskow, a writer and rabbi, points out that: "The whole structure of sexuality in Torah assumes a dominant, male and a subordinate woman." 6 In a male homosexual act of anal intercourse, one partner may be viewed as taking a passive role - the role normally played by a woman. Thus anal intercourse between two gay men would be as improper in Biblical times as a workplace situation in those days during which a woman supervised a man. Also, because woman were considered to play such an inferior role in society, sex between two lesbians are not condemned in the Old Testament. All women were of low status and thus neither would be seen as adopting a dominant or a subservient role during sexual encounters. This interpretation would obviously make the verse refer only to the tribal culture of the time, and not to today's western culture.
A second Jewish writer, Rabbi Gershon Caudill, is: "not convinced that the biblical passages (here in Leviticus 18: 22 and also in Leviticus 20: 13) refer to homosexual activity that is within a monogamous, stable, and loving relationship." He suggests that the passages refer to sexual promiscuity, not to homosexual activity within a committed relationship: 7
bullet He notes that Leviticus 18:22 is located in a section of Leviticus that deals with incest and bestiality.
It is not usual for a gay man to have sex with another man as if he the latter were a woman. If he were to do so, then he would be pretending that he was with a woman and not with another man. Thus, he would not be in a homosexual relationship at all. The passage actually refers to a heterosexual male who is forcing himself to fantasize that he is having sex with a woman in order to be able to complete the act. In modern terms, this would be considered as a male heterosexual violating his own sexual orientation -- his own basic nature.
At the beginning of the chapter that includes this passage, Leviticus 18:3 states: "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances." Here, God is saying that the Hebrews are not to follow the practices of the Egyptians or of the Canaanites. Homosexual ritual sex in temples of both countries was common. Thus, one might assume that Leviticus 18:22 relates to temple same-sex rituals -- something that was ritually impure.
What about the New Testament? There are no direct references to same-sex orientation in the New Testament, but there are, again, inaccurate translations, referring to prostitution and 'pederasty' - predatory same-sex acts between an adult and a child of the same sex. From Wikipedia:
The presumed references to 'homosexuality' itself in the New Testament hinge on the interpretation of three specific Greek words, arsenokoitēs (ἀρσενοκοίτης), malakos (μαλακός), and porneia. While it is not disputed that the three Greek words concern sexual relations between men (and possibly between women), some academics interpret the relevant passages as a prohibition against pederasty or prostitution rather than homosexuality per se, while other scholars have presented counter arguments.The historical context of the passages has also been a subject of debate.
The word Arsenokoites, which is Greek, sometimes interpreted to mean homosexuality, appears to be one that St. Paul just made up. It is worth noting that in the early days of Christianity, it was considered even among Christians as a form of Judaism, subject to at least some if not all of the Jewish laws and ritual customs, before it evolved and developed into a distinct and separate religion open to non-Jews.
There are two other words used briefly rather than prominently in the New Testament, Malakos, another Greek word, that was also used by early Christians to refer to temple prostitution, notably by the Jewish Platonist philosopher, Philo of Alexandria. The third word, Porneia, is the same one found in Leviticus, addressed above, and translates specifically NOT as homosexuality, but rather as sexual impurity. That this word is used differently than originally intended is evident not only by it being taken out of the usual and accepted context, but by the fact that the book of Leviticus was attributed to Moses, around 538 BCE, but that changes to it occurred by other authors up to 332 BCE.
To appreciate the complexity of influences, and of language on the topic of same-sex orientation and even marriage requires a context of language, governments and other religious influences on the Torah aka the Old Testament:
After the death of the last Jewish Prophets of the antiquity and still under Persian rule, the leadership of the Jewish people was in the hands of five successive generations of zugot ("pairs of") leaders. They flourished first under the Persians (c. 539–c. 332 BCE), then under the Greeks (c. 332-167 BCE), then under an independent Hasmonean Kingdom (140-37 BCE), and then under the Romans (63 BCE-132 CE).
During this period, Second Temple Judaism can be seen as shaped by three major crises and their results, as various groups of Jews reacted to them differently. First came the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 587/6 BCE, when the Judeans lost their independence, monarchy, holy city and First Temple and were mostly exiled to Babylon. They consequently faced a theological crisis involving the nature, power, and goodness of God and were also threatened culturally, racially, and ceremonially as they were thrown into proximity with other peoples and religious groups. The absence of recognized prophets later in the period left them without their version of divine guidance at a time when they felt most in need of support and direction. The second crisis was the growing influence of Hellenism in Judaism, which culminated in the Maccabean Revolt of 167 BCE.
and dealing specifically with languages and the Old Testament:
Scholars believe that in the Persian period the Torah assumed its final form, and that the history of ancient Israel and Judah contained in the books from Joshua to Kings was revised and completed, and that the older prophetic books were redacted. New writing included the interpretation of older works such as the Book of Chronicles, and genuinely original work including Ben Sira, Tobit, Judith, 1 Enoch and, much later, Maccabees. The literature from Ben Sira onwards is increasingly permeated with references to the Hebrew Bible in the present form, suggesting the slow development of the idea of a body of "scripture", in the sense of authoritative writings.
One of the more important cultural shift in the Persian period was the rise of Aramaic as the predominant language of Yehud and the Jewish Diaspora. Originally spoken by the Aramaeans, it was adopted by the Persians and became the lingua franca of the empire, and already in the time of Ezra it was necessary to have the Torah-readings translated into Aramaic to be understood by Jews.
Clearly, there were multiple influences, multiple languages and even multiple intentions by different contributors to this body of work. Therefore to be dogmatic about a single interpretation - the most negative possible interpretation - is unreasonable and not sustained by the text, language, or historical context.