“When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” The epitaph on Leonard Matlovich’s tombstone. He served for 12 years in the U.S. Air Force, received exemplary ratings for his service in Vietnam, won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. After revealing his homosexual orientation, he was dishonorably discharged.
California does the Do-Se-Do on Sexual Equality
America has taken one step back and one step forward on the issue of sexuality and equality. California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, passed. One step back for equality. A week later, more than 100 retired generals and admirals called for repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy so that LGBT people can serve openly in the military. One step forward for equality.
The state of California took one step forward before taking the huge step back. While the sun shone bright in the month of June, 18,000 same sex couples in California said “I do” thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling. Proposition 8, that passed on a cooling November day, now says “Sorry, you can’t!”
The driving force behind Proposition 8 was evangelical Christianity. The argument is that God, as clearly revealed in the Bible, ordained marriage as being between one man and one woman. This is curious, particularly when Californian Mormons argue the case. Many Mormons believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman, oh and another woman, and maybe several other women. They believe in polygamy as Palestinian Jews of New Testament times believed in polygamy. To be consistent, we should reintroduce concubinage as well. Oh, and women should marry at 13 years of age, just as they commonly did in the first century without challenge from the Bible writers.
If we look to the Roman world of New Testament times for marriage principles, then we also need to be consistent and include some other revisions to social standards. Married women should not be allowed to vote in public elections, sit on a jury, give testimony in court or take any public office. As in first century Rome, women are free to enjoy a happy life. They can visit friends, go to the baths and the theatre and accompany their husband to dinner parties, but they must remain the legal property of either their fathers or their husbands.
This is absurd. The Bible doesn’t prescribe how marriage should or should not be defined. The Bible writers took for granted Jewish and Roman views on marriage. They operated out of economic necessity, more than from any sense of morality. The more wives a man had, the more children he could have, therefore the more laborers he had to work his land.
We now know more about gender equality and legal rights. We don’t depend on children for cheap labor. We actually legislate against it. We don’t encourage young girls to get married at 13. We actually legislate against it. We don’t see women as merely procreation machines. We legislate for women to play equal and autonomous roles outside of the home. Society has changed, as it should change. Now its time to take a giant step forward in our understanding of the Christian tradition.
Maybe we could begin by looking to the radical example of Jesus, who showed mercy for the woman caught in adultery, realizing the injustice of persecuting the woman while her male partner avoided responsibility. At a time when men did not even speak to women publicly, Jesus offered spiritual guidance to the woman at the well, a member of an outcast race. He taught women, healed women, and accepted women, even those considered “unclean.” Jesus made no moral comment on marriage, but he did model liberation and equality.
Maybe then we could acknowledge that the early Christian church was far more accepting of diversity than the current church. Early Christian writers celebrated the loving, same sex relationship of two Roman soldiers who were also Christian martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus. Documents from the 10th and 11th centuries reveal that the Christian church devised same sex marriage rituals alongside heterosexual marriage liturgies. Homophobia is a recent aberration in the Christian church. Could we step forward, by regaining the Christian celebration of diversity?
Maybe then we could stop scapegoating the LGBT community, and address the dysfunction in marriage itself. The current financial crisis will do more to tear marriages apart than same sex relationships have ever done. Then we could turn our attention to wider social dysfunction. Wars will do more damage to the sanctity of marriage than legalizing same sex marriage. Some reports suggest there were over 10,000 divorces in the US army in 2007 alone.
Let’s take a huge leap forward by channeling our energy towards ending poverty and war, with the sort of courage and empathy that Jesus fought inequality. Let’s stride forward with a massive celebration of diversity and love that shatters fear, bigotry and superficial boundaries of difference.
Fight poverty, wage peace, and let same sex couples say “I do”. The Christian tradition requires nothing less than the full equality of all people, a full hearted celebration of all loving relationships. The Christian tradition supports it. Your own conscience demands it.