Proposition 8: "It Is Written, but I Say unto You."

Turning the other cheek, forgiving trespasses, loving your enemy, judging not: those are not pretty verses to be heard and then merely mouthed.
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I just don't get California's Proposition 8, the initiative for a state constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. It's become the most expensive "social issue" ballot measure ever. The stakes are high.

In my neighborhood, there are yard signs for and against the measure. I must say, I'm simply baffled by the "Yes on Prop. 8" folks. I've listened carefully to their arguments, I've tried to heed their sentiments, I've tried to respect their "moral" concerns. But I just don't buy it. In fact, their campaign saddens me greatly.

My wife and I have been together for almost 25 years. We have two beautiful children. For the life of me, I simply cannot see any way that same-sex marriage threatens my marriage, not by any stretch of the imagination. Not in the least. I just don't get the claim about how the ban is necessary to "protect marriage."

The argument about procreation doesn't make any sense. If that were the crux of the matter, then marriage would be proscribed or discouraged for older hetero couples, or infertile couples. Such childless marriages are no less sacred or celebrated. And it's not as if the presence of same-sex married couples is going to inhibit the procreative tendencies of hetero couples. Why presume that these sexualities are competing or in active conflict with one another, as a zero-sum trade-off? Is the sheer idea of same-sex coupledom somehow a romantic turn-off for certain heteros? Are the "Yes on Prop. 8" folks implying that a sizeable number of otherwise hetero individuals will convert to homosexuality if same-sex marriage is permitted, and that's why the breeding foundations of society are allegedly imperiled today? Will hetero couples have less sex because they'll get depressed that same-sex couples will now be sharing the institution of marriage? The procreative argument just doesn't fly. Maybe someone out there can explain it to me.

The main animus, as far as I can tell, against same-sex marriage is religious (I could proffer psychological explanations as well, but those seem derivatively intertwined with the religious reasons). The offended religiosity claims to be based on Scripture. It all boils down to a couple of passages in Leviticus, and maybe a few scattered comments in Paul's letters. To take those passages seriously, however, one today must read them selectively and tendentiously while ignoring their clearly antiquated aspects. I don't see any way around it. If a man lies with a male as with a woman (Lev. 21:13), then that "abomination" requires that they both be put to death--along with the death penalty for adultery and other offenses. If the "Yes on Prop. 8" folks are sincerely convinced that Leviticus requires them to oppose same-sex marriage today, then why aren't they following Scripture more rigorously and calling for the death penalty--not only for homosexuality but also for heterosexual adultery? I just don't get how one can be actively incensed by one line of Scripture but then be completely oblivious to the very next line. If you're a literalist and you believe every word in the Bible is God's revealed word, then you have no exegetical right to pick and choose which passages in Leviticus matter to you today and which don't.

Christians in particular surely ought to read the books of the Hebrew Bible, such as Leviticus, in the manner in which Jesus suggested they be read. Max Weber, the great sociologist of religion, insisted that Jesus' main charismatic appeal and divine-like authority could be traced to his personalist rejection of Scriptural literalism. For Weber, the key to the entire spirit of Christianity is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, precisely when Jesus repeats time and again: "It is written, but I say unto you." [Often translated as, You have heard, but I say unto you."] With those words, Jesus reforms Scriptural law and prophesy, subsequently telling his followers that they must read past the strict letter of the law and, instead, inquire into its greater meaning, the "spirit" of the law.

That said, I simply do not see how any devout Christian today can read the Sermon on the Mount scrupulously and still support Proposition 8. Jesus' unconditional embrace of the disaffected and the marginalized in society--the poor, the meek, the persecuted--simply doesn't square, in the above Weberian sense of Christian spirituality, with the invidious, exclusionary, self-righteous, and judgmental tendencies that sanctimoniously inform the rationale behind Proposition 8. In his 1919 address, "Politics as a Vocation," Weber warned that the Sermon on the Mount is an absolute ethic; it is, he said, "no joking matter." The commandments therein are "not a cab, which one can have stopped at one's pleasure." Turning the other cheek, forgiving trespasses, loving your enemy, judging not: those are not pretty verses to be heard and then merely mouthed. Those words, rather, must be lived, and lived consistently, doing whatever one does for the least of one's brethren.

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