Friday, May 20

Sex Wars : Episode III - Gayed and Confused

Sex War: Episode III - Gayed and Confused

In America there remains few issues as contentious and bitterly divisive as the
issue of Gay Rights. Like many issues, this one has become polarized along
partisan lines but unlike many others it is one of few where the "will of God"
is so frequently invoked.

The Will of God

The following is a sequence of Dialogue from the Emmy Award Winning
show The West Wing, and showcases a rather contentious discussion
between the shows version of the U.S. President (Josiah Bartlet, a former
theology student and nobel prize winning economist), and a Popular
Right Wing Talk Show Host named Jenna Jacobs.

(I have added the specific Bible passages that are referenced in the discussion).

President BARTLET
Good. I like your show. I like how you cal homosexuality an abomination.


I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.

Yes, it does. Leviticus.

18:22 [
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.]

Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.
I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.
"When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. ]
(small chuckles from the guests) She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and
always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While
thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working
on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death [
Six days shall work be done,
but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD;
whoever does any work on it shall be put to death
] Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important,
'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes
us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. [
And the swine, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed
but does not chew the cud, is
unclean to you.]
If they promise to wear gloves, can the
Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?
Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting
different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing
garments made from two different threads?

Jenna Jacobs fidgets uncomfortably
You can also find the following in the Bible:
Leviticus 20:13 - If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.

Leviticus 20:10 - "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.

Leviticus 11:42 - Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, all the swarming things that swarm upon the earth, you shall not eat; for they are an abomination.

Leviticus 7:21 - And if any one touches an unclean thing, whether the uncleanness of man or an unclean beast or any unclean abomination, and then eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the LORD's peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people."

Leviticus 12:2 - Say to the people of Israel, If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 5 - But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.

Leviticus 18:29
- For whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people.
Many of the Laws of Moses are good common sense guides to avoid disease and provide for good health. These laws were written at a time long before there was a good understanding of biology and germs. It is indeed a good recommendation to avoid pork in order to prevent the spread of parasites - however with the passage of time our understanding and knowledge has improved, as has technology such as refrigeration and vacuum packaging which has made what was once an unsafe form of meat more than perfectly safe as a meal and simply a matter of taste - not health or Godliness.

This isn't to say, with respect to those who feel quite strongly in their faith, that the Bible is wrong - but to say that it is written within the context of the level of understanding and knowledge of people from antiquity. People regularly seem to be able to understand this and either accept as relevant or reject as irrelevant passages within their own context. Except when it comes to homosexuality. When the Bible was written there were no automobiles, no planes, no telephones. As our knowledge and understanding of the natural world has progressed, so must our understanding and context of those truths that are held within the Bible and other sacred texts.

Many of the various passages which discuss homosexuality within the Bible, like Leviticus, should be viewed through the perspectives of the author of that section. For example in Romans, the author is Paul, who had once been named Saul. Paul had not originally been a disciple of Jesus, he had been one who persecuted Christian until he saw a revelation on the road to Damascus, and was converted. Raised as a Roman citizen his comments on Roman society are incendiary [Romans
29 They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.] . We have to recall that this is the society that produced Caligula, a world of abuse and cruelty, but we also need to question whether this is an appropriate comparison for the modern day gay man or woman who simply wishes to live and love the consenting adult of their preference - just as it should be noted that Leviticus is inappropriate and factually inaccurate to declare that a woman is "unclean" for twice as long if she bears a female child, than if she bears a male.

It's interesting to note the Jesus of Nazareth, the namesake of modern-day Christianity, did not even address the subject of homosexuality - nor does the Ten Commandments, although both did address the subject of Adultery.
Matthew 5:32 - But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Leviticus says that we should put adulterers to death, while Jesus says that anyone who gets a divorce and then remarries - is an Adulterer. So should everyone who is on their second, third or forth marriage be executed for crimes against God? Clearly we haven't taken this set of scriptures completely to heart - we do not put people to death for getting a divorce and then marrying again.

I am not writing this to disparage the Bible, but rather to point out that there are many different modes of thought on exactly what Biblical Scriptures mean and how they should relate to our modern day lives. These differences are part of why the faith of Christianity has split into dozens of subsects, from Catholicism, to Anglican/Episcopalian, Protestant, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Jehova's Witness, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, Eastern Orthodox and Quaker. Each has their own interpretation of critical passage and scripture.

We don't even have a consistent numbering system for the Ten Commandments,
which are recorded virtually identically in Exodus. 20: 2-17 and Deuteronomy. 5: 6-21. The rendering in Exodus appears as follows" (depending a little on the translation). Numbering is according to the three different traditions listed below - Offset Numbers are "Reform Protestant", Roman Numerals are Judaism, Green Numbers are Medieval Roman accepted by Luther)
  1. I) 1) I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
    II) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make for thyself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. III) 2) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  4. IV) 3) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord thy God; in it thou shall not do any work, thy, or thy son, or thy daughter, thy manservant, or thy maidservant, or thy cattle, or the sojourner who is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. V) 4) Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God gives thee.
  6. VI) 5) Thou shalt not kill.
  7. VII) 6) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. VIII) 7) Thou shalt not steal.
  9. IX) 8) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. X) 9) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, 10) or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor's.
Clearly there are many different ways of Interpreting the Bible, particularly If Christianity can't even agree on the numbering of the Ten Commandments, it's not surprising that it doesn't have a consistent position on Homosexuality. Specifically on the matter of Love. Within the books of Samuel and Kings, there is much written on the relationship between David and the son of then-King Saul, Jonathan.
1 Samuel 18:1 - When he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

1 Samuel 18:3 - Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.

1 Samuel 20:17 - And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

2 Samuel 1:23 - "Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
It could be argued that the love between David and Jonathon was so strong that it represented a life long commitment - a marriage - in all but the flesh. The Bible also documents that David, once he became King with the death of Saul, committed adultery and eventually married Bathshe'ba after arranging to have her previous husband killed in battle. So in addition to being a possible homosexual, David was an adulterer, a murderer and apparently a rapist [2 Samuel 13:14 But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her.] . But did God curse him and punish him? No. He is still to this day considered Israel's greatest King and a "Man after God's own heart".

So, knowing what we now know in modern times, how is the "sin" of homosexuality greater than the sin of adultery, murder, rape - (or eating "unclean" foods) and therefore subject to the ultimate punishment - death?

Consent Decree

It seems to me, and this is largely my own view, that much of what the Bible addresses as "sin" includes acts of cruelty and violence by man against his fellow man. When Paul talked of sin and decadence in Romans, as I've said, he is addressing the abuse and exploitation of one man by another. He is talking about deliberate sexual cruelty and violence - rape. It is as far from the loving act of a consenting adults as can be imagined. Forcible or coerced rape is universally considered a crime, and certainly to rape a man should be considered as great a crime as to rape a woman - however on this point the Bible seems to be somewhat weak on protecting the sanctity of women from this violation. When the family of Lot is visited by male angels, and the growing crowd in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah demand to "know" them carnally - there is little outrage when Lot suggested that they carnally "know" (i.e Rape) his daughter in their stead.
Genesis 19 5 and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them." 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof."
What is also interesting is that the Bible never addresses the issue of gay females. So, gay men -- or rather men who would rape other men - are sinful (and I would agree, although I do not agree that all gay men are rapists), but gay women are just happy go lucky? It is my own view that consensual sex is one of the greatest of gifts from God, however forced sex and cruelty is a crime. It has nothing to do with sex, it has nothing to do with sexuality - it's about violence and humiliation, nothing more. Even the Apostle Paul is said by some religious scholars to have been only addressing exploitative forms of sexual behavior in Romans.

A Matter of Hate and Forgiveness

Why is it then that so many people - particularly those of a religious bent (both Christian and Muslim) - feel so inclined to commit violence, murder, bigotry - and yes, even rape - against gays?

According to the latest FBI Hate Crime Statistics - Their were 783 reported incidents of Anti-Male Homosexual bias, compared to 181 incidents of Anti-Female Homosexual bias during 2003. For perspective, the same reports states that their were 14 incidents of Anti-Heterosexual bias, 927 reported incidents of Anti-Jewish bias, 147 of Anti-Islamic, 830 of Anti-White and 2,548 of Anti-Black incidents - so although Anti-Gay Bias is still not nearly as intense as continuing anti-Black bias - it ranks just slightly below the currently levels of Anti-White and Anti-Jewish bias. (It may even be possible that there is some double-dipping in the stats if an individual happens to hit the Trifecta of being Gay, White and Jewish at the same time). Contrary to popular belief, most of these incidents are not murder (of which there were only 14 Total) or rape (5), but are instead incidents of aggravated assault (920), simple assault (1808) and
intimidation (2,744). Ultimately, the most common form of hate motivated bias - particularly against gays - does not involve tragic situations like the murder of Matthew Shepperd, it's the day-to-day process of emotional abuse, coercion and intimidation that gays - predominantly male gays - face all the time.

Some of this ongoing intimidation has been fed by right-wing religious rhetoric. When the Twin Towers were destroyed by al-Qaeda, right wing pulpit pounders such as Jerry Falwell were quick to point out the "true" accomplices.

JERRY FALWELL (on the 700 Club): And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'.
One thing that seems to be somewhat missing in this kind of rhetoric is one of the primary lessons of Jesus. Forgiveness. Jesus made this clear as he spoke to a crowd who prepared to stone a woman to death for being a whore:
John 8:7 - And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. 10 Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again." 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 13 The Pharisees then said to him, "You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true." 14 Jesus answered, "Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know whence I have come and whither I am going, but you do not know whence I come or whither I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one.
Jesus speaking again on the issue of forgiveness:
Luke 7:37 - And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." 40 And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "What is it, Teacher?" 41 "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly."
Yet the one thing that people such as Falwell seem unable to do, is forgive those who they would consider sinners. Rather than push forward the true teachings of Jesus, the likes of Falwell use the Bible as a tool to help divide and conquer - to sow the seeds of dissent and hatred in order to help fill his own personal coffers. Jesus was greatly forgiving person and guided others to be similarly gracious, but there is one time where he did lose his temper and even grew violent.
Matthew 21:12 - And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you make it a den of robbers." .
Even if you do agree that the Bible counsels that homosexuality is a sin - which I do not - it would seem that the proper course of action would be the path of forgiveness, not persecution.

Two Steps Backward

SF Mayor Gavin Newsom
Following the announcment last year by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that Gay Marriage licenses would be issued by the city, there has been a strong response among public figures. Gay couples, many who had shown far more commitment than the average straight-couple by remaining together for years and even decades, rejoiced -- religious fundamentalist scowled and howled.

In Wainsville, North Carolina, Church goers who voted against George W. Bush in 2004 (and presumably his particular view of abortion and gay rights) have been kicked out of their congregation. In that election 11 States passed referendums banning the legality of Gay Marriage, changing each of their state constitutions in a manner that actually reduced the rights and freedoms of our citizens. In solidarity with his religious base, President Bush has proposed the "Defense of Marriage" act which would add a Constitutional Amendment denying Equal treatment and legal protection to same-sex couples.

This would be the first time since the advent of prohibition - which was a similarly misguided religious movement - that rights and protections within the Constitution would be reduced. The reason a Constitutional Amendment is required is because of existing Amendments - particularly the 14th which states that "All persons within the jurisdiction of the states, will be afforded the equal protection of it's laws". That Amendment, enacted after the conclusion of the Civil War does not specify the type of person that the laws will protect. In plain English, the Amendment states that straight people will not receive legal protections non-straight people do not have. No one should receive different or special treatment under the law. It does not differentiate. It does not discriminate. Equal means equal, not that some people are more equal than others - yet, this basic concept seems to be lost on many who enter the discussion of "Gay Rights".

They say that Gay Marriage would lead to abuses such as bigomy, incest or pedophilia (all of which are to varying degrees non-censenual, and can be easily avoided with fairly simply wording such as :
"Marriage is the union of two consenting adult persons"). They argue that allowing gays to marry is somehow an affront to standard hetero-sexual couples. This type of point harkens back to the time that blacks and whites were legally restricted from marrying each other by "miscegenation" laws, which claimed that "Race-mixing" is a sin.

The proposed Defense of Marriage Act itself harkens back as well, to the seminal Plessy V Furgeson decision of the early 20 Century which abrogated the plain language of the 14th Amendment and established "seperate by equal" Jim Crow laws - stating that a "Black Man is not entitled to something that a White Man posseses, for he can never become a White Man". It wasn't until the Brown V Board of Education almost 50 years later that the true intent of the 14th once again began to be implemented, and legallized racial segregation started to erode.

One would think they we would have learned something from that previous experience, but it appears that so far - we have not. If the current trend of anti-gay anti-equality legislations continues - it may take another 50 years to once against set things right.

Nature or Nuture

The arguement of whether being gay is natural verses something that has been created by nuture has raged for ages. Anecdotally there are many known examples of young people, long before they'd had any exposure to alternative sexual standards or ideas, identifying themselves as being attracted to one gender or another. Musicians such as Mellisa Etheridge and Boy George have stated, as bolstered by the account of their families, that they were gay long before they knew what the word even ment. While others, such as George Michael, remained personally confused on the issue well into adulthood. It is also possible, at least in my own view, that some people are psychologically predisposed to be attracted to the same-sex, rather than biologically, while others are the reverse.

Recent studies remain promising but inconclusive on discovering the "Gay Gene", including one by a group of Swedish Scientists that indicates that males gays respond biologically to scent in same manner as straight women - while female-gays respond biologically like straight men.

Those on the far-right claim that restriction of gay rights is justified as it is not a matter of something that people can not control - like the color of their eyes, or their race - it is not a condition that is the Will of God, it is simply a choice. I find this view rather interesting in that people who are guranteed the freedom of their choice of religion by the first amendment, would simultaneously argue that gays are not due the right of choice in their own personal lives under the very same 1st Amendments protections of freedom of speach and freedom of assembly (with any persons of ones choice).

Sex vs Love.

Many of those such as Pat Robertson and Alan Keyes who have argued for the "Sanctity of Marriage" by barring the participation of gays within that institution have claimed that "Gays can not be Married, because Marriage is for procreation -- and gays can not procreate". But does this view indicate that even male-female couples who wish to marry should not be allowed to do so unless their also plan to bear children? What of a couple where one or more members is infertile, or has passed their "time of life"? Are these persons who wish to share the lives together merely "selfish hedonists" as both Pat Robertson and Keyes have said of gays, even including Vice Presidental daughter Mary Cheney in their attacks?

Or is marriage a far more profound and significant event than legitimization of a specific sexual act? In an age where we readily accept a 50% divorce rate, it seems that the core of ideals of marriage - that of sharing, trust, commitment - the sum of which creating a whole that is stronger than it's sum - have been lost in the dust-up. Many gay couples wish to gain the status of marriage not because they seek a social validation for their lifestyle - although some clearly do - many others are simply seeking spousal rights of being able to make critical decisions for their loved one when they are incapacitated, or to be able to share spousal health coverage benefits and resolve child custody issues -- all of which are tangible quality of life issues which have nothing to do with sex or procreation, but everything to do with living.

It makes one wonder if those who oppose gay marriage simply do so because they oppose the practice of gay sex - presuming that it can not be consensual as did the apostle Paul - because they oppose the fact that these people exist and live, or that they deny that reality that LOVE is an absolutely neccesarily component to any marriage, perhaps - some would argue - because they themselves are living loveless empty lives? Perhaps, and perhaps not.

Macho Macho Men

Speaking purely from an anecdotal perspective, it seems to me that there is a bit of a pattern when it comes to the anti-gay movement. Certainly there are those who legitimately feel that homosexuality is a sin based on a strict (albiet selective) reading of the Bible. "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" they say. Similarly, there are those who simply feel that it is unnatural - "the parts don't fit" - and have a good faith reason for feeling that way. And then there's another group, those who I like to refer to as the Macho-phobes. The Tough-Guys.

Generally speaking, this type of person is easy to identify. They tend to find idea of gay-men as abhorant as they simultaneous find appealing the emotional and sexual exploitation of women. They remain deeply mysogonistic and disrespectful of women while in private - but sweet as can be when in their presence. Duplicity is their weapon and solice. Armchair-Psychology might lead one to conclude that these people are simply afraid of what it is that they may deeply feel that they themselves are, (ie. Gay). Just as many actually gay persons do have a history of anti-gay actions (Such as Spokane Washington Mayor James West), but I think that the Macho Men remain a breed apart from that self-hating group.

The Macho Men, do indeed fear gay-men (and notably not gay-women) because they don't have any respect for women in general - and their greatest fear is the possibility that they themselves might be on the receiving end of the exact same treatment - emotionally, physically and sexually - that they regularly heap upon females. (You aint making me your' bitch!) They would use any convenient lie to bed a woman, then discard them once they are of no more use or sport. Certainly they wouldn't tolerate being treated the same way. They won't be looked at, stalked, hunted and used the same way they do to women - no fucking way!

Therefore, they see themselves as excersizing "self-defense" when they harass, intimidate and occasially brutalize gay men -- (better safe than sorry) --- whereas they adore gay-females presuming that all the need is a taste of a real man "to straighten them out". Teenage fantasies of a always hoped-for but never fulfilled menage-a-trois dancing through their heads. Yet again, as in so many of the scenarios, the idea of developing a loving, commited relationship doesn't even begin to enter into the equation - it's not even truly about sex. Just like with a rapist or serial abuser - for them, it's all about power, control and humiiliation - not love, not trust and certainly not procreation.

It's extremely unfortunate that this view remains quite prevelant among the men in our armed forces - from the Tailhook Troup to the Abu Ghraib abusers - I feel there is little coincidence to the increasing tendency to hunt and expell suspected gays from the military (inspite of the well intentioned by deeply misguided Clinton-era "Don't ask - Don't Tell" policy) and the simultaneous rise in male on female sexual harrasment, assault and abuse cases within the Military and among Veterans. The Macho-Men will have their way - while all others tremble in fear, at least, until we finally stop them.

And in the future?

In summary, it is most obvious than the debate on human sexuality and homosexuality is far from over. We have those who see homosexuality as an erosion of our moral fabric (claiming - incorrectly I think, according to all available study data - that gays are the equivelent of nothing more than sexual predators, pedophiles and perverts), and those who see the resistance to gay rights as ultimately a retardation of human rights - the denial of the promise of embodied in the American dream for people to be FREE in their own homes and lives to do as they will and want, unless their actions begin to infringe on the freedom and liberty of others.

Both sides, naturally, have accused the other side of bad faith, lies, and "evil" - but it's is also clear that this debate will continue for some time. Like the Plessy decision we may be entering what seems to be a dark period in the movement for complete human rights, but I feel confident that eventually the major questions will be resolved - both scientifically and spiritually. Just as we went from travelling by horse drawn cart, to chariot, to the automobile, airplane and now venturing with greater regularity and confident into space - so will we progress in our hearts, closer to the ideals of charity, forgiveness and respect for all humans - that Jesus truly expoused - regardless of our individual origins or our choices.

And that of course, is exactly what the radical religous right is most deathly afraid of.


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