Marriage Equality on the March

At the end of last month, the Delaware legislature voted to approve a civil union bill. If Democratic Governor Jack Markell signs the bill, as he’s said he will, Delaware will become the newest state to grant same-sex partnerships all the same legal rights as heterosexual couples – joining, by my reckoning, ten others: Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.

With a little luck and a lot of political elbow grease, my own state, New York, may be next. New York already recognizes same-sex marriages performed legally elsewhere, making its refusal to perform them itself more than a little ridiculous, since a gay or lesbian couple can just step across the border into Canada or any of the neighboring states that do. Still, a coalition of Republicans and a handful of religious-bigot Democrats have so far managed to keep marriage-equality bills bottled up in the State Senate, despite the fact that polls show large majorities of New Yorkers in support. A marriage-equality bill failed in the legislature in 2009, but since then, two Democrats who voted against it have been replaced by supportive votes. Six more votes are needed, and a statewide campaign is targeting 15 potential swing votes this summer, with support from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Meanwhile, on the wider national level, the ground is shifting with dramatic speed. Back in 2009, I wrote about how supporters of marriage equality had become a plurality. Now, for the first time ever as far as I’m aware, several polls over the last few months have found that support for marriage equality has become the majority position in the United States of America!

Our losses in California and Maine were disappointing, but as these polls show, they’re only temporary setbacks. Support for marriage equality is growing every year, arguably even every month. Opponents of equality are trying to hold back the tide of history, but they can’t hope to plug every hole in the dike. And it’s increasingly obvious that they know this too. Their opposition seems more tired and perfunctory all the time, as if they recognize that they’re fighting a losing battle. In Delaware, only about 200 people, even by their own reckoning, showed up for a rally at the statehouse to oppose the civil-unions bill.

One last, feeble whine of protest came from two Christian pastors in Delaware, who filed an editorial last week which makes the following entirely secular arguments:

S.B. 30 is morally wrong and biblically incorrect… In our opinion, God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman only… Lev. 18:22 tells us that “a man should not lie with another man as he does a woman because it is detestable”… Nowhere have we read in the Bible that it is all right for people of the same sex to marry… We believe civil unions between members of the same sex are contrary to the will of God.

They plead that if the bill passes, God “will judge us, and [we] don’t want our state and our nation to be judged with the wrath of God.” You have to feel sorry for these people, living in a self-imposed world of fear: their argument is essentially “Help, God is holding me hostage and he’ll kill me if you don’t meet his demands!”

Finally, I have to report on one more piece of news to make bigots cry: Louis J. Marinelli, a former spokesman and organizer for the anti-marriage National Association for Marriage, has publicly announced that he’s changed his mind and now supports civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples. That ground is shifting faster than anyone could have anticipated – and I’m willing to bet that, in the next few years, his won’t be the only high-profile defection from the ranks of those who oppose equality.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • bric

    Quoting Leviticus (but what else have they got?) is never a good move – are the Reverends Rita and Christopher also thundering against wearing clothes made from mixed threads, or the eaters of shellfish? After all Leviticus tells us they are an abomination to their God.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    This is great news. I’m posting this on my Fb page and tweeting it.

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    a self-imposed world of fear: their argument is essentially “Help, God is holding me hostage and he’ll kill me if you don’t meet his demands!”

    Sounds like the scene in “Blazing Saddles” where Cleavon Little takes himself hostage.

  • Andrew T.

    This is a very exciting issue to follow…and as a gay atheist, it goes without question that it’s an issue near and dear to my heart.

    What I find most satisfying is how virtually nothing seems to be stopping the demographic trends in our favor…not fear-mongering, not legislation. And the Marinelli incident proves that even hardened hearts can be softened with a little time, appeal, and effort.

  • http://journal.nearbennett.com Rick

    following entirely secular arguments

    Either you mean this sarcastically, or you mean “sectarian” rather than “secular”.

    Of course their argument is darn-close to insane. “Nowhere have we read in the Bible that [we should free our slaves].” “Nowhere have we read in the Bible that [we should stop beating our wives].” “Nowhere have we read in the Bible that [God loves baby seals, so clubbing them is OK].” “Nowhere have we read in the Bible that [the Earth revolves around the sun].”

  • Quath

    I have three approaches when people quote the Bible about gay marriage. The first is to point out that if they are going to use the Bible for some of the marriage laws and rules, they should be consistent and use all of the laws and rules. Such great rules like a raped virgin has to marry her rapist. Or death penalty for adultery. Or girls who had pre-marital sex must be killed in front of their parents when they marry.

    The other approach is to point out that the Bible is quiet about gay marriage and just says you should kill homosexuals. So if they are going to skip the killing part, the Bible is not a guide on what to do with homosexuals. It doesn’t say, “Well, if you won’t kill them, then at least don’t allow them to marry.”

    The last one is to make an emotional plea. I point out that there is a line in the sand here. On one side you have people fighting for love in a committed relationship. On the other, you have intolerance and discrimination. Which side do you want to tell your grand-kids you were on in 20 years? Which side did you want your grand-parents to be on when interracial marriage was being debated?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    I have hope that the pro-equal rights side will win this fight. The people who are now opposing it (or their descendants) will ignore those parts of the Bible, just as they ignore such large parts of it now.
    -Ani Sharmin

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    And, in the future when we recognize being pro-gay marriage as the moral position, the churches will be claiming that they led the way and the Xianity brought it about.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Precisely, OMGF. Just as we now know that the Bible played a crucial role in the abolition of slavery.

    Wait a second…

  • Jormungund

    Just as we now know that the Bible played a crucial role in the abolition of slavery

    I had an anthropology professor make this claim. More specifically he claimed that churches fought against slavery in opposition to secular slave owners.
    And I have had more than one Catholic tell me that the Catholic Church is responsible for the creation of science as we know it.

  • Katie M

    “And I have had more than one Catholic tell me that the Catholic Church is responsible for the creation of science as we know it.”

    Galileo would be so relieved to hear that . . . oh, wait.

  • 2-D Man

    Of course their argument is darn-close to insane. “Nowhere have we read in the Bible that [we should free our slaves].”

    Heh, I like this game:
    “Nowhere have we read in the Bible that [it's two parts water to one part rice].”

  • jane hay

    When my fundie co-workers start in on this topic, I usually shut them up by saying “OK, Leviticus, but the Bible NOWHERE mentions lesbians or transvestites, so that must be OK, right? Right? ….. Crickets.
    Or the fact that NOWHERE did Jesus mention homosexuality, except in an indirect way (“Not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away ere I come again.”)and this definitely does not help the xtian case, if they have not been keeping kosher, etc. for 2000 years.
    When they get on abortion wagon, I state the same – “Give me chapter and verse”. All they can come up with is “Thou shalt not kill” – they are totally ignorant of the other verses, like Numbers 5:20-27 or Exodus 21: 22-25 or the fact that according to Jewish law personhood begins at birth, not conception.
    They are conditioned to cherrypick and not think. Humility is not their strong suit.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Galileo would be so relieved to hear that . . . oh, wait.

    That made me grin, Katie. :)

  • Wednesday

    Jane Hay — and actually, “thou shalt not kill” is not what the commandment says in Hebrew. A more correct translation would be “no murder”. I’ve had this confirmed by friends of several faiths who read Hebrew (including a protestant Christian pastor). Murder is precisely defined in the Law — I forget where exactly, but it’s a book that made it into the OT — and it does not include abortion, unless you insist that a fetus is a person according to the Law, which it isn’t.

    In some ways it’s a good thing for theists that the commandment is “no murder” and not “no killing”, since the OT includes a lot of divinely- and legally-mandated killing. While we may find all of those death penalties morally abhorrent, we cannot claim they make the Law _inconsistent_ the same way we could if the commandment was really “no killing”.

    Also, according to some biblical scholars, Jesus had an opportunity to address homosexual sex directly, in the story of the Centurion and his servant/slave. It depends on the reading of the word used to describe his slave.

  • Rieux

    jane hay:

    When my fundie co-workers start in on this topic, I usually shut them up by saying “OK, Leviticus, but the Bible NOWHERE mentions lesbians or transvestites, so that must be OK, right? Right? ….. Crickets.

    Really? Your fundie friends don’t know their Bible very well, then:

    The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination [sic] unto the LORD thy God.

    – Deuteronomy 22:5

    For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    – Romans 1:26-27

    So I’m afraid you’re mistaken: the Bible does mention both transvestitism and lesbianism, and it declares the first an “abomination unto the LORD” and the second “vile.”

    Or the fact that NOWHERE did Jesus mention homosexuality, except in an indirect way (“Not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away ere I come again.”)and this definitely does not help the xtian case, if they have not been keeping kosher, etc. for 2000 years.

    Well, that’s a doozy of an “indirect way”; Jesus is in fact saying that he’s come to fulfill the law (which included Leviticus), not to change it.

    I’ve never understood the “Jesus never said anything against homosexuality” argument. In the Gospels Jesus also doesn’t say anything about nuclear war, cyber-bullying, or flying airplanes into buildings. Does this mean that he doesn’t (or wouldn’t) have any problems with such things? (Homosexuality as we conceptualize it in the modern world didn’t exist two thousand years ago, though same-sex sexual intimacy did.)

    In the cultural and legal milieu in which the Gospels are set, same-sex sexual intimacy was seen as a severe crime; prohibitions like the Leviticus one you’ve referenced were taken very seriously in that society. As a result, there was no reason for Jesus to say anything about homosexuality unless he thought it was acceptable; it was widely viewed to be disgusting, awful and wrong. Inferring a pro-gay message from Jesus’ silence on the matter is analogous to deciding that President Obama must be in favor of cannibalism—or at least not seriously opposed to it—because he’s never said publicly that he has any problems with cannibalism.

    As for kosher laws, the New Testament contains all kinds of passages that make it clear that they don’t apply to Christians, such as this one:

    On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

    But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

    And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

    Taking it as given that the entire Bible is inspired by God, that passage, among several others, forces the conclusion that kosher laws are no longer applicable. Whether that notion contradicts Matthew 5:18 (the “[not one] jot or tittle” declaration) is another question, but even then it means that the Christian decision to pay attention to the anti-gay parts of the OT and ignore the kosher-law parts was made thousands of years ago, not by modern Christians.

    It seems to me that liberal attempts to deny that the Bible is opposed to homosexuality are continually disingenuous and fallacious. The Bible is opposed to homosexuality, and solidly so.

    Of course, the appropriate way to deal with that fact is not to not to bash GLBT people or oppose gay marriage—the proper response is to ditch the Bible as a worthwhile source of ethical instruction (or accurate history, science, etc.). GLBTs are perfectly wonderful people, their love and identity is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and homophobia and transphobia stand as severely ugly flaws in many human societies—but none of that changes what the Bible actually says.

    The Bible is a collection of mythological writings from a group of very ignorant and often morally backward people. It shouldn’t be shocking that, to the extent they had anything to say about sexual minorities, their comments were disgusting; and it seems to me that we’d all be better off just recognizing that backwardness as backwardness rather than pretending it’s not there.

  • Rieux

    Wednesday:

    Jane Hay — and actually, “thou shalt not kill” is not what the commandment says in Hebrew. A more correct translation would be “no murder”. I’ve had this confirmed by friends of several faiths who read Hebrew (including a protestant Christian pastor).

    Actually, that’s hotly disputed and not clearly the case at all.

    Dan Barker, former fundamentalist minister and now one of the leaders of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, wrote a chapter of his book Losing Faith in Faith (it’s also part of his more recent book, Godless) called “Murder, He Wrote” about this precise issue. Barker shows that ratsach, the Hebrew word used in the Commandment for “kill,” is translated as “kill,” not “murder”—and with reference to justifiable homicide—in numerous places in the Old Testament.

    The notion that the Commandment only bans murder, not killing more broadly, is a contentious religious apologetic. (Small wonder that the “protestant Christian pastor” you consulted backed it.) It is not an objective etymological truth.

  • Rieux

    Oops—I left off the citation for my third Bible quote in Comment #16. That’s Acts 10:9-15.

  • Leum

    According to my religious studies prof, who is a reasonably well-respected New Testament scholar, the prohibition against men having long hair in I Corinthians 11:14 may be a backhanded way of referring to male homosexuals. Apparently having long hair was a way men indicated their preference. She says it’s likely he used this backhanded method was because he was uncertain that there were male homosexuals in the congregation.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @OMGF (comment #8):

    And, in the future when we recognize being pro-gay marriage as the moral position, the churches will be claiming that they led the way and the Xianity brought it about.

    Yes, definitely. There will probably be a day in the future when secularists will be reminding Christians that religious groups opposed equal rights for LGBTQI people, and Christians will claim that they weren’t “true Christians”.
    -Ani Sharmin

  • David

    “…joining, by my reckoning, ten others: Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.”

    Then your reckoning would be incorrect, as California’s domestic partnership laws are legally equivalent (in all but terminology) with marriage within the state.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    My understanding of the situation in California is that same-sex marriages performed before Prop 8 passed are still legally valid, but no new ones are being solemnized. Hence same-sex relationships in California don’t have the same legal rights as opposite-sex relationships, which was the basis for my not including it in that list.

  • David

    “My understanding of the situation in California is that same-sex marriages performed before Prop 8 passed are still legally valid, but no new ones are being solemnized.”

    That is true for same-sex *marriages*. Same-sex *domestic partnerships* were allowed before, during, and after all of the Prop 8 drama and continue to be available today. California’s domestic partnerships are defined as legally equivalent to marriage within the state, making them at least as good as the civil unions allowed in states like Delaware. And, when it comes to banning “same-sex marriage,” Delaware and California both have bans on calling any same-sex, marriage-like institution “marriage.”

    There are still subtle differences between how each handles same-sex issues. For example, the same-sex marriage ban in Delaware is a mere statute where it is constitutional in California. On the other hand, California treats discrimination over sexual orientation with the highest level of legal scrutiny, which hasn’t proven the case (at least yet) in Delaware. This level of scrutiny in CA means it would not be allowed to (almost ever) distinguish or discriminate based on the marriage/domestic partnership distinction.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    According to this Wikipedia article, California domestic partnerships offer most, but not all, of the benefits available to married couples. If anyone is more expert on this than me, though, I’d welcome the opportunity to learn more about it.

  • Wednesday

    @ Rieux

    Thanks for the correction. I’ll have to take a look at the book you list. Still, we win either way — if the commandment is “no killing”, then the OT law is full of contradictions, and we can use that to argue against anyone using the OT to justify bigoted positions. If the commandment is no murder, then it doesn’t apply to abortion, and can’t be used in that debate.

    FWIW, most of my sources are atheist and theistic Jews, all of whom read “biblical” Hebrew, and at least one of whom speaks modern Hebrew. I added the “even a protestant Christian pastor”, because my experience is that Christians (a) are more likely to retcon the hell out of the OT, (b) are rather likely to default to the King James translation of the commandments, and (c) really like to use “thou shalt not kill” to justify anti-legal-abortion and anti-contraceptive positions.

  • David

    “According to this Wikipedia article, California domestic partnerships offer most, but not all, of the benefits available to married couples. If anyone is more expert on this than me, though, I’d welcome the opportunity to learn more about it.”

    I admit, from reading the citations used in that section of the Wikipedia article, I was wrong about 100% equivalence. But, by default in almost all cases other than the short list in the article, they are treated the same as marriage. To cite California law directly:

    “For purposes of the statutes, administrative regulations,
    court rules, government policies, common law, and any other provision
    or source of law governing the rights, protections, and benefits,
    and the responsibilities, obligations, and duties of registered
    domestic partners in this state, as effectuated by this section, with
    respect to community property, mutual responsibility for debts to
    third parties, the right in particular circumstances of either
    partner to seek financial support from the other following the
    dissolution of the partnership, and other rights and duties as
    between the partners concerning ownership of property, any reference
    to the date of a marriage shall be deemed to refer to the date of
    registration of a domestic partnership with the state.” [1]

    That section of the code is a pretty firm statement of equality, and I don’t seriously think you had any of the minor DP differences in mind when you decided to leave California out of the list. Other states in that list lack full marriage equality, too, merely having civil unions or domestic partnerships. Arguing that California’s domestic partnerships aren’t 100% equivalent is beside the point. To get back to the point, you haven’t proven that the states in your list consistently have anything supporting GLBT relationships that California lacks. (Frankly, I don’t think there is anything those states *consistently* have that California doesn’t.)

    Just admit the list you came up with is based on at least one false assumption. It’s OK to be wrong, but you’re just squandering credibility by refocusing the debate on the criterion of 100% marriage equality, a criterion that clearly wasn’t applied to the other states.

  • Nathanael

    Oy. Don’t get us started on mistranslation of the Bible. Or selective translation, translating words differently in different places for religious purposes.

    I remember realizing that the earliest sections of the Bible were blatantly polytheistic. “Elohim”, literally translated, is “The gods”. It’s a plural. Yet half the time it’s translated as “God” or “The Lord” (yet when it’s referring to gods not worshipped by Hebrews, it gets translated as “the gods”, go figure). Several individual and specific gods with specific names are also mentioned, and they’re clearly different people…. Even the Orthodox Jews mistranslate in order to cover the polytheism up, and even the more scholarly translations mistranslate that stuff. Most Christian groups are so bad about translation that it’s obvious they’re not even trying to be honest.

    I’d love to see a really honest literal translation from the variorum original sources, with a completely non-theological bent. Footnotes and essays might be required on the history of reinterpretation of the texts over history. :-P