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Niedner: Want to invoke God in gay marriage debate? Try ‘love your neighbor’

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: March 23, 2014 6:13AM



History suggests we step into dangerous territory when we let ourselves believe some people are so different from us that they don’t have the same dreams, loves and loyalties we do.

“The Vietnamese aren’t like us,” I often heard as a young man. “They don’t mourn their dead. They don’t care if they live or die.” As if there were ever mothers anywhere who could bury their babies and not suffer a ceaseless, aching emptiness.

Believing such nonsense helps, however, when you feel the need to kill a bunch of people. It would be awful to blow up human beings who laugh and cry like we do, but subhuman blankety-blanks who don’t value their own lives? No problem.

Ordinary, pious people like us once found ways to believe in the propriety of breaking up families by selling husbands, wives and children to new owners on other plantations. Given the hell such treatment would make of our own lives, we could only tolerate participation in such cruelty by shutting down our own humanity, most especially our sense of compassion, and convincing ourselves that our slaves aren’t fully human, or their loves as precious as our own.

A version of the struggle that ultimately ended slavery among us has emerged in today’s legal and legislative battles over the rights of gay and lesbian couples to enjoy the protections that marriage affords heterosexual partners. Indiana’s legislature has lately occupied itself with attempts to amend the state constitution so that it forever bars same-sex couples from receiving those protections, or even having a status or safeguards that resemble those the rest of us enjoy.

In Kansas, lawmakers are considering a bill that ensures the right of agencies, businesses and institutions to invoke religious principles as grounds for denying goods and services to gays and lesbians. In other words, upright, tax-paying citizens who serve us as doctors, lawyers, musicians, teachers and construction workers, people with whom we work and play, can be turned away merely because their innate desires for love and companionship lead them to fulfill those profound and uniquely human needs with others of their own gender.

The motives for enacting such legislation must somehow stem from a belief that “such folks” aren’t as truly human as “we” are and don’t deserve to be treated as if they were.

Predictably, and despite what the U.S. Constitution says about the relationship of public policy and particular religious beliefs, those pushing for discriminatory laws invoke God to support their efforts. Several leaders of the move to change Indiana’s constitution say their legislative initiatives come directly from God. On one of the days when the legislature gathered for a crucial vote, the session’s honorary chaplain, an Indianapolis pastor, opened with a prayer that called on God to “cast into the pit of hell” all those who oppose a ban on same-sex marriage.

So far as I know, the command to love your neighbor as yourself still stands at the heart of the religious tradition these zealous legislators claim to uphold. Accordingly, using God as an attack dog to enforce prejudices against certain kinds of neighbors seems more like an egregious form of blasphemy than a way to honor God.

Yes, I know the biblical texts about behaviors commonly associated with homosexuality. I also know the passages that say we should execute adulterers and unruly children. Thankfully, we have learned much about human complexity in the 3,000 years since Moses. Among them is the danger we pose to ourselves and others when we dehumanize our neighbors and presume, for example, that they have no need of the love and familial bonds that human beings have always and everywhere held sacred.



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