Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage
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How do we convince religious believers to accept same-sex marriage?
The opposition to LGBT rights in general, and to same-sex marriage in particular, overwhelmingly comes from conservative religion, founded in the religious belief that gay sex makes baby Jesus cry. So if same-sex marriage proponents want to persuade religious believers to support same-sex marriage... how can we do that? Should we keep our argument entirely secular, and stay away from the whole question of religious belief? Or should we try to persuade them that God is on our side?
Lots of people make the second argument. Bishop Gene Robinson is one of them. And Bishop Robinson is a man to be taken seriously. The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Robinson has been active in progressive political activism for many years: he is a fellow at the Center for American Progress, is co-author of three AIDS education curricula for youth and adults, has done AIDS work in the United States and in Africa, and famously delivered the invocation at President Obama's opening inaugural ceremonies in 2009. He's recently written a book, published by Knopf and widely reviewed and well-received: God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Aimed at religious believers who oppose same-sex marriage or are on the fence about it, the book makes a Christian case for same-sex marriage: "a commonsense, reasoned, religious argument made by someone who holds the religious text of the Bible to be holy and sacred and the ensuing two millennia of church history to be relevant to the discussion."
And I think this is a terrible, terrible idea.
I am an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage. What with being married to a woman and all. I agree fervently that same-sex marriage deserves fully equal legal and social recognition with opposite-sex marriage, and I am very glad to see Bishop Robinson, and anyone else, advocating for it in the public arena.
But the argument he makes in his new book, God Believes in Love, disturbs me greatly. I am deeply disturbed by the idea that God, or any sort of religious or spiritual belief, should have anything to do with the question of same-sex marriage. I am deeply disturbed by the idea that any decision about politics, law, public policy, or morality should ever be based on what's supposedly going on in God's head. I agree completely with Bishop Robinson's conclusion about same-sex marriage -- but I am passionately opposed to the method by which he's reached it, and the arguments he's making to advance it.
I should say right now: I'm an atheist. But before anyone dismisses my argument on that basis, let me be very clear: My objections are relevant to everyone. The things that trouble me about religion being injected into public debate... they should trouble everyone. Yes, my objections are strongly informed by my atheism.
But my problem is not, "God doesn't exist, therefore 'what God wants' is a ridiculous thing to worry about." My problem is this: When we base our political/legal/moral decisions on what we think God wants, we have no way of knowing if we're right. When we base our decisions on what we think God wants, we have no basis for resolving our differences. Religion is based on faith -- and faith, by definition, is uniquely resistant to evidence. Even at its best, faith ultimately comes down to, "I feel it in my heart." And if someone else feels something entirely different in their heart about God's intentions, we have no means of persuading them that they're mistaken. For that matter, we have no means of being persuaded ourselves if we're mistaken. When we base our decisions on what we think God wants, it's ultimately no different from basing our decisions on what we want... reinforced and amplified by the conviction that our wishes dovetail with God's, and made more stubbornly resistant to change by the fundamental irrationality of religious faith.