I have a suggestion for religious homophobes: Stop acting like the rest of us are stupid.
Jeremy Hooper recently posted a video of a panel at a “town hall meeting” of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the campaign working to ban gay marriage once again in Maryland. In the clip, panelist Reverend Robert Anderson claims that “those who practice such things are deserving of death”. Just to drive the point home, he further adds that “if we don’t vote against it, then we are approving these things that are worthy of death”.
Then Catholic blogger Lisa Graas decided that this was something she needed to defend. In a reply to Jeremy Hooper, she insisted that Anderson’s statement “refers to the death of the soul. In other words, going to hell. He is saying that God will send sinners to hell.”
Here’s why everything about this excuse is crap. When a member of a politically powerful religious majority declares that a historically disempowered minority is “deserving of death”, and goes beyond mere disapproval in the religious realm to insist that these beliefs also justify unequal treatment of that minority under secular civil law, that is a threat. It is a threat because they are using their religion as a reason to impose inequality on us in the legal sphere, and because they believe their religion designates us as “worthy of death”. There’s no way around where this line of reasoning leads, and that is why it is an obviously threatening act.
Choosing to defend this means that, just like them, you’ve elected to value religious beliefs over human life and well-being. The consequences of this should be unacceptable not only to minorities, but to everyone, because there’s no telling which religion will one day rise to prominence, and what morals that faith might decide it’s entitled to force upon the entire population via the state. Why would anyone want to be potentially subject to that?
Not only is siding with those who make such threats an act of foolishness and inhumanity, but Graas’ explanation is intellectually dishonest garbage. Pretending that those who say gay people are “deserving of death” only mean it in a spiritual, theological, metaphysical sense, rather than a literal and physical one, is plainly unconvincing. People know what “deserving of death” means. It means deserving of death. The real phenomenon of death is something that everyone understands, and if a religion instead decides to use it to refer to what they believe is part of a supposed afterlife that isn’t supported by even the thinnest of evidence, their use of the term in a general setting without clarification is extraordinarily careless.
And this was a general setting – the panel was part of a campaign working to bring about a change in the civil, secular law via a measure that will be put to a referendum. Citizens of all faiths, belief systems and philosophies will be voting on it. It was not a sermon directed solely at those who choose to affiliate themselves with Reverend Anderson’s church and its beliefs. It was delivered to a general audience of voters. To say that a certain minority in the state which is about to vote on their equality is deserving of death, without specifying that you actually mean something much different from the most prevalent understanding of “death”, is both irresponsible and a failure of communication – if that was even what he meant to say.
Historical religious attitudes about sexual “sin” and the death penalty make it impossible to conclude that we should only interpret Anderson’s remarks in the most charitable, metaphorical light. The Bible itself does indeed state that a man who “has sexual relations with a man” is “to be put to death”. Regarding this as merely a metaphor for something-or-other would require reading adjacent passages – such as those saying “kill both the woman and the animal”, “the members of the community are to stone him”, and so on – as also being metaphorical rather than literal. This would make no sense.
It is obvious that the Bible contains passages which clearly refer to homosexual activity, and prescribe the death penalty in plain language. And even the common apologetic defense that this is no longer the case due to Jesus or something must implicitly acknowledge that this was once the case, and that there was indeed a time when religious disapproval of homosexuality had very real consequences beyond simply telling someone that “God will send sinners to hell”. There is an extensive history of religiously-based laws against homosexuality which prescribed punishments up to and including death, and this still occurs today.
Expecting listeners to ignore both the common meaning of “death”, and the historical record of religion being cited to justify killing gay people, is simply untenable. It means asking people to deny the violent and dangerous implications that are right in front of their own eyes. We’re not the ones who should be obligated to interpret a political campaign calling for our death as just a figure of speech. Anderson is the one who should have exercised better judgment instead of speaking so recklessly.
Finally, if he was indeed only claiming that gay people are going to hell, then the proposal to ban gay marriage is both ineffective and irrelevant. First, banning gay marriage never stopped anyone from being gay. And second, saving “souls” is not the government’s business. Our civil law does not exist to force people to do whatever some religion believes will keep them out of hell. Why is Anderson’s church free to believe what they do even if some other faith claims they’re going to suffer eternally for it? Because whatever someone’s religion says about the afterlife, this is only their own concern, and it’s never grounds for telling the entire population what they can and can’t do.
The only reason they’re able to practice their own faith without interference is because of this fundamental principle of individual religious freedom, and disregarding that freedom jeopardizes everyone’s rights. If the government ever told them they needed to stop being who they are for the sake of their own “salvation”, they would be outraged at the total lack of respect for their freedom of conscience and self-determination. And you know what? So am I! We don’t need a nanny state in the name of a nanny god. If your god really exists and wants to send me to hell after I die, then that will be between me and your god. But right now, we all live on earth, where there are things like basic human rights and secular governments that do not endorse religions.
Lisa Graas and her pathetic excuses reveal the worst aspects of every campaign to ban gay marriage: they can’t even be honest with the people whose rights they’re trying to take away, they don’t know the difference between the law and a Bible, and they just can’t seem to mind their own business.