I woke up this morning to an interesting confluence of news stories.
Story 1: Gunmen stopped two minivans in Iraq. They ordered the occupants off of the bus, separated the Sunni Muslims from the Shiite, then executed the Shiites "in the name of Islam."
Story 2: President Bush urged Congress to ratify a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit states from recognizing homosexual marriages -- in other words, to require every state to separate the straight population from the homosexual, and to inflict great social harm on the latter group. Though they do not state it out right, they inflict this harm "In Jesus' name."
Many would have an immediate inclination against linking these two stories. I’m sympathetic to this view, but I think that they have something very important in common. There are also differences. Yet, I suggest that those differences have limited moral significance.
The immediate objection to linking these two stories would come from saying that the two issues are not anywhere near the same. The point of this posting is to show that there are important similarities. There are also differences. However, what is the moral relevance of those differences?
Both of these stories are stories about a group of people who decide to do harm to others – killing in one case, and taking away that which gives life value in the other – because they believe that doing so will please their God.
One who defends the ban on gay marriage can certainly claim that he is not out to kill homosexuals. Though, I have to ask, why not? It seems hypocritical to claim that one is condemning a homosexual relationship because this is what the Bible tells them to do, while ignoring a requirement to execute practicing homosexuals. If it is permissible to pick and choose biblical passages – and, in particular, to pick and choose depending on whether one is being asked to do violence or harm to a peaceful neighbor – then we can pick and choose not to impose discriminatory legislation such as this.
However, I digress. Only a few advocates of the prohibition on gay marriage talk about executing homosexuals. (Not few enough.) They seek only to prohibit homosexual marriage.
This is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind. Survival has a great deal of value to most people. Why does survival have value? Mostly it has value because it allows us to do those things that make life worth living. If we take away from people that which makes life worth living, then we might as well take away their life. It is of little use or value.
Those who would prohibit gay marriage may not be taking the lives of their victims. However, at least for some of them, they are being deprived of something that would definitely help to make life more worth living. For them, it is a committed relationship to somebody of the same gender.
Degrees and Kinds
Imagine a case in which a pair of thugs grab a guy off the street, take him to an alley, beat him for a while, and leave him there. Imagine if they tried to defend their actions by saying, "Hey, there are people out there who pull people off the street, take them to secret prisons, and torture them for months, before releasing them. Compared to that, this is quite mild. Therefore, we have not done anything wrong and your condemnation is unjustified.”
Clearly, this is a flawed argument. The person who commits assault cannot claim innocence because somebody else commits murder.
To see the similarities in the two stories in another light, let us assume that, instead of Sunni executing Shiites, we have a case where a Shiite majority decides to pass a law in a democratically-elected congress (where they enjoy majority power) to prohibit Shiite Muslims from marrying (or adopting children). Here, clearly, we see that killing the Sunni minority, or prohibiting them from marrying, are two different degrees of the same basic evil.
At this point, a defender on the prohibition against homosexual marriage might want to argue that homosexuality is not a religion, and religions are entitled to special protection.
Not a religion?
Clearly, among homosexuals who wish to get married, some are religious. They hold a religious view that God does not mind – and possibly even approves of – homosexual marriage. This is, in fact, a religious view. It may be a minority view in conflict with the majority, but it is a religious view nonetheless.
Nor does a view have to be religious to make prohibitions and impositions immoral. One could hardly argue that it is legitimate to prohibit atheists from marrying or from adopting children on the basis that they do not have a “religion.” What it is wrong to do to a Sunni Muslim, it is wrong to do to an atheist. The homosexual atheist, then, is still another person with no religious objections to homosexual marriage.
Choice or Not
There is a dispute as to whether homosexuality is a matter of choice. I have argued before that this does not matter, and that view still stands.
If homosexuality is not a choice – if it exists as a result of biological forces -- then a ban on homosexual marriage is like stopping a bus, separating the passengers into groups of "white" and "black" and executing the blacks.
If homosexuality is a choice – if it is a freely selected system of values – then a ban on homosexual marriage is like stopping a bus, separating the passengers into groups of “Shiite” and “Sunni”, and executing the Sunni.
Choice or not, because homosexuality is harmless, a prohibition turns out to be immoral either way.
In fact, Shiite Muslims can make a far stronger case that Sunni Marriage is a threat, than heterosexual fundamentalist Christians can make against homosexual marriage. By giving Sunnis equal status under the law, the Shiites risk communicating being a Sunni is no worse than being a Shiite. This might cause their children to take the Sunni religion seriously. They might even convert. Clearly, protecting the Shiite religion justifies laws that make it clear that those who hold Sunni views are inferior – including bans on marriage or adopting children (who would then grow up to be Sunni Muslims, who would then vote against Shiite interests – horrors!)
Also, those who claim that homosexuality is a threat to marriage, need to explain why practicing priests and nuns, who do not get married at all, are not a threat to the institution of marriage.
The choice of living in mutual respect with homosexuals is really little different from the Shiite choice to live in mutual respect with their Sunni neighbors.
Homosexual marriage does not threaten the institution marriage. It threatens fundamentalist Christianity by offering people an alternative view of how people can live together. They are worried that people might be converted away from their religion of bigotry and hate, and adopt instead a religion of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. So, they want to make the doctrine of peace, tolerance, and acceptance illegal. In fact, they want to write into the Constitution that the religion of peace and tolerance is banned in this country.
Causing harm to others, whether "in the name of Islam" or "In Jesus' name" is not a poor argument for a Constitutional Amendment.