Saturday, June 27, 2015

Complaints Recycled Against Gay Marraige

The recent Supreme Court ruling affirming the rights of gay couples to marry naturally caused outrage among religious conservatives.  They trotted out arguments about historical tradition, the Bible and the like.  If such arguments sound familiar, they should.  They are the same ones conservatives have used for centuries against abolishing slavery, in favor of segregation, against women’s rights and for opposition to interracial marriage, all of which are now welcomed by society.

Speech by Miles
An old standby is to claim that God is opposed to the change.  That buttressed arguments against slavery in the 1700 and 1800s.  Once the South broke with the North, the Confederate constitution boldly claimed divine support for their “peculiar institution,” invoking “the favor and guidance of Almighty God” in contrast with the silence about a divine being in the U.S. Constitution.  Religious residents of the South had no doubt they were representing God on earth.

“We are working out a great thought of God, namely the higher development of Humanity in its capacity for Constitutional Liberty,” explained South Carolina Episcopal theologian James Warley Miles.

He continued that the Southern states must “exhibit to the world that supremest effort of humanity” in creating and defending a society built upon obedience to biblical prescriptions regarding slavery, a society “sanctified by the divine spirit of Christianity,” according to a report by Thom Bassett, a member of the Department of English and Cultural Studies at Bryant (Rhode Island) University.

Southerners were sure, Bassett wrote in an essay titled The South, The War and ‘Christian Slavery,’ that slavery was required. “Christians across the Confederacy were convinced that they were called not only to perpetuate slavery but also to ‘perfect’ it. And they understood the Bible to provide clear moral guidelines on how to properly practice it.  The Old Testament patriarchs owned slaves, Jewish law clearly assumed its permissibility and the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters repeatedly compelled slaves to be obedient and loyal to their masters. Above all, as Southerners never tired of pointing out to their abolitionist foes, the Gospels fail to record any condemnation of the practice by Jesus Christ.”

When the South lost, religious leaders blamed God's unhappiness with the poor treatment of slaves, not slavery itself.

Segregation was supported with the same religious claptrap.  As one Mississippi professor proclaimed in the 1940s, “our Southern segregation way is the Christian way.”

One of the main proponents was Theodore Bilbo, who is largely forgotten now.  He was twice elected governor of Mississippi and served as its senator in the mid-1900s.  He wrote a widely circulated book titled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization in which he insisted “[p]urity of race is a gift of God ... And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” Allowing “the blood of the races [to] mix,” according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the “divine plan of God.” There “is every reason to believe that miscegenation and amalgamation are sins of man in direct defiance to the will of God.”

He had lots of companions on that bandwagon, including the courts.  In1867, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld segregated railway cars by noting that “natural law which forbids [racial intermarriage] and that social amalgamation which leads to a corruption of races, is clearly divine …”

That ruling set a precedent adopted by state supreme courts in Alabama, Indiana and Virginia to ban interracial marriage, and by justices in Kentucky to endorse segregated colleges and housing.
In Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896, the Supreme Court then created the “separate but equal” doctrine which enshrined segregation in this country for the next almost 60 years.

Religion gave credence to such decisions, as was brazenly stated by Georgia Gov. Allen Candler in 1901:  “God made them Negroes, and we cannot by education make them white folks.”

The 1954 Supreme Court decision banning segregation naturally ran into religious bigotry.  Ross Barnett ran on the platform of “the good Lord was the original segregationist” to roll into the Mississippi governorship in 1960.  Meanwhile, on the floor of the U.S. Senator, Virginia’s beloved racist Sen. Harry Byrd quoted from biblical texts to attack a civil rights bill banning employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters.

Women, too, been continually abused by religious conservatives.  That’s another long “tradition,” dating far back in human history, just like marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church bases its beliefs of the inferiority of women on biblical verses in Genesis where God tells Eve that her husband will rule over her (Genesis 3:16).  In the holy text, women are also listed as nothing more than one of a man’s goods. The New Testament chimes in “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord,” (Colossians 3:18) among other misogynist lines.

Naturally, Thomas Aquinas, one of three Church fathers, had a dim view of women.  He taught that women were defective men, imperfect in both body and soul, “conceived either because of defective sperm or because a damp wind was blowing at the time of conception.”

Canon Law supported that view by insisting women were inferior.  In the law books, women don’t even have a soul.  They couldn’t testify in disputes over wills, nor in criminal proceedings or in legal cases.  They were prohibited from becoming doctors or lawyers, and they couldn’t hold public office.  Under the thumb of the Church, European laws for centuries reflected these same views.

Such ideas didn’t just vanish overnight.  In this country, women were barred from sitting in juries until into the 20th century.  Career opportunities were largely limited to teaching and nursing, and then only when single.  Women weren’t even counted as people on Church membership rolls. Some restrictions still continue, based totally on religion. In England, for example, women still get the short end of inheritance and taxation laws.
Bust of Josephus

The Catholic Church is hardly alone.  Jews haven’t had much respect for women’s right.  Rabbi Judah in the late first century recommended that men say three prayers a day: 'Blessed be the Lord who did not make me a heathen; blessed be he who did not make me a woman; blessed be he who did not make me an uneducated person.'"

The famed historian of that era, Josephus, added that women are "in all things inferior to the man.”

Women are still treated that way in the name of religion, denied basic health care such as birth control, emergency contraception, and abortion.  Women are still being fired for getting pregnant, according to published accounts.

Of course, religious leaders opposed women’s suffrage.  Fought by organized religion, women didn’t get the right to vote in England until 1918 and in the United States two years later.

Opposition to this fundamental right was led by such ministers as Adolf Hult, a Lutheran pastor, who insisted that the suffrage movement had been taken over by "lust and immorality." In echoing the usual claims that giving such a right would cause God to act, he proclaimed that “the fall of women would lead to the fall of the world. Must men put on the iron glove?" he asked.

The Rev. John Williams, an Episcopalian leader, insisted that the right to vote would “undermine Christian morality, marriage, and home life. God meant for women to reign over home, and most good women reject politics because woman suffrage will destroy society."

That same rubbish was repeated when people of different races tried to get married.  For more than 100 years, courts in such diverse states as Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania relied on religious beliefs to support laws banning interracial marriages.  In one case from 1960, a judge wrote, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
A few years later, a court in Virginia insisted that differing scientific opinion supported the ban on interracial marriages.  That same claim showed up this year in Michigan, only this time against allowing gays to marry.

In fact, all of the complaints about gay marriage are simply recycled from other attempts to block “equal justice for all,” which is a promise engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The Court has taken a different view: Religion is not an excuse to discriminate.

Zealots might want to take that to heart.  Finally.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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