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DOMA and California's Propostion 8 Will Be Viewed Someday As a Century of Southern Racial Discrimination Is Viewed Today

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Don explores the role of religious dogma as a destructive element in accounting for opposition to human rights.

What Robert Green Ingersoll said of the Bible (About the Holy Bible, 1894) applies as well to the Christian religion that promotes it, namely, it imprisons the brain and corrupts the heart.

While many examples could be cited, what clearer illustration of this reality could be found than in the positions advanced by religionists on the two issues now before the U.S. Supreme Court, namely, DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage?

Religious dogma leads otherwise decent people to deny certain basic human rights to others that affect them in no way whatsoever. In the case at hand, dogma has motivated Christians to oppose marriage equality. Why? Because Christian faith beliefs persuade followers that if others are allowed to do what they find sinful, namely allow marriage equality for gays and lesbians, this will be a  violation of their religious liberties .

How convoluted is that? Is intolerance a Christian virtue?

Gays and lesbians are not seeking to compel any churches or religions to do anything they don't want to do. At present, gays or lesbians can marry without any involvement of religious officials, though some Christian ministers are supportive of such marriages and will perform such ceremonies in states where same sex unions are recognized.

Secularists and Christians and other religiously-oriented Americans who support freedom are wise to join in common cause to protect basic human rights and oppose religious encroachments on our laws and public policies.

Besides DOMA and Prop 8, other issues can be identified where liberties and personal freedoms are compromised, distorted, restricted or otherwise constrained by religion-inspired repression?

*  Restrictions on sexual conduct, including but not limited to same-sex relations between consenting adults.

*  Overt discrimination in the military. Only in the past year has the infamous don’t ask, don’t tell policy, which banned openly gay or bisexual from serving in the military, been overturned.

*  The status of women, who until the twentieth century were viewed as subordinate to men, lacking a full capacity for reason and dependent on husbands and other males. Not entirely but to a considerable extent, this prejudice was religiously inspired via holy books and suppressive elements of dogma and religious authority.

How odd that many still associate religions with the teaching of ethics when it fact religious policies and practices often are unethical. Freethinkers base their ethics not on ancient texts or the pontifications of pontiffs and other religious authorities but on reason and evidence. Religious dogma, usually vague and filled with you better the hell not threats, seems a sorry basis for ethics or public policies.

Who knows for sure that there is a God or, if one wants to believe there is, what his or her factual position is on freedoms and human rights?

There is only one reliable source for identifying the nature of human rights - us. We, the members of a given society, determine the nature of the rights we get to enjoy. In most Western nations, we rely on democratic processes to identify desired human rights based on our sense of desirable conditions under which we wish to live peacefully and productively with others with shared values. This is how we came up with what humanists call common decencies. We do not need religions to know that it is in our interest not to kill, steal, injure or plunder, break agreements, tell lies, ignore commitments, fail to assist others and so on.

Do you need a god or a religion to know these things? If someone is unlikely to refrain from doing such things save for fear of a god who will water-board him, hang him upside down and  burn him forevermore in some future life-after-death hellhole, would you want to associate with such a fiend?

Do you think this after-life form of justice motivates Christians who choose to oppose gay marriage?

Most of us accept the secular codes of conduct and common decencies of a positive nature even though we sometimes fail to function accordingly. (Self interest, temptations of varied kinds, special circumstances and so on lead us imperfect humans astray, some more often than others.) We accept these purely secular core norms, though often religionists give their faith traditions credit for their good, ethical behavior.
In this country and many others, we also embrace a variety of quite secular liberties for ourselves and others, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue an education and so on. For those who take their freedoms seriously, such liberties extend to sexual freedoms, though this is an area that brings conflict with those under the influence of religion.

Which brings me back to DOMA and Proposition 8. In the current issue of Free Inquiry Magazine (March 25, 2013), Ronald A. Lindsay has an article entitled, Humanism, LGBT Equality and Human Rights. It concludes with this summary:

The freedom to marry is different from other fundamental liberties. To speak freely, to exercise your religion freely, and to have intimate relations with the partner of your choice, government just needs to stay out of the way. Marriage, however, is a State-run institution. One cannot get married without State support and approval. But these facts do not change our analysis significantly. If the State supports an institution such as marriage, which allows couples to obtain certain benefits by legally solemnizing their union, then all individuals should have the same right to take advantage of this institution. Denying same-sex couples the right to marry makes no more sense than denying women the right to vote or African Americans the right to attend integrated schools.

Let’s support a society wherein everyone enjoys fundamental human rights. Let’s recognize that religion is often no friend of liberty, though many Christians either have already or will come to favor human rights over dogma if the issues of freedom are communicated effectively.

Americans have a great stake in the current battle to gain equal rights for LGBT citizens. The right to marry based on reason and this nation’s commitment to liberty should trump the tenets of ancient religious texts.

I’m proud to be associated with the American Humanist Association, the Center for Free Inquiry, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and a diverse coalition of many other secular and humanist organizations that are leading the fight to have the Supreme Court strike down these two infamous, religion-inspired constraints on everyone’s liberty. Let’s hope that the religionists on the court decide the cases not so much in accord with the make-believe better angels of their nature but in concert with their training in law and passion for justice. If so, we should expect their support for what we secularists believe is the best interpretations of liberty of, by and for the people.

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Comments (3)

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