By Yoruba Richen
When I began documenting the same-sex marriage quest in Maryland which ultimately became the award-winning film, “The New Black,” I was intrigued by the many nuances explored and positions justified when people were taking a stance either for or against. Of particular note were those against same-sex marriage in the name of their religious platforms (e.g. “I can’t support this because the Bible says it’s wrong.”) Even now, that viewpoint resonates with me because it is laced with such innuendo, assumption and, in some instances, downright fiction.
Today there are 37 states with legal same-sex marriage laws which demonstrates a quantum leap since “The New Black” premiered. To give you an idea of how far we’ve come, in February 2014 there were only 17 states with such laws. And to hopefully further progress, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to render a decision on whether states can institute a gay marriage ban. If victorious in favor of the LGBT community, it will overthrow existing bans in the remaining 13 states, declaring them unconstitutional. That would be a civil rights coup in the name of love and justice.
It brings to mind less than 50 years ago, when a similar civil rights battle was presented before the U.S. Supreme Court: Loving v. Virginia (1967). This landmark ruling overturned Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage and was subsequently applied to the remaining 15 states that outlawed matrimony between people of different ethnicities. The similarities between today’s quest and the Loving story are astounding:
1. Today, 13 states still have bans on gay marriage; during the Loving battle, there were 16 declaring interracial unions illegal.
2. Today, the LGBT community simply wants the right to a legal marriage in the states where they reside; Richard and Mildred Loving wanted to live in wedlock in their home state of Virginia.
3. Both battles call into question whether bans violate human and civil rights.
While similarities are stark, today’s challenge facing the LGBT population has an additional layer which is cloaked in the Bible. Some who oppose legalizing same-sex marriage cite their belief that it is forbidden according to the “Good Book.” Though we are making great strides, choosing to discriminate against the LGBT community for sacred reasons continues to create a convenient, thorny cross for us all to bear — pun intended.
Let’s take the resurgence of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has recently passed in Indiana and Arkansas with a potentially blaring version being contemplated in Louisiana. Even with revisions to the language in Indiana, RFRA’s blatant legislation affords people legal legs to discriminate — and they can do so by applying sketchy and selective interpretation of religious doctrine.
For instance, a small business refuses to cater a wedding for a lesbian couple because Christian beliefs don’t support the lifestyle. In the Old Testament, it states that sex with the same gender is an abomination. It also applies this same judgement to any sexual acts other than those between husband and wife. The New Testament condemns all forms of sexual immorality. There is no reference in the Bible admonishing gay marriage. So, I’ll argue that unless this establishment inquired about the lesbian couple’s sexual behavior and based its service refusal on the answer, it is unconstitutional to stand on religion. And for that matter, a heterosexual couple would also have to be polled to glean whether they’ve had premarital sex. Or, what if a heterosexual couple samples cake and the husband exclaims, “Oh my God, that is delicious”? Will they be escorted from the building since one of the Ten Commandments reads, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”?
In order to base service decisions on religious freedom, one would have to investigate each customer and determine if they’ve violated doctrine in any way. Anything short of this is cherry-picking, exercising selective rights-of-refusal. In other words, it is discrimination, and enacting legislation which makes such behavior legal is the real abomination.
As we continue the quest for the LGBT population’s right to legally marry in every state, we must also be vigilant about opposing legislation that allows someone to discriminate in the name of the Lord.