by Jay Johansen | Nov 4, 2000
Usually, of course, it is conservatives who talk about God. And when they do, you can always count on liberals to cry foul.
As I write this, we are in the midst of the Bush-Gore presidential campaign of 2000. At one point in the primaries, during a debate, the candidates were asked what person had most influenced their thinking. Most of the candidates named some political philosopher or a respected political leader of the past. But George W Bush (a conservative candidate) said that the person who had most influenced him was Jesus Christ. For weeks the media were filled with stories questioning whether it was appropriate for a presidential candidate to allow his political positions to be affected by Jesus Christ. Wasn't this "exclusive"? Didn't it threaten "separation of church and state"?
So as I say, I was quite surprised when just a couple of months later the Democrat vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman, mentioned God in a debate. Neither his opponent nor the moderator ever mentioned God, so he wasn't reacting to something someone else said. It was he who brought God into the conversation. He not only mentioned God, but very explicitly linked his religious beliefs to a political policy proposal.
Mr Lieberman pointed out that our Declaration of Independence says that our rights are given to us, not by the state or by politicians, but by our Creator, whom he refered to as an "awesome God". Therefore, after he carefully studied the teachings of his religion and of the founding fathers of our nation (or so I presume), he concluded that ... the government should pass laws defining marriage to include homosexual relationships, and there should be laws to force employers to hire homosexuals.
Now, Mr Lieberman claims to be an Orthodox Jew. Orthodox Judaism claims that the Torah (what Christians call the Old Testament) is the word of God. So if he wanted to know what God thought about any given subject, a pretty logical step would be to read His book. One doesn't have to study the Torah very hard to see what God thinks of homosexual acts. One need only read, say, Leviticus 18:22, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." (NIV)
So, Mr Lieberman is saying that because we are all created by an "awesome God", that therefore people should not only have the legal right to do things that that awesome God specifically told them they were not to do, but that the law should give official sanction to such acts. Indeed, he is saying that the government should punish anyone who attempts to disassociate himself from such acts. (Under his proposal, an insurance company that refused to recognize a homosexual partner as a "spouse", or a day care center that refused to hire homosexuals to oversee children, would presumably face lawsuits or even criminal prosecution.)
Personally, I find the logic here a little difficult to follow. Mr Lieberman believes in God. He believes that God has written a book telling us what he expects of us. He believes that all people are created by God. And therefore, he concludes, we should ignore what God wrote in his book and punish people who try to follow it.
If he said that he doesn't believe in God and he thinks the Bible is just somebody else's opinion, it would make sense for him to say that it should be ignored. Or if he said he believes in God and the Bible but he doesn't think this should have anything to do with his political policies, perhaps he could make some coherent argument there. But to say that because we are created by God, that therefore we should ignore His commands ... I don't get it.
Of course, when conservatives say things like this, they are routinely scolded by the media. No, the anchorman will patiently explain, our rights are determined by the concensus of society and must be expected to "grow" with time. Any attempt to say that our rights are determined by God is an attempt to impose out-dated moral codes on modern society, where they just don't apply any more. Morality has changed over the years, and will continue to change as humans evolve. They carefully put on the demeanor of school teachers patiently trying to explain a simple concept to a child who just doesn't get it.
So why didn't they attack Joe Lieberman for openly saying that, if elected, he intended to impose his religious beliefs on the rest of the country? He openly said that his pro-homosexuality proposals were based on his belief in an "awesome God". Surveys routinely show that the vast majority of Americans do not believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable. So Mr Liberman is saying -- indeed proudly boasting -- that he seeks to impose the religious beliefs of a tiny minority on the rest of the country. Where is the outrage in the media over this violation of the separation of church and state? I didn't hear one word.
Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if a Catholic politician had said that he opposed abortion for religious reasons and would therefore try to make it illegal if elected? You don't have to imagine, do you? We've heard it plenty of times.
Maybe I should begin this answer by going back to the beginning of the country and the Declaration of Independence, which says right there at the outset that all of us are created equal and that we're endowed, not by any bunch of politicians or philosophers, but by our creator with those inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
At the beginning of our history, that promise, that ideal, was not realized or experienced by all Americans. But over time since then we have, we have extended the orbit of that promise. And in our time at the frontier of that effort is extending those kinds of rights to gay and lesbian Americans who are citizens of this country and children of the same awesome god, just as much as any of the rest of us are.
That's why I have been an original co-sponsor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which aims to prevent gay and lesbian Americans who are otherwise qualified from being discriminated against in a workplace. And I've sponsored other pieces of legislation and other, taken other actions that carry out that ideal.
The question you pose is a difficult one, for this reason: It confronts or challenges the traditional notion of marriage as being limited to a heterosexual couple, which I support.
But I must say, I'm thinking about this because I have friends who are in gay and lesbian partnerships who have said to me, "Isn't it unfair that we don't have similar legal rights to inheritance, to visitation when one of the partners is ill, to health care benefits?" And that's why I'm thinking about it. And my mind is open to taking some action that will address those elements of unfairness while respecting the traditional religious and civil institution of marriage.
© 2000 by Jay Johansen