In Defense of Marriage Act and The Great Commandment

見 By Harry E. Allen, Scholar-in-Residence
Bruce S. Ponder, Visiting Faculty Researcher

Speech delivered by Harry E. Allen, Scholar-in-Residence
Department of Justice Administration, University of Louisville, KY 40209
March 19, 2001.

I think I should start by giving the reason for my being in Louisville.

I am here this evening because injustice is here. A small segment of the American population has claimed special rights and then collaborated with other bigots to deny those rights to all. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Last year, the nation entered into the twenty-first century, eleven-score years since we lovingly embraced the legal position that "we hold some things to be self-evident, that all [humans] are created equal."

As we began this year, California, the last of the 50 states to do so, had just passed "in defense of marriage act" plebiscite legislation that again divided Americans into two classes: first-class and second-class citizens. Not segregated on the basis of race, but segregated on the basis of sexual orientation.

The defense of marriage enactments, pieces of odious legislation, limit marriage to a legal union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife.

Federal legislation, probably unconstitutional, passed years earlier, purports to give states the "right" to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This despite the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution that requires states to recognize the "acts, records and proceedings of other states."

DOMA also created a federal definition of "marriage" and "spouse" for the first time ever in our country’s history. This is an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into an area traditionally left to the states.

Marriage was defined as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and spouse was defined as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife".

Forms of marriage not fitting this description are not eligible for any of the more than 1,000 marriage benefits offered by the federal government, including social security benefits, veteran’s benefits, joint tax status, exemptions from property taxes on partner’s death, and immigration rights for foreign spouse. In other words, second-class citizenship based only upon whom one happens to love.

According to the United States Supreme Court (Zablocki v. Redhail 434 US 374, 1978), marriage is:
a. One of the basic civil rights of [Americans].
b. The most important relation in life.
c. Part of the fundamental right to privacy.
d. Of fundamental importance for all individuals.

This injustice is an immoral and unconstitutional practice of withholding rights from millions of law-abiding and tax-paying Americans on the basis of sexual orientation alone.

In these times of social awareness, we are called upon as citizens of this country to rise up and to speak out for civil liberties for all citizens, not just special rights reserved for first-class citizens of this great country of ours.

Sometimes the oppressors fail to see the injustice, so institutionalized that it takes the light of a bright new day to shed understanding. I am here tonight to hold that light steady, to present a view of the oppressor by the oppressed.

Some would say that marriage rights are not special rights. Yes, some argued that poll taxes and ownership of property were requirements for voting, when in fact these were just ploys to protect special rights for a narrowly-defined group of citizens: white males. Restriction of marriage rights is just another example of bigotry and homophobia.

I am here to join my "fellow Americans" in a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign to abolish injustice: injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. If all humans are created equal, then gay folk are victims of a broken promise.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that a non-violent campaign has four basic stages:
1. collection of the facts to determine whether injustice has occurred.
2. negotiation
3. self-purification, and
4. direct action.

I am aware that we are approaching Passover, and we are now in the Easter season, a period in Christianity celebrating obedience to God and redemption through resurrection. I am aware that Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment and responded:
You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself.

The essence of DOMA is hate, hate of homosexuals, gays, transgenders, lesbians, and all others who might love a member of their own sex or gender. Hate is not found anywhere in the Great Commandment. The operative verb is: "love".

You may ask yourself: Why not wait? Will time not inevitably free the oppressed? Why direct action? Why speeches to demonstrate your position? Isn’t negotiation a better path? Yes, negotiation is a better path and is the reason for direct action: to create a crisis and establish a creative tension so that a community that has constantly and persistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

Soulforce, Reverend Mel White, Reverend Jimmy Creech and nameless others and organizations have negotiated, demanding that voices from the other side examine their words and motives. Those voices from the other side drip with hate, denouncement, Biblical interpretations that responsible scriptural scholars find indefensible, denunciations and violence, both physical and spiritual.

Demands for negotiation were of no avail. Myths, half-truths, and stereotypes have continued, and many political and religious leaders have failed to rise to the realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal. Failed to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and hate to the illuminating light of understanding and acceptance.

Many fundamentalists argue that homosexual behavior is forbidden in Biblical scriptures, and then selectively cite texts ripped from their contextual meanings, particularly in the books of Leviticus and Romans.

Leviticus, as you who are biblical scholars know, contains many prescribed and proscribed behaviors: adultery (18:20), lying with man as with a woman (18:22, 20:13), prostituting your daughter (19:29), cursing or striking your parents (20:9), wearing garments made of wool and linen (19:19), a grandfather’s looking upon the nakedness of his granddaughter (18:10), tattooing (19:28), and eating (11:1-2) shellfish, hare, swine or snails. The penalty for many of these (adultery, man lying with man, cursing or hitting parents) was death. Two observations. First, Leviticus was about remaining separate from the indigenous peoples in the lands the Israelites had just invaded, and that separation included abstaining from Gentile religious ceremonies and rites, including male temple prostitution, then current in other religions. Since the author or authors of Leviticus wanted their people to remain separate, Leviticus ended with the commandment of: "Obey me and carry out all of my commandments, or else." [Boils, fevers, consumption, infertility, bondage, etc.]

You don’t get to pick and choose proscriptions from Leviticus if you follow the way of the Law. You must follow them all.

And remember, while Jewish law allowed divorce, Jesus strictly forbade it.

Second, I do not see many Christian Fundamentalists organizing protests and picketing seafood restaurants, oyster bars, all grocery stores, tattoo parlors, barber shops, or merchandisers selling clothing made of mixed fabrics: wool, cotton, or polyester. It would be quite silly to demand that: "Preachers, condemn the demonic abomination of garments that are made of mixed fabric."

We know from bitter experience that equality and acceptance as first-class citizens and freedom are never voluntarily given by the oppressor. They must be demanded by the oppressed.

I hear: "Wait". And then I see "Don’t ask, don’t tell" as a military policy, one that has resulted in a massive increase in the number of military personnel discharged as they are pursued by their military supervisors. In 2000, the Air Force conducted more "fishing expeditions" into the private lives of its members that did the other services. And the Pentagon has yet to implement the Department of Defense’s proposed Anti-Harassment Action Plan of 1999 that would prevent harassment of gays and lesbians.

In 1998-2000, more members of our armed forces were discharged for being gay or lesbian than in all of World War II, when our nation had 18 million fighters in uniform. In war, the blood of our fellow gays and lesbians is a drop in the sand. In peace, gays and lesbians are a plague. Where is justice? Leonard Matlovich once said to me: "My country gave me a medal for killing a man, and a discharge for loving one."

Wait? While many are fired by their employers for cross-dressing in their private life; or are fired because their employer’s policy is not to hire homosexuals. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Wait? When you are harried by homophobic hate speech made by fellow Kentuckians as you are dining in local restaurants?

Wait? While you are harried by day and haunted by night that your sexual orientation will be discovered and you will be subsequently fired, denied your pension, and left with a broken employment record and scant hope for finding comparable work? Only because of your sexual orientation?

Wait? While murderous thugs kidnap fellow gays and lesbians, beating them to death in Wyoming and Alabama, and leaving them to die while tied to a wooden fence and exposed to freezing winds, or while burning them on gasoline-soaked tires? Or shooting lesbians while they are camping in the woods?

Wait? While criminals seek reduced culpability by blaming their oppressive and murderous behavior on the perceived intentions of the dead victim, who cannot speak? Too frequently, biased juries and prejudiced judges fail to convict for murder, or convict on some lesser and included crime, such as simple assault.

Wait? When life imprisonment for murder is denied and short sentences or even only probation is imposed on felons claiming "homosexual panic" as a defense for their killing their victim? "Yes, I killed him because he needed killing: he was a queer."

DOMA is unjust. When Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. asked how to differentiate between just and unjust laws, he wrote:
1. A just law is an enacted code that squares with the moral law or law of God: the Great Commandment.
2. Any law that uplifts human personality is just, and any that denigrates human personality is unjust.
3. Any law is unjust that gives a segregator (those who divide Americans into first- and second-class citizens) a false sense of superiority and the stigmatized a false sense of inferiority, one that "distorts the soul and damages the personality".
4. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding to itself, a denial of the rights of First Amendment privileges of peaceful assembly; to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Denial of marriage is a violation of the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Many religious leaders, progressives, civil libertarians, civil rights advocates and workers, and people of good will in general have concluded that the cultural war on homosexuals now underway is unfair and pernicious. They know that injustice must be exposed to the light of human conscience and the air of public debate.

But I confess that I am sorely disappointed by the majority of Jewish, Roman Catholic and other Christian churches that have not addressed this injustice. Even a few Fundamentalist congregations sense the injustice and have practiced the Great Commandment by inclusivity and acceptance. And some of those brave leaders have been disfellowshipped for their leadership stances, and their congregations expelled.

Of course, there are other notable exceptions to those religious leaders and organizations I deem to be out of conformity with the Great Commandment. Reverend Jimmy Creech conducted same-sex unions and, at his second trial, was defrocked. Soulforce supporters staged a non-violent civil disobedient protest against the United Methodist Church before his second trial for "Violating the Order and Discipline" of the church. Soulforce supporters have now organized a non-violent civil disobedience protest among church members to withhold contributions to those churches whose teachings and practices cause physical and spiritual violence, and promote legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

If you are comfortably out or opposed to oppression, put a signed note in the collection plate telling why you are not making a gift. If you are not out, the same unsigned note will do. If you tithe, direct that the tithe be donated to the charity of your choice. Leaving the church will not reduce hate and homophobia. Local churches must face up to, deal with and be responsible for their bigotry.

Locally, Reverends Dee Dale and Greg Youngblood have welcomed congregants regardless of sexual orientation.

The Kentucky Fairness Alliance has been a leader in diversity and inclusivity. And Reverend Terry Greenlee of the Religious Organizing Project of Kentucky is hard at work for increased inclusivity for all.

Reverend Penny Nixon, the charismatic pastor of MCC-SF, is a-fire in zeal for her envisioned Good Society.

In the struggle, ministers, priests and rabbis should be our strongest allies but, instead, are some of our outright oppressors. The latter have refused to try to understand the struggle and have misinterpreted both its leadership as well as scriptures. Religious organizations must be held accountable for their bigotry.

One example of hate by a religious leader:
"These perverted homosexuals hate absolutely everything that you and I and most decent, God-fearing citizens stand for… Make no mistake. These deviants seek no less than total control and influence in our society, politics, our schools and in our free exercise of free speech and religious freedom…"
The same televangelist also railed: "I must have your help if we are to be successful. The small, but outspoken and financially well-heeled, homosexual political lobby is a dangerous foe… They will stop at nothing, including violence, to secure their goals. I have been the target of their hatred many times…"

If you fail to see the hate here, insert a very pejorative racist term for some of our fellow-Americans as I present the last of the quotes from the words of this same televangelist: "Homosexuals want to use the power of the federal government to force this nation to adopt homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle and homosexuals as a bona fide minority-which would mean hiring quotas, affirmative action and ultimately forcing churches to hire homosexuals on their staff!"

Other religious leaders have been more cautious than courageous. Still others have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of their stained-glass windows or behind the pulpits of beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing toward heaven. Still others mouth pious trivialities and sanctimonious pap.

We have entered the 21st century with a religious community largely embracing the status quo, tail-lights behind other community organizations, rather than headlights leading Americans forward toward loftier levels of justice. I remember the silence of the church during the Holocaust.

Yet I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have escaped the binding fetters and crushing inertia of conformity, and have joined hands as active partners in the struggle for justice. Some have lost the support of their churches and bishops, and suffered great pain and travails for carving a tunnel of hope through a mountain of hate and disappointment.

The Progressive Faith Community and People for the American Way of Life will convene the first national conference next month, to build what I hope to be a powerful collaborative movement on the issues of racial, economic and sexual justice, and to coordinate action on gender and gay equality as well as religious freedom.

The Jesus Seminar continues to challenge mainstream and fundamentalist religious organizations to make Christianity relevant to ordinary Americans.

I am full of hope that we can unite behind the best in the American dream and most sacred of our values in the Judeo-Christian heritages, and thus transform our nation back to those great wells of democracy, dug deep by our founding leaders in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In closing, I apologize if I have said anything that is offensive to you, that is an over-statement of the truth, or is indicative of an untimely and impertinent nature. I would ask you to forgive me. If you are offended, I beg you to look into your heart to find out why you are offended.

Let us hope that the deep morass and dark clouds of prejudice and hate pass away, and in the goodness of time -now-the beaming shafts of love and acceptance will shine over our nation, in all their brilliance and glory.

As Coretta Scott King said:
"Lesbian and gay people are a permanent part of the American work force, who currently have little or no protection from the arbitrary abuse of their rights on the job. For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet has been denied equal protection under the law."

I close with a verse from an honored song authored by James Weldon Johnson in 1900:

Lift every voice and sing.
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song of the faith that the dark past has taught us.
Sing a song of the hope that the present has brought us.
Facing the rising sun of our new life begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Thank you.