March 03, 2008
Obama's Christian case for gays (II)
Posted by: Chris
But unlike last week, when he made a general appeal to treating gays in a "Christian way," this time Obama argued that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount supported civil unions for same-sex couples. According to the anti-gay Christian News Service, Obama said this in Nelsonville, Ohio:
I will tell you that I don't believe in gay marriage, but I do believe that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and the state should not discriminate against them. So I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other.
I don't think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.
The segment is available in audio here.
Obama was never more specific about what in particular in the Sermon on the Mount justifies civil unions, but it is most likely that he had in mind passages like the Golden Rule ("Do to others as you would have them to do to you") or warning against judging ("Do not judge or you too will be judged.") The reference to Romans, of course, is to the specific admonitions against homosexual conduct contained in Paul's letters to Rome.
I generally agreed with Andrew Sullivan that Obama opened an important new front in the argument for gay rights by turning the religious opposition to our equality on its head. But I worry about this latest reference to specific passages in the Bible to justify a specific demand for equality. The danger is that doing so opens up the debate over civil unions into one of dueling of biblical passages, rather than the Constitution's purely secular guarantee of equality.
Or, as Marc Ambinder puts it, "Obama's reference was casual, and in referencing scripture he's committed the same (venial) sin that liberal religionists are always cataloguing as coming from conservatives: that they slip contextless biblical phrases into their political stump speeches and degrade the meaning of both."
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