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Clay Farris Naff

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What Is Really on Trial in the Prop 8 Case?

Posted: 01/22/10 07:36 AM ET

Halt the trial! The verdict is in.
"Judgment has already come upon America," says Pastor John Piper. "The fact that we are so tolerant of homosexual behavior [shows that] God has already given us over in large measure to a debased mind."
Oh, really? To paraphrase Tonto, who's "we," God man?
This is more than an overripe punchline. Much like the Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925, the proceeding in Judge Walker's court on Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriages in California, forms a dramatic curtain-raiser on our national soul.
What is at stake? To religious conservatives, nothing less than the God-ordained institution of marriage. To everyone else, nothing less than fundamental fairness.
I know the trial is only just getting underway, but since God has already tipped his hand to Rev. Piper, allow me to offer my humble opinion as well. While I am fervently on the side of fairness, I have some sympathy for those who see marriage as a sacrament about to be sacrificed on the altar of tolerance. In my view, it would be better for government to get out of the business of ratifying anybody's marriage. But first, let's try to get to the bottom of it all.
There is a deep irony in the way the two sides in this trial are duking it out. The plaintiffs, who oppose Proposition 8, are trying to prove that the defendants, who oppose gay marriage, do so out of religious bigotry. The defendants, it would appear, are attempting to make their case on scientific grounds.
Let me say plainly that the defendants are acting out a charade. There can be no reasonable doubt that religion motivates their opposition. As one pro-Prop 8 witness reluctantly testified, in his view California would fall into the "hands of Satan" if same-sex couples could wed.
But here's the irony: religion is not ultimately to blame. A substantial chunk of religion has no problem endorsing gay marriage. The actual conflict stems from a certain kind of religion that serves as a proxy for deeper anti-gay impulses. How do we know? Science!
Last evening, I had the pleasure of hearing John Hibbing, one of the few political scientists to actually apply science in his field, speak on his research to date. In controlled laboratory tests, the University of Nebraska professor has found, among other things, a significant correlation between strong disgust reactions in subjects who viewed unpleasant images and opposition to gay marriage. . Various other correlations between physiological responses, religiosity, and political views suggest that genetic differences contribute to our worldviews.
Our worldviews, in turn, contribute to the kind of religion we invest (or decline to invest) our beliefs in. What I am getting at here is that conservative religion may just be proxy for more deeply rooted attitudes toward tolerance versus authority. Some of us are inclined to live and let live. Others feel the need to have God dictate commandments for us all to live by.
One their face, such findings have disturbing implications. But we should resist all forms of fatalism. Genes make for tendency, not destiny. Hibbing only found a .44 correlation , which means that more than half of our attitudes are shaped by other influences -- including our own thinking.
What is most important here is knowledge. As Bacon rightly said, "Scientia est Potentia." The better we understand ourselves, the freer we are to make reasoned, compassionate decisions. For people inclined to react to gay relationships with disgust, knowledge can help them get past their gut reactions to a more sensible, compassionate stance. If this were untrue, no one would ever get past racism, for a substantial component of that evil is rooted in our evolved, instinctive fear of those who look different from ourselves. Religion served a proxy role in supporting racism as well, but with few exceptions that's long gone.
For people who feel it's ridiculous to oppose gay relationships, a little understanding can help them lose the contempt they feel for those who differ and make possible genuine dialogue across ideological canyons. I have experienced that in the last decade, and it is a true joy.
As to gay marriage itself, the moot court of Clay is now ready to render judgment. The arguments presented by defendants are flimsy at best and fraudulent at worst. There is no credible evidence of harm to children resulting from gay relationships among adults. There is no credible evidence of a threat to society. And the argument that allowing gay marriage will lead to endorsement of trans-species relationships has precisely the probative value of an argument that if we allow Asians to immigrate, we'll soon be handing out visas to chimps. It's merely an appeal to bigotry disguised as argument.
That said, we must acknowledge that to many marriage is a sacred institution, and to some that means it must be between a man and a woman. It is a founding principle of our nation that government has no business mediating the interpretation of theology. Therefore, it is our judgment that henceforth marriage is a matter for religious institutions to decide, and carries no legal weight in society. All competent adults, however, will be eligible to have their domestic partnerships recognized by the several states of the union, regardless of the sex of the applicants. Court is adjourned.

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