The Sad State of Dialogue on Civil Unions
I am an evangelical Christian who attends church regularly, so I was surprised to see a worship service on the grounds of the Hawaii state capitol this past Sunday. What struck me even more was the purpose for the service itself: to attempt to prevent the state of Hawaii from granting equal civil rights to members of our society.
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Ever since the November elections, I have been unable to turn my attention from the issue of civil unions and same-sex marriage. My interest was piqued when I heard of my own home state of California's passage of Proposition 8. So when I received an invite by Facebook to a public hearing before Hawaii's House Judiciary committee to discuss House Bill 444 (HB444), I enthusiastically clicked "will attend."
Basically, HB444 extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union. For the most part, I am still undecided about how I feel concerning same-sex marriage, but that may be due to my diminished view of the state's role in sanctioning marriage in general. It seems to me that renaming a legally recognized intimate relationship to allow the religious-industrial-complex to retain its continued hold on the title "marriage" could be a decent compromise in the eyes of the law. I was (and admittedly may remain) very uninformed on the rationale for supporting or opposing the measure, so I was expecting an invigorating debate.
What I got was something much less. The opponents of the bill relied primarily on a 1998 vote to amend the state's constitution, which defined marriage as being between a man and woman. Furthermore, at least two opponents stated it was simply against their party's platform to approve civil unions (way to think for yourselves, folks).
What I found entirely unacceptable, as a citizen and especially as an evangelical, were a few self-described Christians basing their opposition on the idea that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of people "like that." For those who have succumbed to the misconception that Sodom and Gomorrah's downfall was caused by homosexuals, I turn your attention beyond Genesis 18 and 19 (which indicates simply that 10 righteous people could not be found) to Ezekiel (16:49-51), where the Lord says that Israel's sin was worse than Sodom's:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done (emphasis added).
Furthermore, under closer scrutiny of Genesis 18 and 19, one will find that sexual immorality is nowhere described as the cause of the downfall of the city, but merely as a condition present at its destruction. Instead of proof-texting our beliefs, perhaps we may try walking humbly alongside our neighbors, honoring the Image within each of us regardless of our orientation. Shouldn't we allow fellow Image-bearers to sort out their OWN salvation with fear and trembling? Must we insist on sorting it out FOR them with fear and trembling?
As for the belief that such a practice "destroys the fabric of society," I am not sure that it ranks at all close to threats such as poverty, violence, and consumerism. Let's focus some of our energy there before wasting such precious resources on things like Prop 8 (the amount spent on that bill only failed to exceed the spending for the actual race for president).
HB444 currently is before our state senate, approaching its final reading. The bill's opponents are mounting a last minute go-for-broke campaign of calls and e-mails. It is my hope that their talking points have evolved past comparing the morality of same-sex couples to pedophilia, rape, and polygamy (yes, that did in fact occur in the public hearing). If it passes, Hawaii will become only the fifth state to allow civil unions. I personally support the measure, though I am not certain that I even support the government's jurisdiction in such intimate spiritual matters like marriage to begin with. However, seeing as the state has already sanctioned unions between two individual citizens, it stands to follow that such recognition never be granted or withheld based solely on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Too often, well-intentioned biblical literalism has justified all kinds of evil committed by the state, not the least of which being slavery, the oppression of women, and total war. I do not doubt that each protester at the Capitol Sunday was sincere, nor do I doubt the sincerity of those who decried abolitionism as working against the will of God. I only doubt their moral courage and biblical literacy. To the impartial observer, it should be clear that civil unions restore justice to our society by providing equity under the law. It is my hope that our state legislators recognize this as well and vote accordingly, but ultimately I hope the church is able to learn from her troubled past and move forward with contrite hearts.
Logan Laituri is a six-year Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He is an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and has co-founded a faith-based veterans assistance initiative called Centurion's Purse, which seeks to provide financial and spiritual relief to fellow service members in need. He blogs at courageouscoward.blogspot.com.