152. concatenate



Last week I watched my news feed with excitement for the much-anticipated landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. Since I don’t watch television, radio and online news are my primary sources of information, and I was admittedly somewhat embarrassingly anxious to hear how the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory would fare on its “seven minutes of terror” landing. Seeing those first few pictures of the Martian landscape is still breathtaking—images of literally another world that isn’t earth.

This mission has revived a public conversation that’s been raging in the scientific community for decades. What is life? How do we define it? How do we recognize it when we see it? Since the dawn of the science-fiction genre with the second-century Roman satirist Lucien’s True History,we’ve been imagining other forms of life in our own image, which really isn’t all that different from how we’ve crafted our gods. Until recently, sci-fi shows and movies almost always portray aliens as humanoid, partly due to budget or material constraints.

In an article on NPR today, Marcelo Gleiser ponders the implications of finding (or not finding) evidence of life on Mars. “The expectations are high that Curiosity will find a trace of life, even if long extinct,” he writes. “However, if results turn out negative, we will still learn a lot. After all, the question we are asking is whether life on Earth is the exception or the rule. If life is not found on Mars, it will be harder to justify that life is abundant in the universe.”

The human race is currently emerging from its infancy. Until a certain age, young children are egocentric, incapable of empathy and recognizing that other people are separate individuals. Their brains haven’t developed that ability yet. (Some people never grow past that stage.) Similarly, the human race is finally learning that there might be other ways to be alive. We’re now conjecturing what silicon-based life form might look like, how it could evolve, how it could evolve intelligence, and how we might recognize any of those things. Depending on planetary conditions and the elements its parent star are rich in, a life form might find chlorine, arsenic or methane nourishing, and water a lethal poison.

Analogously, the human race is also discovering that there’s more than one way to be human. (Yes, I just managed to link the Mars mission to gay rights. Bite me.)

Earlier this week I was having several discussions over this infographic that’s been floating around cyberspace:

In case you haven’t seen it, the gist of it is that we dismiss much of the Bible now as being either culturally contextual and therefore irrelevant to modern-day society (such as wearing clothes woven from different fabrics, or any of the Old Testament laws and regulations), or flat out wrong (such as forcing rape victims to marry their rapists).

Naturally, it’s caused a firestorm of controversy and disagreement.

The two central questions this debate has raised seem to concern the definition of marriage and the definition of sexuality. What does it mean to be married today? What has it meant historically? Is heterosexuality the only way to be sexual, or are there alternatives? That was the central issue in the California Proposition 8 case—whether homosexuality is a learned “behavior” or it’s a natural variant of human sexuality. The answer to that question determined whether the GLBT community could be considered a legal protected class and therefore entitled to protection under the Due Process Clause. In his ruling decision, Judge Walker overturned Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, saying that “no compelling state interest justifies denying same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.”

Walker’s decision harkens, of course, to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s landmark 1967 ruling decision in Loving v. Virginia, when he wrote that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”

I’ve encountered a number of people of the anti-gay persuasion this week, most of whom continue to insist that being homosexual is a choice. They’ve also claimed that gay men have hundreds of partners, are riddled with STDs, rape and molest children, and bring down God’s wrath and judgment on any society that doesn’t persecute us. But I haven’t heard one argument that has cited a scientific study proving categorically that homosexuality is indeed a perversion of human sexuality, that anyone is harmed by homosexuality (including homosexuals), that children are placed at risk of harm or indoctrination by an insidious “gay agenda,” or that the institution of marriage itself is endangered by including same-sex relationships under the umbrella.

And that is the central issue at stake here. You can argue that “God says it’s wrong” until you’re blue in the face. That argument doesn’t hold any water in a secular society and government—which America is. And the second president of the United States would agree with me.

The question we should be asking is not whether homosexuality is wrong. The reparative therapy crowd has admitted that the homosexual orientation is 99.99% fixed; the scientific community has a plausible explanation for how homosexuality could indeed be genetic; conservatives have yet to produce one marriage destroyed by homosexuals (though the Miller family of Pittsboro, NC might disagree after their harrowing ordeal); and children of same-sex parents seem to grow up perfectly normal—perhaps even more well-adjusted.

In the absence of any compelling reasons, the Constitution of the United States of America weighs in via the Fourteenth Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Bottom line: Either all citizens deserve equal protection, or no citizens deserve protection.


4 thoughts on “152. concatenate

  1. “You can argue that “God says it’s wrong” until you’re blue in the face. That argument doesn’t hold any water in a secular society and government—which America is.”

    On this point, I agree, David. I believe that is the direction our country is going politically. I believe that all people should have rights to have whomever they wish be with them in the hospital, help them make life and death decisions, be protected, etc. I believe all people are valuable. I also believe that “marriage” is a sacrament of the church and therefore should be dictated by Scripture. But whatever you call it, our political society will decide what they will and we will discover the consequences to our society in the decades and centuries to come, should the Lord tarry. May we fall into the hands of God and His mercy.

    • David


      Thanks for the comment, and I appreciate the fact that we can agree on the value of each individual human being, and on the universality of human rights. (At least, I think that’s what we are agreeing upon. Correct me if I’m wrong, which has been known to happen.) By this point you’ve probably figured out that I’m an atheist and therefore do not believe in God or in sacraments. As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “I looked around for God’s judgments, but saw no sign of them. The cities were built and full of inhabitants, the market filled with plenty, the people well favored and well clothed, the fields well tilled, the cattle fat and strong, the fences, houses and windows all in repair, and no ‘old tenor’ anywhere in the country; which would make one almost suspect that the Deity was not so angry at that offense as a New England justice.”

      However, because I’m a big believer in the ideals of the First Amendment as well as the doctrine of the wall of separation between church and state, I also think the Church (i.e., the universal Christian church) should be free to define what constitutes a marriage within its own four walls, or however many walls your denomination deems right. But to regulate a particular religious belief as constitutional law would be a government establishment of religion, because the government would by necessity declaring both the existence of God and siding with one particular sect of Christianity. The state has no interest in the banning of same-sex marriage as there is no solid case against it. Experts were not able to demonstrate that homosexuality is either unnatural, a choice, or harmful to society, and therefore there are no grounds upon which to deny the GLBT community equal rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

      I would also point you to the other countries and even states where same-sex marriage has been legalized. Mongols haven’t invaded Scandinavia, Canada, Iowa or Massachusetts. We haven’t seen plagues of locusts or unexplainable darkness. The signs of God’s judgments seem strangely absent. I’d also remind you that people were saying the same thing about interracial marriage in the 1960s, and we don’t bat an eye now at that. If there is a God, he, she or it doesn’t seem to care who or how we love, but rather that we love.

      • Yes, we agree on human rights. And I didn’t realize you’d become an atheist.

        “I also think the Church (i.e., the universal Christian church) should be free to define what constitutes a marriage within its own four walls, or however many walls your denomination deems right. But to regulate a particular religious belief as constitutional law would be a government establishment of religion…”

        Since marriage is an institution of the church, don’t you think it’s a government establishment of, or a government intrusion of religion to change its definition? Again, I’m not arguing against equal rights for GLBT couples.

      • David

        Oh! I thought you might have perused some other entries and gathered that I lost my faith some time ago. Actually, my hundredth blog post is a short narrative of how I came to be an atheist, and that’s a good place to start.

        But no, it’s not a government intrusion at all for it to define or redefine marriage. As a libertarian, I think it has no business being in the marriage business at all and should go back to being just a record keeper, but we both know that’s not likely to happen! (The government? Give up control?) For a more in-depth discussion of the marriage I can point you back to earlier blog entries on the subject, but marriage was not originally an institution of the church. It wasn’t considered a sacrament until between 1055 and 1065 CE. (The word itself didn’t appear in Middle English until approximately 1250 CE.) In more ancient tribal cultures, polygamy was the dominant form of conjugal relationship, with a man taking multiple wives. In ancient Greece marriage was essentially an agreement between two partners, and in the early Christian church marriage was considered a private affair. In fact, it was during the Protestant Reformation of the late 16th century that marriage became more or less a business transaction.

        So in short, the Church can’t have it both ways. When it relinquished regulation of marriage to the State, it gave up all rights to define it. Granted, back then the State deferred to the Church as de facto authority on all matters, and it’s relatively recently that we’ve enforced that wall of separation between church and state. It cannot demand to define marriage and in the same breath expect to remain free of government intrusion. (On a similar note, I also think it’s wrong that churches receive government funds as non-profit organizations yet are exempt from many of the strict rules that other non-profits are governed by.)

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