Preface: The 90-second limit for my radio commentaries precludes a more thorough discussion of some issues. This “essay” is an expanded version of what was broadcast. Please remember my personal views in the commentaries, especially on controversial matters like these, are NOT views either endorsed or espoused by the Institute or the CHARACTER COUNTS! program. The Institute and CHARACTER COUNTS! simply advocate respectful and civil discourse on such issues. As always, I invite your reaction.
Based on letters and posts to my commentary blog, I disappointed or disgusted more listeners and readers in this past week than in any other week in the nearly 15-year history of these messages.
During the week, I shared my dismay and anger about the Casey Anthony trial, concluding with a tacky reference to her and O.J. Simpson as a possible couple. Many listeners took me to task – and rightly so. I wrote the commentary under the influence of passion and frustration, failing to follow my own advice. On review, I’m ashamed of this one. It was basically a self-indulgent tirade. What’s worse, it could add fuel to unfair and potentially dangerous denunciations of jurors who clearly did their job to the best of their ability. I let down those who come to my commentaries for more thoughtful analysis. You deserve better, and I sincerely apologize for this lapse of judgment.
The number and tone of the negative letters on the Casey Anthony trial, however, paled in comparison to the reaction to my commentary about same-sex marriage.
As I predicted, that reaction was split between those who agreed with me, or at least thought my participation in this controversy was appropriate, and those who disagreed, not only with my conclusion but with my decision to give my opinion at all. As you might imagine, the naysayers were much more vigorous than the supporters.
I was pleased that many who expressed fervent objection to my remarks did so in a thoughtful and respectful manner appropriate to civil discourse. Still, lots of letters were viciously hostile. They didn’t just criticize my opinion, they condemned me personally. I was called Godless, gutless, and characterless. I was accused of cowardice and selling out. Several made the point that they would never again listen to or quote anything I say. They promised to boycott the Josephson Institute and any other program I’m associated with.
This was upsetting but not surprising. I’ve talked many times about the inability or unwillingness of some people to believe in and advocate for their convictions without demeaning or demonizing those who are equally sincere and passionate in coming to different conclusions.
Unlike my Casey Anthony rant, which was rash, I thought long and hard about my remarks on same-sex marriage. I wrote and recorded the commentary knowing full well that whichever way I went would please some and upset others.
To some, the issues of homosexuality and marriage are conclusively in the domain of their particular religious beliefs. Others view this as a social-political issue. There’s no doubt that the religious and political aspects of the question of same-sex unions are significant, and I truly understand and respect positions grounded in religious or political ideology.
For me, however, the ethical implications of permitting or preventing gay and lesbian adults to have their committed relationships treated the same as those of fellow citizens involved in historically traditional relationships are important and well within the domain of my mission.
In fact, my personal view on this issue evolved over the past few years as I tried to better understand the varying positions during the debate in California of Proposition 8, a referendum on same-sex marriage. During the debate, conversations with partisans on both sides helped me better understand the sincerity of those who believe homosexuality is a sinful choice that shouldn’t be condoned in any way, as well as those who speak from personal experience and assert that their sexual disposition is inborn and that it is wrong to treat them as sinners or to view their committed relationships as morally or legally inferior. Many are religious people who believe they are the way God made them.
These discussions helped me realize that, whether people proudly proclaim or diligently try to conceal their sexual orientation, being gay subjects them to a wide range of abuses and prejudices. I also came to realize that the issue of relationship equality is profoundly important to them. And by “them,” I refer not to a nameless, faceless constituency but to millions of real people – sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers – who I believe are entitled to be judged, loved, and treated on their merits as human beings, not on their sexual dispositions. (I’m less concerned with whether the term “marriage” or “civil union” is applied to the legalistic aspects of their relationship as I am with my belief that gay and lesbian men and women should not be treated or thought of as second-class citizens.)
I did not come to this conclusion casually, and I did so knowing there would be significant negative impact from my decision to express my opinion. I do not ignore or belittle the many good and decent people, especially conservative Christians and Jews (many of whom I’m proud to call my friends), who have been most vocal on this issue and most offended and angry by my previous commentary.
As a lifelong student of comparative religion and various theories of how the holy scriptures of each religion came to be written, I came to realize that theological debates within each religion – and even within the same denomination within each religion – about the source, translation, meaning, and modern applicability of certain passages, are intense and fundamentally irreconcilable. Thus, no matter what “side” one chooses on any disputed issue, there are those who are convinced you are wrong.
Regardless of the roots and content of my current religious beliefs, however, I view the message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness preached by Jesus to be among the most constructive and impactful ever articulated. I could wear a “What would Jesus do?” bracelet as a guide to personal behavior. In fact, it is this message of love and acceptance that is, I think, the most commonly accepted theme of all Christian denominations and many other religions.*
You may disagree, but my interpretation of the thrust and theme of the philosophy of Jesus leads to the belief that, were he presented with the question, he would be tolerant and accepting.
The bottom line is that my opinion in support of the New York law allowing same-sex marriages and my decision to express that opinion represent my sincere conviction that it was the right thing to do. Doing what I thought was right has cost more than I wanted to pay, but I don’t regret doing it.
* I definitely do not want to get into scriptural debates as I confess I do not feel bound by every ritual or behavioral prescription condoned or commanded in the Bible. (Religious Tolerance is a useful source of some troublesome passages, while Hard Verses does a good job of rebutting arguments of selective application of Biblical passages.) In some people’s eyes, that decision alone disqualifies me as someone worth listening to.