Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Kristina M. Lee
The use of the bible in the anti-gay movement
FFRF awarded Kristina $200.
By Kristina M. Lee
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.” — Leviticus 20:13
Leviticus 20:13 has become an increasingly political verse from the bible, as it has been used to fight against marriage equality. In thinking about how this verse has been used to target civil liberties and adversely affect individuals, I contend that the use of this verse demonstrates the power of theistnormative structures and mindsets within the United States. In this essay, I will define theistnormativity (a phrase I coined), explain how Leviticus 20:13 is used in conjunction with theistnormative ways of thinking, and urge the need to challenge theistnormativity in order to fight against those who use the bible to defend public policy.
Theistnormative thinking assumes that people will or should embrace religious recognitions, rituals and symbols. In the United States, theistnormativity typically takes the form of Christian privilege while often claiming to be simply reflecting the values of the United States. While theistnormative ways of thinking have been promoted throughout U.S. history, its use became more strategic during the 1950s with Congress implanting theistnormative legislation, such as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and the official declaration of “In God We Trust” as the national motto. Such theistnormative legislation gives people “evidence” of the theistic nature of the United States.
There are numerous political situations where people have relied on theistnormative assumptions to make their cases. One of the most vocal in recent years has been the fight against marriage equality, in which the opposition relied almost entirely on theistnormative and biblical arguments. Leviticus 20:13 is one of several bible verses that has been used to argue that being gay is a sin. Another common verse used is Genesis 2:24, which claimed that men shall “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh,” which is presented as “proof” that marriage is only between men and women. These examples are not just used to convince Christians, but all Americans, that gay marriage was wrong. Those using these arguments assume that all Americans do or should have belief, respect and/or acceptance of the reasoning in the bible. Those using the bible to support their reasoning often rely on the already established theistnormative structures to support this thinking. Anti-gay advocates often refer to the Pledge of Allegiance to justify their use of the bible to support their political claims, and people have noticed. It is no accident that several books and documentaries about the anti-gay movement include “under God” in their titles. The authors and producers have come to realize how powerful the phrase has been for the movement’s justification of using the bible to advocate for anti-gay policy.
While there is plenty to be said about the erroneous and contradictory nature of the bible, our First Amendment gives people the right to believe the concerning ideas espoused in it. This does not mean, however, that individuals have the right to force such ideas into policy affecting all Americans. Unfortunately, theistnormative rhetoric has become so common in politics that people feel justified trying to force all Americans to believe, respect, and accept Christian logics when passing policy. While it is important to challenge the verses in the bible that target civil liberties and adversely affect individuals, ultimately, people have the right to believe what they want. As such, it is imperative that we challenge theistnormative ways of thinking that lead people to conclude that everyone else in the United States is somehow obligated to follow these same logics of the bible. If people can no longer rely on the examples of “under God” in the pledge, “In God We Trust” as our national motto, National Prayer Breakfasts, and presidents beseeching “God Bless America” in every inaugural address as “proof” that we are a Christian nation, or at least a God-fearing one, then their arguments that their biblical verses should shape public policy, such as gay marriage, become far less convincing.
Kristina, 28, is from Fort Collins, Colo., and is attending Colorado State University, where she is working toward a PhD in communication studies. Her research focuses on the intersections of political and religious rhetoric, with a particular interest in the marginalization of atheists within the United States. Kristina grew up in Montana and has been strongly inspired by her grandma, who was not only one of the first women to get a degree in chemistry at Montana State University but who also walked out of a church in the 1940s after telling a priest he was being ridiculous.