2016-06-30
Dr. Laura Schlesinger, the conservative radio talk show host, deserves much credit for serving as an authoritative, moral force on social issues. I personally very much enjoyed her book "The Ten Commandments" and her other books as well. Moreover, Dr. Laura has demonstrated that even someone who refuses to bend her ethical and religious principles one iota can be immensely popular and influential.

But religion is supposed to speak with compassion as well as opprobrium. Last week, The New York Times reported that gay groups are protesting Paramount's decision to air a syndicated Dr. Laura television show beginning this fall. Dr. Laura, who declined to comment for the Times article, has called homosexuality "deviant" and derivative of "biological error." While she has also said that gays are "as entitled to love and respect as all human beings," her many other remarks have undoubtedly caused harm and hurt to gay people.

I personally grew up with a close relative who is a gay Orthodox Jew, and I've seen his torment and suffering when pronouncements of this kind are made by people of influence. But more important, Dr. Laura cites the Hebrew Bible to bolster her antigay views, and she does so erroneously. Her condemnations are more a reflection of her personal opinions on this issue than of what the Bible actually says.

Religionists like to isolate homosexuals for special opprobrium because the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination. What they fail to point out, often intentionally, is that the Bible uses the very same word for eating nonkosher animals, as in "Thou shalt not eat any abominable things" (Deut. 14:3). Likewise, the Bible uses the word "abomination" to describe the act of a man remarrying his ex-wife after she has been married to another man.

Dr. Laura's condemnations are more a reflection of her personal opinions than of what the Bible actually says.

Furthermore, the act of bringing a blemished sacrifice to G-d's altar is called an abomination (Deut. 17:1). And the book of Proverbs declares that there are a number of things that "the Lord hates and are an abomination to Him. A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. A heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief. A false witness that speaks lies and he that sows discord among brethren." Now, given that all these things are an abomination, we really have to ask why religionists don't condemn liars with the same vehemence that they condemn homosexuals. Would Dr. Laura describe those who are arrogant as coming from some "biological error"?

Though I'm not in a position to speak for her, one justification that she could theoretically offer for her vehement antigay stance pronouncements is that it's a sin against nature. But as Professor David Greenberg of the University of Chicago demonstrated in his landmark 1988 study, "The Construct of Homosexuality"--easily the most methodical sociological study ever of homosexuality throughout history--in every era, and especially in ancient times, homosexuality has been commonplace.

And for those who say that human beings are biologically constructed for heterosexual sex--constructed, in effect, so that we can be fruitful and multiply--let's remember that coitus is (hopefully) a very small part of sex between a man and a woman. Those who employ the natural-law argument against homosexuality would logically have to prohibit anything but missionary-position sex between men and women (which many religions do anyway, though Judaism is certainly not one of them). After all, G-d didn't create the mouth for kissing. And forget oral sex, which would have to be dismissed as being as blatantly unnatural as having sex with someone of the same gender.

Dr. Laura's mistake is simple. The Hebrew Bible contains two kinds of laws: religious and moral. For example, the crime of murder is not only a sin against G-d (religious); it's also a sin against humanity (moral). The same is not true of the prohibition against eating a cheeseburger, which, in Judaism, violates a religious law but no ethical norms.

Dr. Laura's error is to treat the biblical prohibition against homosexuality as the latter rather than the former. Gay sex (though not gay orientation) is prohibited in the Bible on religious grounds only and is analogous to the prohibition that a Jew may not smoke a cigarette on the Sabbath. There's nothing deviant about either. Rather, they are religiously prohibited because of a Biblical injunction. Marriage between a man and a woman is similarly a religious, rather than a moral, imperative, unless we want to decry all singles as being immoral.

Religious people should stop treating gay men and women as if they're biologically deviant or distant from G-d. Indeed, the relative I spoke of earlier, although gay, is, I believe, closer to G-d than I am. He is extremely generous with his time and his money, treats his parents and everyone he meets with respect, has no ill words to speak of any of G-d's children, prays three times a day, and honors and sanctifies the Sabbath. In our frequent discussions about his relationship with another man, I consistently tell him that while I can't condone homosexual unions--these are G-d's laws and are outside my ability to modify--he should understand that the Bible consists of 613 commandments. While he is not living in accordance with two of them--the commandments to marry and to have children--there are 611 others that he can faithfully keep.

In the Bible, the sin of transgressing the Sabbath is treated far more seriously than homosexuality is.

Even devoutly religious people occasionally gossip and employ "a proud look ... and a lying tongue," both of which are violations of G-d's commandments. But that shouldn't stop them from trying their best to live in accordance with G-d's teachings in every other way.

As a man who believes in G-d's laws, I can't embrace or endorse gay marriage. Indeed, I've spent my life and career trying to promote the institution of marriage, the beauty of having children, and a reversal of the high divorce rate. If this statement offends or hurts my many close friends who are gay, then I apologize. Please forgive me, but I cannot alter my religious convictions.

Most of the Jewish men and women who are guests at my home for the Sabbath Friday-night dinner drive there by car, and I can't condone that either. Yet I still welcome them with open arms--they're my brothers and sisters, whom I love and respect. Still, the Sabbath is holy and must be honored. As a matter of fact, in the Bible the sin of transgressing the Sabbath is treated far more seriously than homosexuality is. Yet Sabbath desecrators are hardly decried by religious leaders with anything like the same vehemence as gay men and women are.

As the product of a broken home, with a wonderful mother who has been by herself for more than 20 years now, I have witnessed the pain of loneliness. Indeed, the very first thing that the Bible declares to be a bad thing is loneliness. So while I can't condone gay marriage, I will absolutely condemn the cruel lie that says that gay relationships are abhorrent and should be fought tooth and nail. Religious people should finally get over their all-too-apparent homophobia and reverse the discriminatory policy that holds homosexuality as an aberration marked by G-d for special censure. Like heterosexuals, gays are G-d's children, capable of bringing light and love to a planet whose darkness is caused not only by sin but also misguided judgment.

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