2016-07-27
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The Rev. Michael Piazza is dean of Cathedral of Hope, which bills itself as the largest gay and lesbian church in the world, with 3,000 members. The church owns 14 acres of land near downtown Dallas and is in the process of building a $30 million sanctuary designed by famed architect Philip Johnson.

Beliefnet's senior religion producer, Deborah Caldwell, interviewed Piazza after the Supreme Court's ruling on sodomy laws was announced Thursday.

What is your reaction to Justice Scalia's comments? He said that the court has "signed on to the homosexual agenda."

It seems to me to be rank hypocrisy, because here we have the most conservative Supreme Court justice [saying these things], yet once upon a time, conservatism in this country believed the government should not be in a private individual's life, that the government didn't have any business interfering with consenting adults in the privacy of their homes. They valued privacy rights. That's what this really is all about.

The ironic thing is that people on the right oppose hate crimes legislation, for example, saying it gives gay people special privileges or singles out gay and lesbian people as a protected class. Ironically, what this law did was that it singled out heterosexuals as a group who got special rights.

Explain that.

The old law didn't allow gay and lesbian folks to do something in the privacy of their own homes that heterosexuals had already been doing anyway. So the sexual act was legal for heterosexuals, but gay and lesbian people couldn't do it. So really, equal protection is at the heart of this. Gay and lesbian taxpayers deserve the same rights as heterosexual taxpayers.

From a spiritual point-of-view, what does this mean for your members?

One of the great things is that this happened in the midst of Gay Pride Week, and this Sunday is our gay pride celebration, so it gives us one more reason to celebrate.

But I want to point out that the law itself was essentially unenforceable. At the time of the case in the early 1980s that got to the Supreme Court in 1986, I was the executive director of the Atlanta gay center. And when Michael Hardwick was arrested I was one of the ones who founded GOALS (Georgians Opposed to Archaic Laws). The purpose of that group was to raise the money to pursue the case to the Supreme Court. Now it's all come back around. The Michael Hardwick case was also about consenting adults in the privacy of their own home. Most of the times when this law has been enforced it's been about public sex. But because the Lawrence case and the Hardwick cases were about behavior between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home, the law was so unenforceable that it didn't have much daily impact on behavior.

What it will impact is attitudes. One of the most beautiful and powerful gifts from God is our sexuality. When we [gays] express it in an intimate way with another adult whom we love, it has been called illegal, and we were criminals. So one of the most beautiful things we did with our lives was criminalized in Texas. And of course this ruling now says, "No, that was wrong, a wrong value, a wrong law, a wrong approach to life in general." So that's a good thing.

It must have impact on your congregation because you preach and teach on sexuality, and also you're a family-oriented congregation.

Yes, we have tons of kids in the church and lots of foster parents. We have 150-300 children in the church.

So do you preach on sexuality and on creating and adopting children?

Yes, because too much of religion has been geared toward making people feel shame and guilt around sexuality. I grew up not all that long ago-I'm in my late 40s-and when I was growing up no one ever said anything about sex one way or the other. I grew up Methodist in the south. It was as if it was God's dirty little secret. That created a conspiracy of silence about sexuality and a compartmentalizing-here is our spirituality, and here is our sexuality and they never mix. So much of society's problems and so much of the problems gays and lesbians have around sexuality is that separation, not recognizing that sexuality is a gift from God to be celebrated, cherished and to be responsible with under the guidance of the spirit.

This ruling will help people to be free of that, to see sexuality as a gift.

So the ruling makes them feel freer in general?

The ruling says that what we've been saying all along really is true. The government and the church almost always lag behind society. We live in a post- "Will and Grace" world now [as opposed to the 1980s], where almost everyone has lesbian and gay friends, and knows that those people are as moral and ethical as heterosexual people. The law was incongruent with where most Americans live today--even in Texas.

I mean, even in Texas, when they tried to pass the hate crimes legislation when George W. Bush was governor, more than 60 % of Texans supported hate crimes legislation. He had to keep it bottled up because he didn't want sexuality in a piece of legislation that he would have to sign and run for President on. So it didn't pass until he left the state.

The criticism is that this ruling is now going to affect the debate on what constitutes a marriage and a family-that it's a slippery slope and that everything will be legitimized as marriage and family. What's a liberal theological understanding of marriage and family?

They're right--it is a slippery slope, and they've been on the wrong side of it all along. There is nothing and never has been anything they can do to stop lesbian and gay people from being married. All they can do is discriminate on the basis of civil rights, but we marry same-sex people here all the time. Those marriages look exactly like heterosexual marriages. I've been married 23 years to same man, so that's the reality. What they're afraid of is that society will recognize what they're doing is purely discrimination. My partner and I may be married, but the state continues to discriminate against us by not providing the same legal protections that my tax dollars deserve.

From a liberal Christian point of view, what is marriage?

My definition is the biblical one-a covenant between two people-it's not about what the government says about who is married and who isn't. If you go back to the Old Testament, you had marriages between more than two people. It's interesting to me that [conservatives] are trying let the government define what should be a religious covenant between two people with God's blessing.

But how do you say that marriage between a man and woman or between two men, or two women, is sanctioned by God or is a spiritually good choice, as opposed to polygamy-which is also in the Bible?

It certainly is. And the ironic thing is that polygamy, which is perfectly legal in African nations and practiced in the Bible, illustrates that our understanding of the definition of marriage has evolved. It's interesting that conservatives are advocates of it evolving [against polygamy] but not evolving toward same-gender marriages-which are also in the Bible. I mean, the most beautiful covenant in the Bible is the one Ruth makes with Naomi. Clearly there are same-sex covenants-David makes a beautiful covenant with Jonathan. The state doesn't sanction it or get involved one way or the other-but neither does the state get involved with Ruth's marriage to Boaz.

In this country, we still believe in freedom of religion. The fact that [conservatives'] religion doesn't believe in same-gender marriage, shouldn't dictate whether my religion can.

But according to your view, how would we deal with polygamy within the law? Certain fundamentalist Mormons still believe in polygamy, and when they get caught they get prosecuted because we as a society say, "You really can't be married to more than one person."

Again, I think the state should stay out of relationships, period. And I realize what that says about polygamy, but I have never understood how we've decided that the state should regulate marriage. We'd all be better off if the state would leave us alone. All along, the only role or provision the state had in regulating relationships was property, and women were considered property, and since we don't believe these things anymore, then we should all be advocates that the state leave us alone.

All the marriage laws are rooted in property. It's not about spirituality and the Bible.

Do you think the "gay agenda" has won, as Scalia says?

I think it's an inevitable victory, and the religious right has seen that. The truth of the matter is the culture has changed. They've examined something and realized [homophobia] is as illogical a prejudice as not allowing women to vote or saying that people of a certain skin color could be enslaved. This is just a prejudice that has no basis in logic or in scripture and certainly has no place in the law.

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, but look at what he said about divorce. Yet we don't want to enforce Jesus' statements about divorce, legally, in this country. It's a selective enforcement of the scripture, which is hypocritical.

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