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Does the Religious Right really believe equality will allow us to marry ice cream?

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They gathered last week in Wake Forest, a convocation of conservative Christians and Republican conservatives—the overlap of politics and religious dogma was total—rehearsing their case for Amendment 1, or as they call it, the Marriage Amendment. The setting, appropriately, was the chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Some 500 people attended, representing 2,000 churches, according to one of the organizers.

They began with a prayer. "We pray," said the Rev. Jarrod Scott, chairman of the Christian Life & Public Affairs Committee of the Baptist State Convention of N.C., "that the people will hear not only our view of marriage but also our view of God."

The campaign for Amendment 1 centers on the Bible and what conservative Christian Republicans think it says about marriage: That marriage must and can only be a union of one man and one woman. "The God of the Bible" made it so, they say. And God must be obeyed.

A few libertarian-leaning conservatives have tried to make a case for the amendment without claiming to know what God wants. Their position is that to allow same-sex couples to marry or enter into civil unions when they cannot, by themselves, produce children, undermines an important societal norm: Marriage should be about procreation, not adult expressions of love or affection.

But most Amendment 1 supporters do claim to know God's thinking. Although they acknowledge that some theologians disagree with them, those theologians, they insist, are wrong.

Richard Land, the keynote speaker in Wake Forest, is a leading evangelical Christian who has spearheaded the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988. He cited the Book of Genesis and its story of a man and woman "cleaving" to each other and "becoming one flesh" for the purpose of bearing children. "When people try to redefine marriage or expand the definition of marriage beyond what God has ordained," Land said, "that's above their pay grade."

That the Bible, and people's various interpretations of it, should be weighed alongside other values—like equal rights for all citizens—in determining how our society should be organized is simply not a position most amendment proponents accept.

Far from it: Most of them believe government should be based on religion, as long as the resulting laws accord with their brand of Judeo-Christian doctrine. Under their brand, gay marriage just doesn't compute. Inevitably, in fact, their denunciations of such unions spill into a diatribe about social and moral decay in the U.S., which they ascribe completely to liberalism, gay rights included.

Land, for example, began his speech on a scriptural theme but soon launched into a denunciation of gays and welfare—"an experiment," he said, to see if welfare money could take the role of fathers in the family.

The pathologies caused by absent fathers—children who drop out of school, wind up in prison, never marry—are obvious, Land contended. Even so, he went on, "the homosexual community" wants us to believe that not only is the father unnecessary if lesbian moms are on hand, the mom is unnecessary when gay dads are present.

"It's daffy," he said.

Neither Land nor any of the speakers who followed him considered that tax breaks for the rich, the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, poverty, cuts to education, or a steady diet of wars, sexism and racism might've contributed to the decay. Nor did they consider that the problems they identified are produced largely by straight people, not gays.

Instead, these speakers fired away at a sequence of alleged causes: the end of prayer in the public schools, legal abortions and gay sex.

The first, conservatives believe, ended a critical bulwark in our society against sin. The second and third were—are—sins that the absence of prayer helped to make pervasive.

And, they fear, there's more trouble ahead. If gay marriage proliferates, soon their children will be taught in school that it's fine to have a mom and a dad, or a mom and a mom, or a dad and a dad.

A staple in the conservative litany of terrible things being done to them, in fact, is the (true) story of a Massachusetts couple who sued on religious liberty grounds when their second-grader, in 2008, was given a story to read in public school about two princes who married each other. The lawsuit failed.

(Massachusetts legalized gay marriage after its supreme court ruled that restricting marriage to straight couples violated the equal-protection rights of gay citizens under the 14th Amendment.)

Another staple on their list is a court order involving a Methodist organization in New Jersey. The organization closed its campground recently rather than comply with the order to let a lesbian couple be married there. The campground was rented for weddings to Christians and non-Christians alike, the court noted. Refusing to rent it to gays was no less discriminatory than refusing it to Muslims or blacks, the ruling said.

The conservatives' cries are similar to Christian business owners who object to any requirement that health insurance, if they offer it to employees, must cover contraception, abortions or other services used by women.

Because of activist judges and legislatures, they complain, such health services are now commonplace even though they fly in the face of Christian teachings and erode the country's moral foundation. The fact that no one is required to use these services if they object to them doesn't slake their fury.

"Where were the voices, the Christian leaders?" thundered the Rev. Mark Harris, president of the Baptist State Convention when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, affirming a woman's right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy—or, as Harris put it, "to kill innocent life in the womb of the mother."

"Church people stayed within their four walls then," former state Sen. Jim Jacumin responded. Just as they'd "stayed within their four walls," Jacumin continued, when the Supreme Court declared in the case of Engel v. Vitale (1962) that official prayers in the public schools violated the First Amendment's rule against the government establishing religion.

"Have you always wanted to do something worthwhile for your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?" Jacumin asked his listeners as he offered a closing prayer. Jacumin, a Burke County Republican with a smiling countenance, a helmet of steel-gray hair and some yarns he likes to tell regardless of their relevance, is a former trustee of the seminary and a Baptist in good standing.

"We can leave this morning determined that we're going to do God's will on this amendment," Jacumin exclaimed. "Confront the devils who are arranged on the other side."

It wouldn't be fair to say that the amendment's supporters entirely ignored the issue of discrimination against LGBT citizens. Harris, in fact, directed that question to Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at the seminary. Heimbach said he's writing a book that will allay any such concern.

For starters, gays can marry, he said. They just can't marry each other. Heimbach then spun out an amazing circular argument: Restricting marriage to straight couples cannot, by definition, be discriminatory as long as marriage is defined as a man and a woman and same-sex couples are barred from marrying or entering into civil unions.

It was as if he had said that, because voting was at one time was limited to white people, not allowing blacks to vote wasn't discriminatory because, well, blacks weren't white.

Heimbach said marriage is defined now as the union of two people who together can produce a child. "If marriage is radically redefined as a way of just affirming loving feelings of attraction," he said, "then equality will require allowing people who love dogs to marry dogs. And people who love ice cream to marry ice cream."

That's what he said.

If that sounds harsh, Tim Wilkins assured the audience that being gay can be changed the same as switching from pistachio to vanilla fudge.

[Editor's note on March 24, 2014: Tim Wilkins emailed the INDY stating he did not say one could change his or her sexual orientation "the same as switching from pistachio to vanilla fudge." That was commentary by the author Bob Geary. We apologize for the error.]

Wilkins, founder-director of Cross Ministry, says he used to be a homosexual but now he isn't and is happily married—to a woman—and the father of their three children. He's also a member of the Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals and belongs to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

If NARTH rings a bell, it's perhaps because a former NARTH board member named George Alan Rekers, a Southern Baptist minister, took a trip to Europe in 2010 and returned with a gay male escort. Rekers claimed he didn't know the escort was a prostitute, and he'd hired him solely to help with his luggage. Still, he resigned from the NARTH board.

Wilkins said his ministry can save people from their homosexual tendencies. That's because being gay isn't a matter of sexual "orientation," he maintained. Rather, it's a "temptation."

That's what he said.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Two dips or three?"

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