Don’t use Bible to justify gay marriage ban

(January 7, 2014)

The benefits of marriage and domestic partnership have been expanded to homosexual couples in 18 states, indicating that Americans are ready to move toward a more inclusive and enlightened view of marriage rights. Yet, Indiana is still considering legislation (HJR-6) leading to a constitutional amendment that would narrowly define marriage as between one man and one woman. This would effectively ban gay and lesbian unions and would also limit benefits of domestic partnership to heterosexual couples.

Regrettably, the religious voice is often identified with support of the amendment. While there are urgent social, economic and civil rights reasons to defeat HJR-6, there are also religious grounds. Freedom Indiana is promoting citizen education and has enlisted civic, business and academic leadership to support the defeat of HJR-6.

The Indiana Board of Rabbis also passed a resolution to “fully support the work of Freedom Indiana and others to defeat HJR-6,” and to oppose “any attempt to amend the Indiana Constitution to define marriage in the proposed restrictive way….” The resolution sees such efforts as subversive of “an American value that the Jewish community holds dear – religious liberty.” It goes on to ground this position on the biblical proposition that all human beings are created “B’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Divine” (Genesis 1:27) – a “sacred truth also upheld in the Declaration of Independence.”

A similar position has been adopted by the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and endorsed overwhelmingly by Jewish congregations and social service organizations in our city and state.

Americans are guaranteed freedom of religion. While some use that freedom for restrictive and coercive purposes, communities of faith have most often been a voice for liberation and empowerment, expanding social horizons and the legal guarantees of our Constitution to all citizens.

Often those who take the Bible literally, and read Scripture selectively are the most vociferous in claiming that the biblical tradition is clear on what is right and wrong. The Bible speaks of slavery and polygamy: A religious community in search of God understands that these are not eternal divine mandates, but historic human constructs. People will use sacred texts to advance their own social and political agendas. Some have employed the Bible to justify slavery, others to support abolition; some to endorse terrorism, and others to promote understanding and peace. Scripture is as good as those who interpret it. The scriptural texts that speak of kindness, freedom, forgiveness and understanding testify to equality and acceptance.

The deepest witness of the Bible is the promise of love and justice for all. To be faithful to that witness, we should recognize that the rationale behind the scriptural prohibition against homosexuality, as the prescriptions concerning slavery and polygamy, are not only outdated, but morally unacceptable. God’s creations are not an abomination.

Our universal share in the divine image is a pedigree that should not be diminished to suit narrow understandings of God’s will. There are strong religious reasons to support the civil rights of homosexuals and to recognize their entitlement to companionship and love in sanctified and legalized relationships. Experience has demonstrated that a healthy family is determined not by the parents’ gender but by the respect and commitment of two people who covenant to one another in faithful love.

Both the Bible and the Constitution, religion and citizenship, offer us not static but self-correcting ways of being and becoming human. May the New Year find us moving in that direction for the good of us all.


Dennis Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis; Sandy Sasso is rabbi emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.