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Speaking to a meeting of Hasidic Jewish leaders on Sunday, New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said, “I don’t want [children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option” to heterosexuality.
Religious organizations and people frequently lead opposition to gay rights in the United States.
In the August ruling which overturned California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, a witness asserted, “Religion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress.”
Why does religion play such a central role in debates about homosexuality?
Some politicians just make it too easy for “Saturday Night Live” writers. Cut to a scene of Hasidic Jews with traditional long beards, black-brimmed hats, and black garb similar to what was worn by 19th century Eastern-European Jews. A stern Catholic politician, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, stands before the group and says to them, “I don’t want children to be brainwashed.”
Well, I couldn’t disagree with anyone who asks Hasidic Jews to stop brainwashing their children (though that’s not quite what Paladino meant). After all, Hasidic Jews teach their children that the Torah (Hebrew Bible) is inerrant, with a universe created by God 5771 years ago. Adam and Eve were the first humans, and all were destroyed in a worldwide flood except for the family of 600-year old Noah, who built an ark to save pairs of all species in the world.
But the scene I described above was not of a Christian criticizing Jews. On the contrary, Paladino was handed a script by the Hasidic Jews and asked to read it back to them in front of television cameras (Cut to similar scene of hostage situation). The brain washing of mutual concern to these strange bedfellows was the fear of children being taught that homosexuals should be treated with dignity and respect, rather than as the abomination referred to in the Bible.
So Paladino has indelibly presented himself as the religious values candidate, and has enthusiastic support among his Hasidic constituency because of his vow to veto any gay marriage bill if elected governor. Paladino’s Hasidic supporters were not asked what they thought of Paladino sending emails to friends depicting women having sex with animals. While the Bible also has something to say about bestiality, at least the horse involved was a male.
Though both Paladino and his Hasidic friends can quote Leviticus 18 to show that homosexuality is an abomination, I expect Paladino might differ from Orthodox Jews who accept from Leviticus 12 that a mother is unclean for seven days after giving birth to a son, and unclean for fourteen days after giving birth to a daughter. But even Hasidic Jews are willing to interpret some biblical passages “liberally.” Most do not call for homosexuals to be put to death, as prescribed in Leviticus 20:13.
It’s no surprise that religion plays a central role in debates about homosexuality. Religion has always played a central role in every form of sexuality, beginning with the view that children are born in sin and that the first couple were ashamed of their bodies and covered them after eating the forbidden fruit. To believe that homosexuality, masturbation, and contraception are always wrong, one has to ignore scientific and social evidence gathered over the last two millennia. That’s not a problem for religions tied to an ancient text, with adherents who believe they have the truth with a capital “T.”
Will conservative religionists someday accept gay marriage? I predict the day will come, just like all major religions now accept that the earth revolves around the sun, but probably not in my lifetime.