Since I’ve been paying attention (read: since I came out in the mid-90s), a number of public figures have denounced homosexuality in general and gays and lesbians specifically. ‘The Bible says it’s wrong,’ goes the general tenor of their comments. Interestingly enough, these people tend to do something morally questionable, like, say, hire a prostitute or get addicted to pain pills, etc. At least as reported in the media.
Then there are warm and fuzzy people like Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who has positioned her bigotry behind a PhD (not in psychiatry) and used Leviticus to justify her hate for homosexuals.
There’s a widely circulated, fantastic response to her rant. You can read it here: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/drlaura.asp
This response and others like it (memorably, an episode of The West Wing, wherein President Bartlet takes a radio show host to task for using the Bible as justification for anti-homosexual rhetoric: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSXJzybEeJM) do a good job addressing how the Bible–specifically Leviticus–has been used to justify discrimination.
It’s hard to pick apart the anti-gay argument here in a fresh way (or one that is as intelligent or as amusing as the links to these two examples). I will say, however, that I still cannot understand how people blindly refer to Leviticus to justify their anti-gay agenda. I fail to realize how a person—a modern person—would do so and still willfully ignore the other laws (such as the ones cited in the examples here).
Basically: if you are going to use the Bible (or at least a book of the Bible) to support your argument, you would have to then use all of it to do so. One can’t say, “I am only referring to the parts that are correct, not the ones which are not.” Doing so suggests that the speaker has a clearer, better understanding of the rules set down than God does. So these people have better wisdom than God? They know which of the rules (kill adulterers! 20:10) should be bent or ignored and which (no gay sex! 18:22) should be honored?
Out of all the versions of the arguments against homosexuality which use Leviticus, I have never heard a retort like this one: This book of the Bible—any book, actually—can’t outlaw something that didn’t yet exist (i.e. homosexuality as an identity). Outlawing gay sex is not the same thing as outlawing homosexuality. To make this clearer: A celibate gay man is still gay. The people who see gay sex and homosexuality as one in the same don’t understand it. Being gay is an identity. Having gay sex is perhaps one expression of that identity but not all people who have gay sex identify as homosexuals—whether some of these people are in the closet is a different matter.
But here’s a history lesson that puts this point in context: although homosexual sex has been around as long as humans have, people did not identify as homosexuals until 1895, as a result of the infamous trials of Oscar Wilde (wherein he was convicted for indecent acts with other males). During the public trial, his mannerism—seen as effeminate—were connected to the explicit sexual details discussed as evidence. Since he was part of the upper class and exhibited affected mannerisms, people then saw his behavior connected with the sex: thus was born the gay stereotypes that have become ingrained in our perception of stereotypical homosexuality. Since then, people started identifying as gay. (If you want to read up on this, check out Alan Sinfield’s The Wilde Century.)
Therefore, although gay sex appears here and there in the Bible thus far, people weren’t “gay” as we know them to be today. Therefore, outlawing that as an identity could not have happened.
Even still, how anyone could still cling to this rule is beyond me. If they’ve read Leviticus recently, they would have to deal with everything else that is there, starting with making sacrifices for sins. Since I don’t hear about a lot of livestock being slain in order for people to atone, I assume this does not happen. I also don’t think there is a standing understanding of how to deal with your child if she becomes a prostitute (if you’re a priest and this happens, she is to be burned 21:9).
We are a modern society and we just don’t do these things. And if some of the examples I mention here are ridiculous, why isn’t the rest of what is put down in this list of laws? Why not treat Leviticus for what it is: a genuine attempt to get things in line FOR THAT ERA? Do people really want to go back to living the way people did back then?
The book of Numbers is up next. I’m guessing this is involves some way to pick your lottery numbers, but this is probably way off.