Gays, Hate, Blacks, and the Bible

May 24, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

"... Colin Powell... told Ted Koppel in 1993 that the real issue with gays in the military was that 'we have to shower together." Uh-huh. Mr. Koppel gave General Powell a pass by not asking the obvious question: 'So which is it, General: Are you afraid of them or are you afraid of yourself?" - Jim Callaghan, New York Observer, November 30, 2003

In striking down the ban on gay marriage, the California Supreme Court cited Loving vs. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that similarly struck down state bans on interracial marriage, drawing direct parallels between racial prejudice and prejudice against gays.

In the past, black Republicans and bigoted preachers have been trotted out to quash any such comparison.

In 1993, Colin Powell said, "skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument."

He ignores the fact that skin color has always been attached to behaviors. Dark skin connoted everything from licentiousness and violence, from idleness to idiocy. It still does. That's what stereotypes are.

In addition, gayness, per se, is no more directly behavioral than skin color. Set a gay and straight individual to the task of reading and you could not tell the difference. Even religions don't mind celibate gays ("hate the sin, love the sinner"), so the argument cannot be about "gayness," per se. Nor is the issue behavior. The issue is one single behavior: sexual. "Behavior" is code for "The Act." Straight people do it, too, but our way is wrong. Why? "Because the Bible says so." That's the rationale for vociferous opposition to gay rights. No less authority than The Book condemns us. No less than God disapproves.

For centuries, Christian religions widely adhered to the Curse of Ham theory, which cited the Book of Genesis as proof that blacks were the result of a curse from God. Per the racists, God disapproved of us. No less authority than The Book condemned us. No less than God disapproved. The theory wasn't officially abandoned until the mid-twentieth century.

For centuries, Christian religions have held that the Bible condemns homosexuality. However, that evidence is just as specious as the Curse of Ham biblical interpretation that justified racism and slavery.

In his 1981 book, "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality," Yale University history professor John Boswell proved that "it is quite clear that nothing in the Bible would have categorically precluded homosexual relations among early Christians. In spite of misleading English translations which may imply the contrary, the word 'homosexual' does not occur in the Bible: no extant text or manuscript, Hebrew Greek, Syriac, or Aramaic, contains such a word."

Boswell revisited original biblical texts in their original languages. He showed that the two appearances of the word "sodomite" in the King James translation of the Old Testament did not necessarily imply homosexual and are, in fact, "simply mistranslations of a Hebrew word for temple prostitute."

He looks at Leviticus, "The only place in the Old Testament where homosexual acts per se are mentioned..."

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. [18:22]

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. [20:13]

He explains that, "the Hebrew word 'toevah', here translated as 'abomination,' does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft (discussed elsewhere in Leviticus), but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters."

He notes similar mistranslations in the writings of Paul, in which a common Greek word translated to mean everything from "loose," "delicate," "gentle" and "cowardly" is twisted in translation to mean "homosexual." Another instance has a word meaning "male prostitute" until well into the fourth century, transformed to "homosexual" some time thereafter.

These mistranslations don't change the fact that Paul was a raging homophobe. But as a mortal, living, breathing, necessarily flawed individual, there is no reason to take his hatred of gays as any more definitive than his acceptance of slavery.

Boswell did an extraordinary service. Through close reading of original biblical texts and concurrent writings, he proves that the violent prohibitions against gay sex were biblical add-ons, introduced in translation as tolerance for gays waned between the Christian Era and the end of the Middle Ages. He simultaneously puts the lie to the principal source of hatred against us--that God agrees. On close examination, it seems he agrees only in relatively recent translation.

"The Old Testament strictures against same-sex behavior," writes Boswell, "would have seemed to most Roman citizens as arbitrary as the prohibition of cutting the beard, and they would have no reason to assume that it should receive any more attention to the latter."

Blacks and gays have both had negative character traits attributed to them by dint of their genetic heritage. Both groups have endured centuries of hatred based on perversions of original biblical texts.

Far from an "invalid" argument, the comparison between the prejudice against gays and against blacks is extremely apt. In this day and age, both should be equally embarrassing, But as this political season and the inevitable battles born of the California Supreme Court ruling prove, that's not the case for either.