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November 17, 2012

Same-sex marriage and the book of Leviticus

Amid concerns about voter intimidation, little mention has been made of Leviticus, that strong-arm book of the Bible that for years has tried to dictate my thoughts and actions through fear and guilt, and on Tuesday dogged my every step to the polls.

"Leviticus, 18th chapter, says that a man lying with another man is an abomination," Bishop David Allen Hall of the Church of God in Christ had told me a few days earlier. He is the spokesman for the Coalition of African American Pastors. His group was demanding that President Barack Obama and the NAACP tell same-sex marriage supporters in Maryland to "stop urging black Christians to ignore their own pastors' teachings."

Lord knows I had heard it all before, having grown up in the Bible Belt during the 1950s with that Old Time Religion.

Walking to my polling place in Fort Washington, Leviticus appeared, as if rising from a stake in the grass: "Don't Redefine Marriage! Vote AGAINST Question 6," read the yard sign. "Marriage = One Man + One Woman."

Of all the holiness codes implanted in my head as a kid, one involved a sin so vile that its name dare not be spoken. All I needed to know about it was Leviticus 20:13, which warned that if I "lie with mankind," I will surely die.

Early on, I came across William Blake's depiction of a stoning, "The Blasphemer," based on a verse in Leviticus, and it made quite an impression.

"Neither the concept of homosexuality as we know it today, nor the word, is in the Bible — from Genesis to Revelations," said Ronald Hopson, a professor in Howard University's School of Divinity and its Department of Psychology. "Condemnation of gays as we see it expressed today is not what the ancient writers meant. Part of the concern back then was not so much with men having sex with men, but with men losing their status. To be a man of means meant you could own women, but men who seemed to be taking on the role of women were regarded as a threat to that privilege."

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