Richard Rorty points out in his book “Philosophy and Social Hope” that, the single best indicator of a culture’s progress toward a fully fledged human rights culture is perhaps the extent to which it stops interfering with its children’s marriage plans. A fully fledged human rights culture will not prohibit marriage based on class, wealth, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. A fully fledged human rights culture will protect the rights of its members to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Christian Religion deserves credit for its role in creating the idea of universal human rights. Their doctrine of The Brotherhood of Man is its greatest contribution to culture. Yet Christians now stand most squarely in the way of the fulfillment of their beautiful ideal.
Granted, the Bible contains clear statements which condemn homosexuality, the most clear of which is Leviticus 18:22, which reads, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is an abomination.” Yet there are other, clearly absurd statements which the believer is happy to look over, such as Leviticus 25:44-45, which reads, “And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.” Clearly, the contemporary ethos plays a major role in which lines we read, and which we ignore.
Yet in the 19th Century, even with such abominable lines as Leviticus 25:44-45, some Christian brothers and sisters managed to use their religious texts for inspiration, and to expand their notion of The Brotherhood of Man in order to first make slaves free, and then, in the 20th Century, to form the language which parted the cultural sea for the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s. Though I am a thoroughgoing atheist, these Christians are my brothers and sisters.
Christians know well Luke 6:31, which reads, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Popularly, we call this The Golden Rule. This great principle, which we is the heart of The Brotherhood of Man, has been handed down through the ages, and so culture has gotten better, more tolerant, more inclusive, and more pluralistic.
The Enlightenment can be understood in part as a secularization of Christian values. Among these Christian values are the very elements which put God to rest: the insistence on Truth, and the desire for a universal brotherhood which cannot be realized in sectarian language.
America, worts and all, is the greatest realization of Enlightenment egalitarianism. Our Declaration of Independence is a clear embodiment of these values, that all are created equal. We still struggle to realize this dream. We want that all would have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some of us are created gay; and the right to marry would only increase the collective happiness, harming none. As we should protect religion under the law, so we should protect those who would commit to and love one another. A fully fledged human rights culture would have it no other way. We are Americans; we are greater than our ancestors.
The American Philosopher John Rawls expresses the content of Luke 6:31 in his uniquely American theory of justice. In his theory, he has us imagine a “veil of ignorance.” Under this metaphorical veil, we cannot know in advance which social position we might chance to be in when the veil is lifted. We could chance to be rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay. We would not want to have the veil lifted only to discover that the law has been written out of our favor just because we had chanced to have been born gay. So we should write laws blindly, under the veil of ignorance, in keeping with Luke 6:31 and The Golden Rule.
If we, as a culture, could learn to write laws or amend constitutions so not to discriminate on the basis of class, wealth, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation, if we could learn to write laws so that chance of birth would give us no legal disadvantage, our society would be a fully fledged human rights society.