How Religion Impacts Society: Birth Control and Homosexuality

I read a lot of British history on the kings and queens of medieval society.   A common parallel I find between that time and ours is the misuse of religion and religious influence in the public sphere.  At one time, priests placated the starving populations by telling them that God blessed the kings and blessed those that followed the king unquestioningly, even though many kings were highly immoral in how they behaved and used funds: hosting lush feasts while their citizens were starving, engaging in lewd and adulterous behaviours with various mistresses, and going to war on the people’s budget without reasonable cause.  The medieval period was a bloody reminder that Christ’s name could be abused for a cause and we only need to remember the crusades, the inquisitions, and other events as reasons behind the legislation separating church and state in the US and various other countries.

Yet, I still see evidence of religions and religious leaders using similar tactics to impose their version of morality on general society.

Recently, President Obama passed a birth control rule that requires that health insurance companies pick up the cost of birth control as part of his Affordable Care Act.  However, the catholic church and other religions have come out against it claiming it violates their religious freedom (even after the compromise).  (I respect the complicated nature of this legislation and how some might see it as an infringement on their religious rights; however, the constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Obama’s rule does not state that a woman MUST take birth control, it is expanding access and decreasing the cost to birth control so that women everywhere might afford it.)

Which leads me to the other issue: homosexuality.  Last week, California courts declared Proposition 8 illegal.  A huge victory for the homosexual population.  Yet, many religious groups came out crying “foul” and exclaiming that the people had spoken while the courts had unconstitutionally overturned it (funny because I thought it was the court’s place to determine constitutionality, or interpret the law).   The campaigns against gay marriage call it a “sin” and a “threat to traditional marriage.”  Legislating purely on religious beliefs without research that shows these claims as logical would be an infringement on first amendment rights–that  religious organizations’ beliefs should not supersede popular opinion and natural rights.

In the past, religious leaders fought against woman’s suffrage and inter-racial marriage claiming the same moral issues.  A woman is subject to her husband and shouldn’t be engaging in public discourse anyway, or so the bible says.  And African-Americans, from the 1600’s-1970’s, were considered inferior to the white race–a doctrine taught in religious congregations all over the country.  Yet we would all agree that these ideas are outdated and certainly not true; unfortunately, the same logic is used to hold women back by denying access to birth control and exclaiming disapproval over homosexuality–which is increasingly shown as a genetic variation not a choice as some would claim–by blocking their ability to marry.

I am very disappointed with religious organizations, who often claim to have first-hand knowledge of what our forefathers want, attempts to infringe on the very clear constitutional amendment that separates church and state.  To claim moral superiority over the majority tears down important conversations on key issues in our country. Building a united and poverty/minority-minded nation requires compromise from all sides of the spectrum.  I feel that caring for the poor of our country should be the most important issue and we shouldn’t allow religious beliefs or disbelief in the public sector to overshadow that goal.

I want to emphasize that I know many wonderful Christian (and other religious) folks who care for minorities and would disagree with the overt religious influence on certain policies.  I just wish this respect would rise to the top of religious organizations.

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18 Comments

Filed under Social Issues

18 responses to “How Religion Impacts Society: Birth Control and Homosexuality

  1. You misunderstand the nature of the religious liberty debate re: the Catholic Church and ObamaCare. In the Catholic Church, it is a sin to facilitate an immoral act as well as to commit an immoral act. Paying for an intrinsic evil (contraception) is a sin equal to using it. And it’s also a sin to pay someone else (e.g. an insurance company) to give it out. It doesn’t matter if no one else believes this; what matters is that WE believe it, and thus the mandate is a violation of religious liberty since it interferes with the right to exercise our religion in the public square.

    As for homosexual “marriage,” the government has the right to grant legal contracts (or dissolve them) to any citizen. That is not the issue. The issue that is they are trying to redefine marriage, and force Christian citizens to go along with that redefinition — another violation of religious liberty. It’s also an issue because it’s a violation of what marriage is and what its purpose is — and the purpose of marriage is not to issue governmental approval of its citizens sex lives. For further reading, if you’re interested in learning about why Catholics (in particular) actually oppose same sex “marriage” (as opposed to the common misconception that we all hate gays or something), I recommend Steven Greydanus’ series Redefining Marriage.

    The court that declared Prop 8 unconstitutional is the 9th Circuit, which has a track record of unconstitutional decisions (94% are reversed). I think they believe the Constitution to be nothing more than a movie prop in the Da Vinci Code.

    • admin

      Yet, you are limiting my (and other people’s) beliefs that birth control is essential for woman’s health. Consensus agrees with this (even among Catholic women). So where should we draw the line when it comes to compromising for YOUR religious beliefs and limiting OTHER’S personal beliefs? While I see that you find it immoral, the majority of our population doesn’t. And, like I said, at one point in history it was also immoral for a woman to vote, JoAnna. You might not see the relationship between those two, but I and many other women do. Denying basic healthcare rights for women who are not of your faith is asserting your religious beliefs in the public sector. So you can’t dispense it, that’s why Obama made an adjustment for women to access these basic rights from the insurance companies.

      As for the gay marriage debate, I find it immoral that religious organizations are refusing this basic right for a minority based on their beliefs. Why is it that my and many other’s opinions are ignored or deemed wrong? Frankly, I think the simple solution would be to follow after Britain and Brazil’s laws making marriage a legal compact. A couple has to be civilly married first then they can have their religious ceremony.

      To claim that the 9th Circuit is making unconstitutional decisions is to assert your own interpretation of the Constitution. I happen to agree with many of their interpretations of the Constitution. (A document that I have read 100’s of times.) The powers of the judicial branch include “the power to try federal cases and interpret the laws of the nation in those cases; the power to declare any law or executive act unconstitutional;” thus, while you might find the 9th Circuit’s interpretations unconstitutional, with their vast knowledge of the law they felt those laws they ruled against to be unconstitutional. (Naturally, all judge’s interpretations are different, just like opinions are different from person to person.)

      If you can give me specific reasons, based on the constitution, as to how Obama’s birth control rule–with the compromise–limits your religious rights, please do so. I may disagree but I feel that it’s important to talk about these issues civilly.

      • “Yet, you are limiting my (and other people’s) beliefs that birth control is essential for woman’s health.”

        How am I limiting that belief, and how is birth control essential for women’s health? I’m a healthy 31-year-old woman who has not used any form of contraception since 2003. By your logic, I guess I should be sick or dead?

        “Consensus agrees with this (even among Catholic women). ”

        Truth is not determined by majority vote. And it’s irrelevant how many Catholics follow that doctrine. If the vast majority of apostate Quakers owned guns, would it be fair for the government to mandate that faithful-Quaker-run business supply guns and ammunition to their employees?

        “So where should we draw the line when it comes to compromising for YOUR religious beliefs and limiting OTHER’S personal beliefs?”

        We should draw the line at the Constitution. Women have the FREE CHOICE to work for a Catholic institution. If they want their sex lives subsidized, they can choose to work for an employer who has no moral qualms about contraception. Or, they can choose to pay for their own contraception, or obtain said contraception from a secular source that provides it at low-cost or free of charge. No one is forced to work for a Catholic employer, and Catholic employers should not be forced to violate their consciences.

        Incidentally, that 98% statistic the government keeps throwing around is specious and inaccurate. I blogged about it here, and there’s a good statistical analysis about it here as well.

        ” While I see that you find it immoral, the majority of our population doesn’t.”

        So what? It’s irrelevant. Religious liberty isn’t determined by how many people follow a certain religion’s doctrines, but rather if the doctrines are taught and by the religion. To quote Father Andrew Strobl: “By appealing to the behavior (not belief) of a particular religious group, the Administration (and others) are trying to indict the validity of an actual well-formed Catholic conscience. The claim might as well be: No one really holds that religious view so why should we respect it? This is how a government begins to form a litmus test for who’s conscientious objection is worth respecting. We must all be extra careful to not muddy the “conscience” pool further.”

        “And, like I said, at one point in history it was also immoral for a woman to vote, JoAnna.”

        Sure it was. But interestingly enough, the Catholic Church (as an institution) never taught as doctrine that it was immoral for a woman to vote.

        “Denying basic healthcare rights for women who are not of your faith is asserting your religious beliefs in the public sector.”

        But the Church is not DENYING contraception – which is NOT basic healthcare, despite what PP et al would like us to believe – to women. Women are free to use contraception if they so choose. All we ask is that the Church is not forced to subsidize it. It’s like the employees of Jewish deli have the right to eat bacon if they choose, but their employer shouldn’t be forced to provide it to them free of charge.

        Contraception is not health care. What illness does it treat? What disease does it prevent? How does it improve anyone’s health? Are you aware of the many risks and side effects (My SIL developed blood clots and nearly died after taking the Pill.), or the increased probability of contracting/transmitting HIV? How about the link to breast cancer (which is real, I can provide stats) and cervical cancer? How about the link to increased sexual dysfunction? Or even the Pill’s effect on what type of men women desire? (I can provide stats from secular sources for all of this.)

        “So you can’t dispense it, that’s why Obama made an adjustment for women to access these basic rights from the insurance companies.”

        That’s like saying, “No, you can’t murder someone, but it’s perfectly moral to hire a hitman to do so.” It’s not an accommodation, compromise, or adjustment at all. Once again, facilitating a sin is just as a moral evil as committing the sin.

      • Jason

        Hi Joanna. If you believe that the purpose of this legislation is simply to allow women to party and live promiscuously, your argument has merit. But there is strong evidence that contraception is a health issue for many women, as Amber has stated. For some women it may not be a health issue. But for many, it is. If certain institutions are exempt from providing this benefit, it takes the teeth out of the legislation and opens the door for other institutions. You and Amber have both made many valid points, but as long as we disagree about the purpose of the legislation, we will all just be talking past each other.

      • NFP-only OB/GYNs manage to treat the entire range of women’s health issues without resorting to contraception (which all too often only masks the symptoms as opposed to treating the underlying problem – as more than a few of my friends discovered once they went off the Pill and then had to spend tens of thousands of dollars on treatments for PCOS and endometreosis).

        Moreover, it goes back to religious liberty. If a woman wants coverage for contraception, for whatever reason, then she is free to choose to work for an employer who covers it. She is not forced to work for a Catholic employer. Women’s health is important but so is religious liberty, and one shouldn’t be forsaken for the other. They both need to be respected.

        Moreover, taking hormonal medication for a current condition (such as PCOS or endo) is not “preventative care,” which is how Sibelius et al are trying to define contraception. Contraception won’t do a damn thing to prevent those conditions. What does it prevent? Pregnancy. Pregnancy is not a disease, nor is fertility. (Ironically, infertility coverage – which is an ACTUAL disease – is not covered by this mandate.)

  2. admin

    @JoAnna- Please keep your comments civil. If you can’t engage in a discourse without making hurtful comparisons, then do not comment.

    Birth control has been used by many women to control symptoms from ovarian cysts (PCOS) to endometriosis. It is also an effective tool at preventing pregnancy which, for many women, is a severe health condition that they must plan and be ready for. (Since you suffered through HG, I think you get this.) I don’t use birth control because I don’t like the changes is produces in my body, however I would not tell other women that it is immoral for them to use it.

    I am aware of the methods you use to stop pregnancy–the NFP and other methods–but those aren’t for everyone, JoAnna. I also know the homeopathic methods you claim help with cysts and endometriosis and these have very limited scientific backing in actually helping.

    There are many examples of religious organizations that have attempted, and in some cases succeeded, to sway legislation that favors their religious beliefs. I used these examples because they are the most recent. This was not an attempt to argue the validity of Catholicism and its tenets, I am merely pointing out that the Catholic church (along with other supportive religious organizations) are trying to limit the access to birth control to women, something that I do feel is a form of preventative health care. Just like I feel anti-depressants and other medications are forms of preventative health care.

    • I’m trying hard to picture a situation where a woman would go to a hospital to get regular birth control, like the pill. Aren’t those usually prescribed by a regular practice doctor or an ob/gyn? I don’t see why someone in emergency medicine would have the need to hand out a regular prescription of a contraceptive. Seems to me this bill will only make the morning after pill accessible to these women, not regular contraceptives. And I can understand why a religion, such as the Catholic religion, would have a problem being forced to hand out such a thing in a hospital that they own and run. That is where religious rights are infringed upon. I personally never had a problem with this bill of Obama’s other than where is he supposedly getting the funds for handing out free birth control? Somebody is going to be paying for it. But it DOES in fact infringe upon the religious rights of others, something that is also protected in the constitution.

      As far as the gay marriage thing, I believe that is wrong and there is no proof that being gay is genetic. How on earth could that work out since genetic children won’t be reproduced by gay partners? Also, this “right” to live this lifestyle is a recent thing, so are we to just ignore the thousands of years the world has existed before us, thinking that we are so wise beyond what has gone on before? Many could tell you that gambling is completely innocent but others could tell you it has destroyed their lives since sweeping across America a few decades ago. Others will say that pornography is nothing more than a personal issue, but there are families who’ve been destroyed and children horribly victimized by those who produce it. For thousands of years gay marriage has never been seen as a natural practice or a legal right. I guess we, in our very recent day and age, are simply paragons of great wisdom, knowledge and enlightenment, and those of ages past are nothing more than stupid buffoons?

      The relatively recent advent of gay marriage in a supposedly enlightened Europe some will say is harmless, but should be given several generations before making such proclamations and we’ll see if gay people are only “born” and not “made” and see how families have been negatively impacted by the growth of this practice. It is a breakdown of the moral foundations of society and represents man’s growing lack of concern for his own kind. Rather than actively encouraging others to keep a standard, we simply are supposed to let go and without care let others around us drift into oblivion and just “do their own thing”? The long term outcome, piece by piece, will ultimately be anarchy and the disintegration of civil society where everyone will claim that they can do anything they want simply because it’s their “right”. Gay marriage is only a piece of this process but it is a significant one and a strong indicator of the rationalized direction in which we’re ultimately headed.

      • Jason

        “there is no proof that being gay is genetic. How on earth could that work out since genetic children won’t be reproduced by gay partners?”

        Actually, there is overwhelming evidence that being gay is genetic. Dozens, if not hundreds, of scholarly studies have confirmed this. The studies are too numerous to be cited here, but are readily available online. This is backed up by common sense, as many gay men are effeminate from early childhood. Is it reasonable to suppose that a 4-year old has chosen to be gay? Your second assertion shows a lack of understanding of genetics. Genes for certain traits can be carried without the trait being active in the individual.

        “are we to just ignore the thousands of years the world has existed before us, thinking that we are so wise beyond what has gone on before?”

        YES! If we stubbornly held to old customs, interracial marriage would be illegal. Women could not vote. Blacks would be slaves, etc. If we went back far enough, we would still be stoning people to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Social progress is a very good thing!

        You seem to be comparing gay marriage to gambling and pornography, but is this really a valid comparison? Gambling irresponsibly can ruin people financially and lead to addiction. Pornography can divide spouses and break apart families. When two gay people commit to each other through marriage, a family is born. It may not be your definition of a family, but it is still a family. How is this in the same ballpark as gambling and pornography?

        “It is a breakdown of the moral foundations of society and represents man’s growing lack of concern for his own kind.

        And I suppose telling gays that their self-identity is an abomination is showing real concern? Maybe it is in a reality in which God creates people with gay tendencies and then tortures them for eternity for acting on those tendencies. For many of us, the reality of such a God is just as unlikely as the existence of Zeus.

        “Rather than actively encouraging others to keep a standard, we simply are supposed to let go and without care let others around us drift into oblivion and just “do their own thing”?”

        YES! That is what freedom is all about. Just let them do their own thing! Gays are not asking for preferential treatment, but only for the same rights enjoyed by others.

        “The long term outcome, piece by piece, will ultimately be anarchy and the disintegration of civil society where everyone will claim that they can do anything they want simply because it’s their “right”.”

        So you are saying that people are going to start claiming the right to murder and plunder under our Constitution? And all because we allowed gay people to show their commitment to each other through marriage? Is that your assertion?

      • admin

        I just wanted to say thank you for these very well thought out points, Jason.

      • admin

        Quickly, the birth control clause is requiring that all employers provide subsidized birth control for their employees. This includes private religious institutions.

        I believe that Jason did a wonderful job of countering many of your points. I want to only add a few things. Many churches feel that living together is sinful and that marriage is an important institution. Considering that conservative estimates (and I am not referring to Kinsey’s numbers) conclude that 1-5% of the population is gay, allowing them to marry, and stop living in sin–as their religious beliefs assert–isn’t going to impact heterosexual couples in the slightest. I am not sure where the apocalyptic notions surrounding gay marriage arose, but I find it strange. Maybe people said the same things about women voting, blacks claiming their natural rights, and other civil rights situations. I just cannot see a loving God making homosexuals and then leaving them to suffer without companionship their whole lives.

        I still don’t see how allowing gays to marriage is leading to the breakdown of the families. Many homosexual couples adopt kids from foster care and other places. They give them loving homes, a far different situation they had before, and positively change the course of that child’s life. How is this breaking down families?

        I feel the much of the anger surrounding gay marriage comes from not understanding the gay population. Do you have a friend or family member that is gay? I do. Several, actually. Each of these people have positively impacted my life and shown me how to treat people respectfully. I see how they have suffered by my, and other’s, hands because I denied them love and loudly proclaimed their actions to be sinful. As I watch them now, trying to piece together their lives after years of abuse, I cry. I want them to have happiness just as much as I want you to have happiness. That is why I get frustrated when I see religious institutions ostracizing gay members and leaving them with flimsy opportunities to find love and happiness. I do not think religions are bad, I think they are greatly misled regarding certain issues.

      • Yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe that this will start to unravel the moral fabric of society until there comes a day when all heinous acts are seen as individual rights and no concern is given whatsoever for the morals that have been undermined. Yes, I do compare it to pornography and gambling, both of which are also immoral and sinful. And how is claiming to be “born this way” any different than those who are simply attracted to children sexually? It’s not. It will lead to that group of people trying to do the same thing–trying to legalize what they do for the sake of individual rights and that they were simply born that way. And no, I don’t believe for one second that a 4-year-old child is ever “gay” because 4-year-old’s are not sexual and being gay is solely related to sexuality. Preferring another gender’s toys and clothes at a young age does not make someone gay nor is evidence that they will ever proclaim such a thing.

  3. Women’s bodies have long been a battlefield for power struggles and control – and usually not by, for, or to the benefit of women.

    These are only a few examples.

    Thank you for this post, Amber.

    • admin

      Wolf, you have been battling this issue far longer than I have. I am only starting to dip my toes into this important debate and feel hopelessly ashamed at how far we still have to go. Have you ever felt this? And how did you push on?

  4. Heady discussion here in the comments…

    I believe very much our freedoms are the cornerstone to our country. And I know that religious freedom is what brought many of my forefathers here. So they could worship God in the way they saw fit and live their lives according to the laws they believed best fit their religion. I believe keeping government and religion separate are essential for this great work.

    But, even with our stunning constitution and bill of rights, the rights of women are shockingly new. And we are still struggling with defining how a free and diverse society lives together. Sadly, sometimes it seems these very freedoms allow us to be more vicious about differences. I was just reading a book about Richard Wright to my daughter. He was acclaimed in his own day, and yet he felt treated so poorly in this country that he left.

    I have not kept abreast of the controversy about birth control access, and don’t have strong statistics to back anything up. However, there are incidences when birth control pills are used to treat illness. A friend has terrible bleeding and cramping without the help of those hormones. Should she suffer for weeks out of every month, becoming less capable of keeping up with her job? Another friend has been told she will not survive another pregnancy. Should she abstain from sex with her husband to preserve her life? Which is more essential here, protecting life that is or keeping open the possibility for new life?

    Yes, there are side effects to the pill – and to any medicine you may take. The complications of choosing what drug is right and best for your situation medically are immense. No one knows all the possible consequences for taking any medicine.

    But, what sticks in my mind when debates about birth control arise is an organ I once saw while visiting a medical school. It was a uterus, with a very small fetus. And a rusty coat hanger had punctured an essential vein, causing this young woman to die.

    Did she make good choices? I am not in a position to judge. I do not know how she became pregnant, but I do know she did not feel safe to seek proper medical care. She felt cornered and stuck, and this lead to her death.

    You may disagree, but for those circumstances, I would hope that there are reasonable and kind medical support for women.

    • admin

      Yes, Kate, is it more important to prevent pregnancy or abortion? I would argue for pregnancy as abortion is a medical procedure that has lasting effects.

      I am surprised at how much we still must fight when it comes to a woman’s basic rights. I feel I understand Julia Roberts’ character in Mona Lisa Smile now much more than I did when I first watched it. There is a scene in which she is ranting to the Dean about how the girls at the college she is teaching at refuse to see how bright and talented they are. The Dean reminds her that “10 years ago, women couldn’t go to college. You must be patient for change.” In this case, I channel my toddler when I say “I don’t WANT to be patient!” But you are right in reminding me that women’s rights is still new and will require years of adjustment before we see it fine-tuned enough to be fair.

  5. Call me sexist, but I believe that if your body is not capable of carrying life, then you are not allowed an opinion on how those of us who can carry a life proceed to go about this. This includes men in funny hats who believe they are closer to god then the rest of us.