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Originally published January 20, 2012 at 6:09 PM | Page modified January 20, 2012 at 6:12 PM

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What the Bible really says about same-sex marriage

In the political gladiatorial arena, reflective Bible study doesn't come easily. So let's look at the Bible to see what it says, and see whether it can shed any light on the question at hand.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Well, the Bible is back in the gladiatorial arena of Washington politics these days, and the screams greeting its arrival make it difficult to discern the truth.

Immediately upon Gov. Christine Gregoire's recent announcement she planned to introduce legislation allowing same-sex marriage in our state, there were howls of protest in some quarters: "Homosexuality is a sin! It's wrong in God's eyes, and we know it's wrong because the Bible says so!"

The pro-same-sex-marriage camp responded immediately. "How dare you try to shove your religion down our throats!" they protested. "Keep your Bibles and your outdated religious truths to yourselves. They have no place in this debate no place whatsoever."

And so it continues. One side invokes what it sees as God's sacred truth, the other argues the Bible and religion should have nothing to do with this decision, and nobody gets anywhere. It's as if the two sides speak different languages.

The problem is, amid all this howling, very few people have thought to look carefully at what the Bible actually says. Here in this gladiatorial arena, you see, reflective Bible study doesn't come easily.

So let's look at the Bible to see what it says, and see whether it can shed any light on the question at hand.

The Christian Bible, as you may know, is longer than my Bible. The Jewish Bible is what Christians call the Old Testament. We don't call it the Old Testament; it's the only testament that we've got. Instead, we just call it the Bible, or Hebrew Scriptures. Or sometimes we refer to it as the Tanakh, which is the Hebrew acronym for its three major sections Torah (the five books of Moses), Prophets, and Writings.

But many who invoke the Bible in the same-sex marriage debate begin with quotes from the Torah, so, again, it's worth taking a look.

There are 5,888 verses in the Torah, and homosexual behavior is mentioned in just two of them. Leviticus 18:22 reads, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman. It is an offensive thing." Leviticus 20:13 repeats the prohibition, and declares such an act to be a capital offense.

That's it.

Note that the Bible only discusses sexual contact between two men; it contains no prohibition whatsoever of lesbianism. If the Bible is to be our guide, we'll be hard-pressed to find a reason to forbid women from marrying women.

More generally, the meaning of these two verses isn't at all clear. The Hebrew term for what they prohibit is "mishk'vei-ishah" literally, "woman-laying." A man isn't supposed to "woman-lay" with another man. I suppose "woman-laying" could refer to any sexual contact whatsoever, but it could just as easily mean something else.

Maybe the Bible is prohibiting certain sexual positions. Or maybe it doesn't want sex between men to be a matter of conquest as it often was between men and women during antiquity. Maybe the Bible just wants homosexual activity to be different from heterosexual activity.

Regardless, the Bible doesn't mention same-sex marriage at all. Same-sex marriage hadn't been invented back then. The authors of the Bible could have prohibited same-sex marriage about easily as they could have prohibited Facebook.

The Bible does, however, speak indirectly to this issue and to a host of other modern controversies, as well. It teaches that the first humans were created in God's image, implying we all carry a spark of the divine in us.

It calls upon us to love one another, to treat one another with dignity and respect. It reminds us that we may reach the promised land of bounty soon, but that to get there we'll all need to go together. And while we're on the journey, it would be good thing for us to be nice and get along.

If there is anything for us to learn from the Bible as we face the many important questions before us, maybe this would be a good place to start.

Rabbi Mark S. Glickman leads Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com

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