A Response to Marc Shaiman's Musical Against Prop 8

Marc Shaiman, the Tony Award-winning composer of the film and stage musical “Hairspray,” has done the country a major, if inadvertent, service. He has composed a brief musical piece against California Proposition 8 that takes only three minutes to reveal the ignorance and hate that pervades so much anti-Proposition 8 activism.

This short musical, viewed more than 2 million times on the Internet, features major Hollywood talents playing (through song) two groups on a beach — gay men and women in beach clothes and a stuffy formally dressed church group composed of whites and blacks.

Its message begins with a religious man and woman reacting to the cheerful gay group (celebrating the Barack Obama victory) by singing these words:

“Look! Nobody’s watching
It’s time to spread some hate
And put it in the constitution
Now, how? Proposition Hate!

Shaiman puts hateful words in the mouths of the religious proponents of the man-woman definition of marriage: “It’s time to spread some hate and put it in the constitution.” But no one put hate in the constitution. The only words Proposition 8 added to the California Constitution were: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” What is hateful about that? It may be wrong, but why is it hateful?

All the hate publicly expressed in the Prop. 8 battle has come from activists like Shaiman. For the record, most gays have not joined these radical activists. It is radical gays and radical straights who have led the movement to smear the Mormon Church and to compile blacklists of those who gave money to the Proposition 8 campaign. As one of many examples of their vindictiveness, Shaiman himself is directly responsible for forcing Scott Eckern, the Mormon artistic director of the California Musical Theater, to resign because he made a personal contribution to Prop 8.

As for ignorance, the first distortion follows immediately, explaining the way religious people will succeed in putting their hatred into the Constitution.

“People, listen to our plea
They’ll teach kids about sodomy!”

And then the gay group responds:

“That wasn’t right, that’s a lie!”

And the church group counters:

“But it worked, so we don’t care!”

No one ever mentioned sodomy being taught in schools. But it is in no way a “lie” to argue that when marriage discussions arise in school classes, children will be taught about princes marrying princes and princesses marrying princesses. It has already begun.

To cite one of many examples, in Massachusetts, whose Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, second graders at the Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington “used the children’s book, ‘King & King’ as part of a lesson about different types of weddings Lexington Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash said Estabrook … has no legal obligation to notify parents about the book … ‘Lexington is committed to teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal’” (Boston Globe, April 20, 2006).

Likewise, shortly after the California Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, overturned an earlier California proposition defining marriage as man-woman, students in a Northern California elementary school were taken to their female teacher’s wedding to her female partner.

The next distortion Shaiman puts into the mouth of a religious man comes when Jesus Christ shows up between the two groups, and the religious man says to Jesus:

“Jesus, doesn’t the Bible say these people are an abomination?”

And Jesus responds, “Yeah.”

It is quite audacious, to put it mildly, to have Jesus tell a falsehood in a musical seen by millions. Yet, no one seems to care about Mr. Shaiman’s distorted depiction of Jesus and of the Bible.

The fact is that nowhere in the Bible are homosexuals called “an abomination.” And no one, beyond one sick fringe family that has no standing in any religious community, refers to gays as “abominations.” On the contrary, religious opponents of same-sex marriage always speak of “hating the sin, not the sinner.” They speak of love for gays; it is the activists for same-sex marriage who express hate — for the Mormons, the Orthodox Jews, the evangelical Christians, the traditional Catholics, the African-Americans (whose lopsided vote in favor Prop 8 is widely credited with passing the Proposition) and for all the others who seek to keep marriage defined as man-woman.

This is followed by another distortion of the Bible, again from the mouth of Jesus:

“… but you know it says exact the same thing (“abomination”) about this shrimp cocktail!”

Shaiman, one suspects, has not carefully studied Leviticus. As fate would have it, I am currently teaching the Book of Leviticus at the American Jewish University, the West Coast seminary of Conservative Judaism. And Shaiman tells a half-truth. Yes, Leviticus calls shellfish “an abomination” and uses the same word for sexual acts between men. However, the text states that shellfish is an abomination “for you,” i.e., for Jews alone (Leviticus 11.12). The act of a man “lying with a man as with a woman” is labeled “an abomination” without the qualifying words “for you.” And Jews who do eat shellfish are never called or considered “abominations” any more than men who engage in homosexual acts are.

Jews alone are prohibited from killing and eating pork, shellfish, and the other non-Kosher creatures. These Kosher laws of the Torah prohibited Jews from killing and eating most species of animals thousands of years ago. The reasons for why certain species are permitted and why some are not are far too complex for a column. But Professor Jacob Milgrom, author of the three-volume Anchor Bible commentary on Leviticus, convincingly demonstrates that the Torah’s dietary laws are overwhelmingly concerned with ethics and holiness.

But none of that matters. In an age when most college graduates know little or nothing about the Bible — which, until the baby boomer generation, was the most widely read, most widely studied, and most widely revered book in America — they will learn all they think they need to know about the Bible and homosexuality from a three-minute musical on the Internet.

Hatred based on ignorance is known as bigotry. Making the bigotry of much of the anti-Proposition 8 activism apparent is Marc Shaiman’s significant, if inadvertent, contribution.

Why can’t Shaiman and his fellow activists acknowledge that there are good people on both sides of this issue? Those of us who supported Proposition 8 readily acknowledge that many good people differ with us. Neither position is inherently hateful, but this little musical is.