Why Christianity implies support for legal gay marriages

2004-03-08 04:26

So, for some reason, everyone seems to think that Christians are required to be opposed to gay marriages. Not so; in fact, so far as I can tell, Christianity suggests strongly that we ought to be supportive of them. There are a number of reasons for this.

What is marriage, anyway?

A side note: A lot of people argue that this is meaningless, because marriage is “defined” as being a one man, one woman, kind of relationship. It seems to me that this definition is purely descriptive, not prescriptive. Fifty years ago, some states defined marriage as a relationship between two white people, or between two non-white people. That, too, was “the definition of marriage”. I see no reason not to consider changing that definition if circumstances merit such a change.

In practice, people who commit to a life together, and love each other romantically, are married. The commitment and love seem much more important than the plumbing, to me.

But homosexuality is bad!

A lot of people have a fairly simple model which simply asserts that homosexuality is “bad”, therefore gay marriages should be prohibited. This runs into many problems. The most serious, I think, is simply the question of how we decide when to impose our own moral systems on others. My answer is that we should very rarely do this. However, there are other issues. The distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity is the first, and the one most likely to be overlooked.

However, I think it turns out that this doesn’t matter. It’s not as though the lack of gay marriage has been a significant barrier to gay sex. What it has been a barrier to is the kind of social stability that people associate with marriage. In short, many of the things conservatives are most likely to use as criticisms of “homosexuality” are, in fact, criticisms of refusing gay people the legal rights, responsibilities, and privileges of marriage.

We’ll come back to this later.

But think of the children!

The problem with this is that, quite simply, we don’t have enough data to make useful claims about gay child-rearing. There is as of yet no evidence of problems. The problems with single parents appear not to be a result of lacking both genders of role models, so much as not having enough people. Even more curiously, some statistics suggest that widows raise children as well as wives; this may suggest that the real problems with single parenting are not problems of single parenting, but problems that may lead people to become single parents.

However, there are enough children waiting for adoption, who currently have no family at all, that it’s hard for me to worry too much about the possibility that some loving families might come into existence which aren’t as good as the absolute best families we can find. Even if gay parents are, for no reason anyone has yet articulated or studied, “not as good”, they’re still far better than many of the families we are allowing to raise children today.

This isn’t the least cogent form of the children argument; that award has to go to the argument that gay people can’t procreate. Lots of people can’t procreate. Ability to procreate is not a prerequisite for marriage. While marriage’s social goals do depend somewhat on children, it has other goals, and we allow people to pursue the goals they’re interested in.

But gay people are promiscuous! They don’t want to marry!

I kid you not, I’ve seen this argument.

It may be technically irrefutable, on the grounds of being sufficiently unlike an argument as to be impossible to form a refutation of.

The fact is, some gay people do want to get married. Many more might if they thought that such efforts would be met with social support, rather than harassment. Indeed, gay people have been forming marriages for a long time; the question now is really whether they should get legal recognition for their marriages, not whether they should be allowed to form them.

Gay people take marriage a lot more seriously than straight people, probably for some of the same reasons that people who go hungry a lot take food more seriously than most rich Americans do.

We need to maintain social standards.

The Defense of Marriage act was written by someone who was married three times, and signed by a man who had multiple affairs. I think this is clearly a circumstance where, if we want to look at problems with marriage in the world today, there are better things to look at than gay marriage. Furthermore, not all social standards are worthy of being maintained. Social standards should be subject to constant questioning and evaluation. There is no merit in adhering slavishly to the mistakes of those who came before you.

Marriage is a privilege, not a right.

So was voting, until women’s sufferage came along..

Civil unions are good enough.

Separate but equal was never equal. Separate but unequal is no good at all. There is one acceptable option down this path; introduce civil unions as an option for everybody, and revoke all civil marriages. Remove every reference to “marriage” from the law. Down this path, the separation of church and state is clearer. This is a good thing. We do not want governments dictating whom a church may or may not consider married. Separation between church rules and state rules is a very important thing, and Christians who are attentive to the lessons of history and the guidance of Jesus ought to be unequivocally in favor of it.

In the end, it comes down to compassion.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the point is conceeded. It is admitted that homosexuality is, to use the Catholic phrase, “objectively disordered”. How shall we respond? We know how we deal with disorders in general; we help people cope as best we can.

This is, in the end, a social justice issue. If we conclude that a person who desires same-sex companionship is suffering from a disorder, what response must we have? We must, according to Christian morals, have the most compassionate response that we can. We do not demand that crippled people pray until their legs are healed before entering an office building. We adapt buildings to them. We can, likewise, adapt a bit of our social structure to the people who will find fulfillment in a same-gender relationship. This is no hardship to the rest of us.

This is not “encouraging sin”. At worst, it is “condoning sin” – something we do all day, every day. We condone sin when we buy products whose advertisements are misleading, and in the end, what other products are there? We forgive the sins of others, hoping they will forgive ours. Perhaps, some day, the gay people who have been harmed by the careless, ignorant, attacks on their rights made by the heterosexual mainstream, who take marriage for granted, will forgive us. We can only hope.

It is instructive to study the history of anti-miscegenation laws in the US for guidance in understanding this issue. Fifty years ago, people were arguing that God’s intent for “marriage” was clearly to prohibit interracial relationships. In 1912, someone proposing a ban on interracial relationships wrote “This slavery of white women to black beasts will bring this nation to a conflict.” Has anything changed? Not really.

In the end, I find that even in the case most favorable to the proponents of a ban on gay marriages – the assumption that homosexual activity is inherently sinful — it is my duty as a Christian to support free access to this fundamental civil right, for gay people as well. In the cases I find more likely — the possibility that sexual morality is not quite as simple or straightforward as that – my duty is even more clear.

There’s pages and pages to be written on this issue. In the end, though, it comes down to compassion. When I talk to people who have been together longer than most marriages last, and find that they are denied basic human rights, I can’t just sit and watch. The question of the sinfulness of homosexual activity is between these people and God, and is none of my business. The question that is my business is the question of how I treat them, and for that I am answerable, and it is there that I must obey my conscience.

Congratulations to Ray and Justin, whose recent marriage in San Francisco got me to finally sit down and articulate some of these thoughts.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. From Bernard Cohen's oral argument before the Supreme Court:

    [It] is the right or Richard and Mildred Loving to wake up in the morning, or to go to sleep at night, knowing that the sheriff will not be knocking on their door or shining a light in their faces in the privacy of their bedroom, for "illicit cohabitation."

    The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night, knowing that should they not awake in the morning their children would have the right to inheriting from them under intestacy. They have the right to be secure in knowing that if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them.

    The enormity of the injustices involved under this statute merely serves as indicia of how the civil liabilities amount to a denial of due process to the individuals involved. As I started to say before, no matter how we articulate this, no matter which theory of the due process clause, or which emphasis we attach to it, no one can articulate it better than Richard Loving, when he said to me: "Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."

    From the Court's opinion, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S.1 (1967):

    Marriage is one of the "basic rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to *deprive all the State's citizens of liberty* without due process of law. (emphasis added)

    From the Court's opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, Case No. 02-102 (2003):

    Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.

    * * *

        The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. “It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.

        Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific. They did not presume to have this insight. They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. *As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom. * (emphasis added).

    — seebs_lawyer · 2004-03-09 20:08 · #

  2. Hi Seebs
    First I want to say I found this through CF in case there are other links, in Prove God exists and I liked your posts. And I think I would like some ice cream also. Vanilla, with some cholocate on top.

    I notice there is not any Bible references above. Do you have any to support? I don't ask as a challenge. I would really like to know.

    Thanks
    Mike

    — mike · 2004-08-28 19:21 · #

  3. I don't have any verses specific to the topic, but the entire thing is rooted in the Gospel. The Bible doesn't talk about computers, but we can learn about how we should deal with other people through it. We are called always to compassion and forgiveness, and to work on our own sins, not those of others.

    seebs · 2004-08-29 15:40 · #

  4. I must say, this is great! Gomichan showed me the post after I said something shorter and simular, but you articulate yourself so much better than I do. Great job for showing people that you can be a Christian and not be a biggot too ^__^

    Rem · 2005-04-20 00:58 · #

 
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