Grant’s thought-provoking post and accompanying discursion inspired me to write a mini-manifesto on gay marriage and related issues. I’d like my friends who disagree with me to better understand that there is plenty of logic to go around in this debate, as much as I have had that same realization while listening to their arguments.
Before I get into my principal points, I should briefly disclose a couple things that shape my perspective when analyzing homosexuality generally.
1) I believe that God is clear, through the bible, that homosexual activity “misses the mark” he has set for human sexuality. In his comment to Grant’s post, Christopher brings up several hermeneutical difficulties in interpreting “…you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) literally, while disregarding the literal sanitary prescriptions in the same book of the bible. I respect his thoughtful perspective. Suffice it to say that it is a complex discussion that I don’t have the time nor desire for here. However, as you can tell, I locate myself in the traditionalist camp. I also appreciate a couple things that perhaps seem to separate me from many other Christians on these issues. I) I’m not sure that being gay is a conscious or even a subconscious choice. I think sexual orientation may be guided by biology as much as environment (or even principally), but surely I’m not even a novice on that debate. However, I don’t think it matters much to my spiritual analysis, since I also believe in original sin—we are predisposed to sin, biologically speaking. II) I think the bible creates a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity. As I read the relevant passages, only the latter is condemned, not the person who has those inclinations. We may have worthy or unworthy natural desires worthy or unworthy, but it matters if and how we act upon them.
2) Related to my last point, gay people are created in the image of God and deserve the dignity of respect, love, freedom and legal protection, just like anybody else. From my religious and common sense standpoint, the Ugandan legislation Grant writes about far exceeds the “uncommonly silly law” (Justice Thomas) at issue in the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas. In fact, I think it is probably inspired by evil, as are relatively benign placards that declare God hates people of certain orientations.
That said, I am against gay marriage and think that are many people who love homosexuals but substantially agree with my perspective. And in some ways it’s unfortunate I find it necessary to lay out my spiritual convictions above, because I think that gay marriage can be examined from a solely secular perspective, as I’ll attempt to do now.
First, there is an issue whether marriage is a right or not. Loving v. Virginia declares that “marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man,” yet honestly, I can’t imagine how this can be so in the governmental context. A person is entitled to be classified as a certain status by the government? That seems so arbitrary. I see it as a privilege—something that the government recognizes for a certain class of its citizens, prudently as I would argue in this case, to further some state interest. Personally, however, I would find no manifest injustice if government exited the marriage realm entirely, leaving it entirely as a sacred institution. Of course, the government sanctions marriage because more than any other type of relationship, it tends to facilitate procreation and stability of society. Whether you favor recognizing gay marriage or not, that is a central fact in this debate; not to demean others outside of such a relationship, but there is no building block as fundamental to civilization as a nuclear family. Such is important to understand in order to see why government confers benefits on this type of relationship; if you do not grasp this fact, you are bound to think the case against gay marriage is discriminatory.
Although gay couples are allowed to adopt children in some states, generally homosexual relationships do not further the government interests in the same way, or to the same extent, that heterosexual marriages do. (However, I could see a relatively compelling case for gay marriage for couples that adopt children, although that would open up a whole new set of issues.) To be sure, government recognizes marriage for additional reasons than what I cited above—as a convenience and courtesy to those who wish to arrange their legal affairs to reflect their every day lives (taxes, administration of estates, etc.), and this is why many people like me think it’s probably best to recognize civil unions that provide the same legal status and benefits that marriage does, even though this is a concession, given that civil unions don’t further all the same interests marriage does. (Proponents will no doubt argue that current civil unions don’t confer all the same privileges as legal marriage, to which I’d say that we should change the civil union laws then).
Unfortunately for many people, civil unions are not good enough. I understand that perspective to a certain extent, but realize that such people aren’t really after equal legal status nearly as much as societal acceptance. For me, the whole issue centers around language and condoning certain activity. No wonder so many people, including President Obama, have issue with “gay marriage.” First, it would be changing an almost immutable definition. I tend to see language (and the Constitution) as most beneficial when static. If we may change the meanings of words lightly, we lose a major preserving agent of culture. Second and related, modifying the meaning of a word can mislead people into ascribing the clout that heretofore the word had carried to new situations that may not deserve the same weight, or in which they otherwise would not have done so. (Of course, some say that gay couples deserve that same clout as married couples, but there’s no reason “civil unions” cannot earn the same type of standing as “marriage”.) Even though many gay marriage proponents tell you that it’s disingenuous for heterosexuals to claim that marriage is a sacrosanct institution, since heterosexuals have wrecked marriage with high divorce rates, apparently the word still has enough capital to fight over. Believe me—rhetoric and language are important when you’re trying to convince someone to accept something, and by speaking of a “right” to gay marriage, it further prejudices the case without many people realizing it, since hey, who could be against rights?
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that marriage is a right because it will make the rest of my argument (which is what I’ve really been getting to) more understandable. From a strictly logical and legal standpoint, gays and lesbians have that right—they have the right to marry people of the opposite sex, just as much as any person, in order to serve the government interest. But while logically true—that no one is really denied the right to marriage—I’m sensing that not everyone is satisfied by this conclusion.
Fine. But how would we have to define the right to include homosexual relationships? How’s this: the right of a person to marry another consenting person of any gender. (And since we’ve now fundamentally altered virtually the only definition of marriage of pretty much all societies in the history of the world, up until the last 15 years or so, we may be ready to concede that marriage no longer has to be between just two people—it could be between 3 or more. But let’s keep it two people for the sake of illustration). Fair enough. But by this definition, how do you prevent a brother and sister from marrying each other? What about mother and a son of the age of consent? Cousins? I really don’t see how you could exclude familiar relations from marrying each other, since they fit our new definition of marriage. Now, to be sure, these would prove to be rare cases, but are you prepared to accept them? The same kind of intuitive sense that may cringe inside you to realize that homosexuals have the right to marry the opposite sex probably objects to allowing people to marry their siblings. If not, then I applaud your consistency, and think you’ve reached a purely logical conclusion (much like mine in the paragraph above). In that case, I’d rather enact a marriage regime to fit all logical conclusions now, because the slippery slope is too long and painful to tumble down. However, if your common sense is repulsed by letting children marry their parents, like mine is, I think the only explicit reason we can come up with relates to procreation. Interestingly, one of the principal objections to gay marriage deals with procreation as well. But if we discriminate against homosexuals because we don’t allow them to marry, how are we not discriminating against cousins?
Of course, like I said, the last two paragraphs don’t have to be necessary if we recognize civil unions with all the legal incidents of marriage.
I don’t mean to sound so cavalier when talking about relationships that others hold dear. I fully admit that it’s easy for me to opine on such things from the relatively comfortable perspective of heterosexuality. And I certainly think that God is the ultimate arbiter in all things sexual, mine included. Lastly, I don’t think this issue is *that* important either way. But I hope I’ve demonstrated tthat people against gay marriage have honest reasons for this position besides merely disliking gays or wishing to discriminate against them.