Let’s talk about gay marriage

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…I mean, why not?

when I consider what I want to write about in a blog post, I never consider my options to include gay marriage, abortion, or the death penalty (the Big Three), because… well, everyone has already made every argument known to humankind for or against all of them. We’ve all heard it, we’ve all chosen a “side.” They’re all tired subjects these days, when it comes to social commentary. But, who cares. Today, I’m thinking about gay marriage. It’s on my mind, so I shall write:

Why does anyone oppose the idea of two men or two women getting married to one another? The only opponents thus far seem to be opposed for religious reasons. If one is concerned that gay marriage would oppose their religious beliefs, then there is a really reasonable solution to that: if you’re a heterosexual religious person, then simply don’t elect to marry a person of the same sex. If you’re a religious official, do not elect to marry gay couples. I’m fairly certain that there’s some part of our Constitution that says something along the lines of “freedom of religion” or something like that.

All right, sarcasm aside, the part of the First Amendment that discusses religion says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Which means that Congress cannot establish or maintain a religious structure to dictate the laws and lives of US citizens, and/because as US citizens, we all have the right to religious freedom and expression as we see fit. No religion shall be considered dominant or influential in our law making, and no law shall be passed that prohibits or discourages people from expressing their religious beliefs.

Now, luckily for Christians in the US, church officials are legally allowed to perform marriages. This means that you can go to the county government office like your atheist or agnostic friends, get your marriage license, and have your priest, pastor, imam, or whomever, perform the marriage, and it becomes official, according to secular US law. Luckily for non-Christian or non-religious people, there is also the option of a Justice of the Peace or otherwise secularly ordained officiant to legally marry you. In fact, it’s really astonishingly easy to become legally allowed to marry people.

What I understand is that a Christian person may feel that a gay couple being married is a sin in the eyes of their god. This is understandable, and not something I’m interested in arguing about with someone who is religious. I’m not trying to debunk anyone’s (usually) harmless belief systems. However, if one is married by a religious official, the marriage is blessed by God, and therefore a holy matrimony. If your local justice of the peace marries two women tomorrow afternoon, well, what does that have to do with anything? If it were a heterosexual couple being married by a JOP, you wouldn’t consider it to be a holy matrimony, either, right? That would presumably be because a JOP isn’t giving God’s blessing to your marriage. A JOP is simply making a domestic partnership into a legally binding contract. Where are the objections to heterosexual couples being married by secular institutions? I have heard of absolutely zero complaints about non-religious heterosexual couples being married by a judge, or their rights as married people.

What I truly don’t understand is why a heterosexual Christian person would find a gay marriage threatening. It doesn’t change the meaning of their marriage in the eyes of God.

If heterosexual religious people object to gay marriage within their church or religious institutions, then I say, more power to them. Have at it. Discriminate all you want. Why? Because your religious beliefs don’t have an effect on the secular lives of those around you. At least, they shouldn’t. Likewise, allowing homosexual people to marry someone of the same sex has no impact on religious people.

I understand the implications of saying that I believe that religious institutions have the right to be discriminatory in their allowance of certain ceremonial events. It would be discriminating against gay Christians, for one. But… well, if I don’t want someone’s religion to dictate my life, then I’m also not willing to demand that secular practices dictate the lives of religious people in a way that undermines or negates their religious beliefs. So, men can marry men and women can marry women legally, and Christian churches (and other non-Christian religions) can decide who they want to marry under the guidelines of their religion. Seems simple enough, right? They can all be legal under US law, so… what’s the problem again?

Furthermore, is there anyone out there who is not religious, Christian or otherwise, who believes that gay people should not have the right to marry a person of the same sex? I haven’t heard of any.

It seems so utterly simplistic, and I can’t wrap my mind around what the actual problem is. The religious right seems to think that their interpretation of what certain people said that their god said should be universal law, but that’s obviously incorrect in the context of our legal system and the founding of our nation, so where is the disconnect? Why are we stalling a civil rights issue over a group’s beliefs, when the solution is to simply… you know, continue separating church and state?

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19 Responses to Let’s talk about gay marriage

  1. A.Y. Siu says:

    There’s no logical reason to oppose gay marriage.

    Even at my most theologically conservative (seven years ago), I had never opposed gay marriage.

    To Christians who are opposed, I would strongly encourage a viewing of the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So.

    • ethifem says:

      Ooh– I own that documentary. It’s tear-jerking. I also highly recommend it.

      Interesting post, by the way. I enjoyed it.

  2. N says:

    Demagogy, plain and simple.

  3. innocentsmithjournal says:

    Gay marriage is indeed a tired subject, not because all of the arguments on both sides have already been made, but because none of them have. On the Left, we are accustomed to some variation of “why not? what harm does it do?”; on the Right, “marriage is between a man and a woman” — which isn’t really an argument at all.

    The case for traditional marriage has nothing to do with religion — although most Christians and nearly every secularist assumes otherwise. The case for traditional marriage rests on the premise that the state has an interest in children growing up in stable, two-parent households. Indeed, the traditional idea — it may be wildly mistaken, but lets at least try to describe it accurately — was that marriage itself exists primarily for the sake of childrearing (although romantic love need not be excluded).

    The issue of homosexuality is only tangentially related to traditional marriage. More central would be birth control, cohabitation, and no-fault divorce. What most Christians forget is that you can’t accept such innovations in heterosexual marriage and then arbitrarily draw the line at homosexuality. The reality is that we already have non-traditional marriage: under current laws, marriage is whatever two individuals decide it means, so there really is no case against gay marriage (for reasons you point out in the post.)

    Personally, I think we need to redefine the terms of the discussion altogether. Why not have two kinds of marriage, civil and traditional? The state could be neutral toward the former and favor the latter with tax breaks and the like. On the one hand, gay couples who adopt could have a traditional marriage; on the other, straight couples who want the option of divorce or don’t want kids might opt for a civil marriage.

    None of that is going to happen anytime soon, I suppose — too much incoherence on all sides.

    • ethifem says:

      Personally, I think we need to redefine the terms of the discussion altogether. Why not have two kinds of marriage, civil and traditional? The state could be neutral toward the former and favor the latter with tax breaks and the like. On the one hand, gay couples who adopt could have a traditional marriage; on the other, straight couples who want the option of divorce or don’t want kids might opt for a civil marriage.

      Interesting suggestion. I think it’s a good one– I appreciate that instead of framing it around giving gay couples a different option (ala “separate but equal” infamy), you suggest a different kind of union for both hetero and gay couples alike. As someone who isn’t religious, I would gladly opt for a civil marriage instead of a traditional one.

      On the other hand, if we were to make two separate types of marriages the norm, why not just make them “religious” and “non-religious”? It seems as though we already have those, anyway. All married couples must first get a marriage license form the same place, and then they are able to choose the type of marriage they want. One can get married by a priest or other religious official, or by a judge, and both are seen the same way in the eyes of the law. But a religious person would want to be married in a church (or other place of worship, depending on the religious affiliation) and a secular person may not have that desire.

      I wonder, though, why the state would be neutral to one type of marriage and favor the other with benefits? Why wouldn’t the state view the two equally, and reward them both with the same benefits? After all, gay couples certainly adopt or use reproductive technologies to have families. It then becomes a question of whether or not people believe that two men or two women can parent equally as well as one man and one woman.

    • Desipis says:

      I wonder, though, why the state would be neutral to one type of marriage and favor the other with benefits?

      I think it’s about recognising the benefit of stable relationships to the broader community and using some of that benefit to motivate couples to form committed (i.e. no divorce option) relationships. The problem I see is that a destructive relationship doesn’t benefit the broader community so there will be some need for divorce. It just may be that the barriers could be higher.

    • ethifem says:

      When put that way, I don’t see the benefit of having two official versions of partnership, or “marriage.” If you don’t choose the “stricter” version, you may as well not make it official. Which is essentially the way that society views marriage now, anyway.

    • Desipis says:

      There are many more legal aspects to marriage than just divorce. I think it’s important to be able to formally indicate that certain legal aspects are agreed too.

  4. innocentsmithjournal says:

    ethifem, I don’t see why traditional marriages would necessarily be religious or civil marriages secular. Admittedly, most proponents of so-called traditional marriage are Christians. The point I was making, however, is that the case for traditional marriage doesn’t really have anything to do with religion; it has to do with child rearing and the interest of the state in stable, two-parent households.

    As for civil marriage, the benefits are in the eye of the beholder. Couples make all kinds of pledges to each other these days: “I will be faithful to you as long as our love shall last”; “I will always be your friend and advocate”; and so on. The point of a civil marriage is to allow couples to define marriage and its benefits individually. (I agree with you that this is “essentially the way society views marriage now.”)

    Perhaps civil marriage trivializes the institution, as you suggest. One could argue, conversely, that traditional marriage — by privileging the nuclear family — is hopelessly patriarchal. Still, there are no clear alternatives to civil or traditional marriage. So why not make room for both?

    • ethifem says:

      Evidence- anecdotal, anyway, I haven’t actually seen studies, but I’m sure they exist– would suggest that it doesn’t matter if a child grows up in a single-parent household or a traditional nuclear-family household, as far as how they “turn out” later in life. If this is the case, then rewarding or privileging a nuclear family wouldn’t make a difference. Taking religion out of it would seem to just further complicate matters. It seems that people who get married (in Western societies) see marriage the same way, essentially: committing to spend their lives with another person and make a life together, as a family (with or without children). People who are religious often add religion to their marriage and include aspects of their religion into the ceremony. That’s the only difference that I can see. Maybe some religious people don’t, but I don’t think that’s the norm. Since our society already does this, officially seperating it by religion vs. secular would make the most sense.

  5. innocentsmithjournal says:

    Well, there is certainly no need to be dogmatic about traditional marriage. If it turns out that stable, two-parent households do not in fact significantly influence how children “turn out,” then I see no reason why the state should favor them with tax breaks.

    On the other hand, if Ross Douthat is to be believed (often he is not), research in the social sciences has tended to show a strong correlation between family breakdown, poverty, and crime. I actually reviewed Douthat’s book a while back, arguing that, if we want strong families, we need to address income inequality:

    http://innocentsmithjournal.wordpress.com/2009/10/03/book-review-grand-new-party-how-republicans-can-win-the-working-class-and-save-the-american-dream/

    • Gillian says:

      Actually, research shows that heterosexual parenting has no advantage of same-sex parentage. What matters is having a reasonable number of concerned, loving adults around. If anything, there’s a recent British study that shows that Lesbian parents raise the happiest, most successful and well-adjusted children (it’s just anecdotal – I don’t think it’s indicative of anything). As for “family breakdown, poverty, and crime,” – what do those have to do with same-sex vs. heterosexual marriage? the greatest number of “broken families” in the USA at the moment is that of divorced heterosexual partners. So are you saying we should discourage heterosexual marriage because it is most likely to produce a broken home?

    • ethifem says:

      I agree with you, Gillian, but to be fair, I think we have to take into account the fact that the reason that more “broken families” in the USA come from divorced heterosexual partners is because the majority of children are raised by heterosexual partners, or divorced heterosexual parents (or one of them). So naturally, the number would be higher in that group. What I’d be interested in is a study that showed the percentages of “broken families” for each group, instead of a flat number comparing both.

  6. innocentsmithjournal says:

    Gillian, I apologize for the confusion. While I think it useful to distinguish traditional from civil marriages, I have no objection to gay couples who choose to adopt entering into traditional marriage. My point is that, if lifelong unions involving children produce more socially desirable results than singe-parent or broken homes, the state has an interest in encouraging such unions through tax breaks and other benefits. This is what I would call “traditional marriage” — although I am admittedly modifying the term somewhat by applying it to gay as well as straight couples.

    By contrast, what I am calling “civil marriage” would be — more or less — a free for all: civil marriage would mean what couples say it means, nothing more and nothing less. As ethifem pointed out earlier in the thread, civil marriage is essentially what we have now, both for straight and gay couples.

  7. Gillian says:

    innocentsmithjournal – actually, no :-). Single parents produce as many well-balanced and adjusted children as couple-y ones. The tru difference is what you’ve pointed out – the “broken” bit. Children who come from a loving, stable environment do better than children who come from dysfunctional environments, the sex and number of parents really doesn’t matter. Of course, with single parents, there are logistic issues – it’s much harder for one person to give a child/children all the love and attention they need. But an aunt, an uncle, grandparents, close friends, hell – a Lesbian commune: as long as there are other loving adults to pick up the slack, kids do great.

    Also, I’m not sure I agree with you about the state having a vested interest in couples with children enough to encourage them with tax breaks etc. Would you care to elaborate on that? not necessarily disagreeing, but it’s not something I can automatically see the logic of.

    And ethifem – homosexual marriages break up a lot less than heterosexual marriages, even percentage-wise…but I agree it’s no kind of indicator. A gay couple marrying has to go through so much more, the self-selection is incredible. On the other hand, Britney Spears and whatsisname got married in Vegas, as do thousands of other drunk heterosexual partners every single day… I think that when (please god) we finally have a truly egalitarian society, marriage-wise, we’ll see same-sex couples splitting up at the same rate as heterosexual couples. That’s ’cause at the bottom line, we’re all human and suck at relationships, no matter our sexual orientation.

  8. innocentsmithjournal says:

    Gillian, I agree with you that the gender of the parents doesn’t matter (although obviously it takes a sperm and an ovary to create a child in the first place.) The traditionalist argument for male-female marriages relies on the notion that men have one set of essential characteristics, and women another. Gay couples, according to this line of thinking, lack complementarity, and therefore deprive children of either the nurturing and warmth of a mother or the firmness and authority of a father. For a variety of reasons, the traditionalist argument seems to me incoherent.

    When it comes to number of parents, I’m a bit more conservative. On the one hand, many cultures practice polygamy today and have since biblical times. It seems unlikely that polygamy has the unequivocal effect of scarring children psychologically. (Were Isaac and Ishmael deranged?) Or perhaps by numerous parents, you have in mind an ad hoc ensemble of parents – an aunt here, a grandparent or family friend there. Again, there is no reason to think that a child who spends weekdays with an aunt Sally and weekends with pastor Bob will necessarily turn out to be an arsonist or axe-murderer. The point is that aunt Sally and pastor Bob are unlikely to enter a lifelong, legal covenant, so there is no reason for the state to grant them special privileges. (The same holds true for a straight couple entering what I am calling a “civil marriage”: if the state has no guarantee that the couple will stay together for life, it has no incentive to offer them tax breaks and the like.)

    As for single parents, I agree with you that it is “much harder for one person to give a child/children all the love and attention they need.” A single mom is obviously at a disadvantage in this respect – which is precisely why the state ought to encourage traditional marriages. Yes it is possible and, indeed, desirable that other loving adults will “pick up the slack.” Yet ad hoc parenting, by its very nature, offers no guarantees to the child – only temporary solutions. Additionally, the weakening of nuclear families will tend to have the effect of weakening extended families. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) If we can’t reasonably expect mom and dad to stick together, I’m not sure where uncle Rick or grandma Sue is going to come from.

    With all of that said, economic inequality has probably done far more to weaken the family than sexual permissiveness (as I have argued elsewhere.) The value of traditional marriage is — partly — in its potential to provide poor children a measure of stability. Which is important if they are going to stay off drugs and out of gangs.

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