If my news feed is any indicator, Facebook must be experiencing anti-gay Renaissance. For some reason (election year? outbreaks of homosexuality? new chicken menu?), people — religious and not — started enthusiastically liking, sharing, and reposing pictures intended to promote traditional marriage and warn the public about the threats of less traditional alternatives.
Being as much a homophobe as any other Russian Baptist, one might think I should share the same sentiments. Right? Well, not exactly. If there is a major sentiment, it’s confusion. And the more I hear the arguments against gay marriage the more I get confused.
First, a disclaimer: I am talking about the arguments against gay marriage coming primarily from the conservative Christian community. I hear them most often and I know the community well enough. There are other groups that oppose gay marriage (white supremacists, neo-nazis, Muslim fundamentalists, and so on), but I know little about them to say anything meaningful, although, as I believe, they share at least some of the same arguments. Also, I’m not talking about homosexuality as a human condition or behavior; only interested in the same-sex marriage legislation.
Anyway, back to the topic.
The primary argument against gay marriage coming from my conservative Christian friends-and-relations claims that God (as expressed in the Bible and reflected in the Christian tradition) condemns homosexuality in general and homosexual marriage in particular. Since practicing homosexuality is a sin (or abomination) in the eyes of God, a homosexual marriage cannot be legalized. So goes the argument.
You may fully support this premise or be one of the few who disagree, but the thing is: in the conversation about legality of gay marriage, this argument is irrelevant. Sure, this would be a great point if we discussed acceptance of gay marriage by the church, but we are not discussing matters of church or faith, do we? The controversy addresses acceptance of gay marriage by the state, and since we live in the state, which — at least, de jure — is separated from church, an argument suggesting that something is or is not approved by God, faith, or church, has little meaning.
I know a lot of folks don’t like this assumption. Many believe that state law should be based on the Bible. Again, an interesting topic for discussion, but unless you live in a country governed by religious law, such as Vatican or Saudi Arabia, this is not how the rules of society currently work. Arguing against gay marriage on the premise that state law must be based on the Bible, is similar to requiring people to be baptized before they accept Christianity: it does not make much sense. If this is your position, you should argue against the separation of church and state first, and, if successful, continue with the original argument. The bottom line is that this is not the case now, and it’s not likely to be the case any time soon, at least, not until all Christian denominations agree on the single interpretation of the Bible (and if this ever happens, I hope it will not adopt the interpretation held by Christian snake handlers, which the followers defend even at the cost of death). Until then, church and state do not have to agree on acceptance of gay marriage, as they may not agree on legality of contraception, divorce, slave ownership, work on Sabbath, pork consumption, and other issues; some of these things may not be accepted by a particular church, but they are perfectly legal to the state.
Now, having said that an argument appealing to religious dogmas is not relevant to the discussion of legality of gay marriage in a secular society, I have spent way too much time researching this subject to let it go. So allow me to share a few thoughts.
Let’s talk Bible first.
In silent protest, Fred Demien holds up “How To Read The Bible” by James L. Kugel. As a youth director of a Portland church, Demien believes that Westboro sends the wrong message about God and religion. Photo: Joshua Bessex / The Daily of the University of Washington
When you hear about Biblical marriage, you may get an impression that God has only blessed and approved what is currently called a traditional marriage (being defined as a sacred union between one man and one woman, based on love, for the purpose of making [traditionally conceived] children). But this is not true. At different times in history, God — at least, according to the Bible — seemed to have tolerated the types of marriages that we would hardly call traditional.
Moses (presumably, via a revelation from God) explicitly prescribed a marriage between a rapist and his victim (I suspect, few would support this now):
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,
29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
In some cases, widows had to marry their brothers-in-law (this would be unusual at modern times):
5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.
Or how about marriage to a captive woman, which God allowed (I think this can be qualified as a war crime now):
10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives,
11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.
The Bible is also not lacking specific examples of non-traditional unions. Like a story of Judah, who had sex with his daughter-in-law mistaking her for a prostitute, after which she had a child. Or an unplanned marriage of Jacob to Leah, whom he neither loved nor wanted. You may say that these are bad examples, but nevertheless, these two couples have become great grandparents of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sure, they were not ideal in traditional sense, but God has used them to bring us the Savior.
But none of these examples mentions homosexuals, right? And God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, didn’t He? Well, if you read carefully the second story of creation, you will see that it seems to imply that before Eve came along, God had not expressed a fundamental objection to an idea of pairing Adam with another creature:
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
If you take this text literally, “no suitable helper was found” implies that there was an attempt to find one. And God did not seem to have been opposed to the idea of giving Adam a helper in the form of a “wild animal” or a “bird in the sky”; otherwise, why didn’t He create (according to this version of the story) a male-and-female pair right away (i.e. before naming and capability assessment of the fauna representatives), just as He did with any other creature? Fortunately, it did not work out, or it could’ve been worse than Adam and Steve, if you know what I mean.
The word “helper” in Genesis 2:20 is also characteristic. According to the text, the search was not for a sex partner, or someone to have kids with (the whole procreation thing did not get started until the fall of man), but someone to offer help. Unfortunately, there is no description of the scope of help, but I assume this could have been a form of partnership that included light cooking. I don’t want to speculate, but if Steve were around and could flip burgers… who knows.
But, jokes aside, this was the Old Testament. What about the New one?
A little fact about the New Testament: it does not say anything about gay marriage. There is a couple of references to gay sex, some of which could be attributed to inaccurate translations of references to sexual promiscuity and/or prostitution (which come from the same author who expressed a similar disgust with women cutting their hair), but no matter how you translate them, these quotes are not about marriage. They are about sex. If you believe that Apostle Paul condemns gay marriage implicitly because he condemns gay sex, let me advance this argument a bit.
Say, you have Adam and Steve: two gays, who love each other, but don’t (or can’t) have sex. Would you oppose their marriage? Let me make it more interesting. Imagine that Adam and Steve are not gay. They are as straight as NASCAR fans, yet they experience the same love that King David described as “more wonderful than that of women.” Neither of the two (and I repeat, heterosexual) men can find their better half in the opposite sex, so instead of living alone, they wish to live together in a platonic relationship with a legal status of a married couple. Maybe Adam is sick and Steve wants to be his “helper“, and having a legal status would make it easier. Would this be okay with you?
I know, I know, you can claim that this is not what God might have originally planned, but, as I mentioned above, this is not a question about approval, especially, approval by church or God. And we’re not talking about ideal. I’m just asking if you could tolerate such a union in society (not in your church), just as you may tolerate someone’s divorce or marriage to an alcoholic.
If you don’t see where I’m going with this, let me help.
If you oppose gay marriage, but think that a platonic (i.e. sexually inactive) same-sex couple — gay or straight — can marry to form a legal union, then you are not against gay marriage per se. You are against gay sex, which is related, but not quite the same. The thing is: by opposing gay marriage, you are not going to prevent or reduce gay sex. You will make it harder for gay people to live their daily lives, but (assuming that this is not your actual goal) your opposition will not help advance your cause: there will still be about the same amount of gay sex (or maybe even more). To achieve your ultimate goal, instead of fighting against gay marriage, you may want to focus your efforts on outlawing gay sex, or eradicating homosexuality as a human condition (although, I’d steer away from this approach), but be aware that these attempts may hurt your own people (like these guys, that guy, this or that one [okay, the latter one is not a good example, but check out this lady!]). (Bonus idea: In case you’re successful in ridding homosexuality in humans, you may also want to fix the fallen representatives of the animal kingdom.)
Now, if you believe that same-sex couples (gay or straight) cannot marry into a platonic union, then the question is: why? The only plausible explanation I could think of would be the one expressed by the president of the National Organization for Marriage Brian Brown during his dispute with Dan Savage (at 38:56 in the clip below; I’d recommend watching the whole conversation, it’s quite entertaining).
According to Mr. Brown,
“[B]y its very definition marriage is a union between a man and a woman.”
Essentially, this is an argument about semantics (or linguistics, if you wish).
I think the disconnect here is that Mr. Brown, at least, as his argument implies, does not dispute the right of gays to live in legal unions. He is just against calling these unions marriage. Essentially, Mr. Brown acts here as a language, and not a moral, or legal, advocate.
It may sound silly for gay rights activists, but does Mr. Brown have a point? Let’s take a look at gay marriage (in linguistic sense) through the same prism.
Throughout the modern history, at least in the western world, the institution of marriage has taken various forms, but it normally involved members of the opposite sex. If we care about preservation of the word meanings — traditional marriage, bride and groom, mother and father, husband and wife — let’s not redefine them. Indeed, if you apply these terms to a gay couple, they make little sense. In a same-sex union, who is the husband and who should be called wife? If you agree with this logic, then you are not against gay marriage. You are against naming a same-sex union marriage.
So, what if we alter terminology? Would the idea be more acceptable if we dropped the word marriage, and instead focused on legalizing civil unions with equal rights? Regardless of the partners’ sexual orientation. If you have two guys or gals — gay or straight — who want to spend their lives together, care for each other, and be treated by the state law as a traditionally married couple, why not allow them to register for a civil union? Without calling it a marriage. There would be a different application form and a new
marriage civil union certificate, but the traditional marriage license and certificate would be retained for traditional couples, too. In the new documents, the parties would be called partners instead of bride and groom or husband and wife. We already translate legal forms and documents to various languages almost everywhere, so how hard would it be to adapt the language appropriate for same-sex couples. And while we’re at it, if a heterosexual same-sex couple wants to apply for a civil union, why not? The divorce procedure should be the same regardless of the type of the union.
I’m not that naive to assume that this argument will persuade many (if anyone), but let’s say it makes sense to you but you worry about the broader implications. Maybe you are a church official and you are afraid that the state will persecute you if you refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexuals. Or maybe you worry about the effects of legalizing same-sex unions on your small business. Let me explain the implications.
Legalization of same-sex unions — and let’s face it: it will happen sooner or later, so try to get used to the thought — will have different effects on businesses and organizations depending on the type of the agency: totally private, public, or private, but open to public.
If you are an official in a private organization, which is not open to public (such as a church), the state cannot require you to do anything that goes against your beliefs (within the scope of law). A homosexual couple cannot file a law suite against you for not marrying them for a number of reasons (well, technically, anyone can file a law suite these days, but it’s not likely to succeed). Marriage ceremonies performed at church have no legal meaning unless the proper civil documents are filed with the state. In the other words, you do not need to be married at a church for the state to recognize your marriage, so refusing to perform a marriage ceremony at a church does not constitute a violation of the state law. A church ceremony is something you do for spiritual reasons in front of God, not for legal reasons in front of the state, and the state (generally) does not mingle with God’s business. Besides, your whole business model is based on intentional discrimination (not necessarily a bad word in this context): you allow people to join your church (or community) only if they satisfy certain criteria and you can deny anything to anyone. It’s exactly how things work today. For example, when my wife (then fiancee) and I were planning our (heterosexual) marriage, we asked a local pastor to perform a ceremony, but he said he would do it only if we become (or promise to become) church members. “The church is not a marriage agency,” he said. We ended up being married by a different pastor, who also had his criteria: he would not marry a Christian to a non-Christian (for good reasons). The bottom line is that there is already discrimination in private communities, and nobody seems to be persecuted. Have you heard about a Catholic priest sued or being penalized for refusing to marry atheists or a Pentecostal pastor refusing to marry Muslims or Buddhists? I don’t think so. Same-sex couples will not make it any different.
The implications are totally different for public agencies and employees. If you are a public employee, who has strong feelings against homosexuality or same-sex unions, then you should not be working in an area where your beliefs would conflict with your job duties. This should already be the case for many folks. For example, since Jesus Christ has explicitly forbade divorce (for reasons other than sexual immorality), if you are a Christian, who takes these words literally, and you are firm in your convictions to the point where you will follow them in the workplace, then you should not be working at an agency that handles divorces (i.e. you cannot be a judge, a divorce attorney, a court clerk, a psychologist, a marriage counselor, etc). Or maybe you believe that God commands people to rest on Sabbath. Then you should avoid employment anywhere where your work hours would fall on the day of rest (such as health care, police, military, aviation, etc). Again, no radical changes here.
David Knight, right, the estranged son of state Sen. William “Pete” Knight, who authored California’s law banning same-sex marriage, holds hands with his long-time partner, Joe Lazzaro, left, as they take their wedding vows. AP Photo/The San Francisco Chronicle, Liz Hafalia. Photo: LIZ HAFALIA / SF
But what if you have your own business or work for a private company or agency? What are the implications here? There are basically two sub-cases illustrated by the following real-life examples.
Case #1: You are a Catholic adoption agency. Can the state force you to provide adoption services to same-sex couples? The short answer is: no, it cannot. Well, then why did “Catholic Charities in Rockford, Ill., ended its adoption service over concerns that it would have to place children with same-sex couples or face discrimination lawsuits?“ That’s because it operated using public money. If an agency takes public money (funded by taxes), it has to serve all public including gays and lesbians, because these people also pay taxes. You cannot require a group to pay taxes, but when it comes to state-funded operations say: “Sorry, folks, you’re out.” If you don’t like this, lobby your state representatives for passing a law to exempt gays and lesbians (or whichever groups you do not like) from paying state and local taxes. Once this law passes, you will have a case for legalizing discrimination. An easier approach would be to have Catholic adoption services operate using their own funding, without relying on public dollars. Then the state would not have (clear) grounds to require them to follow the non-discrimination laws. But, would this still make Catholic charities a potential litigation target? Enter case #2.
Case #2: You are a boutique hotel specializing in destination weddings. Can you be sued for denying your services to same-sex couples? The answer is: you can be and, as the case of Baker and Linsley v. Wildflower Inn shows, you will probably lose. But this is not fair, you might say in outrage (which was my initial reaction). You are a private company and can follow whatever policies you like, right? Well, the caveat here is that you are a private company open to public, and as long as you are open to public, once you choose to discriminate against a particular group, then you can (and should) be sued.
If you think this is not fair, consider these examples. Your church group wants to hold a breakfast prayer at a local diner owned by an atheist (or a member of a different religion, say a Muslim). Assuming that your gathering is not disruptive to others, do you think the owner should have a right to kick you out just because he does not like Christians? Or, say, you are a black (or Jewish, or inter-racial) couple shopping for a wedding dress at a local bridal store belonging to a member of Nationalist Movement. Should the owner have a right to send you elsewhere because he does not like your race, nationality, or race mix? Or, maybe, you are a recent Russian (or some other) immigrant with little English skills trying to find an alternator for your Toyota at a local junk yard operated by a supporter of NumbersUSA. How would you like if the junk yard owner told you to get out of his property because he believes that immigration to the U.S. is out of control?
While you may think that these are totally different cases, the idea is the same. If we allow private companies providing services to public to discriminate, then you may soon find yourself an object of discrimination. And if you think that these types of discrimination are worse than yours, remember: someone’s heresy is someone else’s religion. We are not defining the rules for you church or group. You are free to believe, live according to, and enforce whatever you think is right within your family or private community (as long as it does not break the law). But we are talking about the rules of society which is made of very diverse people, who need to co-exist. If you find this objectionable, maybe you should consider moving to a country, which is more aligned with your belief system (Uganda, Saudi Arabia, and Iran immediately come to mind), but I suspect you will not like these places either.
But, wait, wait… What about children? The last arguments often thrown in the discussion about gay marriage are about kids. The problem with these arguments is that they are incoherent at best and mutually exclusive at worst.
Let’s start with the basic (and most obviously flawed) claim: marriage is intended for procreation, so, since same-sex couple cannot have (traditionally conceived) children, they should not be allowed to marry. If you do not see the fundamental flaws in this logic, I’ll probably not be able to help you, but I’ll try anyway.
If you take this position, you should not stop with gay people. If you want to enforce the goal of procreation via marriage (in case, you think the Earth is underpopulated), then you should make it illegal for straight married couples to not have kids, too. Are you married without children? Have you been married longer than a year? Then you shouldn’t have been allowed to marry. Know some other couple without kids? Them, too. Like infertile people. Or old folks. They can’t have kids, so, by this argument, they should not be allowed to marry either. Do you think this is reasonable position?
Besides, a gay couple can adopt, but I suspect that if you are against gay marriage, your are probably not in favor of gay adoption, right? You probably think that gay marriage is detrimental for both adopted kids, as well as others. I have heard this argument many times. So let me ask: what exactly are you afraid of?
In case you think that kids brought up by gay couples are more likely to become gay, I hope you have supporting statistics, because I sure could not find any research to confirm this premise. If you think about it, almost all gay people around you came from heterosexual parents. Some of these parents were so anti-gay that they have denounced their kids and kicked them out of their homes. If this does not tell you anything, I’m sorry.
But what about your kids? Wouldn’t all these gay parents and their non-traditionally conceived and adopted kids affect them? In the other words, will it make them more likely to turn gay? Or will it make them gayer?
If by gayer you mean more tolerant to families with gay parents, maybe. But it’s up to you. You can still teach them to hate gays (and gay families), if you wish, just as racist parents can teach their kids to hate blacks and other minorities. It works pretty well most of the time.
But wouldn’t tolerance to families with gay parents actually turn your kids into gays? You may find it hard to believe, but the gay virus does not spread over the air. Do you really think, that after noticing that Billie in his class has two dads (or two moms) your son will for some reason be more likely to have homosexual feelings? “I normally like girls, but since Billy has two dads, maybe I should check him out, uh?” You seriously think that’s how people become gay? If this were as easy for people to become gay, then the opposite should be true: it should not be impossible to go back from gay to straight, just as alcoholics and drug addicts do following rehab. Unfortunately, this is not the case (see references below).
And if you’re concerned about emotional trauma kids adopted by or born to gay parents may feel, why not give these kids a chance to speak for themselves. Here is one of them:
Zach Wahls was not adopted, but do you think that being an orphan or living in a foster home is a better alternative for kids who have a chance of finding loving gay parents? If you do, then maybe it would also make sense to take kids from less-than-ideal heterosexual or single-parent families (you shouldn’t have to look far to find a few) and put them into orphanages, as well.
Sorry, I kinda swayed away from the original topic. The bottom line is that if you are not convinced that gay marriage will not result in more gays, do some research: check if states or countries allowing same-sex marriage have more gays per capita. I’m not sure if such statistics exist, but if this is in fact the case, you should be able to find data to support it.
Finally, if you’re thinking about introducing Sodom and Gomorrah in a conversation about gay marriage, my only response would be: “It was nice talking to you.” Although, it would be a lie.
P.S. I almost forgot to address the argument claiming that gay marriage undermines the institution of marriage. The problem I have with this argument is that I don’t understand what it means. Does it mean that people will be less inclined to marry? “I love you, honey, and I would like to propose, but, since Adam and Steve can now legalize their union, I think we should never get married.” Is this the point? Or will gay marriage somehow cause people to divorce more often? “You know, sweetheart, Adam and Steve can now get married, so I think we should get divorced.” Are these scenarios plausible? Or are you talking about people taking marriage too lightly. If so, then instead of focusing on gays, I’d suggest we focus on celebrities (say, these or those), because if anyone is detrimental to the institution of marriage, then it’s not Adam and Steve, but Kim and Kris.
So you still think homosexuality is sinful? And therefore gays should not be allowed to marry? (infographics)
A diagram tracing the reasons of opposition to gay marriage; by Bishop John Shelby Spong (or read a more detailed explanation).
10 Reasons to Oppose Marriage Equality (list)
And they are not what you think.
Explaining Gay Rights (infographics)
This should be helpful to people who believe that legalizing gay marriage will open the doors to all sorts of ridiculous things like marrying your toaster, children, the dead or your dog.
Preacher Phil Snider gives interesting gay rights speech (video, 3 min)
Springfield city council heard from the public as they debated a new rule adding LGBT people to the list of minorities protected from discrimination.
Dealing with gay marriage: Six reasons why my fundamentalist friends need to ‘get over it (article)
Mottle Wolfe, an Orthodox rabbi, the host of The Mottle Wolfe Show on Voice of Israel, and co-host of the “Stuff Jews Should Know” podcast shares his opinion.
The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality (video, 1 hour; transcript)
Matthew Vines speaks on the theological debate regarding the Bible and the role of gay Christians in the church (see also Turned Away, He Turned to the Bible [article]; also, for the sake of fairness to the argument, see the opposing views at Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive [article]).
The Bible and Homosexuality: Part One (article)
Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Global and Faithworks, network leader of church.co.uk, and founder of the Stop the Traffik coalition, calls for a new Christian understanding of homosexual relationships.
Clobbering “Biblical” Gay Bashing (article)
Mark Sandlin — an ordained PC(USA) minister currently serving at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC — dissects Biblical verses that are most commonly used for gay bashing.
Buggery and the Bible (article)
A modern perspective on Biblical prohibitions (and allowances).
Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing Gay ‘Cure’ (article)
Dr. Robert L. Spitzer is a major architect of the modern classification of mental disorders. He has been a major backer of the so-called reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality. Now he’s saying he was wrong.
Evangelicals Fight Over Therapy To ‘Cure’ Gays (audio, 5 min; article)
Exodus International (the largest ministry that tried to “cure” people of same-sex attractions) made it official: It would no longer associate with or promote therapy that focuses on changing sexual attraction.
My So-Called Ex-Gay Life (article)
Gabriel Arana offers a personal look at his gay “cure therapy” which he was undertaking over many years.
‘Ex-Gay’ Crusader Who Publicly Bragged About ‘Being Cured’ Caught Trolling For Men
When you hear about someone, who has been cured from his/her gayness, take it with a grain of skepticism.
I’m Christian, unless you’re gay (article)
Dan Pearce shares… well, just read it. And while you’re at it, also take a look at A Teen’s Brave Response to “I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay”
A Liberal War on Science? (article)
Explains what was right and wrong with Mark Regnerus’ attempt to study gay parents. See also: Another Study Finds No Difference with Same-Sex Parents.
Gray Marriage Ad: The Only Purpose Of Marriage (video, 2 min)
Just imagine if we redefined marriage to include people who can’t even have children.
Religion and Gay Marriage (video, 3 min 30 sec)
John Green discusses marriage equality, what a traditional marriage actually is, and what role (if any) theological understandings of marriage play in the legal definition of marriage.
Meet The 83-Year-Old Taking On The U.S. Over Same-Sex Marriage (audio, 5 min; transcript)
A perspective on Windsor v. United States.
President Bartlet’s take on the Old Testament (“The West Wing”) (video, 4 min)
Extracted from the series The West Wing, President Bartlet delivers a knock out on an anti-gay practitioner highlighting the ridiculous practice of selecting quotes from the Bible to shore up irrational prejudices.
The Supreme Court ended Proposition 8. Here’s what that means. (article)
As I said in this post, legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable. See the implications of the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Australian Prime Minister on gay marriage (video; 4 min)
Kevin Rudd, Prime Miniter of Austyralia and a devout Christian, responds to the question from a pastor why he supports gay marriage.