Tuesday, April 02, 2013

re-defining marriage

I have been for marriage equality for a long time and have performed a small number of same sex weddings.  For me, it is a no brainer.  And frankly I haven't really understood where all of the animus has come from on the anti side.  Nobody was ever going to make a straight person marry someone of the same sex.  What Bob & Ted do doesn't have any impact on what I do with my wife.  And no church, synagogue, temple, or mosque would be required to perform a ceremony for anyone they don't want.  Add to that the fact that we are constantly redefining marriage.  Seriously.  The folk who point to a "Biblical" marriage and define that as something like our modern nuclear family just are being dishonest.  And the thought that marriage works the same way in the United States now as it did 100 years ago is just silly.  Then today I read a piece on Red Letter Christians by Morf Morford that included a real Ah Ha moment for me.

In his short piece, Morford says that marriage is constantly being redefined, but the difference is who gets to do the defining.  In the past, it was the white male power structure who did the defining.  In this case, it is not the government, the Church, or even the majority (although the majority does favor marriage equality now)... it is the individual.  Two consenting adults can decide to marry and gender or approval of any of those institutions is irrelevant.

And I got where the animus is coming from.  I'm not sure that Morford's argument is 100% correct, but I think he did point to the key to this issue and so many of the other struggles in our society.  It is all about the loss of power.  As a pastor, I have run into lots of folk who as they got older and began to lose a variety of physical abilities, watched as the future contracted, and lost positions of power and influence just got nasty and cantankerous.   Like terriers they would grab hold of something and just not let go as they tried to assert control over something, over anything.

As a nation and as a culture we are at one of those places.  All of the old institutions and groups that held sway are losing it.  Religion has lost its influence.  Government is not trusted.  Our population is no longer white and male.  The economy doesn't work as it once did.  Everything is in flux and those who once were at the top of the heap, no longer are.  And the reaction to all of that loss is to strike out and try to hold on to whatever power can be grabbed.  Stop whatever change can be stopped.

Now, I know that this argument may not hold for any given individuals.  I guess there really are individuals who have well reasoned arguments against marriage equality and who actually are motivated by those beliefs... but I think on the large scale it is still about power and about fear.


Michael Mahoney said...

I think for some people there is a fear that religious institutions will be required to accept or accommodate same sex marriage, even if they have theological grounds to not recognize it. It's already happened in some cases, and many fear a slippery slope.

My personal theological stance (and you know this) is that is simply doesn't exist as a spiritual construct, and so the state can say whatever it wants from a legal standpoint. And I do believe that whatever one's theological stance, that the church as a whole handles the matter quite poorly.

That said, my prediction for the outcome of the pending SCOTUS cases is that the court will follow the common line of questioning in both cases, summed up nicely in Justice Sotomayer's questioning the federal governement's right or ability to define marriage. I don't think it has one. So, I think DOMA will be struck down. It then follows that the California ban will be allowed to stand, and any state that votes for a ban or civil unions will be allowed to have their own say.

roy said...

Michael, what do you mean "it's already happened in some cases?"

I don't think there is any realistic concern at all that churches will or can be required to marry anyone they don't want to. I know churches that will not perform weddings for non-members, for divorced folk, for mixed race couples, for any reason they choose up to and including that they don't like the couple.

I agree that DOMA will be struck down. I don't know about Prop 8 although I think the lower court ruling will be allowed to stand. As for states that ban, I think in the long term, that will be taken away as that radical a difference from one state to the next is not sustainable. Just as anti-miscegenation laws were declared unconstitutional in '67, thus removing some ability of the states to define marriage at least in that one area, I expect eventually the same will happen with regards to same sex marriages as well.

Michael Mahoney said...

You'll find a lot of folks (including many black civil rights leaders) who say you cannot equate race and sexual preference.

Whether you can or not, there are still instances where marriages are not automatically recognized from one state to another, for example where the age of consent differs. In fact, some states specifically have laws against residents being married in other states when their home state would not allow it. (I believe the term is "evasive marriage.") The vast majority of licenses issued by the various states are, in fact, not portable - professional licences, hunting licenses, etc... - although for the sake of comity usually drivers licenses and marriage licenses are, but that is far from universal or automatic. (for example, if you move from one state to another, you need to apply for a drivers license in your new state.)

While it has not (as far as I know) been the case where a cleric has been compelled to perform a same-sex wedding under objection, there have been cases where churches have had their tax exemption attacked, have been sued because they denied use of their facility, have been forced to stop providing community services, and individuals have been sued - all because of a choice to not recognize same-sex marriage.

If we are truly looking for "equality" then the rights of one group cannot override the rights of another, in either direction.

The court's questions seemed to indicate that they felt this was a state issue, not a federal one. I tend to agree with that. Logically, you can't throw out both DOMA and Prop 8. You cannot tell the federal government that they have to accept as valid whatever a given state says a marriage is, and then let the same federal government tell another state how they have to define marriage.

roy said...

Michael, do you have any references or documentation of churches that have had their tax exempt status attacked because of refusal to perform a same-sex marriage? Ditto on forced to stop providing community services?

As for law suits... we live in a country where anyone can be sued for anything so the issue isn't whether someone has been sued, but whether the lawsuit was successful.

While there certainly are many folk in the black community who do not want sexual orientation equated with race when it comes to civil rights, and I have no proof of this, it seems that is shifting and at least those who have been traditional leaders in the civil rights movement seem to be seeing this as a seamless whole.

When it comes to mixed race marriages, the arguments were essentially the same that are used against same sex with the exception of that of the ability to raise children. The arguments were that it wasn't natural, the Bible was against unequal yokes (which this was depicted as being), it would threaten the foundations of society, if someone was allowed to mix races, what would stop them from mixing species... etc. etc.

Michael Mahoney said...

Catholic Family Services in Massachusetts has been forced to stop providing adoptions services, because the state required them to place children in same-sex marriages. I think the same thing happened in Illinois. That's two I can think of off the top of my head.

Ocean Grove Camp Meeting, which is a Lutheran organization that owns beachfront property in New Jersey, is currently under suit for not allowing same-sex marriages in their pavilion. It is a complicated situation, I will grant you. The Camp Meeting allows public access to the beach and boardwalk, and the state kicks in money to offset the cost of upkeep for the public access, so there's a whole "public money" thing. So the alternative is the Camp Meeting privatizes the beach, which serves no one. And there's 275 miles of other beach to get married on.

Off the top of my head, I know there is the Coalition of African-American Pastors, led by civil rights vet William Owens Sr, which is vehemently opposed to conflating the civil rights movement and marriage equality. You can look it up. (and I know there are other leaders who support same-sex marriage.)

I do believe (and you can and probably do disagree) that the best model for child-rearing is when there are both male and female role models in the home. That's not to say that single parents, or even same-sex parents can't do a fine job, or that all hetero marriages are all popcorn and ice cream. Same sex procreation is by definition impossible, and is therefore unnatural, but don't take that as saying it's inherently evil. But there is a major difference. Put a hetero, mixed race couple on an island and in a bunch of years chances are you'll have a bunch of mixed-race kids running around. Put a same-sex couple on the same island and in a bunch of years you'll have a deserted island. Same-sex procreation requires some form of intervention, whether it's medical, adoptive, or just biting the bullet and crossing the preference line. So there is a little more teeth to the "unnatural" argument.

All I'm saying is that it creates a slippery slope. Take away some rights now, it will be easier to take more away in the future. I happen to believe and preach that worship needs to extend beyond the walls of the church. If that's the case, people need to be able to express and have their preference to not be forced to recognize something they are opposed to.

Guess what? If you live in a state that has legislated same-sex marriage into existence, you can either accept it, try to change it or move. Same goes for residents of states that don't allow it. The Fed has no Constitutional business overriding state in this. If the SCOTUS drops DOMA (and they should) then they must allow states to decide the issue on their own.

roy said...


thanks for those examples, but I don't think either one counts. Neither are churches. They are related organizations that clearly have their birth in commitments to ministry but both receive state funding, work with government agencies, etc. Neither example translates to a church doing its ministry in its context.

Actually, I find the argument regarding procreation as offensive. If you placed my wife and I on a desert island, there wouldn't be any children. To devalue a marriage because it does not produce children really does devalue marriage in general. While procreation may be a purpose of any given marriage, it is never the only one or even the primary one. I have known many mixed gender couple who for a variety of reasons do not have biological children and in the sweep of time, a marriage that does what it is supposed to do - last a lifetime - will spend the majority of its time with no children in the home. And of course, we all know that marriage is not necessary for children to happen.

I'm also not sure that a male and a female role model in the home is necessarily the best situation for child rearing. I think having a healthy, mutual relationship between two adults is the best, regardless of gender. And I think it is the best when there is an extended community, like in a good church, where there are multiple relationships with folk of both genders who act as surrogate (or real) aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers.

thanks for engaging this topic Michael. I respect your opinions and appreciate your thoughtfulness in wrestling with controversial issues.