In my last post, I wrote about justice, arguing that biblical justice is not a question of morality; rather it is a radical call to deny self in order bring justice to those on the margins, regardless of who they are or the sort of life they’ve been living. There’s a sense of banality that hangs over that claim. So many Christians know that already. It’s nothing new: Pick up your cross, and follow Christ. That means I serve the homeless, volunteer with kids who have special needs, visit shut-ins at a nursing home, etc. I don’t mean to diminish any of those things. They’re all great examples of what it means to follow Christ, especially if we do those things out of a compulsion to rather than an obligation–if we see those on the margins as people we genuinely care about and love and not people we need in order to feel good about our own spirituality.
That’s why the Supreme Court’s deliberation regarding the Defense of Marriage Act is so important in illustrating this challenge: The court’s ultimate decision is not a question of the morality of homosexuality. To be clear upfront, I do not believe homosexuality as such is a sin nor is it immoral. Sin and immorality are also not always the same thing. These are both two different posts though. What I want to do here is examine some good reasons for supporting gay marriage as a matter of bringing justice to those on the margins.
For those who already know the words “sin,” “immoral,” and “homosexuality” should never be in the same sentence, I’m with you–but this post isn’t for you. Some of the points I’m going to make will probably be frustrating, but I’m speaking to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters who are genuinely trying to struggle through this because they want to do the right thing. They’re trying to figure that out in the context of their faith. If we still affirm freedom of religion, then we have to allow that some people need to do that. I’m going to go through three of the major arguments against equal rights for married homosexual couples and make the case for why each should be abandoned based on what I think is a biblical notion of justice as well as some logical factors.
Homosexuality is immoral and a sin, and if we condone it through affirming equal mariage rights, we’re condoning immorality and sin.
This argument truly baffles me because our laws already allow for many activities that Christians already deem sinful. I’ve already mentioned freedom of religion. Doesn’t that allow for a lifestyle that many Christians would deem sinful–and a far more primary sin than homosexuality? That Christians are far more adamant about not condoning a homosexual lifestyle–a tertiary “doctrine” at best–than not condoning idolatry tells me that there is something confused going on when it comes to a strong stance against equal rights based upon this argument. We would never imagine denying the rights of a Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, even a Wiccan couple that are basic to all marriages under the law. Those folks did not have a Christian wedding, but we don’t talk about their rights or their marriages as condoning sin and immorality though many Christians probably believe that ultimately people of other faith traditions have it wrong. I don’t want to get too tangled in any sort of pluralist/universalist/exclusivist debate, so we’ll leave it at this: Why this issue and not others?
If we grant equal rights to homosexual couples, we are advocating the deterioration of marriage as a sacred practice.
Again, I’m a bit baffled by this. First, I’ve already mentioned that people of other faith traditions are obviously married, and their marriages probably have nothing to do with marriage as people think it is defined in the Bible. Why are we singling out homosexuals? Secondly, how is marriage defined in the Bible? I don’t think we do a good job of answering this question at all. Stanley Hauerwas has said that its confused to think that Biblical marriage is primarily about love since the marriages of the Bible had nothing to do with love. He writes “Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years. [...] When marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages.” (Thanks to Shawn McCain for posting the link to this blog.) Furthermore, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to talk about the deterioration of marriage when the church is already doing a really poor job of saving marriages from divorce–either by creating extremely unrealistic expectations for love and happiness in a marriage or not providing enough care to couples who are really struggling (the two usually go hand in hand.) I’ve seen many replies to this point along the lines of “Well neither are okay. Just because divorce is a problem doesn’t mean we let another problem in the door!” But again, both are only problems because we don’t understand what marriage is in the first place. That’s an insider issue though. When it comes to the rest of the country, why do we think we get to dictate how marriage works? Marriage is a legal standing and only a spiritual one in addition if one practices a particular faith–and even then, because we value the freedom of religion, marriage isn’t just one thing spiritually.
If we open the door for homosexuals, where will it end? Will we be condoning someone’s marriage to his dog, car, or gun next?
Short answer: No. This objection actually doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense. First, our laws are pretty solid on only allowing marriage between two consenting adults. That means no marriage to kids, no marriage to animals, no marriage to inanimate objects. Setting all living categories aside for a minute, a marriage to an inanimate object wouldn’t change anything legally anyway. A car can’t have power of attorney. It can’t visit you in the hospital. As a car is already a person’s property, that person can do just about anything he wants with it (aside from infringing on the rights of others.) With regard to animals or kids where there are serious sexual considerations, there can’t be any legal consent, so they just can’t happen. Period. Other types of relationships that are between consenting adults, such as polyamorous relationships, get a little more complex, but it’s still post hoc to say allowing for equal rights in committed same sex marital relationships will inevitably lead to things like polygamy, marriage between family members, etc. Someone making that argument simply cannot show a causal connection between those that would suffice in a sound argument. Show me one other time in history where expanding the rights of other human beings has led to the moral decay of society. You can’t. The common response to this is, “Well why not? If you think homosexuality is okay, then why are you discriminating against grandmas who want to marry their granddaughters or two twin brothers who want to get married or three couples who all want to be committed to each other?” The answer is simple: it’s not inconsistent to think homosexuality is okay but those other things are not. There are no doubt people who disagree with that assessment (particularly on the point of polyamory.) And that’s okay. Those latter three are not at stake right now, and bringing them up is nothing more than a distraction from the issue that is at hand. I do not think family members should be able to marry each other, nor do I think polyamory is okay, but I think same sex marriage is absolutely okay. I think I have good reasons to believe those things, but this isn’t the place for those. The point is that thinking same sex marriage will inevitably lead to all sorts of licentiousness is post hoc, and it isn’t inconsistent to affirm same sex marriage but denounce other sorts of marriages as wrong.
Here’s the bottom line for me: We need to stop talking about “biblical principles” or “hard truths” with regard to this issue. Honestly, it’s just silly because most of us have no idea what those phrases even mean. I want to put what I’ve said so far as clearly as possible:
1. Our laws do not nor have they ever corresponded directly to biblical principles. They are designed to defend the freedom of everyone.
2. Most of the Christians engaged in this debate are not clear on what biblical marriage is.
3. We have no evidence, historical or otherwise, that granting equal rights to married same sex couples will open the door for other types of marriage scenarios.
Given those three points, it makes no sense for Christians to get hung up on the morality of homosexuality when it comes to equal rights within marriage. Why do we so easily forget that Jesus advocated for those whom the religious leaders of his day considered unclean to be able to come into the temple, to worship just as the Pharisees did? Was that not also a sacred act? To me this issue is a clear indication of what I described in my last post: When we entangle justice with morality, we often end up denying justice to those who really need it the most. The church can’t continue to deny justice and expect to remain relevant.