My personal views on the legalization of gay marriage have “evolved” somewhat, but I think it’s worth respectfully considering all sides of an issue, even (especially) issues as controversial as this. A friend recently issued a challenge, asking for one valid argument against gay marriage. I offered two, but then explained why I’m not personally griping about Prop 8 and DOMA being overturned.
I decided to expound upon this topic further here. As a disclaimer, these are what I consider two valid arguments, not necessarily correct arguments. Whether you or I disagree with them does not necessarily make them invalid. My goal here is to present some context under which a completely reasonable person might vote for Prop 8 or DOMA. In doing so, I hope to get past the labels of “bigotry” and “hate” and other slanderous terms that only serve to hinder productive conversation regarding what is a very sensitive discussion for many.
I have friends, family and co-workers on both sides of this issue who feel very strongly about this issue. My hope here is to remain sensitive to them without compromising my own beliefs.
ARGUMENT 1: THE DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE
For a long time, and in many cultures, marriage has been understood to be between a man and a woman. When prop 8 initially passed, Elton John said, “If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership. The word ‘marriage,’ I think, puts a lot of people off.” He has since changed his tune, but the fact that a man in a long-time gay relationship could have felt that way gives at least some credibility to the argument that the issue is simply a matter of defining (or redefining) the word “marriage.”
Rebuttal 1: What about polygamy?
Well, it’s true many cultures have accepted polygamy as a valid form of marriage. Most Christians/Jews would probably say that when polygamy happened within their religion, it was done in spite of the religion. However, polygamy still usually concurs with the heterosexual joining of two genders (usually 1 man to multiple women).
More relevant, I think, is that since this is a decision that we seem to be making as a nation (or at least as states), it should be seen in the historical context of our country. For the past 200+ years, marriage within our country has been universally legally recognized as 1 man plus 1 woman. Yes, there were certain parts of the country that added restrictions of race, and that is unfortunate. However, this was not the case for ALL parts of the country. What WAS consistent is that in every state, the commonality was that legal marriage was the union of 1 man to 1 woman.
If we acknowledge that the historical precedent within our nation’s history is that marriage has been universally understood as being a man and a woman, then we must also acknowledge that marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is a new precedent. If this is the case, then the argument that this is changing the definition of marriage is not invalid. Whether or not it’s okay to change the definition of marriage would, of course, be a different question.
Rebuttal 2: What about the divorce rates, the affairs, and all the different ways that the value and meaning of marriage has already been diminished?
These are all serious concerns, but they’re also separate issues. This rebuttal is akin to saying, “Well, I’ve already served you a dinner with some moldy potato salad and stale toast, why not throw some foul-smelling beef on there, too?”
Now, we can argue about whether or not that beef actually smells foul, but that’s a distinctly different discussion. The fact that other parts of the dinner have issues doesn’t automatically justify this particular issue. Each issue should be addressed individually, and either pass or fail on it’s own merits.What I think:
You may agree or disagree with the reasoning above, but I think it’s credible. And I think it allows for a less-emotional context for discussing whether the legal definition of marriage should include any two people, regardless of gender. It also opens up the discussion of, if we expand the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, should we not use the same reasoning to expand it to include polygamists? What is the problem with using a different word for the relationship between same-sex couples?
In the end, the legal definition of marriage is not something I currently feel strongly about, because it is ultimately always going to fall short of God’s true intention for marriage. Marriage to me is a man and woman selflessly and faithfully dedicated first to Christ and secondly to each other, committed to loving and forgiving each other, with divorce never even being a consideration. This ultimate definition of a perfect marriage is something that cannot and should not be enforced by the legal system. The legal definition others wish to apply to their own relationships is not of great concern to me, as long as I’m allowed to freely hold and celebrate my own beliefs on the matter without government interference. Which leads to the second argument.
ARGUMENT 2: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
If gay marriage is legalized, could religious leaders who do not believe in gay marriage be sued for refusing to officiate gay weddings? This is not only a probability, but is something that has actually already happened* in states where gay marriage has been legalized. If gay marriage is legalized more broadly, then it’s unfortunately very likely that these sorts of suits would increase.
Rebuttal 1: Well, if a religious bigot is going to discriminate, they’re opening themselves up to legal suits, right?
Actually, no. If we’re going to make gay marriage legal on the basis that it is the right of each individual to live in the way they see fit despite those who disagree with their lifestyle, then those same rights must be granted equally to those who want to exercise their religious right to not participate in activities that go against their personal beliefs!
Rebuttal 2: If we allow religious clergy to pick and choose whose wedding they’ll personally officiate, doesn’t that mean they would also be allowed to discriminate against multi-racial marriages, as well?
Yes, it absolutely does mean that. And as disgustingly bigoted as that would be, it is their unalienable right to be a disgusting bigot. There are plenty of other ways for a multi-racial couple to get married. There’s no reason to force people to feign a blessing on something with which they disagree.
What I think:
This is a valid concern, but ultimately a separate one.
You may notice that the “the Bible says…” argument against gay marriage is nowhere to be found. This is because it should be common sense that one’s religious beliefs hold no sway to someone who doesn’t share that religion. Expecting people outside of Christianity to follow all the same rules without following Jesus is like expecting a vegan to follow instructions for eating a cheeseburger.
My Christian faith teaches that freedom of choice is something that God valued enough to grant to everyone. He has given us guidelines for living a life of obedience to Him, but in most cases, these guidelines cannot/should not be made into law.
I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage. I don’t believe in gluttony. I don’t believe in most justifications for divorce. I don’t believe in atheism or Buddhism. But I also don’t believe that asking a secular government to put legal restrictions on these things will help anyone.
This country was founded first and foremost on the principles of liberty and freedom. Freedom means that the bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the free individual. Freedom means allowing people to do some things with which you disagree, so that you too may be free to do the things with which others disagree.
Does the religious conservative want everyone to follow his beliefs? Of course. Does the gay rights activist want everyone to be okay with gay marriage? Of course. But that’s ultimately a personal matter. Forcing others to comply to my standards does not change their beliefs. If anything, it will only solidify their opposition to those standards.
For me, it comes down to this: I want my focus to be less about trying to define love through legislation, and more about defining love by example. Law conquers actions, but love conquers hearts.
I’m interested in your thoughts. Please feel free to comment. I’m sure I haven’t thought this thing through from every angle, so respectful disagreements/challenges are welcome. It’s very possible that I’m wrong about something; there’s a first time for everything.