Our current cultural discussion of same-sex marriage is peculiar on many levels. It is not at all like our usual political, social or philosophical upheavals with the predictable ideological fault lines.
I hear the term ‘debate’ used to describe what we are doing; but that word is not exactly right. A debate presumes approximately equally forceful arguments on each side.
But that’s not what we are seeing.
The arguments in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriage are straight-forward enough – a basic, personal, legal and yes, intimate right, authorized, allowed and protected for most, is denied to one specific class of people.
The case against same-sex marriage seems, to me at least, muddled, odd and paltry.
On a personal note, I have to say that this is not my issue; I have no stake or even much interest in this issue – as an issue beyond equality and equal opportunity. It is almost as if we were discussing how some culture in a faraway nation prepared and ate a food I did not find particularly appealing.
And I wonder why I, or any heterosexual, feel that we should have the moral position, let alone authority, to speak to – and define – anyone else’s rights.
Given that, here is how I see the arguments against same-sex marriage; 1). On religious/Biblical grounds, 2). Defiance of ‘traditional marriage’ and 3). It’s ‘unnatural’ or offensive.
It is one thing to have a reasonable, rational disagreement over any given issue, and how we name and describe things have much to do with how we think about it.
To describe homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ – particularly from our culture which is almost defined by our deliberate disconnection from nature seems like the ultimate odd argument; driving a car is unnatural, eating food from a box is unnatural, even living in a house is unnatural – but how is a committed personal relationship with another human being ‘unnatural’?
And many things might strike us as ‘disgusting’ or disturbing if we think about them.
Does the idea of eating unfertilized chicken fetuses sound appealing to you?
That sounds gross to me, but if we call them ‘eggs’ they don’t sound so bad.
How about aged, congealed cow’s milk? As long as we think of it as ‘cheese’ it sounds good.
And that sanitary piece of meat on the Styrofoam tray at the grocery store came from a formerly living animal; talk about disturbing and disgusting!
And can you recall your first recognition of your own conception?
I’m guessing that the thought of the process that brought each one of us into existence was not, at first, terribly appealing or comforting.
It is true that this conversation forces us to reconsider our ‘definition’ of marriage. Is marriage a civil contract? A religious covenant? A federally protected social institution? A local or state legal convenience? A contract protecting and certifying ownership and progeny? Is marriage a legally authorized (and protected) monogamous relationship? (and if it is, isn’t divorce, not homosexuality, by far, the biggest threat to ‘traditional marriage’?)
Is it, or has it ever been the case, that government authorization ‘makes’ a relationship?
It is a barometer of how unhinged our conversation has become when we realize that we cannot decide if marriage is a social right, a religious rite or the ultimate personal act.
Even across Europe, until relatively recently, marriage was a purely exclusive prerogative of the noble classes.
To say that marriage ‘has always been between one man and one woman’ betrays an astonishing ignorance of history – and yes, the Bible.
Polygamy has been legally recognized for millennia; for Mormons and Muslims, for example, polygamy is traditional marriage.
The Biblical view of marriage is, to put it mildly, not terribly comforting; women were defined as property on a par with donkeys (Exodus 20:17), a woman, (but not a man) could (should!) be executed if not a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).
Virtually all the Biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, even Moses, David and Gideon) were polygamists. King Solomon had over 700 ‘legal’ wives.
One of the Biblical ‘perks’ of conquest was the ‘ownership’ of any captured ‘virgins’ (Numbers 31:1-18).
The Biblical ‘definition’ of marriage was very simple; a man could have as many wives as he could afford.
And yes, homosexuality is described in the Bible as an ‘abomination’ – right alongside those other abominations like bacon and shrimp (Leviticus 11:3-8, Deuteronomy 14:3-8) and tattoos (Leviticus 19:28).
The objection to same-sex marriage on ‘Biblical’ grounds is weak at best. Opponents of same-sex marriage need a stronger argument – or an electrifying advocate like Phyllis Shafly, (who, almost single-handedly, demolished the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Equal Rights Amendment and saved us from equal pay for women and the dreaded uni-sex bathrooms).
It is not that the arguments for same-sex marriage are so convincing or appealing, but that the arguments against it are so weak.
We are redefining marriage – as every era and culture has – but we are also redefining who gets to redefine marriage; no more will it be the king, or the government, or the church, or even voters or the ever-shifting public opinion on the issue, but in returning to the deepest roots of the core of the American Founding Fathers and a reclaiming of the independence and yes, sacred duties and responsibilities of each individual, each one of us has, proclaimed and enshrined in our personal rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.
Jesus reminds us that it is not what enters our bodies that makes us unclean, but what comes out; it is difficult to imagine anything more ‘unclean’ than the incoherent, contradictory and hostile confusion we have been hearing on this issue.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.