Wednesday, September 7, 2011

gay marriage

"And that is why I cannot give pederasty anything like a first place among the evils of the Coll. There is much hypocrisy on this theme. People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgement. . . The real reason for all the pother is, in my opinion, neither Christian nor ethical. We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English law. The World will lead you only to Hell; but sodomy may lead you to jail and create a scandal, and lose you your job. The World, to do it justice, seldom does that."
C. S. Lewis -- Surprised by Joy

I'm going to start by stealing C. S. Lewis' disclaimer: I'm not gay, and i've never even questioned my sexuality a little bit, so i'm not really qualified to say anything on this topic.

On the other hand, i'm a Christian, and i have a lot of friends and family who are gay/bi/other. These people are very near and dear to my heart, and if nothing else, i've had to figure out how to relate to them in light of my faith. Because you can say "Love the sinner, hate the sin" until you're blue in the face, but how does that actually play out in your daily life? How can you love someone while hating something that is such an integral part of their identity? And is it really a sin?

I was confronted with my first real outrage over this issue in my freshman year of college. I was in an honors philosophy seminar, and we all split into groups to create video presentations on different controversial topics. One group did their presentation on gay marriage. After showing their video to the whole class and talking about the project, the topic was opened up for further discussion and debate.

One guy said, "I plan to marry my girlfriend one day, and I don't want to think that a sinful marriage could be made legal and could take away from what we have together."

At the time, i was strongly against gay marriage, and considered homosexuality to be an absolute sin. But even i thought that this was a bullshit argument.

Britney Spears got married in Vegas, and when she came to her senses the next day she had it annulled. The whole marriage only lasted about 55 hours. But she married a man. I know real people too, not just celebrities, who got married to the wrong person for the wrong reason. I know people who have abused or been abused by their spouses, people who have cheated or been cheated on, people who decide to get divorced because they're just not in love anymore. My mother knew after only a few years that she had made a mistake in marrying my dad, but she stayed with him for nearly twenty years anyway, and brought four kids into a marriage that she knew was a bad one. But the people i'm talking about are in heterosexual partnerships. So apparently, none of this destroys the sanctity of marriage, yet two people who love one another and want to make a lifelong commitment do destroy that sanctity, if they happen to be of the same gender.

There are plenty of heterosexual partnerships that are loving and committed. And there are plenty of homosexual partnerships that are full of infidelity and deceit. But none of that is really the point.

The point is that someone else's marriage has no effect on yours. If i have a bad marriage, it doesn't matter whether i'm married to a man or a woman. Either way, it won't destroy your marriage. Each marriage must stand or fall on its own strength.

Here's what i think about marriage: it has three basic components. The first is relational. Two people who care about one another deeply decide that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. It's all about romance and having children and growing old together. The second is legal. You're picking a person who gets to visit you in the hospital and decide whether or not to pull the plug on you. If you die, they take the kids. Stuff like that. You have to get a marriage certificate, and unlike in a purely relational union, if you want to sever ties, you have to go through all kinds of legal proceedings. The third component is communal. You are calling your friends and loved ones to bear witness to this relationship. Being married means that other people are now related to you. Your friends become his friends, and vice versa. You are asking your loved ones to recognize and support your relationship (and if you are religious, you are also asking your god or gods to recognize and bless your relationship). But for atheistic hetero- or homosexual unions, the communal aspect is limited to friends and family.

I know of couples who live together for many years without any legal or communal recognition of their relationship. I know couples who get legally married without communal recognition or romantic attachment. And i know couples who consider themselves married in the eyes of God, with or without the recognition of governments or the community. It is possible to have what we call a marriage without all three of these components necessarily being present.

I think it's time for a few different things to happen. The first has to be coming up with new words for a marriage with no religious component. Because marriage is a sacrament of the Christian church, Christians have the right to decide who gets to get married. We can't say anything about civil unions, but we can say who gets to have God and a minister unite them in holy matrimony. That is our call to make. So for the purposes of this post, i will now refer to all "holy matrimony" as marriage, and all "civil unions" as unions.

The second thing that has to happen is the nationwide federal and state legalization of gay unions. The Church gets to decide who can get married. She has no say in who can be united. At least, not in the good ol' US of A, where we have separation of church and state built into our constitution.

The third thing that has to happen is that representatives of the different Christian churches (Catholic and Protestant) have to gather for a council. Not a conference, but like a new Council of Nicaea. We're long overdue for another one of these; the last one was in the mid-60s. The Christian church has to spend some serious time in prayer and reflection and conversation and study of the Scriptures, and when they are done, they need to make a ruling once and for all about the morality of homosexuality. Then, based on the outcome of that discussion, the Church can decide whether or not gay marriage should be a thing.

I realize that there are many homosexuals who are deeply religious and who consider God to be an integral part of their lives and relationships. And i can understand how hurtful it would be for us to say, "Sorry, you guys can't get married for a while. We're debating the issue. We'll let you know. But go ahead and have a justice of the peace unite you in a civil ceremony." And if the Council decides that gay marriage is, in fact, sinful, i can't even imagine how deeply hurtful it would be to be told that you and your partner can never be married in the eyes of God. It would be small consolation to be certain in your own heart and mind that God approves of your union, and that He bears witness to it and will bless your relationship. And this is where i have to restate my disclaimer and say that i don't have anything to say. I wish i did, but i don't.

I'm still not sure whether or not it's a sin to be gay. I've been back and forth over this issue in the last four years, and i haven't really landed anywhere yet.

Here's what i do know: God is the one who gets to make the final call. Since i've never doubted my sexuality, the issue doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on the state of my soul. If i decide that it is a sin, i can pray in love for the people i know who are caught in this sin, and i can continue to grow closer to God in my own life. And if i decide that it's not, i can still pray in love for the people i know who are gay, or straight, or anything else, because everyone needs prayer. And whatever i decide will have no bearing on what God decides. I don't get to condemn someone to Hell just because i don't like the things that they do. But i also don't get to save them from Hell if i condone their behavior. Only God gets to make that call.

I know it sounds like i'm pulling the God card to avoid making a decision. I'd be lying if i said there was no truth to that. But i honestly do believe that what is sinful for one person may not be sinful for another, that only God gets to make the final call on anyone, and that salvation is based on the intentions of your heart, not on whatever missteps you might make along the way. All i can do is try to live my own life the way that i believe God has told me to live my own life, and pray in love for others. It's not up to me to discover sin in the lives of those around me, or to save them from that sin. All i can do is pray that they are open with themselves and with God.

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