Gay marriage is on its way to being accepted as part of life in the USA. At The Daily Beast Jay Michaelson seems to me to state the situation well: “Same-sex marriage is becoming a national inevitability. A cascade of court opinions, significant public support, not to mention increasingly sympathetic gay couples and increasingly implausible opposition — all these and more point to an emerging national consensus that “gay marriage” is actually a form of “marriage.” It’s not exactly clear when the hump took place — but we definitely seem to be over it.” Here: Were Christians Right About Gay Marriage All Along?
Things are looking different now.
Randy Thomas, formerly a leader in the ex-gay organization Exodus International, writes about his change of heart over the anti-gay-marriage initiatives in which he was once involved. He hasn’t changed his Side B (“tradionalist”) views on marriage or sexual morality, but he looks back on his involvement in attempts to ban gay marriage with embarrassment. He says: “The night that Prop 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida (both banning gay marriage) passed I was jubilant. I truly believed what we had done was right and good. In the following days, and for a while afterwards, I repeated the talking points I had willingly adopted. I truly believed what I was saying. What I didn’t make widely known was how heart-broken I was when I saw the gay community in California take to the streets. Their protests that night and in the days afterwards tugged at me. When I saw their grief-stricken faces my heart twisted in my chest. It was the first time in a long time I remember thinking, “did we do something wrong?” I quickly shoved that thought out of my mind as I joined my fellow religious activists celebrating the marriage “wins.” Yet, the gay community with their protesting and sorrow filled faces would come back to haunt me over the years. Eventually the doubt over what we had done would get louder in my mind and change from a question to a conviction; a conviction that indeed we had done something terribly wrong.” Here: Gay Marriage And Public Policy: Personal Reflection, Apology.
The whole thing is worth reading. He reflects on how wrong and self-deluded it was to see the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as a way of defending traditional marriage. He now feels that politics became too important. And he says: “The part that breaks my heart, is that the night that Prop 8 (and other marriage bans) passed, we made it very clear to the gay community that policy was more important than they are. We made it clear that we thought that investing in rules was more important than sacrificially serving in honest relationship. We communicated that we valued the letter of the law more than the authentic expression of grace in the context of humbly living our lives and loving our neighbor. The message we sent was deeply damaging to our relationships with our gay neighbors and family members. For my part in this, I deeply apologize.”
What will this mean for marriage? Is gay marriage an add-on to people’s prior conceptions of marriage or does it change things profoundly? Jay Michaelson (see link above) says maybe the Christians were right (in a sense): the acceptance of gay marriage may profoundly undermine the idea of marriage. Or, it may domesticate the gay movement. He writes: “Which leads to a perfectly logical question: What’s next? Moderates and liberals have argued that same-sex marriage is No Big Deal — it’s the Same Love, after all, and gays just want the same lives as everyone else. But further right and further left, things get a lot more interesting. What if gay marriage really will change the institution of marriage, shifting conceptions around monogamy and intimacy? On the other hand, what if the domesticating institution of marriage changes — and even erases — the more libertine tendencies of gay culture?”
While there may not be much immediate effect, Michaelson is wondering about the long term effect. Where will things go from there?
The concept of marriage has changed over the years and, in some respects it will continue to change. As I read the Bible, I discover that the concept of marriage which is assumed there is a lot different than our more romantic contemporary idea — which promises personal and sexual fulfillment. Christians have often attempted to adapt the concepts of the Sexual Revolution to their own teaching (sex is great! but, be sure to keep it in the confines of marriage!). As I read the Bible I see a concept of marriage that is primarily about procreation — marriage as one’s duty to the ongoing fortunes of the tribe and the nation. So, marriages were arranged — the outcome of marriage was just too important to be left entirely to the whims of the partners. So, when we speak of “traditional marriage” bear in mind that some of the supposedly “traditional” concepts may not be very old at all.
Michaelson doesn’t personally like the concept of marriage anyway. He writes: “…marriage is a patriarchal, sexist institution that should be discarded rather than reformed. Because it is… a “tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation.” Because it has, in the past, been a tool of racism and colonialism, and in the present, is a means of rationing health care. This is, as Warner named it, “the trouble with normal.”” He writes: “…the future of marriage, in fact, may turn out to be a lot like the Christian Right’s nightmare: a sex-positive, body-affirming compact between two adults that allows for a wide range of intimate and emotional experience. Maybe no one will be the “husband” (as in, animal husbandry) and no one the chattel.”
But, it seems to be unlikely that this free-love America will really fully emerge. This, indeed, is the kind of society envisioned by the original Sexual Revolution — from which the Gay Liberation movement arose. I can’t help but think that free-love America will mean more objectification of women, not less. It will result in more using of people and less commitment. It’s consumerism as applied to the sexual life. But, the fact that gay marriage is fast becoming the law of the land does not mean that most Americans embrace this vision of society.
Yes, people will be forced to accept it to some extent. But, as Samuel Butler (1612-1680) famously said: “He that complies against his will, is of his own opinion still.”
Some people see gay marriage as simply an add-on to our current romantic myth of finding your “soul mate” and then “living happily ever after.” Michaelson realizes this. He says: “At the same time, there is some truth to the conservative claim that gay marriage is changing, not just expanding, marriage. According to a 2013 study, about half of gay marriages surveyed (admittedly, the study was conducted in San Francisco) were not strictly monogamous. This fact is well-known in the gay community — indeed, we assume it’s more like three-quarters. But it’s been fascinating to see how my straight friends react to it. Some feel they’ve been duped: They were fighting for marriage equality, not marriage redefinition. Others feel downright envious, as if gays are getting a better deal, one that wouldn’t work for straight couples.”
But, certainly, things have changed in the USA — and not for the better. Damon Linker, at The Week, reminds us just how much things have already changed: “For an ever-expanding number of people born since the mid-1960s, the sexual world is radically different. Sex before marriage is the norm. There is comparatively little stigma attached to promiscuity. Masturbation is almost universally a matter of moral indifference. Even if there’s some dispute about whether private businesses run by religious conservatives should be forced to pay for every form of contraception, birth control is available everywhere, and it can be used without stigma. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy is becoming increasingly common; and for women who become pregnant and don’t wish to carry the baby to term, the pregnancy can be terminated. Divorce, meanwhile, is common and considered perfectly acceptable to most people…. More recently, we’ve also witnessed the rapid-fire mainstreaming of homosexuality and the transformation of the institution of marriage to accommodate it. But that’s not all. Thanks to the internet, pornography has never been so freely available and easily accessible. Websites like Ashley Madison facilitate extramarital affairs. Others help people find various kinds of “arrangements,” from traditional prostitution to a more informal exchange of financial support for sexual services. Smart-phone apps put people (gay or straight) in touch with each other for no-strings-attached hook-ups. Then there’s the push to normalize polyamorous (“open”) relationships and marriages, a movement that seeks to remove the stigma from adultery and even positively affirm the goodness of infidelity.” This is the new world where the only rule is individual consent. Here: What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex.
It appears that Linker is not entirely conformable with this new world. He wonders if some of the traditionalist fears about it don’t have some value. He writes: “When traditionalists try to defend their views on pre-marital sex or homosexuality, what their opponents think they invariably hear is some version of: “I disapprove because it’s icky — and anyway, God/Jesus Christ/Scripture/The Church says it’s wrong.” Traditionalists do sometimes talk and think this way. But I submit that underlying such views is something deeper and more worthy of reflection — namely, a series of contentious but not implausible assumptions about human beings. What are those assumptions? That we are flawed, weak, needy, sinful creatures. That we can’t be trusted — especially when it comes to sex, which arouses our most intense physical longings and desires, and insinuates itself into our imagination and emotions, badly warping our judgment in the heat of the moment. That these longings and desires, left untamed by firm strictures on our behavior, will lead us to wreck our lives, our culture, our civilization. That sex is profoundly dangerous.” And, he wonders what will be the outcome of shuffling off centuries of moral restrictions on sex.
The role of Christians in our ever-changing world will always be to live out, teach and witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. It is not a political agenda — though it is profoundly political in its implications. We seek to love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength — and our neighbors as ourselves. Keeping rules are not an end to themselves — they are spiritually formative, and aid us in this life of faith and hope and love. We often forget — but its hugely important! — that our role in the world is not to judge others, but to love them. Those of us who are more traditionalist in our faith see the Scriptures and prayer and service to be vital to our spiritual lives — and we resist (some times a bit irrationally) anything that threatens that relationship. We seek to “live by the Spirit” and “not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16). This is not because our humanity is evil, but because our lives cannot be governed by our impulses. Our impulses must be governed by our values. The discipline of marriage is intended to shape our sexuality in a direction that is both life-giving and life-affirming. The Christians’ role in society is not to govern society, but to be an influence for good — our lives witnessing to the value of human beings, the importance of promises kept and made, and even proclaiming hope in the face of death. God’s ancient word to Israel was “…be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44). We will find our way only by finding ever-anew the way of love.
So, what is the traditional concept of marriage that is worth re-discovering? It is a concept that says there is worth and value to human beings, and meaning to our sexual differentiation (such as it is). It is a concept that honors man and woman — and honors the role of procreation and the task of child rearing. “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people. The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” See: The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (BOCP).
In every generation there will be a need for people who choose to live this way. It is not about self-fulfillment first. It is about self sacrifice for the good of one’s partner — and one’s children, and one’s community. As Christians, we know that we can only find self-fulfillment through self-giving. The disciplines we accept for ourselves are for the purpose of faithfulness and love.
The greatest witness we can have is to live our faith — not to legislate it.