Last Friday, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states. I had long intended to write something on this important and contentious issue - in fact, you can see that my last few posts have been laying the foundation in preparation for speaking on this topic. But, as many observers noted, the matter has moved with surprising speed, with no regard to the schedule of my little blog here. It's caught me a little off guard.
But this post must be about same-sex marriage, as now is the opportune time for such a post. I must begin with some disclaimers:
This post will focus on the public policy aspects of the marriage debate. I will not go too deeply into the theology on the nature of homosexuality, or how we should treat gay people, or what this means for the future. These issues are actually much more important than a debate about public policy, and I would have liked to addressed them before making this post, but they will have to wait until some future time.
I am not a lawyer or a politician. I'm not even all that political most of the time. I'm first a Christian, who's also a citizen, who likes to think about things. So many of the things I say here will be outside of my domain. I welcome any corrections or advice on existing laws, studies, or policies that I'm unaware of.
I am fairly certain, but not absolutely certain, on all of this. I can be convinced to change my mind by clear and well-reasoned arguments, but my hope is that by putting all this in writing, I don't simply drift with the flow of the times or get tossed by the waves.
Remember that it's more important to love than to be right.
Let's get right to it: same-sex marriage should be legal, even though homosexual activity is a sin.
And although I said this mostly wasn't going to be about theology, that word - "sin" - is such an important theological concept that so many people misunderstand and misuse, that I feel compelled to explain it a bit. When I use that word, the foremost example that I have in mind is myself. I am a sinner, in part, because it is simply a part of the human condition. Please, understand what I mean by that word before you jump to any conclusions about what I'm trying to say.
Now, the Bible does have some things to say about homosexuality in general, but that theological discussion is the topic for another day (for real this time). But specifically with respect to the marriage question, the most applicable thing the Bible has to say is its teachings on divorce.
The Bible clearly teaches that divorce is something terrible. When a divorce takes place, it is almost certainly the result of some grave sins on the part of at least one party. I personally would put a very high moral value on the keeping a marriage together - it has, to me, a value equivalent to some non-negligible fraction of a human life.
And yet, despite the awfulness of divorce - despite the fact that all the arguments against same-sex marriage applies many times more for divorce - Americans get divorced all the time, and I know of no Christian movement to make divorce outright illegal. How could that be? Are we being grossly negligent in our duty to live out our faith?
I don't think so. In fact, God himself seems to agree, because he did give the Law through Moses which allowed for divorce. Jesus then clarifies the law and says that God does not approve of divorce, but allows for it "because your hearts were hard". Jesus is making a distinction between what God wants, and what God allows for as a result of human sin.
Some people have the idea that "the law of the land" should be synonymous with "the Good". I disagree. As Christians in particular, we should be aware of the duality of the Law and Grace at the heart of the Gospel. The Law - even the divinely inspired Mosaic Law - is not the ultimate good. It was never meant to be. American law is no different. There are legal things that are evil, and illegal things that are good. This is as it should be.
So, if we shouldn't make American law to be the ultimate good, what should it do instead? There is no single answer, but it's generally thought that the law should be good in its own domain: in particular, it should promote social harmony, equality, justice, liberty, and the like.
Again comparing same-sex marriage to divorce, you see that this is in fact what God has done with his law. He has allowed divorce, although it's not what he wants for us, to accommodate for our sinfulness. And this accommodation is made so that even in our sinfulness not everything is as bad as it can be: allowing for an official divorce is better than a lifetime of enmity, or a simple abandonment of your spouse and children. Likewise, although homosexuality is not something God wants for us, he's allowed us to accommodate it to achieve some social good.
In particular, we, as Americans, value equality before the law. Nobody should have to feels like they're second-class citizens. This, it seems to me, is a powerful and compelling argument, because its effects are so immediate: a homosexual couple can't get married, while a heterosexual couple can. The counterarguments (about some social consequences, such as the effect on children or whatnot) seem weaker in comparison, because they require more steps, and each step diminishes the probability of the ultimate consequence coming through.
If I had my way, I would simply get the government out of the marriage business altogether, rather than having it clumsily dictate what kinds of marriages are allowed or not allowed. I think that would be the most straightforward way to achieve equality, and disabuse people from thinking that "marriage" is some kind of prize that the government hands out. But failing that, I believe that allowing same-sex marriage is not a terrible solution, and better than the alternative of having a whole population excluded from the equal protection of the law.
There is much more to say, and much for me to think through - certainly, this issue will not simply end with just a this Supreme Court decision. As I said, I will revisit this topic in the future.
You may next want to read:
I am a sinner.
History, moral progress, and moral perfection (part 1)
Another post, from the table of contents
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Interestingly, I have a similar view on gay marriage, but for a different reason.
There are two completely and utterly different things which are both called "marriage". One is a vow before God, which follows the ideals set out in the Bible; and the other is a legal and financial concept which primarily influences things like tax. The US Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the former, but does have jurisdiction over the latter (I think; if not, they can certainly heavily influence the people who do). That's why it's something that can be decided on a country-by-country basis, or a state-by-state basis in some countries - because it's fundamentally about taxation, not religion.
So I think it's time for the government to get right out of marriage and start calling it something different: tax pairings. And if we want true equality, then it should be legal to tax-pair with your pet, with a tree, with the really fancy pen that your supplier gave you, or even with yourself. So let's abolish marriage as a civil concept altogether; it's not the government's job to concern itself with any of this.
Marriage as a religious concept then becomes a matter for each individual religion - or sub-branch of religion - to decide on. It would be quite reasonable for, say, the Lutheran Church to refuse to recognize a marriage conducted by the Catholic Church, if for instance the participants do not appear to have paid any respect to their vows. It wouldn't be anybody else's business.
It's high time these two concepts were properly separated.
I think I agree with you, although, as I said, I'm still doing a lot of thinking on this. But functionally, I think that's basically how it works now. It's just the name that hasn't changed yet. For instance, I could "marry" my roommate, get a tax break, then "divorce" him when I move out - all perfectly legal under the law. That is about as much legitimacy for a "marriage" that the government can grant. The true legitimacy, as always, comes only from the laws of nature and nature's God. (Which is what my next post was about)
Also, thank you for your comments. I'd like to reply to more of them, but I've been very busy lately. I still very much appreciate them and do read them all, even when I can't reply to them.