The high courts of the land are now considering the question of legalizing same-sex marriage on a federal level.
I’m not surprised.
Facebook is a-Twitter about it. Television shows about finding places to live or renovating homes or cooking contests or designing clothes often portray homosexual relationships as completely acceptable and normal. Pro-gay advocates compare the struggle for gay rights to racial equality, and any resistance to complete endorsement of homosexuality to Klannish behavior. The recent four part miniseries on the History Channel, entitled, The Bible had no depiction of any homosexuality in its portrayal of Sodom and Gomorrah; (so absent was it that it made me re-read Genesis 19, and references to those twin cities elsewhere in the Scriptures). Rob Bell––a Christian, best-selling author and former pastor of renowned Mars Hill Church recently announced his support of same-sex marriage: “I believe God [is] pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and co-workers.”
This mass movement is a seismic cultural shift primarily in the western world. (Much of the Muslim world condemns and even stones gays, and probably isn’t going to repent of that anytime soon.) Marriage, by definition, is a cultural institution recognized by society; so it will do no good to say, “live and let live” for those who want to be married as gays. The decision upon all of us as a culture is, “Live and show acceptance.”
So actually, my question is not, “Why shouldn’t we give consenting gay couples marital status?” but, “Why stop there?”
Most would agree that traditionally, marriage has been defined as a permanent, committed relationship of intimacy between a man and woman. Until recently, we have made certain assumptions about marriage:
1) Gender: It is between a male and a female.
2) Number: It is between two individuals.
3) Age: It is between responsible adults.
4) Willingness: The adults must be consenting.
5) Permanency: It is to last as long as both live.
6) Species: It is a distinctly human institution.
If we feel free to tamper with and alter one component of marriage, why stop there? Why not start with a fresh sheet of paper, and redefine other components as well?
1) Gender: Marriage is not only for a man and a woman, but for a man and man, or woman and woman. (This we have already done.)
2) Number: We assume only two, but why not ménage et trios, or group marriage among four or five, or why not just one? “I love myself. I care about myself. I’m the most important person in my life. I can even have sex with myself. I want to spend the rest of my life with myself. So I’d like to marry myself, and receive double benefits!”
3) Age: Again, we assume that marriage is restricted to responsible adults, but why? Why not allow children to marry? Why not 40 year old and a 6 year old? If we’re starting with a blank sheet and aren’t restricted to traditional values, why not be inclusive?
4) Willingness: Why not forced marriages? (You may not like it. You may think it ridiculous, but why? Who’s to say?)
5) Permanency: Divorce has already shattered this one; but why not take it a step further? Why not 24 hour marriages with built in timers that expire with an automatic, predetermined divorce? (If you judge this a silly impossibility, be aware that in some current branches of Islam, clerics grant just that kind of relationship.)
6) Species: If you have a particularly close and affectionate relationship with your schnauzer, why not marry him or her? Why forbid the marriage between a man and a dog?
Many have been worn down to think that we can redefine the gender restriction of marriage because to do so is “fair” or “compassionate” or “loving” or as an equal rights issue. Does anyone see it as a question of right and wrong? Could this not be part of the moral absolutes that rule human society?
One cannot have it both ways; either there are absolutes, standards for every person’s behavior that solidify right and wrong, but judge us as well as guide us, or there are not--and no one is to judge, but nothing guides us and nothing but personal taste to which we appeal. Either marriage is defined by God, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t––we should feel free to tamper with it to our hearts’ content. And if we tamper with marriage, why stop there? Why not tamper with every other institution and value any of us deem unworthy?
Comedian Bill Maher lampoons such “slippery slope” thinking: “Gay marriage won’t lead to dog marriage. It is not a slippery slope to rampant inter-species coupling. When women got the right to vote, it didn’t lead to hamsters voting...And for the record, all marriages are same sex marriages: You get married, and every night, it’s the same sex” (Bill Maher, New Rules). Bill is funny, but smirking is not the same as reasoning, and a denial that something won’t happen does not grant certainty. (Do you really think that as societal standards evolve, we will have any grounds to deny granting the marriage label to polygamists, trios or to anyone who desires it for whatever relationship they concoct?)
When absolutes are ejected, there are no rules left to break, nothing to be outraged at, nothing at all but personal opinions, personal viewpoints, personal ‘druthers; we sink into the quicksand of nothing solid, nothing objective to stand on. What remains is the shadowy land of me-ism, where there is no guidance, no right and wrong, no truth and error, only subjectivism. Is suicide wrong? Murder? Stealing? Rape? Divorce? Homosexuality? Adultery? Lying? Gossip? Without absolutes, it is a matter of personal, and perhaps popular preference. If most people in a given time and place say it is prohibited, then so be it. If they change their minds, then we merely update morality. The western world has darkened into a perpetually gray place where definitions and requirements are elastic, constantly shifting and morphing to fit our current desires and sensibilities.
Two values that do seem to remain absolute are fairness (by which we mean, absolute equality of means and ends), and non-judgmentalism. In the present debate about same-sex marriage, it is argued that it isn’t fair that some can marry and some cannot. (Actually, absolutely anyone can marry anyone else of the opposite sex who is currently unmarried, of proper age, with mutual consent. That is fair.) We all agree that fairness is not an issue when we exclude marriage from those who do not qualify by age (a six year old girl and a 44 year old man), or by species (a woman and a horse). These we nod in assent––but (only recently) we vigorously reject the notion that gender ought to be considered as a qualification. “That,” we argue, “is judgmental,” and violates our non-judgmental absolute value. We want to erase all judgment except the notion that something cannot be judgmental, which is judgmental (if you follow the logic).
But why would anyone not want absolutes (even if it requires some judgment)? Because the existence of absolutes points to something outside of us as their creator—a God. A Creator who designs them. A Judge who enforces them. To the degree that we long for absolutes, we are evidencing that we have a moral fiber, that we were created with conscience, and that we cannot live in a moral vacuum. But to the degree that we do not wish God to be in our lives, we reject absolutes. In fact, the one absolute in a relative world is that there are no absolutes. We crave truth, right and wrong, purpose and meaning, but all the while running from the only One who grants those gifts.
So as you listen to the daily chatter on talk shows, in supermarket lines, around coffee cups, or on Facebook postings, remember that it really isn’t about same-sex marriage. It’s about God. And whether life has any definition or design to it, or whether we are just making it all up as we go along. If a person rejects the notion that God exists or has anything to say about our lives, I can see why they’d advocate marriage for gays. I can see how a person who dismisses the Bible as irrelevant to modern culture would shake his head at this posting in my blog and think I’m hopelessly bigoted. (I’m really not.) And yes, I understand there are thorny issues about same-sex couples receiving equal economic benefits as heterosexual married couples.
If two of the same gender wish to have a life-long sexual relationship, call it a “Civil Union,” or a “Gay Alliance” or even a “Gay Marriage” or something else honoring in their eyes. I wish not to simply call it, “Marriage”––and so dismantle the long-standing, defined relationship God has established from the beginning.