Why I support gay marriage

This past Monday was my one-year wedding anniversary.

While I am thrilled to embark upon Year Two with my lovely bride, I have been more anxious than joyful about marriage these days.  No, not my marriage (though there are joyful and anxious moments there among many others), but the marriage rights of thousands presently under siege in California via Proposition 8.

Prop 8 is the effort in California to institute an amendment to the state constitution that will prohibit gay and lesbian people from being allowed to legally marry.  Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court overturned existing prohibitions against gay marriage and effectively legalized gay marriage.  Now, there is conservative backlash in the form of this proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage in California as being between a man and a woman.

I believe that to deny LGBT people the right to marry is discriminatory, immoral, and anti-Christian.  (I’m sure it goes against tenets of the faiths of many others as well, as well as those who have no faith, but I personally write from a Christian perspective.)  I support equal marriage rights conferred without regard for the sex, gender, or sexual orientation of those involved, for the following reasons:

  1. LGBT people are created as such in the image of God. Thus, they are entitled to the the same religious and civil opportunities as anybody else.
  2. Christian marriage is a religious sacrament, while civil marriage a secular means of securing certain economic opportunities. Religious groups can disagree on whether or not to marry LGBT folk in their religious communities, but equal protection under the law cannot be compromised.
  3. What makes marriage “God-ordained” is the Godliness of the relationship, above all else. Couples of all persuasions can fully meet any criteria for marriage that is based on a holistic view of marital relations – rather than simply sex organs, which is insufficient for securing God’s blessing on a marriage.

LGBT people are created as such in the image of God.

To support this claim, I look to scripture, science, my own personal experience and the personal experience of others.  Genesis 1:26 teaches that humankind is created in the image of God.  From the story of Peter’s dream in Acts 10, we learn that indeed, sometimes God gives new revelation that actually changes our prior understanding.  To the human hesitation to embrace the new changes, God says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  As a result of this story, Gentiles too – those who are not culturally or ethnically Jewish, and who have been previously denied access at the table – are green-lighted to attain the salvation of Jesus Christ.  If we believe in this God, who creates openings in previously closed biblical laws as contexts shift, who makes all things new, and gives us the power of divine revelation through prayer and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are not, I don’t believe, able to point backwards to traditional understandings of human behavior and import them directly into our time for today, on the basis of their former lawfulness alone.  We must construct a new, inclusive theology which reflects the personal experience and acknowledges the new, divine revelation on this issue and others as God continues to speak in our world today.

From science we learn that homosexual behavior has been observed in over 1500 species of animals besides humans.  The American Psychological Association asserts that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”  There are numerous behavioral and social scientific organizations which affirm the same.  The overwhelming scientific consensus is clear: one’s sexual orientation is not chosen (ergo it is God-given) though one’s behavior may be.

This is further corroborated by my personal experience, in which my attraction to my wife is certainly more than mere “choice” to me; there is definitely some kind of biological function at work here.  This seems to be a fairly common experience among people I know: that sexual attraction is often directed towards people based on a particular sex and/or gender expression.  I have many friends, spiritual mentors, professors, family members and so forth, across the straight and queer spectrum – and I have never once encountered anybody who believed their own sexuality was a function of their personal choice.  Our sexuality simply is – whether and how we act on it is indeed where choice comes into play.

All of this suggests to me that sexual expressions other than heterosexuality are normal aspects of the diverse spectrum of God’s creation.

Christian marriage is a religious sacrament, while civil marriage is a secular means of securing certain economic opportunities.

Marriage is a religious sacrament that has different spiritual meaning throughout different religious groups.  In many cases, marriage is a sacred rite of passage that joins two people together before God and community.  The details vary profoundly from religious tradition to religious tradition however.  Some religions permit and encourage polygamy.  Others are restricted to monogamy.   Some allow for interracial marriage, some do not.  Some, like certain Christian traditions, have been all over the place on polygamy, monogamy, and interracial marriage throughout their history.  Suffice to say, what constitutes a “sacred” marriage is highly context-specific and must be determined by a particular faith community.

Furthermore, sacred marriage is by no means a universally-agreed upon concept.  While many Christian denominations oppose same sex marriages, some, such as the United Church of Christ actively affirm churches that perform them.  Why should one particular religious outlook on marriage be allowed to dominate all others when it comes to enacting secular legislation that affects everybody?

In American society, civil marriage is a secular means of securing certain economic opportunities from the government. Most state governments have determined that two people who wish to acquire a civil marriage may do so – if they are straight. They are thus able to access the 1,400+ economic benefits that civil marriage provides.  However, other people, on the basis of their sex, gender, or sexuality, do not presently have access in most states to the same rights afforded by civil marriage.  What vested interest does the state have in denying such access?

Simply put: state marriage should not be withheld from some because of the religious views of others. Many people used to have the religious views that interracial couples should not be married.  However, the civil government was (and would still be) wrong to legislate this prejudice.  Most people probably agree that marriage rights should not be withheld based on skin color, ability level, social status, cultural background, etc. – and this would be true even if there were common religious prohibitions against such marriages.  So too it is wrong to withhold equal marriage rights from LGBT people simply because some religions don’t agree that LGBT people should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

What makes marriage “God-ordained” is the Godliness of the relationship – above all else.

What is it about a given marriage that makes it “God-ordained”?  Is it that the ceremony was held in a Christian church?  That the marriage consisted of one man and one woman?  That the priest/preacher/officiant said the right words in the right order?  That the right vows were accurately recited? What exactly does it take for a marriage to get God’s Official Seal of Approval?

Well, it certainly takes more than having the “right” sex organs, doesn’t it?  Who would argue that an abusive heterosexual marriage is somehow more “godly” than a mutual, nurturing queer relationship, and thus more deserving of marriage?  Sex organs alone are insufficient as criteria by which a relationship may be judged appropriate for marriage, and seemingly everyone knows it, which is why premarital counseling is often made a prerequisite by the officiant.  Why, then, do opponents to gay marriage seek to deny it solely on the basis of sex organs, with no regard for the much more important consideration of how the relationship actually is?

~~~

In sum: gay marriage should be allowed to continue in California.  LGBT people are part of the diversity of God’s creation, and the religious views of others must never be allowed to preclude the equal protection of queer people under the law.  Discrimination must not be enshrined in the California state constitution, nor anywhere else.

(Previous thoughts on LGBT people and marriage can be found here and here.)

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8 Responses to “Why I support gay marriage”

  1. Mombian » Blog Archive » Write to Marry Day: Contributed Posts Says:

    […] Reflections on faith, politics, and society. Why I support gay marriage […]

  2. FranIam Says:

    Bravo, bravo, bravo!

    As usual, your words have power, wisdom and clarity. And tremendous generosity.

    Always great to see you posting Tom! And happy anniversary!

  3. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Thanks, Fran! Always nice to hear from you too. Take care.

  4. Matthew Says:

    This is such a beautiful article. Here are some of my thoughts:

    Procreation: If marriage is supposedly for procreation, then why do we allow infertile individuals to marry? When there are reality television shows where you can “Marry a Millionaire”, it becomes clear that marriage has greater threats than two consenting same-sex partners enjoying their lives.

    I want them to have legal standing, including health benefits and estate rights. These are not special rights. They are fundamental human rights. Homosexual behavior has been observed in many animal species, and it was also seen in Egypt, Greece, and even ancient Japan. Opponents of same-sex marriage must realize that shaking traditions is what led to the formation of the United States – the tradition of servitude, of male importance over women in unions, and so on and so forth.

    My brother is gay, and he is such a kind and charitable man. All he wants is to marry the individual he loves. Love transcends gender. Differing genitalia matters little when it comes to a bond between humans. Study after study has found that love and commitment matters more when couples are raising children…not their gender.

    In fact, I was raised by a single mother myself. In high school, I was a successful student and an Honors essay writer. Anti-gay bigots simply take the worst situations and attempt to say that they are common.

    Read this for some interesting info:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-zak/gay-marriage-is-natural_b_112256.html

    (The website sources their claims.)

  5. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Thanks, Matthew. I’m convinced we will see equal marriage rights in our lifetime. Until then, keep up the faith.

  6. Terry Pennisi Says:

    How beautiful! We can accomplish so much, just by being fair and not trying to force others to believe as we do. Can you imagine that in reverse?
    Everyone believes they are right! So look at the love, not the sex, you’ll feel better!
    My daughter and her lover have been together for 19 years and raised an incredible daughter. She calls them “The Mommies” and loves them both so much. She just got married, is in nursing school and has a full time job.
    Too many straight couples have less love and commitment then they do. I am proud of them!

  7. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Terry,
    Thanks for sharing a piece of what your family looks like. I know that ultimately love cannot be suppressed, and though fear is powerful, I trust in those much greater than I who have held fast to the faith that “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice…” It’s only a matter of time, even possibly our time.
    Peace to you and yours,
    Tom

  8. Prop 8, The Sexual Deviant, and The Bible: An Alternative Christian Interpretation « Stories of Expatriation & Maturation Says:

    […] I firmly uphold the separation of church and state. With that presupposition, I claim (along with Tom Ryberg) that “Christian marriage is a religious sacrament, while civil marriage a secular means of […]


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