Separation of Church (marriage) and State (unions)

One of the more frustrating aspects about the current debate over same-sex marriage is the utter shallowness of the theology on the anti-marriage side.  Having wrongfully presumed that it is their prerogative to determine whether other people’s civil marriages meet their theological criteria, the only theological criteria they offer up is that of gender. Britney Spears wants to drunkenly marry some guy for 15 minutes?  No problem.  A couple of straight swingers want to get married and swap partners every night til death do them part?  Let ’em.  But to allow any two women or two men to get married would go against their religion.

Of course, few if any would advocate that we hold anyone else’ civil marriages up to religious scrutiny.  That would be considered inappropriate, overreaching.  Yet, that is precisely what we do any time civil marriage is denied on the basis of gender, as there is no argument against same-sex marriage that is not religious in origin.

Here’s the problem:  gay people not only are allowed to get married in my church, but have been for decades.  As far as religious marriage – as opposed to civil marriage – is concerned, we will continue this forever.  Yet, other peoples’ concept of religious marriage have overreached into our church building, effectively neutralizing our religious marriages so that they do not result in the same civil benefits as others.  If religious marriage is going to be interchangeable with civil marriage, as is presently the case in American society, fine.  But not if only one narrow interpretation of religious marriage is going to be enforced on everybody.

So the sanctity of marriage should be protected.  The marriages that my church conduct should have the same legal standing as any other religious marriages.  People smarter than me have drawn up big arguments around the following idea, but in a nutshell, here is my plan for restoring marriage in America.

  1. Religious and civil marriages should no longer be synonymous.
  2. Civil marriages should be called civil unions.
  3. Civil unions would provide all civil rights presently enjoyed by those who are married.
  4. Religious marriages would retain the title of “marriage” but would not, in and of themselves, provide any civil rights, benefits, etc. from the national, state, or local government.
  5. Civil unions would be not be denied on the basis of gender.
  6. It is up to the individual community of faith to determine its own rules regarding who may be married there.
Advertisements

It's about diplomacy.

Here (and on Facebook) I last posted about how we need to be careful in response to the tenuous passage of Prop. 8 not to scapegoat the Mormons.  I was thinking about how Mormon temples have selectively been protested, there are websites that identify Mormon donors, and other websites with names like “Mormons Stole Our Rights.”  Some have pointed out to me that such efforts are, technically, factual, and not only that, warranted, given the exorbitant amount of resources poured into marriage discrimination by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  I agree with both points.  But as valid as it is to express our anger, we need to make sure our response is not more harmful than helpful in the process.

Our ultimate goal is to change enough hearts and minds on the issue of same-sex marriage such that equal civil rights may forever be secured for LGBT people.  While there are some genuine ‘haters’ on the other side, I am convinced that there are also many good people just across the line who will, if persuaded, help us permanently settle this question next time it goes up (in California, at least).  I am also convinced that if our response is instead perceived by most people across that line as a disproportionate attack, then our progress will actually be impeded by further division.

Let’s look to the historical example of emerging gay rights within the United Church of Christ.  In 1985, the General Synod, somewhat of a ‘governing body’ for the UCC, became Open and Affirming, which was a suggestion from the top that churches open their employment, volunteer and membership ranks to welcome LGBT people into full, equal participation.  Today, there are approximately 5,518 UCC congregations, of which, approximately 657 are Open and Affirming.  So even though the official standing from our top body of governence asked 20 years ago that all churches become Open and Affirming, approximately 88% are not.  This is because the General Synod’s resolutions are not binding.  There are two ways to look at this.

My impatient, inner-tyrant notes that even among our liberal UCC, many churches are not LGBT inclusive, and that is inexcusable.  From my theological standpoint, those churches should all become Open and Affirming, and they should do it today – because it’s the good, Godly, and right thing to do.  HOWEVER – if at any point this became a binding resolution, back then or even today, we would have lost countless congregations.  And here’s the really important point: there are churches that are Open and Affirming today that would have left the denomination had they been forced to adopt LGBT inclusivity back in 1985.  So though it’s taking a while, the non-binding nature of the UCC’s resolutions has actually created the space for changed hearts and minds on the issue – without fostering unnecessary division in the process.

Let me hasten to acknowledge that this is radically different from what we are looking at in California today.  However, the underlying principle is the same: it is through open (though often forceful) dialogue, rather than divisive tactics that shut down communication, that we are able to bring about change.

That is why I think we need to be careful not to primarily scapegoat just one group of people (Mormons) in our response to Prop. 8.  Even though I believe that all of the outrage directed towards the Mormon church is morally justified, I worry that a too-narrow attack on the Mormon church will cost us the support of many moderate Mormons (and others) who could be our allies next time around.

Check out this undeniably moving account on the aftermath of Prop. 8’s passage, as experienced by Vanessa, a Mormon woman who voted “Yes” while acknowledging the troubling reality of the human cost of denying marriage.  She is precisely the sort of person who I believe will ultimately change her position once she fully assumes her moral obligation to this human reality.  At the least, her post helps illustrate that Mormons who supported Prop. 8 are not a monolithic voting bloc that should categorically be cut off or dismissed.

We who oppose marraige discrimination must ask ourselves: what sort of diplomacy is needed in order to change the hearts and minds of people like Vanessa?  And are our present efforts helping or hindering this cause?

Same-sex marriage: Staying out of God's way

In response to my op-ed on marriage below, in which I suggest that one reason conservatives oppose same-sex marriage is because it threatens the to undermine the power of the patriarchy (go read it), commenter Russ writes the following:

Marriage was created by God and He alone has the authority to define it.

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The scripture that Russ appropriates comes from Matthew 19:4-6. The backstory is that Jesus is answering the Pharisees’ famous question on tying the knot: “Can two dudes get married?”

Actually, as some of you may know, the topic at hand is about heterosexual divorce, not gay marriage, though it sure would be convenient for Russ and others if Jesus actually did take sides on this issue. But this is what I want to get at here (extracted from my response to Russ’ comment):

As Jesus warns us above, I certainly do not advocate the separation of those whom God has joined together. To the contrary, this is precisely why I advocate marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples. Who are humans, or even government, to stand in the way?

We need to remember that there is more criteria to the Christian marriage ethic than simply whether there is one man and one woman. For example, a marriage predicated on abuse or destructive behavior is not God-ordained. We need to open up to the possibility that God is calling us to unite not only in terms of gender, but perhaps more relevantly, in terms of a relationship that is spiritually fulfilling, mutual, monogamous and wholesome. I know many gay and lesbian Christians whose relationships meet the criteria of the Christian marriage ethic as well or better than many straight couples I know.

Finally, we need to stop assuming that God is somehow in error in creating people to be gay or lesbian. Who are we to question God’s creation, simply because aspects of it transcend our understanding? To be sure: we need to address sin where we encounter it, but the biological fact of sexual orientation is no sin–and it’s not an accident! Humans need to get out of the way and embrace that which the Creator has made good.

For more on this, see Acts 10:9-29.

What does marriage really mean?

This is an op-ed I wrote for a class on public theology, taught by Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite. It is the culmination of much thinking about marriage, specifically with regards to my personal experience and also in broader terms relating to greater society as well.

Read the rest of this entry »