By the Rev. Steven F. Kindle, Clergy United, Inc.
The question is not: Will marriage survive the inclusion of non-heterosexuals into its mix? Of course it will. No, the appropriate question is: Can America be America if it does not end its oppression of gay Americans? Will we become a nation that is willing to endure second-class citizens after two centuries of steady emancipation of other oppressed groups? I suggest to you that America’s soul is at great risk by this moral failure. This is a justice issue that needs to be addressed and resolved in favor of the oppressed. Offering same-sex marriage is the final step in recognizing the full, unencumbered humanity of non-heterosexuals, and their inclusion as fully emancipated American citizens.
The history of the United States can be summarized, quite accurately, as the slow but sure realization of the vision of its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, that all are created equal.
The same founders who agreed that “All men are created equal” also said, “Slaves shall represent 3/5 of a human being.” They and their successors also denied women the right to vote and upheld “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws, making interracial marriages illegal and restricted immigration to maintain white majority.
The founders had something in mind when they wrote the Constitution, but it’s not the republic in which we now live. In fact, their prejudices went so deep that they didn’t even feel the need to write “all white, landed, protestant, heterosexual, free men are created equal.” Forget about their slaves, forget about women, forget about those without land, forget about gay people-the only ones who had the right to vote, and thus the right to participate in the building of this new republic were people exactly like them.
In the intervening years, slavery has been abolished, women have been fully emancipated and nonwhites have been given the full dignity of the law. The inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans is now the realized dream of that distant day.
There is, however, one exception: non-heterosexual Americans, who are described by Harvard sociologist Byrne Fone as victims of the last acceptable bigotry in America.
It is my contention that withholding marriage rights for non-heterosexuals is unconstitutional, unchristian, and un-American. I will make the case for same-sex marriage being beneficial to America by providing four bedrock reasons why same sex marriage rights deserve to be placed on par with heterosexual marriage rights.
First, same-sex marriage is good for America because it is a justice issue that needs to be addressed and resolved in favor of the oppressed. If Americans are anything, we are seekers of justice for all. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That is why his widow, Coretta Scott King, said that, if Dr. King were alive today, he would be fighting hard for gay rights. It confounds me that the continuing violence, murder, job and housing discrimination, defamations and insults, and spiritual condemnation heaped upon non-heterosexuals, due simply to their sexual orientation, does not automatically qualify them as an oppressed class.
But I take solace in remembering the other struggles for justice in America. It was not self-evident that slavery was wrong. It took nearly 100 years from the founding of our nation to recognize this injustice and right this wrong.
It was not self-evident that segregation was wrong. Nearly another one hundred years was needed to rectify it.
It was not self-evident that anti-miscegenation laws were oppressive. As recently as 1967 we finally eradicated this injustice, allowing interracial marriages in America.
It was not self-evident that women should have the right to vote. But we realized the error of our ways and enfranchised women after 150 years of marginalization.
Today, we are finally realizing that it’s time to face up to our oppression of non-heterosexuals. It began in small ways when certain municipalities passed non-discrimination ordinances in housing and jobs, when states passed hate crimes legislation and civil union laws. Businesses realized that if they were to compete for the best employees they would have to offer protections and benefits to non-heterosexual employees and their partners. In 2002 the United States Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws, and in 2003, legal same-sex marriages were made available for the first time in Massachusetts and are now legal in California.
All this progress has not come easily. Each advance has been met with the same opposition America’s oppressors have always employed: biblical condemnation, the manufacturing of phony statistics to demonstrate moral inferiority, and spreading lies, such as that gay men are all child molesters and that they will harm our children by turning them into homosexuals.
The oppressors want us to believe that the fate of the nation is bound up in this cultural war against non-heterosexuals. In effect, they are saying: if we lose the traditional identity of the nuclear family our nation is doomed.
I can assure you that the Bible is much more a friend to non-heterosexuals than it is their enemy. Gays and lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered are as normal and as law abiding -even as conventional-as are most heterosexuals. In addition, the vaunted nuclear family is really a very modern way of doing family. The detractors would have you believe that this is the biblical model. They wish us to believe that marriage has always been “one man, one woman, one lifetime”. All you have to do, however, is read a few chapters into the Bible to find that Abraham had more than one wife, as did his son Isaac, kings David and Solomon, and many other prominent Old Testament characters.
Second, same-sex marriage is good for America because it is consistent with the evolution of marriage, culturally and theologically. America will benefit by an inclusive definition of marriage.
If America truly followed the biblical laws regarding marriage, it would look something like this:
- Marriage in the US shall consist of one man and one or more women. (Gen. 29:17-28; 2Sam 3:2-5)
- Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines. (2Sam 5:13; 1Kings 11:3)
- A marriage shall be considered valid only if the bride is a virgin. If the bride is discovered not to be a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut. 22:13-21)
- Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num. 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh. 10:30)
- Since marriage is for life, neither the US Constitution nor the constitution of any state shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut. 22:19; Mark 10:9)
- If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow and impregnate her. (Gen. 8:6-10; Deut. 25:5-10)
Oh, but you say: The New Testament eliminated some of these undesirable aspects of marriage. Yes, indeed. This is another way of saying that marriage has evolved, isn’t it? And if you examine Jesus’ attitude toward marriage and the family, it is far from the presumed biblical model of marriage currently touted by leaders of the Christian Right. In fact, both Jesus and Paul pushed strongly for Christians not to get married at all!
In times past, marriage was a means of protecting oneself from the vicissitudes of life. It was a necessity that provided for a woman’s security, children for labor and old-age security for parents. Aristocrats maintained their power through family alliances, and the church grew with large families who often dedicated their first-born children to its service. Until recently, marriage was of necessity, and based on societal mores, not often for love.
All of these reasons are irrelevant for why people marry today. If we want children — adoption, en vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers, are all available today with little cultural inhibition. Social Security, Medicare and pension plans have replaced children as guarantors of old age survival. Few households need child labor to survive; in fact, we have laws that prohibit such exploitation.
Theologically, marriage has evolved. The early patriarchal cultures of the Bible attached no religious significance to marriage. A man simply took his woman to his tent, verified she was a virgin, and they were married. Christianity was over 1000 years old before a marriage ceremony was required by a priest. Some Christian traditions even today regard marriage as a state issue having nothing to do with the church.
Marriage serves many needs of our society: procreation, monogamy, spousal fidelity, and family and community stability. Each of these needs is necessary for societal good, and each of these is routinely found in same-sex marriages, including procreation.
Third, same-sex marriage is good for America because it offers no downside. The standard response to this statement is that same-sex marriage demeans the institution of marriage and is an assault on heterosexual marriage values.
Let me suggest that heterosexuals have done quite well on their own in demeaning the institution of marriage without any help from non-heterosexuals. Quite apart from being married by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, the 55-hour marital jaunt of Britney Spears, the self-confessed 10,000 sexual partners of Wilt Chamberlain, or the one extramarital partner of Kobe Bryant, heterosexuals are guilty of a wide range of assaults on marriage. It is well known that the greatest threats to marriage today come from poverty, spousal abuse, unfaithfulness, drugs, and easy divorce. Defending marriage is appropriate and urgent, but let’s pick the right battles.
So, same-sex marriage is a convenient scapegoat for our own failures as heterosexuals. It is also a red herring to divert attention and to raise millions of dollars.
Certainly, marriage will be changed because of same-sex involvement, but only for the better. There are hundreds of thousands of gay couples who have been together for decades enduring all of society’s proscriptions and life’s problems and yet remain together. This is a witness all of us can benefit from.
Fourth, same-sex marriage is good for America because it is a stabilizing influence on society. There is every reason to believe that marriage would be good for non-heterosexuals for the same reasons it is good for heterosexuals. After all, people are people. Non-heterosexuals want to be married for the same reasons heterosexuals do. If the Christian Right’s stereotypical view of non-heterosexuals is true -that they are lust driven, orgy seeking, diseased in mind and body, incapable of monogamy- why on earth would they be interested in marriage? The fact is, they have every normal person’s desire (being normal people) for the state of matrimony and for all the right reasons. Typically, all they want is the recognition that they are human beings. Therefore, the withholding of marriage to them is the equivalent of withholding their humanity. It’s the equivalent of making them 3/5 of a human being.
Let’s be clear about what we are asking of Christian non-heterosexuals. Richard B. Hays, in his The Moral Vision of the New Testament, writes, “Heterosexual persons [as with all non-heterosexuals] are also called to abstinence from sex unless they marry (1 Cor. 7:8-9). The only difference — admittedly a salient one — in the case of homosexually oriented persons is that they do not have the option of homosexual “marriage’. So where does that leave them? It leaves them in precisely the same situation as the heterosexual who would like to marry but cannot find an appropriate partner.”
Gay people, according to Hays, are essentially no different from single heterosexuals. This is a profound misunderstanding of the predicament in which non-heterosexuals are placed. By denying them marriage, we are denying them hope. The heterosexual who never marries, but yeans for it, nevertheless, has the hope of eventual marriage; non-heterosexuals have no such hope. We are asking them to deny their humanity, to commit suicide of their spirits. This I find to be profoundly unchristian and unworthy of a compassionate Lord.
I would like to end these remarks with a statement that I think we can all agree with. It is from a book entitled, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. It is co-written by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher. They sum up the case for marriage in this way:
The key [to well-being] seems to be the marriage bond itself: Having a partner who is committed for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, makes people happier and healthier. The knowledge that someone cares for you and that you have someone who depends on you helps give life meaning and provides a buffer against the inevitable troubles of life.
So I ask you, why would anyone want to keep the key to well-being in life solely for oneself and those like oneself, for heterosexuals only? Why not share this amazing institution with any who wish to honor its intentions and benefit from it? We will all be the better for it, and America will finally live up to its promise.