“I cannot support a church or a pastor that affirms gay marriage!”
Not surprisingly, I’ve heard this claim more than a few times since I preformed Eddy County’s first Same-Gender Marriage this summer. The angry, spirited, and hurtful backlash against my belief in Marriage Equality has been a humbling experience for me and one that has forced me to seriously and prayerfully revisit my long-held theological positions on marriage equality.
I understand that people have strong religious and moral convictions. I respect that the idea of homosexuality in general, let alone same-gender marriage, violates the religious beliefs and moral convictions of some people. Honestly, I once felt the same way. As one who believes in religious diversity and upholds the blessing of our Constitutional freedom to practice religion free from discrimination or incrimination, those who believe in their own right that same-gender marriage is a sin have every right to that belief and should never be singled out or sanctioned for their beliefs.
I believe, however, there is a lot more to the debate regarding this issue that needs to be shouted from the mountaintops and written large for all to see. Right now, the debates over sexual sin and traditional marriage are so focused on gay people having sex that the church is overlooking—or completely ignoring—a serious conversation that we need to be having!
First, we need to take seriously the difference between historical marriage and modern marriage. Historically, marriage, including Biblical accounts of marriage, has more to do with property rights than love. In the modern age, this is not the case. In Biblical history a woman was exchanged by her father to the groom and his father’s family in accordance with a business transaction. In a literal sense, the bride ceases to be the responsibility of her father and becomes the responsibility of her groom and his father’s family. This is symbolized in the traditional changing of the woman’s last name to the man’s. Additionally, love and personal choice were frequently not part of the marriage covenant. Brides were exchanged at the behest of the fathers’ or sometimes the groom’s choosing and rarely had input or choice by the woman. Therefore, when people clamor for some sort of a traditional or biblical marriage, I have to question, “by whose standards and whose interpretation of scripture are we defining traditional and biblical?” Bottom line, I don’t see any traditional or biblical marriage happening in modern American culture and I don’t think any of us want to return to a world that treats women and girls as possessions to be owned rather than children of God to be loved and respected.
Condemning sexual sin is, perhaps, the larger issue at stake here. I find it difficult that people are fast to judge two women as an abomination to God and destined to hell because they are intimately involved yet we live in a culture that sexually objectifies just about everything. Consider a few questions:
Why is it an abomination to God for two consenting adults to live out a natural, loving, and affirming covenant relationship while we frequently turn a blind eye to the fact that scantily-clad women with artificial breasts and air-brushed bodies are being used to sell everything from cars and office equipment to guns and beer?
Why are people so offended because two men wish to be married, but some of the most popular television programs on the air today glamorize the bed-hopping behavior of their characters?
Why are some people so against the notion that a church or a pastor will perform a Gay-Marriage which has been approved by State law but ignore the fact that sexual exploitation, rape, sexual abuse, infidelity, domestic violence, and hideous emotional viciousness permeates so-called “traditional marriages” every day?
The pornography, sex-trade, and adult entertainment industries are, in my opinion, far more dangerous to our families, our culture, and our understanding of healthy sexuality than the relatively small percentage of loving adults who have chosen to live in a life-time covenantal partnership of marriage.
Finally, we have to remember, marriage is not all about sex. Frequently, when I engage in conversations with people about how repulsed they are regarding same-gender marriage, they are focused on the sex. “It is wrong!” It is a perversion.” “It is unnatural.” “It is against God’s will.” We all know the arguments and, more often than not, they all focus on the physical act of arousing the genitals for pleasurable outcomes.
Let’s be honest! Marriage does involve sex, but sex is not all there is to marriage. You show me someone who feels otherwise, and I’ll show you someone who doesn't understand marriage at all. Marriage is about covenant and commitment. Marriage requires sacrifice, mutuality, compassion, grace, and understanding. Marriage is a partnership forged in love and a mutual decision to be together no matter what. As I say in my wedding ceremonies, it is an intentional decision to permanently live together in a common life where each partner may be to the other, “a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.” It is the covenant, not the pleasurable stimulation of genitals that makes a marriage. Often times, I fear we forget this necessary fact when debates about same-gender marriage arise and become contentious.
So, when it comes to Same-Gender Marriage I think it is time we re-frame the debate. It is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong as there are clearly different ways of interpreting the Bible and church history. It is not a matter of forcing anyone’s religious beliefs or spiritually-defined moral standards on others as we must honor our freedom of religious expression.
When it comes to the debate on Same-Gendered marriage, we need to all take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Today we live in the most sexualized culture I think history has ever known. The overall divorce rate, the ubiquitous availability of pornography, the use of sexuality in marketing, the media objectification of women, the constant need for Domestic Violence Restraining orders and Battered Family Shelters, a burgeoning sex and human-trafficking trade, and the vast numbers of women who are essentially sexual slaves in their own home are the real sexual sins that this society must address. Rather than investing money, time, and emotional arguments in the definition of marriage, we would all do better to invest that energy into strengthening the covenants of marriage and cultivating an environment where the covenant thrives. It is time we re-frame the debate!