Same sex marriage

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed.

Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”

Via Andrew Sullivan, in the aftermath of a court decision overturning California’s same sex marriage ban.

The End of Tolerance?

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son:

One of the fascinating recurring realizations I’ve had throughout my university career is that culturally, we’ve lost an understanding of what it means to be tolerant. The word, one of the most overused ones in our society, is amusingly twisted in the face of true tolerance. And one recent example demonstrates it perfectly: The recent controversy over Miss California in the Miss USA pageant.

Consider the following video:

Without entering into the foray of whether the sentiment about gay marriage is right or wrong, I think this video is interesting because of what it shows about our culture beyond the specific values. It brings up questions like: What does it mean to be tolerant? What role do Truth, faith, and opinions have in politics? Is it possible to be the “perfect Miss USA?


Prejudice, 21st century style

Andrew Sullivan has been preoccupied with same sex marriage recently. Indeed, many bloggers are expressing opinions on the topic just now, after startling developments in both Iowa and Vermont.

Let me juxtapose two quotes that I found on Sullivan’s blog. First:

Twenty-five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, or lesbian.”

– Bayard Rustin, close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, speaking in 1986

Second — as if they had deliberately set out to illustrate Rustin’s point — a quote from the editors of the right-wing publication, National Review Online:

Few social goods will come from recognizing same-sex couples as married. […] One still sometimes hears people make the allegedly “conservative” case for same-sex marriage that it will reduce promiscuity and encourage commitment among homosexuals. This prospect seems improbable, and in any case these do not strike us as important governmental goals.

The editors of the National Review seem to think that homosexuals are incapable of monogamy. Meanwhile, all over the Western world, we have homosexuals pledging themselves to one another for life — either in marriage or in civil unions — just as many heterosexual couples do.

President Obama doesn’t have enough on his plate

According to Andrew Sullivan, President Obama hasn’t got enough on his plate just yet. Oh, sure, Obama is:

  • trying to extricate the USA from Iraq;
  • trying to devise a winning strategy for Afghanistan/Pakistan;
  • confronting an extremely serious economic crisis;
  • setting out to reform the healthcare system; and
  • setting out to tackle climate change

— all in his first term.

But that’s not a busy enough agenda for Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan wants the President, in his spare time, to champion equal rights for gays and lesbians:

I wonder how Obama would have felt if Truman had followed the same path of cowardice and convenience in 1948, when racial integration was far more contentious in the military than gay integration is today. Or whether he would have applauded if the NAACP had decided that inter-racial marriage was too big a step for them in 1967 and they’d be content with calling it a “civil union.” On the matter of civil rights in his own time, alas, the first black president has so far demonstrated the courage of a Clinton [i.e., soothing words, but no courage].

Andrew Sullivan with husbandAndrew Sullivan (on the left) with his husband More

Same sex marriage inevitable?

Demographic trends suggest that same sex marriage is unstoppable in the USA. Consider this analysis from statistician and blogger Nate Silver:

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex marriage is protected under that state’s constitution. As in California, there will of course be an effort to amend the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage. […]

Most likely, […] Iowans won’t vote on the issue until 2012. […]

The state has roughly average levels of religiosity, including a fair number of white evangelicals, and the model predicts that if Iowans voted on a marriage ban today, it would pass with 56.0 percent of the vote.

By 2012, however, the model projects a toss-up:  50.4 percent of Iowans voting to approve the ban, and 49.6 percent opposed. In 2013 and all subsequent years, the model thinks the marriage ban would fail.

If Silver’s analysis can be trusted — and he’s extremely good at this sort of thing — we would see a 5.6% swing (from 56.0% to 50.4%) in only three years. That’s staggering!

Silver doesn’t quite say so, but I deduce that his model is tracking a decrease in the “religiosity” of America with each passing year. Silver says there’s “a very strong correspondence between the religiosity of a state and its propensity to ban gay marriage”; and then he predicts “that by 2012, almost half of the 50 states would vote against a marriage ban.”

And even among white evangelicals, it seems to me that younger folks are not as invested in conservative mores:  I think they have a more laissez-faire attitude toward both gays and abortion.

If you’re an evangelical Christian, you’d better pray for revival. Or if you’re a Republican, for that matter — demographic trends strongly favour the Democrats.

The social dimension of marriage, part one

I wasn’t planning two posts on the social dimension of marriage. But when I saw this post by Tom Ackerman, I thought it was perfect fit for my purposes.

I no longer recognize marriage. It’s a new thing I’m trying.

Turns out it’s fun.

Yesterday I called a woman’s spouse her boyfriend.

             She says, correcting me, “He’s my husband,”
             “Oh,” I say, “I no longer recognize marriage.”

The impact is obvious. I tried it on a man who has been in a relationship for years,

             “How’s your longtime companion, Jill?”
             “She’s my wife!”
             “Yeah, well, my beliefs don’t recognize marriage.”

Fun. And instant, eyebrow-raising recognition. Suddenly the majority gets to feel what the minority feels. In a moment they feel what it’s like to have their relationship downgraded, and to have a much taken-for-granted right called into question because of another’s beliefs.

Mr. Ackerman’s little campaign might succeed in raising people’s consciousness — but I doubt it. More likely, he’ll succeed only in annoying his friends.

Ackerman can’t really put the shoe onto the other foot. He may not recognize the marriages of his heterosexual friends but, in general, society does recognize those marriages.

And so the marriages are legitimate. Not because the Church blesses them, or because the government registers them in a database somewhere.

Well, OK … in part because of the Church and the government. But the response of the broader community is just as important:  the people you encounter as you go about your day-to-day activities.

Neighbours, coworkers, the loans officer at your local bank, the doctor on duty in an emergency ward, family members, friends. They have the power to bestow legitimacy on a marriage.

Or not.

That’s the point that Ackerman illustrates so poignantly. What if society withheld its recognition of your relationship? You’d be powerless to turn it into a marriage without their participation:  no matter how much you loved one another, or how much you sacrificed for one another, or how many years you were faithful to one another.

A relationship isn’t a marriage until society respects it as such.

Let me return to the personal dimension of marriage for a moment. In the previous post I wrote, “To us [modern Westerners], marriage is not so much a social institution as it is a private agreement between two individuals.”

There’s some truth in that perspective. Society can’t declare you to be married without your consent. The first decision is always taken by the couple:  “We’ve decided to get married.”

Then it’s up to society to respond. “How wonderful!”

Or:  “You can’t get married. You’re both men.”

Whether we like it or not, marriage has both a personal dimension and a social dimension. Without both, a relationship can’t be a marriage.

In part two, I’ll talk about the social dimension of marriage as it was practised in ancient Israel. Then I’ll contrast Israel’s practices to ours.

But for now, I only wanted to drive home this foundational point:  A marriage isn’t a marriage until society recognizes it as such.

The personal dimension of marriage

(Part two of a series. Part one is here.)

Contemporary Westerners regard marriage, first and foremost, as a personal matter. The two people must decide for themselves whether their relationship has the right stuff, such that they wish to spend the rest of their lives together.

The government, the Church, the couple’s neighbours — all of them should basically butt out of a matter that is not really their business.

The legitimacy of this emphasis on personal choice seems self-evident to us Westerners. We are aware that other cultures practice arranged marriages, but we would never submit to such an arrangement ourselves.

This is really only half of the equation. As I will soon demonstrate, there is an essential social component to the institution of marriage, even here in the West.

But even the phrase the institution of marriage is liable to grate a little. To us, marriage is not so much a social institution as it is a private agreement between two individuals.

In ancient Israel, the scales tilted in the other direction. Ancient Israel placed tremendous emphasis on the social dimension of marriage.

Accordingly, Israelite marriages were typically arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. The parents’ primary consideration was the social connections that would result from their child’s marriage.

Nevertheless, parental authority was not such as to leave no room for the feelings of the young couple. There were love marriages in Israel. The young man could make his preferences known (Gn 34:4; Jg 14:2), or take his own decision without consulting his parents, and even against their wishes (Gn 26:34-35). It was rarer for the girl to take the initiative, but we do read of Saul’s daughter Mikal falling in love with David (1 S 18:20).

Actually, young people had ample opportunity for falling in love, and for expressing their feelings, for they were very free. 2 M 3:19, it is true, speaks of the young girls of Jerusalem being confined to the house, but this text refers to the Greek period and to an exceptional state of affairs. The veiling of women came even later. In ancient times young girls were not secluded and went out unveiled. They looked after the sheep (Gn 29:6), drew the water (Gn 24:13; 1 S 9:11), went gleaning in the fields behind the reapers (Rt 2:2f.) and visited other people’s houses (Gn 34:1). They could talk with men without any embarrassment (Gn 24:15-21; 29:11-12; 1 S 9:11-13).

Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, p. 30.

Wherever young men and women come into contact with one another, sexual attraction is liable to follow. Parents in ancient Israel were not so hard-hearted as to completely disregard the romantic longings of their children.

Still — the social dimension weighed more heavily in ancient Israel; whereas the personal dimension weighs more heavily with us.


Proponents of same sex marriage prefer to emphasize the personal dimension. Their position is, Who I marry is no one’s business but my own.

It’s a strong argument. It is consistent with our Western emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. For example, freedom of conscience suggests that individuals can decide for themselves what is right and wrong, and order their lives accordingly.

Some people deny that the prohibition against same sex marriage is discriminatory. Homosexuals are free to marry just like anyone else, they claim:  they can marry someone of the opposite sex whenever they choose to do so.

It’s a facile (even contemptuous) argument. Sexual orientation is deeply personal and evidently involuntary. (That is, homosexuals do not choose to find people of the same sex attractive, any more than heterosexuals choose to find people of the opposite sex attractive. It just is that way.)

If a woman is attracted to others of the same sex, of course that is who she would choose to marry. To deny her that option is, indeed, to discriminate against her. It is to deny her the personal choice that is open to heterosexual couples.

On the other hand — proponents of same sex marriage can’t deny that there are three other dimensions to marriage:  the social, the religious, and the statutory. Those dimensions also must be taken into account.

Marriage is not solely a personal matter, and it can’t be treated as such. That will be our focus in the next post on this topic.

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