Divorcing the Religious and the Secular Concepts of Marriage

Having just been asked to perform my second wedding ceremony (in my capacity as ordained minister), I feel it appropriate to comment on a topic making headlines across the past couple of days; I may be a little late coming to the party (Geoff over at Inkblots has already had his say), but I’ve decided to go ahead anyway.

Big headline in yesterday’s Post: “Sodomy Ruling Fuels Battle Over Gay Marriage.” Oh, where to start...

Well, first of all, I think we need to look at the poll results. Over time, folks’ views on gay rights have gradually softened, with more and more people favoring equal treatment of homosexuals. And then, all of a sudden, the Supreme Court makes a ruling overturning the Texas sodomy law — a ruling perfectly consistent with even the least degree of positive treatment of homosexuals — and the poll results show a radical turnaround in public opinion. Assuming the polls are accurate (and I know, that’s not a given, but I don’t have time to evaluate it now), the results demonstrate one thing, and one thing only.

People are stupid.

How else could you possibly explain such a ludicrously sudden shift in public opinion? People are so stupid that they’ll change their opinions based on somebody agreeing with them?

As to the issue at hand, though, I’m going to dispense with the religion angle right off the bat. Like it or not, private groups — and that’s just what churches are — have every right to make whatever decisions they want. For example, the AP ran an accompanying story (with the Post running its own today) about the Vatican’s campaign against gay marriage. Hey, as much as I’d like to see more open-mindedness within the church, how they view any of a range of issues within the church is up to them to decide. Now, I know, the articles in question aren’t really about the church’s opposition to gay marriage, but its campaign to influence lawmakers. Again, though, as much as I disagree with their position, they’re perfectly within their rights to promote it. Once they start threatening excommunication for those Catholic lawmakers who refuse to go along with their agenda — a step which they have never taken — then I’ll start criticizing their ethics, but for now, they’re at least behaving within acceptable codes of behavior (a little extreme, perhaps, but still acceptable).

Along those same lines, I’m also not going to debate the morality of homosexuality. Frankly, it’s an argument you can’t win, in no small part because there is no objective definition of morality — at least I’ve never seen one that was logically consistent. Those who think it’s immoral are going to go right on thinking that; nothing I say is going to change their minds. In point of fact, the most vehement objectors to homosexuality (or any of a number of other hot-button issues) object with no rational basis, which, frankly, is the only type of argument I’m any good at making.

So basically, there’s not much hope of my words — even were they to find a widespread audience — making one whit of difference. Still, I enjoy spouting off at those incapable of rational thought, so let’s just chalk this up to my own personal amusement, shall we?

For many — probably most — people, marriage is fundamentally a religious ceremony. But the problem we’re left with is that marriage is also — whether folks want to admit it or not — a civil ceremony. There are certain legal rights that confer to those who enter into it. Insurance, Social Security, hospital visitation, financial access, and so on. Whether or not those rights should be conferred solely on the basis of marriage is certainly open for debate, but if we accept that these rights are to be conferred upon these people, then a few other deductions follow.

There is certainly a lot of disagreement on this point (however misguided), but the truth is that our government is (at least in theory) independent of religion. In other words, our secular laws are not dictated by religious mandate. Does this mean that those who make our laws must completely remove any religious influence from their decisions? No, of course not. Nor does it mean that our government should in any way hinder religion — to the contrary, the role of government is to ensure (to the greatest degree possible) the ability for people to observe their religious beliefs. But the establishment of law is meant to follow from logical, rational need.

Unfortunately, there’s not really a supportable rational argument to be made in opposition to homosexual union. Let’s take a look at the arguments profferred.

One: Homosexuality is “not natural.” In other words, homosexuality is something not consistent with the natural order of things. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of scientific observation. Even in the laboratory, populations of rats have been observed to engage in homosexual behavior. Further, the behavior increases in frequency the greater the degree of overpopulation in the community. So unless we’re to start believing that these rats make an intelligent decision to behave the way they do, the most likely deduction is that nature is instituting a trigger (whether genetic or environmental) inducing the animals to engage in behavior which will (a) decrease the violence associated with sexual competition, particularly dangerous in overpopulated environments, and (b) decrease the rate of reproduction.

Two: The homosexual lifestyle is promiscuous, and therefore antithetical to marriage. Um, first of all, that’s a blanket assertion unsupported by available, observable evidence (at least in comparison to heterosexual behavior), and second, how can you criticize a lifestyle without the commitment of marriage without providing the possibility of that commitment? Circular logic if ever I’ve heard it.

Three: Homosexuality is related to incest and pedophilia. Patently ludicrous. There has never been any evidence to support the contention that homosexuals engage in deviant, harmful practices to any greater degree than heterosexuals. Pure rubbish.

Four: Allowing same-sex marriages will start us on the slippery slope of allowing other things. Will the loosening of restrictions on some victimless behaviors lead to similar loosening of those on others? Perhaps. So what? I’ve got news for you: Society’s mores change over time. Get used to it. Those making this argument create the impression that we’ll suddenly start allowing crimes with actual victims, but there’s a huge difference there: When you can produce a victim, you’ve got a pretty clear line you can show has been crossed. Are we suddenly going to start legalizing everything from drugs to prostitution? Eventually, maybe, but if history’s any indication, you’re not going to see a sudden opening of the floodgates.

And finally, five: Instituting homosexual marriage will destroy the integrity of the family unit. We’ve heard this argument for years, about any number of things. Whatever the conservatives want to keep down, on any given day, will “destroy the family.” Okay, this isn’t going to win me a lot of friends, but the notion of the “integrity of the family unit” is a myth. Hey, families are great — got one myself. But to claim that a two-parent, male/female situation is the only — or even overwhelmingly the best — environment in which to raise a family just isn’t supportable. But the argument is really a little more specific: The implication isn’t that their (i.e., the homosexual couple in question) family will be messed up, it’s that mine (conservative, heterosexual, white-bread) will be. Let’s all keep our heads in the sand, pretend nothing exists outside of our narrowly-focused definition of “normal,” and everything will go back to the way it was back in the 1950s. News flash: Things weren’t all that great back then either — most folks just didn’t know about it.

In other words, homosexuality — or any other behavior — isn’t destroying the “integrity of the family unit.” Information is. And that genie has long since been let out of the bottle. People are waking up and realizing that, as ideal as the traditional nuclear family may be, it ain’t perfect. The battered wife doesn’t have to stay in the marriage. The kids growing up in single family homes don’t have to be ostracized. Yeah, it means things are going to have to change.

And change is something the conservatives fear more than anything. That’s pretty much the definition of “conservative.”


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