Marriage Equality: “I Do” for Who?

I never cared about marriage equality; I rarely thought about marriage equality and I was ignorantly clear on my stance on marriage equality.  That is, until the 2006 national elections.  My opinions were impersonal, theoretical and cost me nothing.  Watching the election results with a friend as he cheered on the defeat of a version of marriage equality in 19 states started the shift in me.  He had ruined his own marriage of over twenty years, one faithful wife and three teenage children with his intentional adultery yet, he, in a smug glee, rejoiced at the voting results, “Good!  They are destroying the American family.”  “They”, of course, are homosexuals.

I tell the marvelous back story of a five year path to that point in a book  I am writing,but, the very short version is: for the first time, I cared about an opinion other than my own badly formed, emotionally/fear based, rhetoric repeating, party line dictated, church doctrine colored view of marriage equality.  I was utterly repulsed that someone so clearly at fault for the ruin of his own marriage and family would lay the blame on the homosexual community.

It was the first time I felt deep and painful empathy and a sense of injustice towards  GLBT people.  And, I have considered that sentence stated as if it were axiomatic truth by my friend and repeated by others:  “The homosexuals are destroying the American family.”   I have heard it, I have read it, I have seen commercials attesting to the undeniable certainty of it and I’ve watched the voting state after state.  The accusation never made sense and I have wondered:  is it true?  Does the desire of GLBT couples for marriage equality in any way destroy the concept of heterosexual marriage or weaken marriage and the family?  I recently decided to read, think and study this question from both sides politically, socially and also in terms of my faith belief system.  These are the conclusions to which I have come.

In 1993, the Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled in Baehr v. Miike that the state must show compelling interest in prohibiting same sex marriage.  In fearful reaction to the concern that same sex marriage might be recognized in Hawaii, Georgia Rep. Bob Barr authored the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  This would free states from the obligation to recognize the marriage of same sex couples performed in other states. It was overwhelmingly and quickly approved in the House and Senate and signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996.  DOMA states that marriage is between a man and a woman only. The Republican Party endorsed it as part of their platform; the Democrats did not mention it in their platform.  I found this interesting assessment of DOMA by one of my favorite NY Times editorialists, Nicholas Kristof:  DOMA was “written by a thrice married Representative Bob Barr and signed by a philandering Bill Clinton. It’s less a monument to fidelity than to hypocrisy.”

The Republican Party has a statement in its platform to go further than DOMA and to seek a constitutional amendment to define marriage as “one man and one woman”.  The Tea Party, a grassroots/astroturfing movement, overwhelmingly (82%) opposes marriage equality.  Additionally, the privately funded non-prof group, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) was formed in 2007 to “protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it” and to provide organized opposition to same-sex marriage in state legislatures.

So all this begs the questioning.  Is the real intent of DOMA, along with other organizations, political groups and some faith based initiatives that desire to seek a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to “one man, one woman” to protect marriage?  How are they protecting marriage?  Are their concerns valid? Or, is it all propaganda based in fear.

Positional views from the NOM website:

  • “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose; they don’t have a right to redefine marriage for all of us.”
  • Avoid the term “Ban same sex marriage” at all costs; it will lose ten percentage points in the polls and in voting.
  • A marriage amendment is needed in the constitution to settle the issue in the various states so that repeated voting on this can be halted/stalled.
  • Marriage reduces the risk of poverty to children.
  • Fatherless households increase crime.
  • Married people live longer and healthier lives.
  • Living together is not the same as marriage.
  • Parents that do not stay together put their children’s education at risk.
  • When marriage fails, so does the tie between parent and child.
  • Marriage anytime, anyplace on the planet is between men and  women.
  • Same sex marriage forces people to dramatically change their definition of marriage.
  • If same sex marriage is allowed, the law will teach children that there is nothing special about a mother and a father raising children together and anyone who thinks otherwise will be called a bigot.
  • Polygamy may be next: ”once you rip a ship off it’s mooring, who know where it will go next?”
  • Tax-exempt status and accreditation of churches who do not comply with performing same sex marriages will be at risk.

Hmmm . . . why do I see fear and manipulation in many of these statements? Where the benefits of mother and father in the family are touted, can the benefit be ascribed to any two parent family or must it be a mother and a father? Now as a Christian, the fear based stuff and the twisting of information,  that really bothers me.  If fear is in the equation, where is the love? Not okay with me.  Fear based messages should actually not be okay with any Jesus follower.

Looking back at some of NOM’s points with my input:

  • Do not let the other side position the conversation around equality, but rather keep the issue as the definition of marriage.  This unsettles me. Don’t let the topic be equality, keep the conversation on the institution of marriage or the voter base/margin will decrease by ten points. I struggle with this technique as a Christian, as a person of integrity and as a person living in a democracy.
  • Two income/two parent families indeed are a better insurance against poverty for children. I agree. Do the two incomes need be earned by opposite sexes to stave off poverty?
  • Is it fatherlesshomes in which children suffer the increased chance of lives of crime, or is the problem one overburdened parent that cannot give a child the time that child needs? Can the other parent be same sexed or can this only be accomplished by heterosexual couples?  Many studies are now coming out that show the emotional stability of children in homes of two same sex parents is the same as the emotional stability of children in homes with a father and a mother.
  • If married people live longer, healthier lives, why not let GLBT people enjoy the same benefit of longer, healthier lives that marriage affords?
  • Living together is NOT the same as marriage, absolutely true.  GLBT will cohabitate with little alternative available; it is the only option they now have.
  • The definition of marriage as between two people would remove the barrier from same sex couples  and it does not radically alter the current concept.  It would still be two people who love and are committed to one another in a legal contract with the sexes of the parties undefined.
  • Will people really be called “bigots” if they chose to parent as father and mother, come on, really?
  • GLBT people do not want to marry many people; they want equal rights, not special rights.  Enough of this polygamy, pederasty, bestiality diversion.
  • Churches can currently refuse to marry heterosexual couples if they opt to do so, no change there. Many churches currently will not perform weddings of divorced people or do interdenominational unions.

So, is NOM’s list really the most compelling information that we socially and politically have?  Because, it sure will not convince me, especially when I have the personal experience of knowing hundreds of same sex unions and same sex parent families. I need to ask again: is this really about keeping marriages and families strong or is it an anti-gay message in wedding bell wrapping paper sitting aside a tiered cake with a bride and groom?  Looks lovely and altruistic, but, it is injustice, bigotry and discrimintion.  I actually see proof that same sex marriage with the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage, rather than cohabitations/unions  is more advantageous to society, to children of GLBT couples, to the partners in relationship .

If we as a society want to decrease cohabitation and increase the frequency of and stabilize the institution of marriage, why not let same sex couples marry? No law, no act will stop the cohabitation of GLBT couples. When you normalize cohabitation across the board, guess what?  Marriage is undermined  for heterosexual couples too.  Cohabitation increased 72% in the 1990′s.  Co-habitation, civil unions and domestic partnerships do not bring the same benefits and responsibilities that marriage does.  There are 1,138 benefits within the law  and marriage that heterosexual couples enjoy which do not extends to cohabitating same sex couples. No way, you may say.  Still think civil unions  = cohabitation = marriage?  Let me strip you of your married legal rights, all 1,138 of them, one by one.

Independent of  GLBT couples, heterosexual couples have a tough time staying married. Marriage is definitely in trouble.  Currently, 40% of all marriages end in divorce and the average length of a first marriage is eight years.  An amendment to the constitution defining marriage as “one man and one woman” will not protect the union of heterosexual couples.  All the fear based propaganda published by NOM and other anti-marriage equality organizations do not convince me that the moral fiber and ethics of this country will dissolve when we allow two same sexed people that love each other to make formal, legal commitment of benefit and responsibility.  The number of marriages will go up, cohabitations will decrease, more children will have two parents and live in two income families and more people will be given the opportunity to live happier and healthier lives.

The political/social aspect is only part of the decision for me. Yes, I am a devoted Jesus-follower and I am also aware that I live in a country that is not a theocracy.  I do not get to dictate my moral faith-based beliefs on anyone. This is a democracy (okay, it is actually a republic) where we are obliged to respect and acknowledge the rights of others.  Withholding the equal rights of others is a far bigger moral and ethical compromise than is redefining marriage. I see nowhere in my Bible where I get to impose my moral biases on any other people especially those not in the faith. And, only 40% or marriages are being performed in churches, synagogues or mosques; we don’t get to tell the other 60% what we think they should be doing.  I just get to live my faith out loud and draw people to God while serving them and Him.  And, if you are a Christian, you cannot deny the equal rights and standing of others, all others, in a the eyes of God either.  So, are your Bibles and fists shaking in my direction yet?

Here is a caveat that will save me nastigrams and some from popping blood vessels. If you are a fellow Christian and you hold one of these views:

  • Women are not to be leaders/teachers/pastors
  • Divorce is only allowable on the condition of infidelity
  • Being gay is a choice then, in all likelihood, we will probably not see eye-to-eye on the issue of marriage equality under Biblical scrutiny either. Save yourself the internal crazies.  You are operating under a different interpretation of the revelation of Jesus than the revelation of God’s Son to me. It took the Holy Spirit 8 years to shift me in my  blind opinion from the Word on this issue.  Your views may well be different. Revelation is personal, so let’s just agree to honor one another and live in peace.  I have a serving, merciful, compassionate Jesus model.  I am not an Old Testament damnation quoter;  I totally dig Jesus Christ the Liberator.

As a Christian for over 27 years, I need to look at marriage equality from my theology, as well from a political and social point of view.  There are many things others can legally do and do do that I am not able to validate for myself. So, in those situations, I look to  the written Word of God, the  Holy Spirit and at the example of Jesus for guidance.  So, what is the Biblical position of marriage?  It is between a man and a woman. No doubt that the Bible does show that from Genesis through the New Testament.  Two people become one flesh, till death do they part.  That paradigm is usually called the “Biblical model”.  Well, not so fast, is it the “Biblical model”?  The Biblical model for marriage is polygamy in much of the text and God Himself gives some people their many wives. And ,only in the New Testament are church leaders told to have one wife.  Others will  contend  that the “Biblical model”  of one man, one woman has “always been, everywhere on the planet in all belief systems” (NOM) —is that true?  Well, 980 of the 1,154 past or present societies that we have records on were polygamist cultures.  The one man, one woman dictate is not as universal as I once thought.  It is certainly not in all cultures, in all times and in all belief systems as we are consistently told. Saying something enough over and over will not make it the truth.

The Bible clearly instructs us in the manner in which to treat all people and gives additional instruction on the husband/wife covenant.  There are strict conditions in the Word of God that do protect marriages from flagrant divorce.  These limitations can help keep marriages intact and make the divorce option more difficult.  Maybe we can use these warnings to protect marriage?

  • Matthew 5:32  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Jesus)  Bottomline–if a divorce results from anything except infidelity, the ex-wife is now an adulteress and the man that marries her is an adulterer.
  • Luke 16:18  Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  (Jesus) Bottomline–a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman is an adulterer and a man that marries a divorced woman is an adulterer.
  • Romans 7:32 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if herhusband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. (Paul) Bottomline–a woman is free to marry another man after her husband dies.
  • I Corinthians 7:27   Are you married? Do not seek a divorce.  (Paul) Bottomline–don’t get divorced.
  • I Corinthians 7:10-17  To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (Paul) Bottomline:  wives are not to separate from their husbands and is she does, she may not remarry.  Husbands are not to divorce their wives. Don’t divorce a spouse for unbelief. If an unbelieving spouse leaves you, you are free to marry.
  • Malachi 2:16  I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment, says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. (Malachi) Bottomline:  God hates divorces.

It would seem logical that Christians should be looking at the above verses to guide them in protecting marriage from destruction. Maybe a divorce ban?   Biblical “adultery” is not the same as modern lingo “adultery”.  To us today, adultery means being unfaithful once you are married.  That is too narrow a definition if you read the above verses however.  A person can be remarried, be faithful to the new spouse and still be considered an adulterer. What?! The Biblical term “adulterer” is dependent on how you or your spouse left the prior marriage. Specifically, if marriage #1 ends on any terms other than infidelity and you remarry, both you and your new spouse are adulterers.   You know those GLBT people that “will not inherit the kingdom of God” in I Corinthians 6: 9-11?  Well, join hands with them and sing “Kumbaya” because guess who else is in that list? Adulterers. Biblical “adulterer” is not prayed away, forgiven yes, but whited out of your resume? No.

This all presents a nasty, knotted problem for the straight Christian community that is 40% divorced.  If a straight Christian makes a choice to leave a marriage when the issue is other than infidelity , then

technically, under I Corinthians 6, they now cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Pretty brutal. How about those other co-listers, the GLBT people for which no choice for orientation was even involved? Really brutal. (The word translated as “homosexual” always refers to one of these situations: rape, violence, prostitution or an act engaged in in idol worship.  And, if by some chance you are one of those that believe being gay is a choice, I need to just say that is pure ignorance. You have not listened to GLBT people who live this day to day.  You are imposing your own biased views on their reality.  People are born gay. Period. Dot.)

How has the modern church handled the issues of divorce/adultery? Have we used the Biblical limitations as our “protect the marriage” doctrine?  I was sitting in church two Sundays ago looking around at the marrieds and singles.  How much of my home congregation had left marriages under conditions that would now render them as “adulterer”? And hence, bestowed the title of “adulterer” on their spouse?  ( My personal disclaimer here.  I was married one time for twenty years to a man who was unfaithful to me, so “technically”/Biblically, I am not an adulteress and a man that marries me won’t catch adultery from me either.)  But, how about the 40% sitting in the Congregation of the Lord?  This is an in-house nightmare if we choose to hold black and white words on a page in seven sections of the Bible over people.  A real problem.

How do I, as a Jesus person, resolve all this tangly stuff in my head? A tension goes on in me amongst the Jesus example, the Spirit and the Word.  If I don’t know for certain how to operate in the things of which I am not sure, I then must be guided by what I am sure of.  So, what I see in the black and white of the Word is a whole bunch of heavy handed judgment on complicated divorces around me. Can’t deny what these seven verses say.  Absolutely black and white in text.  I am surrounded by adulterers that will not see the kingdom of God if I hold as sacred and final the above verses.

What about really bad choices, what about people living in misery just to stay married, what about homes filled with anger and children watching?  What about marriage to addicts and abusers and deceivers?  What would Jesus do?  Jesus would say He preferred commitment and fidelity and honesty and integrity above all.  The rabbis of Jesus’ day asked Him about divorce to trick Him and to see how tightly Jesus would adhere to the Torah.  The subject of divorce had been a huge struggle since Deuteronomy and it still is today.  How are women to be treated; how are  people to be treated? The writ of divorce was about restoring integrity and honor to a woman.  Jesus took the way of grace in His answer to the teachers of the Law.  He could have taken the heavy handed way and did not.  Listen to an excellent sermon entitled “Jesus and Divorce” on this by Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church, Grand Rapids, MI, (one of my favorite preachers). Jesus knew the story was bigger than the black and white text of the Torah.  He knew that even when you sent someone away with the title of “adulterer”, they still deserved a writ of divorce and dignity, humanity and peace. That is Jesus as revealed to me; that is the Lord I follow.  That is the Lord I love.  That is the Lord that I want to emulate in my treatment of others.  The Lord Who takes the way of dignity, grace, peace.  The One who stands with the oppressed, the victim, the powerless one.  That is my Jesus.  He forgives, accepts our human situation of choices and circumstances, sympathize that we have spouses that act less than honorably.  He is the One who loves people more than the Law. We have these rules in place to “protect” marriage and limit divorce, but we are not held to the verses as bondages in a life  of misery or in a bad marriage. Nor are we sentenced to the loneliness of a single future.  Aren’t you glad? Isn’t the 40% of unsuccessful heterosexual marriage partners glad?

And, why is this the humane, Jesus way?  Because He knows there are life circumstances that we cannot control. He knows we are better off in loving relationships than in loneliness.  I think the attitude in most modern churches towards those that divorce is the Jesus way.  Sure, some people abuse it. Duh.  But to hold the “rules” on divorced people to never remarry and demand that they remain celibate borders on cruel. And why?  We each have a deeply rooted desire and need to be in close relationships.  We grow and thrive in intimate, supportive unions. We are happier, healthier, more financially secure, have support systems in place when crisis happens, our kids may even have two (or three, or four) parents. Now that you are feeling like “Yes, that is why we extend the more compassionate way of Jesus in these less than perfect situations that involved people and human circumstances in divorce” —okay—now, what about GLBT people?  How can we reposition all the Malachi, Jesus and Paul black and white verses in our compassionate approach towards divorce and life circumstances for heterosexual people and then not extend the same compassionate attitudes  towards GLBT people?  Being born gay is most certainly a life circumstance far beyond making a bad marital choice.  At least the heterosexual in a less-than-wonderful marriage made a choice at some juncture;  homosexual people do not get to choose their orientation.  Again, period. Dot.

Many of my other posts in my blogsite deal with the specific verses in discussion of homosexuality and the Bible.  Please read my those.  I do not think gay people make a choice for their orientation. I do not believe being born homosexual is a sin. I do not believe committed, monogamous same sex relationships are outside the will of God. I am very concerned ,as a Jesus follower, when people use God-talk to oppress others and then stand behind the person of Jesus as if He were their approving team mascot giving the thumbs up to their discrimination and domination.

 It is never comfortable and it is usually fearful to look at our theological beliefs in a modern culture and in light of new scientific evidences. We may feel as though we are guilty of “greasy grace” or we might even feel as if we are betraying God.  God does not change, but we humans are intensely guilty of interpretations and translations made and seen through our own very limited, very self-focused me-lenses. That is understandable. Our Christian ancestors in the United States validated slavery and discrimination against people of color using several parts of the Bible.  We know the same discrimination has been inflicted on women. And, this is still being done to the GLBT community.  Our understanding socially, psychologically, scientifically, and spiritually of the GLBT community has changed since the 1960’s when the Bible underwent a tragically biased translational shifts.  If we even suggest looking at the verses we think we understand with regards to marriage and homosexuality, traditionalists will cry “heretic”. They did it in the first century church; they did it in the Reformation; they will do it now.

The Bible is the living Word of God. When we say we “know” it and God and remain in that comfort zone of “I have all the answers”, we may well be stifling the Holy Spirit. And you know what?  Is  God so powerless or insecure that He cannot handle these questions?  We love to say in the church that if something is of God, it will flourish.  If being open to the GLBT community in faith equality and marriage equality is not of God, it will be shown as not of God.  We’ve let our fears control us.  We innately know as Christians that the Bible really does say we are all equal in His eyes, but we let our biases and fears control us. Our treatment of other  is often a bad reflection of Jesus. The world is not liking us or Him very much.  Ditch the “they hated Him first” mantra; we behave like arrogant, smug, righteous jerks and that is why the world does not like us or the Savior we represent.

 Isn’t it time to operate on what we do know?  What would Jesus do?  Fifty years ago, when my Mother was left with three children under 6 by an adulterous husband, she was marked with the scarlet D for divorced.  She was excommunicated;  we, as children, were shunned from attending the parish school as well.  This was all justifiable behavior by a holy and righteous stance on the Word of God , church doctrine and the seven verses on divorce.  The destruction caused by those seven verses being heavy handedly applied to my family caused me to walk away  from until I was almost thirty; both of my brothers to turn completely from God. My Mom only established a relationship with God five years ago having seen a reflection of Jesus in me, she says.  And today, that would rarely happen.  Who are we keeping at bay now in the the GLBT population?  In fifty years, this may well be a non-issue.  Who gets sacrificed in the meantime? What family members of GLBT people will also walk away from God because we are anti-gay.  I have done this work for over five years.  Rarely is any sugar-coated utterance validating discrimination anything but discrimination.

 The Jesus I embrace hung out with the oppressed, not the in-control money and  rules people. He preached at the rule makers and Torah thumpers.  Today it would be: “We can’t let those gay people come in and mess up our marriages, our churches!”  The frist century believers battled the same story, different characters with the Gentile dogs that Jesus also came to rescue.  You do not need to know Greek and Hebrew to know that Jesus always modeled the loving way in His treatment of  people. Is withholding equality from people loving? Is condemning people to a life without sanctioned, validated relationships loving?  Marriage is not just two bodies coming together. It is two lives.  Those two lives are to reflect His love in a world that really could use a few more solid examples of love. I see that Jesus/God love in the committed relationships of my GLBT Christian friends. Look at them in every paragraph of this post. And, I do get have this opinion, these are my friends; I know them.

If we do the very scary thing and extend equality to GLBT couples, what could happen?  Will it really destroy marriage or might we be stabilizing our own society by validating the equality of a minority, the oppressed. 1138 inequalities denied to a GLBT couple that are extended to a married heterosexual couple. That is discrimination.  So what if it is scary? God can handle it. This is coming. NOM won’t stop it, a political party won’t stop it and the Christian church won’t stop it. Opponents are for the most part dying out. Do you want to be part of the liberating forces for justice or part of the discriminating forces of domination?

I read “True Believers” (1951) by Eric Hoffer recently. He says “mass movements can rise and spread without belief ina god, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil”.  We had the communists and now we have GLBT’s and immigrants with the Muslims on the near horizon.  Jesus people do not need a devil, they have love.

We have let our fears and other interest groups manipulate us by making the GLBT community our devils. They are just small enough in number (5%) that we can point at them and lay all the ills of our failures on their backs. We heterosexuals are failing at loving and honoring one another in marriage yet, that is the fault of the gay community?—they are destroying the American family? Churches and political parties galvanize support to their causes when they demonize GLBT people. There is nothing that works quite so well as a common target to hate.

The way of Jesus is that ALL people are valuable and equal. Isaiah 58 is a mission statement for me. I want to be one of the first people of God who stands on Isaiah 58 and says “you are all valued, equal and beautiful in the eyes of God.”

To paraphrase:

God tell Isaiah to shout and not hold back, tell the people about their rebellion.  The religious people seek out God with eagerness and external piety.  They think they do what is right as they exact conformity to their rules, service, worship and disciplines. And then, they wonder why God is not near to them as they strike out at others with  their wicked actions. “Where are you God, they ask?’  He responds, “You do what you think is right to serve me. I have asked you to cut the chains of injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter and clothe the poor then,” God says, “I will heal and protect you. When you stop pointing in judgment at others and oppressing them, but rather spend yourself on serving them, then I will guide you, satisfy you and strengthen you.”

Same sex marriages will not destroy already-flawed heterosexual marriages but, allowing same sex marriage will increase the stabilizing effect of marriages in general.  And, the Jesus question?  He came to cut the cords of injustice everywhere.  Everywhere for all people.  I will go with what I do know every time and that is love and equality, mercy and justice.  As an American, I support marriage equality.  As a registered Republican (yes, really, since 18), I support marriage equality. As a mother of two heterosexual young adults and as a straight woman, I support marriage equality. As a Christian and follower of the Man of Love, the One Who liberates, the Lord Who does not discriminate, the Savior Who says “whosoever”, I support fully, marriage equality.

Blessings, peace and wisdom to you, Kathy












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