According to local pastor Wiley Drake, the 5.8 earthquake that hit Southern California on Tuesday was not just one of those typical seismic events that take place with some regularity in these parts, but it was “Another queer quake trying to get California’s attention.” Apparently, the Lord is mad about the legalization of gay marriage in the state. He can’t be that mad, given that the quake didn’t cause any death or much destruction, but Rev. Drake offers a warning: “We had better listen. 5.8 this time what is next!?”
Drake is something of a caricature of a religious right figure, so it’s not fair to depict his crude opposition to gay marriage as typical of that found in Orange County’s conservative evangelical communities, but ultimately most opponents of gay marriage rely on their Scriptural interpretations to justify it. Foes of gay marriage are backing a November initiative, Prop. 8, which would insert these words in the state constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.”
Evangelicals make various arguments against gay marriage and for the initiative. For instance, the pro-Prop.-8 Web site, “ProtectMarriage.com” argues that the court’s ruling “has far-reaching consequences.” Here are the consequences: “schools will now be required to teach students that gay marriage is the same as traditional marriage, starting with kindergarteners. By saying that a marriage is between ‘any two persons’ rather than between a man and a woman, the Court decision has opened the door to any kind of ‘marriage.’ This undermines the value of marriage altogether at a time when we should be restoring marriage, not undermining it.”
Those hardly sound like far-reaching problems that demand a constitutional change. The public schools already teach a great deal of buncombe, and few kids are likely to be permanently scarred by anything new they will be taught. What other kind of marriages will be allowed? Polygamy is bizarre, but already takes place ... and there’s no reason for the state to be involved in banning that. I doubt there will be any rush of people soon wanting to marry their labrador retrievers. And — most important — I don’t see how state sanction in any way restores or undermines marriage.
I’ve been married 25 years to the same lovely woman, and the relationship between, say, two gay men who might live next door has no impact whatsover on my marriage, my family, my relationships. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I believe marriage to be a sacrament — but it’s not my place to impose my religious views on others. I’m from the “it’s none of my business” school of thought when it comes to the relationships other adults choose to engage in. If, for instance, my priest announced that he would be holding gay marriages, then I’d have something to say about it. But that’s a purely sectarian affair. As conservative columnist Charley Reese pointed out, “[I]f the state recognizes a contract — which is all marriage amounts to, in secular terms — it by no means sanctifies anything. No one accuses the state of sanctifying sales contracts.”
The state is not a moral presence. The state enforces contracts, period. Churches should be the ones that determine the rules of marriage for its members. Reese echoes my thoughts exactly: “It is a confounded mystery to me why some people get all excited about homosexuals and lesbians getting married. As I’ve said before, if you are against gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay person.”
But the religious right sees this issue as a way to get the ground troops motivated for the political season. Most of the Christians I’ve argued with about this issue make strained arguments about gay marriage undermining societal values and other points similar to those made on the “protect marriage” Web site. But before long they always end up making religious points: homosexuality is a sin; the Bible condemns it. Those are legitimate religious views, but not relevant to public-policy discussions.
If we’re going to play that game, then instead of banning gay marriage, we ought to start by banning divorce. Jesus had absolutely nothing to say about homosexuality (even though the Old Testament condemned it, and the New Testament talked about sexual purity). He had a lot to say about divorce. In Luke 16:18 Jesus says, “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
I have no interest in a theological discussion of divorce here, either, given that the state, again, should have no role in such matters. But if one wants to make a big deal about homosexuality based on biblical precepts, why start with an unclear teaching when it would be easier to start with some clear commands. A Wall Street Journal article in April 2007 by David Instone-Brewer of the biblical publisher, Tyndale House, made this point: “Why are evangelicals so willing to accept divorce among their political leaders? It seems, increasingly, that political leaders look like evangelical church members. The divorce rate among evangelicals is actually as high as that of the general population.” Some studies put the evangelical divorce rate above the rate of divorce for atheists and agnostics.
My point: It’s the “Other People’s Sin” syndrome. It’s easy for the Christian Right to rail against homosexuality. Most of us are not interested in participating in such relationships, so it’s easy to rail against those who are. But few Christian leaders want to ban things that they and their congregants struggle with.
The best answer is to keep the state out of these personal decisions. Gay marriage will not destroy anyone’s family, and it’s certainly less destructive to individual families than rampant divorce. Now that gay marriage is legal in California (thanks to mostly Republican judges, by the way!), the seismic plates will not shift any more than they already are prone to shift.
Christian leaders should, by their personal lives and actions, show society how to live rather than by lobbying the government to pass more rules telling them how they must live. But it’s a lot tougher walking the walk than talking the talk.
x-posted from OrangePunch
By Steven Greenhut