Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Does Same-Sex Marriage Radically Undermine the Institution of Marriage?

As I pointed out in my last post, last week I commented on a discussion about the use and misuse of the term “homophobia” on J.R. Daniel Kirk’s blog, Storied Theology. I'd like to recap one of the conversations I was drawn into there, and then extend my thinking in connection with that conversation.

As part of the exchange that followed my original comment, another commenter named Alastair offered several responses to my contention that excluding gays and lesbians from access to marriage marginalizes them. In his first response, he argued that denying same-sex couples marriage rights does not marginalize them because the institution of marriage would be undermined if they were included within its scope. In my subsequent reply, I noted that this argument, whatever its merits, did not show that gays and lesbians aren’t marginalized. Rather, it was an attempt to justify that marginalization. I went on to claim that, in assessing such a justification, we needed to attend compassionately to how this marginalization affects gays and lesbians.

Alistair’s response was lengthy and focused on two things: first, what he took to be the nature of marriage; second, what he thought about the relevance of paying attention to how exclusion from marriage affects gays and lesbians. Since what I want to do here is respond with some care to these remarks, I've decided to reproduce them in full. Here, then, is what Alistair has to say:

I think that the basic error here is thinking that marriage primarily exists to rubberstamp a close personal relationship between two individuals. I don’t want to diminish the importance of ‘pair-bonds’, but nor do I want to diminish the cultural significance of marriage, and gay marriage does that.

Marriage upholds a certain form of ‘relational grammar’ that preserves and fosters a number of relationships, not merely that between two individuals who love each other very much. The idea that marriage could be reduced to this troubles me greatly. Obviously marriage is not merely, or primarily, about sex. Nor need marriage involve procreation for it to be marriage. A particular relationship need not express the entire grammar of the institution for it to be a genuine marriage. The problem is that gay marriage completely rewrites the grammar of the relationship, in a manner that leaves a number of the bonds that marriage exists to protect vulnerable.

I would question the appropriateness of the word ‘marginalization’ in this context. It is a term that is generally used to portray society’s privileging of marriage as if it were an arbitrary celebration of heterosexual people over gay people. As a single person I may feel ‘marginalized’ by the significance that marriage is given, but I know that the institution does not exist to marginalize me, but to protect and uphold certain bonds that are good for society in general. Although as a single person I can do much for society, I cannot do what marriage does. The fact that I do not enjoy its status and privileges is entirely equitable; to frame this in terms of ‘marginalization’ is to present the issue in a very biased light.

The ‘marginalization’ here ultimately comes down to the fact that society’s great project of moving from one generation to the next is one in which nature has not equipped homosexual pair-bonds to participate in in the same way as heterosexual pair bonds. People often fail to see just how much the redefinition of the grammar of marriage to include gay pair-bonds would lead to the marginalization of the concerns of children from the institution.

Gays aren’t ‘excluded’ from marriage, as if there were some arbitrary restriction holding them back. A gay marriage is simply an impossible entity, so we don’t recognize them. If gays were excluded from marriage when their ‘pair-bonds’ could serve society in exactly the same way as heterosexual marriages we could fairly talk about ‘exclusion’, but they can’t and so I think that this is just a matter of coming to terms with reality.

There is a certain degree of social impotence that comes with certain territory. Children are the future and those in committed reproductive relationships will always have great power for this reason. The bonds of blood are strong, and those who work according to them will often be more influential in the long term. Single people, married people without children, people in committed gay relationships, and those who lack the stronger institutional bonds to their children that marriage provides, will always be at some measure of a disadvantage. This situation won’t be changed until government assumes the responsibility for the task of child-rearing, or something like that.

If we were arguing for a sui generis institution that recognized gay pair-bonds, a more realistic debate could be had. The problem is that if we were to recognize gay pair-bonds on their own terms, they would still probably not be viewed as equivalent to marriage bonds.

You claim that the ‘status’ of their pair bonds are ‘rejected’. The status of civil union, including most or all of the privileges of marriage status – save for the name – are given to gay pair-bonds in many jurisdictions. The key thing that is rejected is the claim of their unions to the title of ‘marriage’, which would grant equivalency. However, the claim to this ‘status’ is consistently asserted and never really demonstrated.

You write: “Is it ultimately a convincing argument? Here, again, is where I think it is important to keep in mind the two loci of moral debate. The argument you advance places a moral premium on the reproductive potential of a pair bond. How morally significant is the honoring of that potential with a unique social institution? How does that weigh against the moral case against marginalizing a minority group in ways that, in my judgment based on listening compassionately to my gay and lesbian neighbors, is deeply damaging to their lives? One thing is clear: We cannot answer this question unless we really listen–broadly, deeply, and empathetically–to the diverse life stories of gays and lesbians. Hopefully, at least, we can agree on that.”

First, a clarification. The moral premium is not placed upon the ‘reproductive potential of a pair bond,’ if by that we are talking about particular relationships. The moral premium is rather placed upon an institution that protects and encourages the bonds of blood, the relationship between the sexes, and the relationship between the generations. The moral premium is placed upon an institution that is ordered towards procreation (upon a form of pair bond that has the intrinsic potential to become more than a pair bond) and the needs of children.

The relationships between men and women, between the generations, between the child and their parents, and the relationships of blood impact on all of our lives profoundly. The idea that we should consider redefining an institution designed to protect these to make a particular minority feel more accepted is incredibly reckless, especially when the breakdown of the bonds maintained by a strong marriage culture would be profoundly damaging to everyone, and not just in terms of our feelings of well-being.

There is a time for sympathetic listening. However, there are such things as non-negotiables, matters on which we cannot compromise without the sacrifice of truth. Ultimately, I don’t think that any of the concerns, stories, and issues of the gay community has any bearing on the question of whether their committed unions should be recognized as ‘marriages’. That question boils down to the fact that gay pair-bonds and heterosexual pair-bonds are categorically different in character. No amount of empathetic listening will change the coordinates of the situation in that regard. The listening is, of course, crucial, but it must be undertaken within a situation where the constraints of reality are openly acknowledged, rather than wished away, or fought against.

The problem with all of this ‘sympathy’ talk is that much of the time it boils down to little more than a dissembling euphemism for the rejection of the biblical pattern of truth and love, for the contemporary counterfeit of ‘tolerance’. Tolerance cannot be forthright with its neighbour because it is more concerned with being inoffensive than it is with being truthful in love. This is an issue on which there is a genuine offence and we should not disguise the fact, or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Much as we would like to seem sympathetic of the concerns of the gay community, we must honestly recognize that there are issues on which we must oppose them, and the account of reality presented by much of the gay rights movement. In my experience, many of those who stress that sympathetic listening has a bearing on the fairly clear issues, such as the differences between gay pair bonds and heterosexual pair bonds, are the people who never end up saying anything.

We should also not forget that sympathy can be a profoundly dangerous thing if not handled correctly. The great leaders of the Bible were generally marked out by their ability to act without sympathy when the occasion called. The moral leaders that God appointed for his people were people like Moses, who slew the Egyptian, like the Levites, who killed 3,000 of their brethren, like Phineas, who thrust a spear through a couple, like Samuel, who hacked Agag in pieces, like Nehemiah, who cursed, struck, and pulled out the hair of people, like Peter, who could condemn Ananias and Sapphira to their deaths, like Paul, who could curse opponents like Elymas, etc. The bad leaders in Scripture are often condemned for their sympathy, for having their hearts led astray by sympathy for others, which prevented them from speaking truth and justice (e.g. Eli’s sympathy for his sons, Solomon’s love for his wives, Ahaziah’s love for his mother, the Corinthians’ failure to exercise church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5, etc.).

Since I was too busy grading to respond promptly to this lengthy post, I didn’t get around to formulating my comments until this morning. And since my comments are themselves lengthy—and since the activity on the original post has died down in any event—I thought it more fitting to post my remarks here (with a link over at Storied Theology), where my own dear faithful readers are more likely to see it and offer their thoughts. Here, then, is my response:

First of all, let me say that I am in general suspicious of theories that have implications for public policy decisions but which, if embraced, render irrelevant the lessons gleaned from compassionate attention to the impact on those who are powerfully affected by the policy decisions. It certainly sounds as if Alastair is saying that, given his theory of marriage, it doesn’t matter what lessons emerge from compassionate attention to the lived experiences of gays and lesbians. The public policy of excluding them from participation in marriage just is correct because of what (according to this theory) marriage is, even should it prove that this public policy has ruinous implications for the lives of gays and lesbians. A theory which so neatly sets aside the relevance of compassionate listening is, for me, presumptively suspect.

(As to Alastair’s biblical case against what he calls “sympathy”—which, by the way, may not be the same as empathetic and compassionate listening—I must say that I have so little, erm, sympathy for it that I think it’s best just to remain mostly silent on the matter. Thus I limit myself to the following parenthetical remark: the kind of biblical thinking exemplified here is what leads me to regard stringent views of biblical authority as potentially very dangerous. Those who want to know more about my thinking can look at Chapter 3 of Is God a Delusion?, especially pp 62-63 and pp. 68-71).

But all of this amounts to an indirect objection to Alastair’s theory of marriage (a theory which has also been defended by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Margaret Somerville, the editors of Commonweal, and many others). In addition to my indirect concerns, I have more direct objections. First, it seems as if Alastair is setting up a false dilemma: Either marriage “exists to rubberstamp a close personal relationship between two individuals” (let’s call this the “rubberstamping view” of marriage); or it is about designating a social institution for the purpose of singling out the reproductive “kind” of pair-bond for a distinctive place of honor so as to secure certain goods (“the bonds of blood, the relationship between the sexes, and the relationship between the generations”) that would otherwise (for some reason) be rendered “vulnerable.” Let’s call this the “reproductive view.”

My own view is neither of these—and as such, the implied argument that rejecting the reproductive view forces us to embrace the rubberstamping view doesn’t carry much weight. Since false dilemmas of this sort are common (Alistair is not unique in his invocation of it), I think it is worth devoting some attention to a third alternative, which happens to be my own view of marriage. My view is that marriage, while a complex institution embodying an array of functions, is centrally an institution in which a love relationship initially born out of the affective fruits of pair-bonding (caring and intimate feelings we usually think of under the rubric of “romantic love”) is transformed into a covenantal relationship in which marital vows establish a commitment that transcends the essentially fleeting character of romantic feeling.

The covenant of marriage, as I understand it, aims both to preserve benevolent mutual care through the loss of romantic feelings and to establish a commitment to nurturing and restoring these feelings when they inevitably fade. Romantic feelings are a natural impulse towards intimacy, benevolent care, and commitment. The marital relationship takes the last of these impulses—the impulse towards commitment—and formalizes that commitment so as to create a framework within which the pair ideally learns (i) how to practice intimacy and benevolence even when supportive feelings are absent, and (ii) how to nurture the supportive feelings. In brief, the marital bond becomes a crucible within which love is taught. More precisely, it provides a context in which pair-bonded couples can use their mutual feelings of love as a basis for cultivating a more profound kind of love conceived as a virtue. And the lessons about love that are taught within the framework of marriage ideally carry over into other relationships.

Let’s call this the “covenantal view” of marriage. It is the view of marriage most clearly or obviously presupposed in traditional marriage ceremonies, which include vows of fidelity and life-long commitment (“for better or worse, in sickness and in health”). In fact, not only is the covenantal view of marriage more obviously present in traditional wedding ceremonies and marital vows, but the reproductive view is notably absent. But that is not to say that reproduction is not featured significantly in the complex phenomenon we call marriage. It clearly is. Marriage encompasses numerous characteristics: romantic and sexual intimacy, friendship, life partnership, mutual support and care, fidelity, the establishment and maintenance of a single household, the “joining” (however pro forma) of previously separate extended families, the making of babies, the raising of babies (and subsequently trying to "guide" sassy teens into adulthood), shared responsibility for joint projects and tasks, etc.

Not all of these are necessary for a marriage to exist (two orphans can still marry, even if two extended families aren’t thereby brought together), and some features operate as mere ideals to be approximated (mutual support is always a matter of degrees).

This complexity is a point Alastair seems to recognize when he says, “Nor need marriage involve procreation for it to be marriage. A particular relationship need not express the entire grammar of the institution for it to be a genuine marriage.” In this comment, Alastair concedes that procreation is not essential to marriage—that a marriage can be a marriage even if the couple fails to (or cannot) procreate. We agree on this and on the complexity of the institution. The latter leads me to think that marriage is best understood as a “family resemblance” concept in Wittgenstein’s sense—where, rather than the term’s proper use being given by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, it is given by participation in some subset of an array of recurring characteristics. On this view, my preferred understanding of marriage--the covenantal view--is not a definitive account of the necessary and sufficient conditions for marriage, but a portrait of what I find most compelling among the range of complex properties that actual marriages embody to varying degrees.

As such, marriage may also be an essentially contested concept in W.B. Gallie’s sense, insofar as there is normative value attached to the idea of marriage. This idea of essential constestability is one I have explained at length elsewhere on this blog as a way of undestanding the concept of religion. What I'll say here is that with such concepts, contestability arises because there is enduring disagreement about which features of the complex paradigms warrant the positive or negative normative appraisal that goes with the use of the term--and "fixing in place" a single definition would therefore amount to silencing certain moral perspectives through a sort of "definitional fiat."

If I'm right that “marriage” is a family resemblance term or an essentially contested one, then it does not possess just one “definition” that every true marriage must conform to—and so Alistair’s arguments to the effect that same-sex marriage just can’t be marriage defies the complex ways in which the term actually functions. It seems to impose on the use of the term a rigid meaning that is not true to the term’s actual usage. As such, I would argue that Alastair is “rewriting the grammar” of marriage.

But even if Alastair rejects these approaches to understanding the “grammar of marriage,” I don’t see how he can insist that “gay marriage completely rewrites the grammar of the relationship.” Even if “marriage” is not an essentially contested or family-resemblance concept, insofar as Alastair admits that marriage is characterized by a complex set of features and concedes that reproduction is not necessary for a marriage to be a marriage, the fact that gay couples can embody virtually everything that a sterile heterosexual couple can embody (including child-rearing) from among the complex features that characterizes the institution seems to undercut the credibility of the claim that extending marriage to same-sex couples “completely rewrites the grammar of the relationship.” How is it that extending marriage rights to gays does more to rewrite the grammar of the relationship than the existing practice of extending marriage to a couple known to be sterile?

Perhaps some clue to an answer is found in the details of the reproductive view of marriage—which, as Alastair expresses it, includes “the bonds of blood, the relationship between the sexes, and the relationship between the generations.” This is pretty vague, especially given the concession that a marriage can be authentic even if the couple fails to reproduce and so remains a single-generation pair-bond between biologically unrelated adults. What does it mean to say that an institution is in some fundamental way about the bonds of blood and the relationship between the generations when that institution legitimately extends to couples who share no bonds of blood and produce no children biologically related to them? More to the point, if it can be about this even though it extends to non-reproductive couples, why would extending marriage to same-sex couples render it incapable of being about this anymore?

The “relationship between the sexes” clause makes me uneasy since I’m not sure if the so-called “complementarity” thesis, with its concomitant conception of normative gender roles, is being alluded to. I’m unhappy with the complementarity thesis for reasons I can only gesture towards here. Let me say, first, that I’ve witnessed the damage that can be done by imposing gender role expectations on those whose native character is at odds with them. The reality is that native character traits are not apportioned out consistently in terms of our gender role expectations. Furthermore, I don’t believe that there are gender-specific virtues, that is, character traits which it is virtuous for a woman to possess but not for a man or vice versa.

As such, it seems problematic on many levels to suppose that men and women “go together” in a way that two men or two women cannot, that is, in a way that leads to a “complementarity” in which each fills in the weaknesses of the other with corresponding strengths. This can fail to happen with heterosexual couples. It can happen with same-sex couples. And it seems a mistake in any event to choose marriage over self-development as a strategy for addressing one’s weaknesses.

But perhaps Alastair doesn’t have the complementarity thesis in mind. Perhaps he simply means that marriage provides an institutional framework in which the romantic pair-bonding between men and women can be regulated and directed in ways that are more likely to promote healthy relationships. I agree that marriage can do this. But the same is true for romantic pair-bonding between two gay men or two lesbian women—and there is no reason to think that access to marriage by same-sex couples in any way undermines the capacity of marriage to serve this function for heterosexual couples who seek it out.

Maybe, however, Alastair thinks that marriage somehow regulates the collective relationship between men and women as distinct classes. But this seems highly implausible. People marry a single individual, not the whole gender to which their spouse belongs. And the marital relationship is explicitly exclusive—the bond to one’s spouse is supposed to be unique, forming a relationship that one forsakes in connection with all others. As such, it is not nor is it supposed to be a model for how one relates to every member of the opposite sex.

But let’s set that issue aside and focus on the bonds of blood—by which is presumably meant genetic relatedness—and relations among generations. The idea (which I’ll call the “blood ties thesis”) seems to be that marriage somehow fosters close positive relationships between generations of people who are genetically related, and that this is uniquely to be valued. Of course, the actual people who are married—the husband and wife—are (hopefully) not closely related genetically. But if they reproduce, then their children will be genetically related to their parents and to each other, as well as to extended family on both sides.

Now what are we to make of the blood-ties thesis? In assessing it, several questions arise. One delicate question is whether there is really something intrinsically valuable about preferring the establishment of “familial” relationships among those who are closely related genetically over the establishment of such relationships among persons who do not share these genetic ties. What implications does this preference have for adoptive families? What does it mean for children who bond deeply and positively with foster parents after escaping sexually abusive parents, or for “black sheep” who are alienated from their families of origin and form familial ties with a circle of friends? Alastair claims to value marriage for its capacity to protect relationships that would otherwise be “vulnerable” (to what?)—but doesn’t marriage in the reproductive sense he favors implicitly devalue familial relationships that fail to map onto genetic ones? And aren’t such relationships more vulnerable to being unfairly dismissed, to having their importance for human lives improperly belittled, than relationships between those with blood ties?

Another question relates to the impact of marriage—which explicitly bonds together those who are genetically unrelated—on nurturing close relations among those who are genetically related. Assuming that there is such an impact, a third question relates to how extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would threaten the capacity of marriage to continue to have that impact.

Let me consider these last two questions together. Clearly, marriage does nothing to facilitate reproduction, which heterosexual couples are very good at doing apart from the institution of marriage. Marriage helps to provide a more stable context for the fruits of reproduction—that is, children—than might otherwise greet them on entry into the world. In terms of preserving the bonds of blood and the relationship between the generations, it is certainly the case that when heterosexual couples marry, there is a higher likelihood (albeit no guarantee) that if they have children both of them will be involved in the lives of those children and have an enduring relationship with them. As such, if the children they have are biologically their own rather than adopted, there is a greater likelihood that these children will have enduring relations with both of their biological parents and both extended families.

But this function of marriage is made possible by the covenantal commitment between the spouses, a commitment that increases the likelihood of their staying together, supporting each other, and sharing in the labors of child-rearing. In other words, the capacity of marriage to serve the purposes Alastair attributes to it rests most clearly in those features of marriage which are central to what I’m calling the “covenantal view” of marriage—a view that is not even remotely threatened by extending marriage to same-sex couples, who are fully capable of participating in a marriage defined in these terms. The only clear and obvious impact of granting marriage-access to non-reproductive couples is, it seems to me, a positive one: Given that so many children are produced outside of a stable marital context (because marriage is entirely unnecessary for successfully making babies), the presence of married couples without children who can offer this context is a social boon. Extending marriage rights to same-sex couples increases the options for stable child-rearing environments for those children who lack them.

Given all these considerations, I am left at a loss when it comes to understanding the force behind Alastair’s case for what I’m calling reproductive marriage. When marriage is conceived in the covenantal sense, it serves the function of producing stable child-rearing environments and increasing the likelihood of children having ongoing relationships with both parents and extended families—and it does so without all the troubling implications for the status of adoptive and other non-traditional families, and without the problem of trying to reconcile the authenticity of non-reproductive marriages with the doctrine that the institution of marriage is essentially about forging blood-ties and intergenerational relationships.

On my view, marriage is about establishing a framework of mutual commitment and love. This framework serves as an ideal foundation for building multigenerational families—biological or adoptive; but it doesn’t cease to be a marriage if it doesn’t serve as such a foundation. The harms that are thus warned against in relation to same-sex marriage—the threats it supposedly poses to the institution and to its capacity to protect important relationships which would otherwise be left “vulnerable”—these appear to be largely illusory. But the negative impact on gays and lesbians is real.


  1. Hi Eric,

    Thumbs up for your stand on this issue.

    The bottom line here is very clear. Two persons love each other deeply and desire (among other things) to publicly express their love through marriage. They are not taking away anything from anybody else, not causing any real harm. And we're talking only civil marriage here – nobody is trying to force religious groups to change their ways.

    To do the right thing in this kind of situation requires only empathy and, yes, simple human decency. Alistair's argument is just a long series or rationalizations aimed at defending his prejudices.


  2. JP,

    A couple of quick comments. It is clearly the case that making civil marriage available to same-sex couples does not impose a requirement on any religious community to make its religiously conceived marital bond available to same-sex couples. The principle of church-state separation clearly precludes any such coercive intrusion into internal religious affairs (as well as making essentially religious argument against civil marriage inappropriate bases for a public policy decision on the matter).

    That said, I would be dishonest if I said that I don't think making same-sex marriage available within the church is morally called-for. I do think that churches have a moral duty to stop discriminating against sexual minorities, and I think that current practices within the church (especially regarding marriage) DO discriminate unjustly. Some churches already accept this and so offer religious marriage to same-sex couples even where civil marriage is denied them.

    And so, for me, the debate is not merely about civil marriage. But, of course, in making the case for churches to marry same-sex couples I face quite an uphill battle, since this connects up with some very foundation questions about how the church should reach conclusions on moral questions.

    My second main comment has to do with the following: "Alistair's argument is just a long series or rationalizations aimed at defending his prejudices."

    Since this post emerged out of a broader conversation that was basically about how civil debate breaks down when we begin diagnosing what's wrong with our opponents (e.g. they're "homophobic") instead of assessing the merits of their arguments in relation to our own, the comment makes me a bit uneasy.

    That said, there's a big difference between starting with such a judgment--assuming that your opponents are wrong and then explaining how they could come to be so stupid (to borrow C.S. Lewis's wording for the argumentative strategy)--and arriving at such a judgment after evaluating their arguments and finding them deeply implausible.

    But I also know from years of engaging in philosophical debate that few arguments are ever totally finished. New objections generate new replies, which generate further objections and replies. In this way the debate goes ever deeper, moving more and more into the realm of the most general and foundational issues. Sometimes (though hardly always), what seemed like a poor argument at a less "deep" level enjoys a kind of revival at a deeper one (although the revival is typically qualified and hedged with a fallibilism and recognition of the reasonableness of alternatives that didn't exist before).

    In any event, because of this possibility, it becomes an interesting (and, I think, difficult) question at what point one should give up on an opposing line of argument. On a pragmatic level--especially when it comes to public policy decisions--there needs to come a point at which you decide that you are going to vote for policy A or the candidate with platform B, despite the ongoing criticisms being leveled by opponents of A and B. And one thing that can and probably should be a factor in these decisions is the growing conviction that the opponents' arguments are just rationalizations of prejudice. But civil discourse requires that this being a conclusion, not a starting point--and while reaching this conclusion is easy in some cases, in others it may be harder to say when it is warranted.

  3. what a post. I would be curious, on the subject of marginalization. Would your assessment be that God marginalized the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?

    Marginalization could be debated potentially as a term with respect to marriage, given marriage is a religiously loaded concept to begin with. If so, than Judeo-Christian viewpoints on the subject (conservative that is) are inherently marginalizing, and thus subject to this sort of scrutiny, IMO. Would you agree with this thought? Thanks for permitting me to comment.

  4. Eric,

    You are right. My comment on Alistair was not really fair and I should not dismiss him like this - so maybe I should explain why I had this reaction.

    I believe, perhaps wrongly, that in such questions one’s position is very often determined primarily by one’s emotional response to it. Mine is certainly is in this case – I don’t need an elaborate argument to support your position. It also seems to me that when one’s reaction leads one to oppose what appears to be the “right thing to do”, it becomes necessary to build an elaborate justification for it – to make it plausible, so to speak. We see that often enough in politics. Again, I may be completely wrong in thinking so but, given the above, I rushed to the conclusion that this is what Alistair was doing while in fact I don’t really know.

    As for religious same-sex unions, yes, I thought about that after posting my comment – I realized I wasn’t really sure if you were talking also about them. My first reaction is of course that it is for various churches to decide for themselves and I don’t feel it’s appropriate for outsiders to force the issue. However, the question must be asked: what should one do if an organization important in a community (like a church) engages in what one thinks are unjust practices? It is probably not enough to say that members of that organization are always free to leave if they don’t like it – I know the attachment to a church can run very deep.

    I know first-hand only of the Catholic Church and I know many Catholics who wish for the Church to change a number of its practices: for example, to allow women to become priests and for priests to marry. But this is such a hierarchical and conservative organization that these changes are very difficult, it seems to me.

  5. I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness on this issue.

    Currently, I am torn.

    On the one hand, I am a "traditionalist" when it comes to the church's teaching on sexuality as man plus woman in marriage.

    But on the other hand, the summons to love our neighbor as ourselves and to do unto others as we've have done to ourselves leads me to support social equality for homosexuals--including the government's recognition of homosexual partnerships equal to its recognition of heterosexual partnerships.

    In fact, I think that the summons to love means that Christians should not only be ok with those things, but advocating creative ways to make them happen.

    I've been wrestling with the idea that the best way forward is for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether. Let them set up a civil partnerships arrangement that any two adults can enter into (even if they're not having sex) for the joining of their lives and mutual support. Let the churches decide what they want to do, who they'll marry. And, stop allowing the churches to act as arms of the state in this matter. Keep the state certification and the church marriage entirely distinct. No more "power invested in me by the great state of California..."

  6. When I talk about this issue in my classes, I stress the importance of distinguishing the civil and religious institutions/ceremonies, and I often use my sister as a helpful case study on this matter. She got married three times to the same man--without ever getting divorced. The first was a civil ceremony in Taiwan (they met when both were living in Korea, and when his work took him to Taiwan, they arranged a quick civil ceremony so that there would be no difficulty in her moving with him). There was the religious wedding the following summer--but the pastor did NOT act as an agent of the state in that case because they already had a civil marriage. Then they realized that a Taiwanese civil marriage license wouldn't be recognized everywhere because of Taiwan's contested status internationally--so they flew to Vegas and had a quick civil ceremony there.

    The case not only highlights the fact that civil marraige is distinct from the religious institution--and that special paperwork and the investment of civil authority on clergy are both needed in order for a religious marriage ceremony to lead to the conferral of a legal wedding--but it highlights the significance of the legal/civil institution for international purposes.

    This is one of the reasons I am hesitant to have the state stay out of the marriage business altogether. "Marriage" as a legal institution has an international standing that "civil union" simply does not have. There are, of course, other considerations (including those related to Luther's take on marriage as essentially a civil/legal matter).

  7. As people continue to pick what they think is 'valid' in today's society in the Bible, I commend your efforts for progress. The day when people see this as about is relevant as Exodus 31:15 is the day that I will truly be happy.


    Six days may work be done; but in the seventh [is] the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth [any] work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.