Same-Sex Marriage: A Test Case in Living Our Principles

Confronting a Wedge Issue with Principles

Engaging in a rational discussion concerning same-sex marriage is becoming increasingly more difficult to accomplish. The emotionally charged, one-sided ranting of those who vehemently oppose the concept has largely displaced any form of discourse.

The conservative wing of the Christian Church, the so-called religious right, leads the parade of those who vilify homosexuals in general and same-sex marriage specifically. They quote selected literal extracts from the Bible and insist that their view is God-based. They shun exchanges of ideas because they consider any opposing position to be wrong by definition. They frequently appeal to our fears, prejudices and lack of knowledge to re-enforce their message.

There are few who are willing to challenge these extremist views. The Republican Party uses its opposition to same-sex marriage as a way of pandering to their religious-right voting constituents. The Democratic Party, afraid of losing votes if it supports the issue, attempts to avoid taking a stand by labeling it a state’s rights issue. Many state officials are capitalizing on the near hysteria by promoting constitutional amendments that will severely restrict the rights of homosexuals. And most individuals read about the situation in their morning newspaper, mutter something about the “gay agenda,” finish their coffee and then get on with their day, never progressing beyond the insidious sound bites.

Same-sex marriage is being used as a wedge issue to divide us, but it also has surprising power to unite us based on our most fundamental principles as Americans, as Christians (or any spiritual person) and as individual human beings. To transcend the divisiveness, we must continuously counter the effects of the strident rhetoric by initiating true dialog with those who are willing to listen. It is my hope and prayer that you will “listen” to this message with an eye to principles, an open mind and a soft heart.

Our Country’s Principles

Rather than a wedge issue, same-sex marriage is really a test case of the most fundamental founding principles of our country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Declaration of Independence

When those words were first written, there were many unspoken exclusions beneath the surface appearance of equality. Women were assumed to be excluded. So were people of color, non-property owners and non-Christians. Those groups of people were viewed as having been created without the portfolio of unalienable rights enjoyed by white, Protestant, land-owning males whom God obviously favored. Since then, our society has expended enormous effort and achieved significant success in ending those exclusions and extending liberty and justice to others. Yet, that effort of inclusion reversed course when it encountered homosexual people.

Some tell us that homosexuals are a special substandard class of sick or immoral people who have chosen a lifestyle that doesn’t deserve recognition or protection. Medical science has demonstrated that those statements are erroneous. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have declared that homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity but simply the way that a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality. Therefore there is no reason to treat them differently.

Some charge that gays live aberrant life styles, don’t create lasting relationships and therefore would destroy the institution of marriage. It is true that some, but certainly not all, gays live aberrant life styles. Some heterosexuals also live aberrant life styles, but no one attempts to ban marriage for all heterosexuals. It is true that some, but certainly not all, gays have transient relationships. Some heterosexuals also have transient relationships but no one attempts to ban marriage for all heterosexuals.

It is ironic that the people who so loudly criticize gays are often the same people who are working diligently to construct legal and social barriers to prevent gays from having normal life styles and lasting relationships. It seems to me that our current practice of forcing homosexuals to live together without the benefit of marriage serves to undermine the stature of marriage. Allowing gays to marry rather than forcing them to “live in sin” would more likely serve to actually strengthen marriage. You might have noticed that heterosexuals are doing a pretty good job of ruining marriage by themselves. During most years of the 1990s, for every two marriages there was one divorce – All heterosexual unions.

The primary driver of anti-gay attitudes is the religious right. One of their goals is to legislate their religious dogma. That approach is in direct violation of the First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of a state-approved religion. Have we forgotten that many of our ancestors fled their countries because their government was ruthlessly imposing some form of religion? Now we are busily creating yet another form of religious tyranny here. The inherent danger of this approach is highly visible in the theocratic forms of Islamic government that dominate much of the Middle East today.

Others argue that marriage must be preserved for heterosexuals, but they are willing to concede some comparable form of civil union for gays. The concept of separate but equal was found to be constitutionally invalid in racial relations and isn’t valid here either. Any proposal short of full recognition of same-sex marriage remains discriminative by its very nature.

We have grown up with heterosexual marriage, so the concept of same-sex marriage seems foreign to us. It may be different, but being different isn’t sufficient reason for rejection. If it were, then no existing forms of injustice would ever change. Previously, inter-racial marriage was prohibited for similar reasons. During my lifetime we discovered the fallacy of that argument and changed the law.

So, in the case of same-sex marriage, we are failing the test of living one of our country’s founding principles – to provide unalienable rights for all!

Christianity’s (General Spiritual) Principles

Rather than a wedge issue, same-sex marriage is really a test case of one of the most fundamental spiritual principles of Christianity and every other major religion.

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 34-40

Christians are called to be followers of Jesus Christ, and one of the best ways to do that is to live according to the lessons found in the Gospels. What you won’t find in the Gospels is someone who extracted selected Bible verses and used their literal translation to brand people as special sinners. What you will find is someone who used Scripture as an entity to declare that we all fall short. He told us to clean up our own acts first and not to judge others. He used parables and stories to teach important lessons. He said that we are to be known by our love and compassion for others, even our enemies. He showed us how by reaching out to everyone and including society’s outcasts in his circle of followers.

Nothing Jesus said or did had anything to do with condemning homosexuals or homosexuality. The only group that Jesus chastised was the religious leaders. In the 23rd chapter of Matthew he denounced them for placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people and for acting superior to others. He accused them of being hypocrites who talked about the letter of the law but failed to observe its spirit.

History tells us that the concept of homosexuality was unknown in Biblical times. People then were aware of sex acts between men, but those acts were primarily a matter of demonstrating power and control over another person or simply satisfying lust. Two free men couldn’t have sex because the passive role was only acceptable for inferiors such as women, slaves or male youths who were not of age. What people didn’t understand was the concept of emotional and physical love between two men. That level of understanding wasn’t achieved until very recently. Even the term homosexuality didn’t come into existence until the German psychologist Karoly Maria Benkert coined it in the late 19th century. Since in Biblical times women were considered inferior and the property of a man, sex between two females never even appeared on the Biblical radar screen.

As I observe Jesus through the eyes of the Gospels, I sometimes try to imagine what he would do today. I believe he would draw gays and lesbians to himself and shower them with extra love to make up for the undeserved pain they have suffered. I believe he would have harsh words for today’s religious leaders who attack homosexuals and same-sex marriage. I believe he would marry his gay friends and subsequently have his credentials removed by the church.

Since Jesus was raised studying the Torah, it should come as no surprise that the Gospel messages are really of Jewish origin. Muslims also consider themselves people of the book, referring to the Bible. In fact, every major religion includes the fundamental principle of love for all of God’s children. Clearly, this message has virtually universal spiritual applicability.

So, in the case of same-sex marriage, we are failing the test of living a basic spiritual principle – To love our neighbor!

Our Human Principles

Rather than a wedge issue, same-sex marriage is really a test case of one of our most basic human principles.

We are taught at an early age to look out for ourselves, and that is important because the world often takes advantage of those who don’t. But if we don’t also care about others, what good are we? One of the best ways to demonstrate care for others is to follow the Golden Rule and treat others the way we wish to be treated. We need a change of heart that will enable us to reach out with empathy and compassion to people who are different. People such as homosexuals.

There is a Jewish concept called “Tikun Olam” that constitutes a spiritual command to repair the world. It embraces the quest for social justice, freedom, equality, peace and a restoration of the environment. It is a call to action and recognizes that each act of kindness helps to build a new and better world. Isn’t that what the Golden Rule is about?

So, in the case of same-sex marriage, we are failing the test of living one of our most basic human principles – To treat others as we wish to be treated!

Things to Do

If we wish to pass this test case in living our principles, then the most important step we can take is to vote against any initiatives or constitutional amendments that would prohibit same-sex marriages or restrict the freedoms of homosexuals. We must not allow this violation of our principles to become institutionalized.

Another vital step is to contribute financial support to organizations that are actively working for same-sex marriage. http://www.rachelmiller/linkso-marriage.htm contains a list of such organizations. If your busy schedule permits, offer some of your time as well.

Something we can all do that costs nothing and takes little time is to speak up in support of same-sex marriage when the subject is raised in conversation. Instead of remaining silent, raise the questions of the Constitution, God’s love commandment and the Golden Rule. You might be surprised how many other silent supporters will find the courage to speak-up by listening to you. If you are a member of an organization that doesn’t meet your expectations on this issue, articulate your dissatisfaction. You can even withhold financial support pending a change in behavior. Organizations do change under pressure from their membership. As a last resort, you can leave the organization and affiliate with one whose behavior better matches your principles.

You can share this material with family, friends and organizations.

You can invite activists to discuss the subject with your group.

Only you can determine the appropriate course of action for yourself, but it is critical that you choose to act and that you act soon!