Thursday, July 31, 2014

Marriage Equality: Morally Opposed but Legislatively In Favor?

Photo credit: Katie Mohr
With the subject of the ban on same-sex marriage before the state Supreme Court this week, I feel it's a timely opportunity to talk about something important to me. I came here talk about marriage equality, and to make an appeal to those who are morally opposed to it.

Let me start with two disclaimers.  First: I never had a major problem with gay people or gay marriage, even as a Christian. Second: When I was a Christian, I believed the homosexual lifestyle was wrong, and the following few paragraphs will be couched in language and sentiments that reflect my beliefs at that time, even though they don't espouse my current views.

With those two disclaimers made, let me proceed with evangelical mentality I had.  While I believed "living the lifestyle" was wrong (and I believed that with God's help, it could be overcome) I still felt that if someone wanted to live it, it didn't affect me at all. It wasn't my problem or my concern. I believed people were born with a "tendency" towards being gay, but that God could "deliver" them out of it, much like people born with tendencies toward alcoholism or violence could be delivered. When asked about it, I was truthful that I believed it was a sin, but that it was between them and God, and really had very little to do with me. And there were many times I was asked about it; I was involved in amateur dramatics for a few years in Scotland and had several LGBT friends. And while I was truthful in my answers, I was always uncomfortable with those answers.

Furthermore, I never went so far to say that gay people were going to hell, just that their actions displeased the Lord. But we all displease the Lord with our actions, I'd say; we are all sinners, and I didn't see the "sin" of homosexuality to be any different than my own sins of gossip, occasionally drinking too much, and pride. A gay person could be a Christian, albeit a "deceived" one, but still eligible for salvation, as far as I could tell.

So even in my evangelical days, if someone asked what I thought about same-sex marriage, my answer was always, "Just let them get married. What's the big deal? It doesn't affect me."

This stance began to change though. Over the years, as the subject gained greater media and societal attention, I observed the pain that the debate, and the issue of homosexuality itself, was causing my gay friends. I had friends who had to choose between their careers in the military or happiness with the love of their lives. I saw friends cut off from their families and/or communities. People I knew, friends, even extended family members were being heralded as immoral, licentious, shameless degenerates on the sole grounds of who they loved. While from a Biblical standpoint, I still couldn't say it wasn't sinful, I was very certain they were entitled to the same rights as anyone else, and absolutely did not deserve to be hated, attacked, treated as lepers or burned at the stake like the Salem witches (who also didn't deserve such a fate). I heard careless, flippant comments by straight people complaining that they didn't get any special rights or attention for being straight, that they didn't feel the need to declare to the world their sexual orientation, so why did "those people" feel the need to?

Because you don't have to declare anything. You can hold hands with your husband and your two-point-five biological children in public and not receive a second glance. You have the luxury of silently declaring your sexual orientation every day in everything you do with zero retribution. You don't need special rights or attention, because you already have them.

Why do people feel the need to "declare" their sexual orientation? Could it be because they have spent years, if not decades, pretending to be something they are not, being bullied by their peers and castigated (quite possibly physically) by their parents and other adults, and just want to finally break free from all that bondage? Or perhaps, maybe some of them are actually "declaring" nothing. Maybe they are just walking hand and hand like you are, but you see that as flaunting something, declaring their sexual orientation, when really, they are just quietly living their everyday lives.

Either way, I realized my "live and let live" stance wasn't going to cut it. If I wanted to see equal rights for all law-abiding people, I needed to take an actual stance. A pro-same-sex marriage stance.

This, of course, conflicted with my religious beliefs to an extent. I started defining my position as "morally opposed but legislatively in favor".  I did not see any complication with opposing something morally (as in, not approving of it personally for me and mine) but still agreeing with it legislatively.  Just because I didn't believe it was acceptable according to my personal beliefs (which, yes, I did believe were found in the Bible, the only true Word of God), didn't mean other people with different beliefs ought to suffer because of my religious understanding.  And suffering, they were.

As a side note, as my faith slowly disintegrated, this stance disintegrated with it, into simply "in favor".  The supposed immorality of homosexuality had been very tightly intertwined with religion and nothing else. Like I said earlier, I didn't really have a major problem the personal, private lives of people who happened to be gay; I just believed the Bible warned against it. However, the "morally opposed but legislatively in favor" is the position I wish more evangelicals took.

It's impossible - actually, no it's not impossible, it's just difficult - for an Evangelical Christian, or a member of any religion that objects to homosexuality to look at it from a strictly human rights perspective. It's difficult, because Christians (in particular) believe they own the rights to marriage, or at least their religion does. They believe that God created marriage, and therefore God has the sole say on how it is administered.

(Yet another sidenote: If this were true, why are Christians allowing members of other religions to marry each other? And why are they allowing divorce?)

God created marriage between a man and a woman, they maintain. Therefore marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is against God's law.

Okay, fine, I'll grant you that belief. I'll even grant you the belief that homosexuals going against this plan are going to hell. You are welcome to believe that. "It's a free country", we Americans love to say.

And that's the point.

It's a free country for you to think gays are going to hell. And it's a free country for gays to be gay. And therefore, it should be a free country for gays to get married.

Our country is not, despite what is touted through the media, a "Christian country". It was founded on freedom of religion, the freedom to believe or not believe whatever one wants. Our forefathers may have been primarily made up of deists and various brands of Christian, from Anglican to Unitarian, (though not all, Jefferson, for instance, had decidedly very un-Christian beliefs), but they were clear that this is not a "Christian", one-religion-fits-all, nation. America is not a theocracy. The Christian definition of marriage should not be the only definition in a country where freedom from such restraints used to be our crowning glory.

Christians and other religious people, or people simply anti-gay (I am purposely steering clear of the word "homophobic" because while it is a correct description for many anti-gay people, it isn't quite fair on all of them), have further reasons they use against same-sex marriage. They believe that it is detrimental to society and detrimental to children. I can only assume, since this was never a position I totally understood, that that is position comes from the stereotypical concept that kids need both a motherly mother and a fatherly father to get the balance right. While I rarely see that stereotype play out perfectly in even heterosexual marriages, I assume the assumption is that in same-sex marriages, kids miss out on one or the other.

The profound misconception here is that women always act like "women" and men always act like "men". Therefore, in a heterosexual couple, there are equal and opposite traits that culminate in a completely wholesome companionship.

This speaks to absolutely nothing of the truth or reality.

In heterosexual couples, you have women who can be described as having one or many of these stereotypically male traits: domineering, authoritarian, outspoken, unemotional, tough, competitive, sexually aggressive. Men can be described in stereotypically feminine ways: nurturing, gentle, soft-spoken, irrational, emotional, submissive, accepting. Some couples are so similar that there is hardly any opposing characteristics; both man and wife can be calm, gentle, soft-spoken, passive and nurturing with no authoritarianism, outspokenness, aggressiveness, or, say, confidence. Conversely, some couples are both domineering, assertive, loud, imposing, authoritarian, strict and judgmental, with no signs of gentleness, irrationality, softness or perhaps compassion. All of these are, of course, generalizations, but they hopefully get the point across.

Again, I'm speculating, but I assume the Father-Mother scenario assumes a give-and-take of masculine and feminine traits that round out a family. This is simply not the case in many, if not most, relationships.

And in homosexual couples, the scale isn't tipped the other way. Two women do not equal two emotional roller-coasters and door mats. Two men do not equal two dictators and workhorses. Same sex or different sex - at the end of the day, it's just two individuals coming together to form a partnership. Some are great matches, some are bad ones.

There is also that study that was in the media a while back, claiming that children with homosexual parents fared worse than children with heterosexual relationships. This would be compelling indeed, if the study had been a good one. As it turns out, it was a terrible study that pretty much just showed what we already knew - children from broken families fared worse than children with families intact. Turns out, it had pretty much nothing to do with whether the parents were gay or not, but still together or not.

So, in a few short words, yes, it's complicated. Sort of. It's extremely difficult to untangle oneself from the net of cognitive dissonance. It's easier to hold to the black and white than to sift through the many shades of grey (no reference to that awful book intended). But really, it's not a complicated matter. People should have the right to marry who they love, as long as both parties involved are consenting adults. It only gets complicated when people make it complicated, trying to create slippery slopes and outlandish resulting outflows. (That's not to say deciphering all the possible outcomes is wrong. Legislation definitely needs to be written in such a way that it does not inadvertently allow for things that would be problematic.)

It may clash with your religious beliefs. You have the right to dislike it. But two total strangers getting married only affects you insomuch that you may possibly one day have to explain why Johnny has two mommies to your child. It does not creep into your marriage and defile it. It really has very little, if anything, to do with you at all.

But it means everything to the people who want to marry and can't, who want to express their undying love for each other by committing to a lifelong union, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Who want to know their best friend and soul mate will be cared for financially when they die through life insurance plans and inheritance. Who want to be parents, who want to be parents that raise their kids in a secure home, with family health care policies and legal custody for both parents, and no discrimination.

For you, it's about a religious principle and someone else's possible afterlife. For them, it's about basic human rights and their own quite literal, very tangible day-to-day experiences.

If affects you little. It affects them in every way. Isn't there a way for evangelicals, and other religious groups, to be morally opposed, but legislatively in favor?


  1. Lori, I have two questions;

    1.Why is it in our culture that sexual "identity" is so important?

    2. Is it possible to post an image/jpeg in a comment and how is it done? Email or pm on FB if more appropriate.


    1. To answer #2 first, I don't actually know. I've never tried. I'm guessing probably not.

      To answer #1, I don't know why it was made some important. But it always has. People with "deviant" sexual identities have been persecuted, imprisoned, and all sorts of things throughout history. Now that society (and science) are progressing to the point where it is understood that homosexuality appears in many (if not all) mammals and is actually not so "deviant" afterall, people are finally feeling able to embrace the truth about themselves. Yet they still face discrimination and hate and persecution for it. If you look at it as a similar fight my parents' generation fought for interracial couples to be accepted and allowed to marry, it is really very similar.

      In the end, it shouldn't be so important. It's just people and relationships in the end. But history and society have MADE it important and by doing so have blocked the civil rights of others who do not conform to the status quo. So we are left with a fight to fight.

      I'd love for someone who is LGBT to weigh in here and tell us what you think about your sexual preference having to be an "identity"!

  2. Ok, resident lesbian here weighing in... I'm AJ. (I'm also the one who wrote the comment about eating paleo.)

    Firstly, thanks for writing this :)

    Second, I'm not sure I fully understand the question. At least, I'm not sure sexual identity *is* so important.

    I think that, for me at least, it's not my sexual identity that's important, it's my identity as a whole. And while sexual identity is just a small part of that, it's a part that can't be ignored. And as Lori already said, everyone is broadcasting their sexual identity all the time, just by who they hold hands with when they walk down the street or by the mentioning the gender of their significant other in casual conversation. It's only a big deal if you make it one. I just think everyone should be free to express their sexual identity without fear of being labeled perverse or sex-obsessed.

    I only realised I was gay a couple of years ago, in my late twenties (thanks, conservative Christian upbringing!) I didn't have a traditional coming out with my friends and family, I just told them I was dating a girl, as that seemed to be the more salient point than what label I was going to put on myself (which at the time I was still figuring out). That seemed to work pretty well for my friends, less so for my parents. I do hope though that one day more people will be able to come out like that, instead of having to make a big statement about what exactly their sexual identity is.

    In any case, like I said, for me it's about my identity as a whole. I feel so much freer now that I'm not constantly policing myself and can just be who I am. That's what also makes it so painful that my parents *don't* accept that this is who I am: they're actually denying the truth. They don't see me for who I am and that hurts.

    1. Thank you so much for weighing in! I'm sorry your parents are having a hard time accepting you for who you are. Blame the conservativism of their religion - it's like blinders that you just can't see past. Fingers crossed that one day those blinders (at least where you're concerned) are lifted!

  3. Thanks :) Sorry, didn't mean to get quite so emotional writing that, but I guess that's just where I'm at at the moment.


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