We should be having a national dialogue about whether or not same-sex marriage is good public policy. We’re not. Instead we’ve got groups of like-minded people circled like wagons on the prairie repeating the same silly arguments to each other. We’ve given up on the art of intelligent public dialogue and seem satisfied to camp out in our own echo chambers.
I spent an hour in an echo chamber last week while commuting to work. It was a Christian radio call-in program on same-sex marriage. I knew I didn’t belong right away (right after the first caller referred to Satan as Obama’s campaign manager). I knew I should have turned the channel, but it was like porn—I couldn’t look away. There were seven arguments, from what I could tell, that the host and the callers passed around like a peace pipe. There wasn’t any debate, or disagreement, just auditory nods of agreement as the same poorly reasoned arguments were recycled.
Here they are:
1) Hey, monogamy isn’t a cake walk, so if I can control myself then so can gays.
This prize heifer of an argument was passionately espoused by a southern preacher who was getting ready to celebrate his fortieth wedding anniversary–and by sheer force of will, or so he claimed, he’d been faithful to his wife “from the day he took his vows.” If what he was saying wasn’t so dumb, I might have been a little more respectful of his forty-year struggle against his “natural” tendencies.
Let’s create a mental image. Imagine it’s a hot summer day. You come home from playing in the park and you find your older brother sitting on the front steps eating a big ice cream cone. It looks really good and you want one. You say, “Hey, dude, where’d you get that ice cream cone?” He says, “There’s a stack of them in the freezer, but I’m not going to let you have one.” When you look disappointed, he says, “Hey, I know how you feel, man, because I think I’d like to have another one, but I can’t.” Or imagine this. You live in a comfortable home. On your way home from work, you stop to talk to a homeless man that’s been living under a bridge for the last six months. All this guy wants in life is a roof over his head. You want to make him feel better, so you put an arm around his shoulder and tell him, “I know exactly how you feel. I saw a vacation home in Florida last week and I really wanted to buy it, but I couldn’t get a second mortgage.”
Marriage is about mutual support, companionship, and every once in a while, it’s about sex (ask anyone who’s been married for more than 2 days if this list is in the correct order). For someone who’s attracted to the same sex, it’s about mutual support, companionship, and, every once in a while, it’s about sex (take one step backwards if you’re surprised that it’s the same list). If you’re married, then you have what most of the gay community wants from marriage. And if you’re married and you stand up with your arm around your spouse, and tell gays to “restrain” themselves (because, after all, you manage to control yourself when your partner isn’t around), you end up looking like nitwits in a bad Saturday Night Live skit.
2) The Bible says it’s a sin.
Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that we’re going to rely on the Bible to determine appropriate public policy. Here are some of the new laws that’ll be going into effect:
a) Public stonings (probably on TV, most likely on FOX) for anyone caught committing idolatry (Deut. 17:3-5). If we run out of idolaters, we’ll move on to disobedient sons (Deut. 21:18-21) and girls that fail a test of virginity (Deut. 22: 13-21).
b) Genocide will now be an acceptable practice for the U.S. military (Deut. 20:16, Joshua 6:21; 10:40-41).
c) It will now be against the law to eat rabbit (Lev. 11:26-27), oysters, clams, shrimp and lobster (Lev. 11:10—we’ll call this the Red Lobster Purification Act). Rare steaks are out as well (Lev. 17:10)
d) There will be no wearing of clothes made from interwoven linen or wool (Deut. 22:11) or sexual intercourse during that “time” of the month (Lev. 20:18)
e) Those who are handicapped or have a flat nose will no longer be allowed to preach from the pulpit (Lev. 21:16-24).
Ok. You’re right. Using the Old Testament isn’t playing fair. Luckily we have Christianity Part II in the New Testament, so let’s work with that. Unfortunately, there are only three verses that have anything to do with homosexuality in the New Testament: Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:9-10.
Rom 1: 26-27:
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
1 Cor 6:9:
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
1 Tim 1:9-10:
9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
After a little digging it becomes clear that the phrase “abusers of themselves with mankind” is difficult to tie directly to homosexuality, so we’re left with Romans 1:26-27. The problem with this passage, however, is that Paul is condemning pagan fertility rights that included homosexual acts. It’s interesting that we distinguish between good heterosexual sex (i.e. sex within marriage) and bad heterosexual sex (prostitution, whoredoms, etc.), but won’t do the same for homosexual sex. We don’t interpret the condemnation of “whoredoms” as a blanket condemnation of heterosexuality, for example. If we following this same line of reasoning, the condemnation of homosexual acts in Romans shouldn’t be construed as a blanket prohibition of all same-sex relations.
Regardless of how these passages are interpreted, though, in the end we’re left with a religious book that more clearly prohibits women from speaking in church (1 Cor. 14-33-36) than it condemns homosexuality.
Okay, well, what if we take a look at the collective body of Christian beliefs that has evolved over the centuries and constitutes a kind of “body of law” through which the Bible can be interpreted? In a sense, this body of knowledge is like the body of legal precedent that has grown up around the constitution (I know, I’m ignoring the obvious inconsistency between this kind of argument and all the “strict interpretation rhetoric”). Hmm. That’s an idea, but probably not a good one—given that “Christian” precedent has been cited over the years to justify boiling individuals alive in oil for reading the Bible in English, baptizing individuals at the literal point of a sword, lynching unfortunate minorities to keep the races from mixing, etc.
The deeper you go into the “because the Bible-says-so argument,” the more apparent it becomes that people believe what they want to believe and treat the Bible like a Rorschach test. In the case of homosexuality, those that are honest with themselves are able to see that the Bible doesn’t deliver. For others, they end up seeing what they want to see (reality be damned).
But all this is beside the point. Even if the Bible were clear on the subject, it wouldn’t matter. I grew up Mormon. I’ve got scriptures that tell me drinking coffee is a sin. So whose scriptures should we use? The answer, of course, is that public policy isn’t about scripture–it’s about us coming together as a society and setting some collective ground rules. Citing the Bible just isn’t helpful.
3) God say’s it’s a sin.
God says quite a bit to quite a few people, apparently—and a lot of what he says appears to be contradictory. As I already mentioned, I grew up Mormon, so let me remind everyone that coffee is of the devil (and you’ll be going to hell if you drink it)—and therefore, we would all be better off if politicians would do their jobs and get busy shuttering all the Starbucks.
Imagine my surprise, having grown up Mormon, when I discovered that God had told some other people that to be a real Mormon, I needed to practice “The Principle” or polygamy—at least according to the Mormon fundamentalists in Colorado City. Naturally, I wanted to see some bios (including pictures) of the women in question before I decided who to listen to.
Things got really confusing when I started comparing notes with Wiccans, Jews, Muslims, and participants in the various Eastern religions. As it turns out, God hasn’t exactly been consistent in his communications.
I think you can see the problem here.
Public policy isn’t about figuring out what God has to say—it’s about us figuring out how to get along (given that God has apparently told quite a few of us different things).
4) It’s unnatural.
I guess it comes down to how you define “natural.” In the case of humans, homosexuality has been around for at least a couple thousand years. In the case of animals, it’s been observed in elephants, bears, buffalo, caribou, dolphins, raccoons, dogs, bison, chickens, penguins, numerous fish, and too many reptiles, insects, and invertebrates to list (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_displaying_homosexual_behavior). Black swans and mallards appear to be particularly unnatural (it is estimated that 25% of pairings of black swans are male-male; only slightly less for mallards). I had a friend that purchased a 50k breeding bull that had to be “put down” because of its economically questionable preference for steers. And then there is Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s City’s Central Park Zoo that successfully hatched an egg they’d been given (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_and_Silo). And so on.
If being a part of human experience since time immemorial and constituting a natural part of animal interaction for as long as anyone’s been paying attention don’t disqualify homosexuality from winning the “unnatural” door prize, I’m not sure anything will. I suspect that what heterosexuals mean when they say “unnatural” is that it seems “foreign” to them—which may be true—but part of being a grownup is realizing that the universe of human experience is bigger than one’s own backyard (or bedroom).
5) It’s a cross to bear.
I have had the unfortunate experience of listening to Mormon church leaders—leaders that I respect and that are generally wise and thoughtful in their pronouncements—deliver this line with straight faces to impressionable audiences. Let’s try this same line of reasoning with another issue (warning: a little historical investigation will demonstrate that this argument isn’t fiction):
“We don’t know why God has prohibited blacks from full membership in the Mormon church—someday we may understand why, but for now the important thing is that we recognize God’s will [and that we continue to discriminate because God wants us to].”
If ever there were a sorry-ass excuse for maintaining the status quo, this is it. There isn’t even a pretense of careful thought or any sort of justificatory rationale—just a cowardly “thy-will-be-done” genuflection to existing norms and culture, regardless of its offensiveness or toxicity.
6) It’s a choice.
Apparently, a lot of swans and mallards feel secure enough in their sexuality to “choose” to be gay.
When did you choose to be heterosexual? Was it a difficult decision?
I suspect that sexuality is more of a continuum that a two-answer multiple choice question. If sexuality were a 7-point Likert scale with 1 being completely heterosexual and 7 being completely homosexual, I’m guessing there are a few 4s out there that could (and sometimes do) go either way. For these folks, it may be a choice. I suspect there are 5s out there. For these individuals, same-sex relationships would be the more natural stance, but with a little focus and self-denial they can shoe-horn themselves into societal norms and make a heterosexual relationship work. Then there are people like me who are 1s (completely heterosexual) and other folks on the other extreme (7s, completely homosexual). I try to be tolerant and understanding, but I could not—and would not be able—to have sex with another man. I’m really not sure I could deal with it psychologically. Quick aside: For those of you that haven’t seen the movie Hump Day, put it in your Netflix queue (it made me uncomfortable enough that I had to leave room, twice). For most heterosexuals, there isn’t any real choice involved in being attracted to the opposite sex. I suspect it’s the same on the other side of the fence.
7) Telling me I can’t publically demonize same-sex relationships is an unacceptable abridgement of my individual freedom.
A friend of mine tried to make this argument the other day (to be fair, this argument wasn’t part of the Christian talk-radio echo chamber—but I suspect that was only because I didn’t listen long enough). My friend claimed that HIS freedom to run around claiming that same-sex relationships were “unnatural” and “wicked” would be undermined by same-sex marriage, because his kids might one day be taught in school that same-sex marriages were a viable social option. I feel for him. After all, his freedom to use terms like “darkie” or “jigaboo” or “spear-chucker” has already been severely constrained by progressive social norms, so taking away his ability to use the term “rump-ranger” in the checkout line at the local grocer may break him. Maybe with a little prayer and fasting, he’ll accept the societal yoke of mutual respect and common decency? There’s always hope, anyway.
So what do these seven arguments all have in common, besides being wrongheaded? They are, for the most part, irrelevant to the question of whether or not we, as a country and as a society, would be better off if we allowed same-sex marriage. Can we get past these distractions and have a real dialogue?