I have been meaning for some time to tackle the issue of "Gay Marriage." I've been putting it off, partly because it's a difficult undertaking, and partly because I don't want to screw it up. The business last week with the Miss USA girl getting grilled over it just got my wheels turning again. Here's the short version: of course, as a conservative, "fundamentalist," evangelical Christian, I think (read: believe with all my heart) that the Bible is God's word, and that, therefore, homosexual behavior (NOT inclination, behavior) is sin. As a disclaimer, let me further clarify by saying that it is only one of MANY varieties of sexual sin, and is no more or less distasteful to God than adultery, premarital/extramarital sex (does anybody even say "fornication" anymore?), and even divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness. For us to single out gays as "worse" sinners because of any percieved "ickiness" in their behavior is to misunderstand sin. And these other behaviors are usually (or mostly) untouched by the law. So, consistency would suggest that I would adopt a similar laissez-faire attitude toward Gay Marriage. Just because I personally believe that Christianity's claims to exclusivity are 100% true does not mean that I want the US government to mandate baptism or punish apostasy, heresy, or unbelief. Why can't I leave these nice people alone?
Well, there is another layer of the onion at work in the marriage debate. Gay Marriage proponents are quick to say that allowing homosexuals to have marriage rights has no effect on the marriages of heterosexuals. I respectfully disagree. Marriage, as a legal institution, has throughout history not been about legitimizing sexual trysts between consenting adults. Marriage exists for one purpose: the raising of children into succesful adults (note: this does not mean that marriages cannot be childless, nor do I think the barren should be banned from marrying. Those outliers have negligible effect on the institution as a whole). The reason the government takes an interest in (and provides benefits to) marriage is similar to the reason they allow tax deductions for charitable giving and home ownership--they perceive a societal benefit to the practice. A great deal of research has been done on various factors that influence the strength of marriage as an institution. Some of the best work has been done regarding Scandanavia, where they are well "ahead" of us in liberalizing marriage. (If you are interested, try googling "Stanley Kurtz" and "Scandanavia" and "marriage." The main finding is this--whenever marriage is liberalized (including, by the way, the loosening of heterosexual divorce laws, or relaxations on social stigmas against cohabitation and illigitimacy), the institution itself suffers. Marriage rates drop, and the rates of children being raised in non-traditional homes rises. Again--a disclaimer: single parents, widows, blended families, etc. CAN do a wonderful job of raising families. My mother was raised in a non-traditional household. But statistically, the evidence is overwhelming that kids have the best chance of success when raised by Mom and Dad. One need only to look at the inner-cities of America to see the sad consequences of separating marriage from procreation. (You would almost think God knew what he was doing!) To the extent that legalizing Gay Marriage undermines the institution of marriage, it stops being "victimless," and begins to have victims... and the victims are future generations of children. (By the way, this is why I also think of abortion as being a more serious issue than other "social issues." In my mind, babies are good. Hurting babies is bad. Killing babies is VERY bad.)
But, you may say, if you feel that way, why don't you oppose no-fault divorce? Or, as one blogger wrote recently, "why not let gays have marriage, since we're not using it?" Actually, I DO oppose no-fault divorce (or rather, I would have, had I been old enough when that issue was being debated). But that toothpaste is already out of the tube. And just because we're doing one harmful thing to marriage doesn't mean that it logically follows that we therefore are obligated to throw away all restraint. That's like saying, "You're already speeding--why not take off your seat belt and have a beer while you're at it?"
There's also one other very important area of this debate that needs discussion. That is the area of civil rights. For many (and I do sympathize with them), this argument is about civil rights. Courts imposing gay marriage, even over the will of the people, is just like the courts striking down segregation in the 1954 Brown decision. It has been said that "gay is the new black." By that logic, those of us on the anti- side are just like those who favored Jim Crow. But there is another wrinkle, constitutionally. For those of us who are devout Christians, our first-amendment rights to free exercise of our religion--the right to speak and act in accordance with the belief that Romans chapter 1 is not just a myth--is going to bump headlong into the rights of homosexuals under the 14th amendment to be treated exactly like any other minority group. It has already begun to happen. Where gay marriage has been legalized (like Massachusetts), religious people have seen their ability to follow their consciences diminished. Catholic adoption agencies have been told they cannot opt out of providing adoption services to gay couples based on their religious beliefs (and, to their credit, they have stopped providing the services rather than go along to get along... again, with the result that more innocent children are harmed). At some point in the future, this slipperly slope leads to less religious freedom. Don't get me wrong--it may actually be good for Christendom in the long run to be more countercultural, even persecuted. but don't expect me to volunteer for it.
There are plenty of other, tangential, issues. A definition of marriage based on sexual attraction which rejects arbitrary standards such as being of opposite sexes leads directly to polygamy (2 is an arbitrary number), even incest between consenting adults (why should I not be allowed to marry my cousin or my sister, or for that matter my brother, or all three?) And society giving out benefits (such as joint-tax-filing rates or Social Security Survivors' Benefits) to people with less and less "arbitrary" requirements leads to all sorts of people lining up for them. Unless we're going to demand some sort of proof of consummation of the "marriage," why should anyone ever be single in the eyes of the tax man again? Looking back again at my mother's home: why should my grandmother and her sister, who lived together all their lives and raised a family, not be entitled to the same tax rates as two gay men or lesbian women who set up house together?
I could say lots and lots more. And none of what I would say is rooted in hate or bigotry. I've got friends who are gay, and I wouldn't want to do anything to cause them any harm or pain. But that doesn't mean that to avoid causing them pain I would be willing to accept all the consequences that go along with a redefinition of an institution that is thousands of years old. If it were not for these potential consequences, I would be perfectly fine with allowing pretty much anybody to do anything with anybody that interests them, and call it by any name they like. But I'm a big believer that your right to swing your arms ends right at the end of someone else's nose.