By Stan Ridge
More than one Bible-thumping member of the Religious Right has told me, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” “Oh, and who created Steve?” I ask.
This flippant reply does not address their argument, and is as irrelevant as the creation story as a reason to forbid same-sex unions. I use it to put an end to a pointless discussion where neither of us has the remotest chance of convincing the other. But let us see what Genesis, ch. 2 tells us about the creation of woman.
And the Lord God said, “It is not fit that that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
So God creates Eve because Adam is lonely, not because he is horny. Why else would He first present Adam with “every beast of the field and every bird of the air”? But Adam turns them all down, probably because he’s both lonely and horny. But why, if God only means to provide companionship, does He create Eve instead of Steve? Because, I suppose, having created Adam, God knew that this man was heterosexual. Now if I had been the first being God created in His own image, Steve would have done very nicely, thank you, though I would have settled for Eve over a beast of the field. (That God created only one helpmate for Adam provides one of the standard arguments against polygamy, a subtlety that apparently went over the heads of many Biblical characters.)
My point is that the Bible clearly implies that the primary reason for getting married is companionship and mutual support. As the song from the 1955 TV production of Thornton Wilder’sOur Town succinctly puts it,
Love and marriage, love and marriage,
Go together like a horse and carriage.
Dad was told by Mother,
“You can’t have one without the other.”
But if marriage is all about companionship and helping one another, what objection could people possibly have to same-sex marriage? Because in their eyes the real purpose of marriage is to have sex, and a later verse in the same chapter of Genesis seems to back them up:
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.
(A conclusion, by the way, extrapolated from Adam’s words, not God’s.) God, these zealots believe, ordained marriage in order to sanitize sin. To paraphrase the same song:
Sex in marriage, sex in marriage,
It’s the horse that really pulls the carriage.
As Dad said to Mother,
“You can’t have one without the other.”
(I shall hold my stanza on extramarital sex in reserve for a future rant.)
In other words, they oppose same-sex marriage on two counts: 1) that homosexuals are so inherently evil that they do not deserve the escape hatch from sin God has granted straight people, and 2) homosexual relations are by nature unsanitizable and will inevitably contaminate the cleansing agent. There is no answering this argument. The people who make it have shut their minds like a dead clam that no amount of steaming will open and whose shell is probably full of mud anyway.
Only the most rabid opponents of same-sex marriage will admit that is why they fight against it tooth and nail. Most people put forward less emotionally charged rationalizations, which I propose to answer here.
Only a mighty handful of fanatics say that they marry so they can fuck and remain innocent. Most often we hear that the purpose of marriage is reproduction. Indeed, God does tell us to be fruitful and multiply – it is His first commandment to all creation – however, nowhere does He add, “but get married first.”
If the primary function of marriage (Biblical evidence notwithstanding) is to make babies, we must admit two people of the same sex can’t (no Biblical evidence required). But two people of the opposite sex can make babies, whether or not they are married, and many are born out of wedlock, and I understand their numbers are on the rise. Surely an equally important reason to marry is toraise the children one makes. Now, all laws recognize barren marriages (though in some countries it is grounds for divorce or annulment), and grant these couples the same rights as those who multiply like rabbits. Here in America every state in the Union allows single-parent adoption, but that parent becomes a “head of household” and cannot claim all the tax deductions of a married couple. Four explicitly prohibit same-sex couples from adopting a child, although one member of such a couple may adopt (none forbids adoption by individual gays or lesbians), but only one member can file as head of household; the other must file separately as a single person. Thus the government grants tax breaks to married couples and discriminates against homosexuals by not allowing them to marry.
But how could anyone miss the illogic of the initial argument? If the purpose of marriage is to raise children, and gays and lesbians can have children, then why can’t they marry? As often happens when feelings – in this case prejudice against homosexuals – carry more weight than logic, discussion of the issue trails off onto irrelevant tangents. How often do we hear arguments that pertain to adoption and child rearing instead of same-sex marriage?
I remember listening to a debate on the radio between a minister and a lesbian mother in civil union with her partner. He kept pressing the point that a child needs a father and a mother, that children who grow up in a household where the father has disappeared more often become delinquents than those raised in a two-parent family. Excuse me? Doesn’t 1 mom + 1 mom = 2 parents? And would the statistics be the same if adjusted to take into consideration the woman’s economic status, the neighborhood she lives in, if the absent father was abusive, and whether she takes another sexual partner and if that partner is abusive? True, some same-sex relationships are also abusive, but these are not the couples who seek to get married. An abusing man marries a woman in order to make her, in his eyes, his legal property. The situation does not apply to same-sex couples.
We are told that same-sex unions send the wrong message to children. What message? The example of two people in a loving relationship? That homosexuals are human beings with the same strengths, weaknesses and aspirations as anyone? That it is all right to be yourself? A roughly equal percentage of children raised by same- and opposite-sex couples grow up to become homosexuals.
We hear that other kids will tease and pick on those who have two mothers or two fathers. Believe me, they can handle it, and if the community supports the couple and intervenes to stop the bullying, it will stop.
Our opponents thunder that same-sex marriage will undermine family values. Is there anything more family oriented than marriage? They claim it will destroy the institution itself. How can one couple’s marriage destroy everybody’s? Infidelity, unrealistic expectations, irreconcilable differences, outside pressures – those kinds of things cause marriages to fall apart, not who gets married across the street from you or in a neighboring town. If you worry about the end of the world, think global warming or nuclear war or pandemics or a financial meltdown, not Divine retribution. Similarly, we can dismiss out of hand the ridiculous assertion that same sex-marriage opens the door to adults marrying children or even animals. Marriage is consensual. Animals cannot consent to anything, nor can human beings below the age of consent.
As for the argument that since the sacred texts of all monotheistic religions condemn homosexuality we must not sanctify same-sex unions by the name of marriage, we may ask whether the word itself confers sanctity on anything. Moreover, the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, that the State is obliged to accept any marriage performed by a church it officially recognizes, seems to me irrefutable. The option of having all religious groups decide by majority how we must all view homosexual relationships denies our right to freedom of religion and imposes one set of beliefs on everyone, thus essentially (and unconstitutionally) establishing a state religion.
Others advance the traditionalist argument that marriage has meant a man and a woman since time immemorial. This is probably true. People had been governed by kings from time immemorial, but we formed a democracy; people had kept slaves from time immemorial, but we passed the Thirteenth Amendment. However uncomfortable many people feel about same-sex marriages today, a generation from now they will not. Traditions are not only a thing of the past, but of the present.
Many of these traditionalists ask, “Why not settle for civil union?” For one, federal law does not guarantee civil unions all the advantages married couples enjoy, nor do marriage and civil union have an equal status in the eyes of society as a whole. No doubt that will change in time. Finally, many people with deep religious convictions feel the need to have their church “sanctify” their unions by calling it marriage. They, too, are traditionalists.
Yet marriage has not always been a religious rite. It originated as a contract between clans, in fact, a bill of sale by which the girl (less often a woman) became the property of her husband’s family in return for a dowry. Under Jewish law marriage is a two-part process, the engagement (which requires a divorce to break) and the wedding, which need not take place in a synagogue and at which the rabbi officiates only in an advisory capacity. Prayers are said, but neither they nor the rabbi marries the couple; their agreement to the union marries them. In Christianity, although couples routinely had a priest bless their union, marriage did not become a Church monopoly until the 13th century, and only became one of the seven official sacraments near the end of the Council of Trent in 1563. The captain of a ship who performs the ceremony at sea is not an ordained clergyman.
So, where do we stand as of this writing? I cannot begin to give a complete list of jurisdictions around the world that grant same-sex marriages or civil unions, recognize them if performed elsewhere, guarantee certain rights to same-sex couples not in an official union, or the patchwork of myriad combinations. So far seven countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway and Sweden – have legalized same-sex marriage. (Homosexual acts are capital offenses in nineteen others.) Twenty countries currently perform civil unions. Eight have announced their intention to legalize same-sex marriage in the near future – Portugal within a few weeks – or at least get the issue out of the closet and onto the table. This is progress.
And in my country, the cradle of democracy? Same-sex couples are allowed to marry in four states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont; and soon in New Hampshire, too (January 2010). The same-sex marriage bills enacted in California and Maine were reversed by popular referendum, due in no small measure to their opponents’ bald-faced lies. In California they asserted that under the law churches refusing to perform such marriages would lose their tax-exempt status, and in Maine that they were being “pushed” in the primary schools, which may be true if you think ‘pushed’ and ‘mentioned’ are synonyms. The anti-gay marriage faction repeatedly resorts to scare tactics and bullying. The same-sex marriage bill for Washington DC has more than enough votes to pass, so the archdiocese there says that it will cancel all the contracts Catholic Charities has with the city. I have read the reasons it has given three times and cannot find a bit of sense in them. They talk about gay couples adopting children. But unmarried gay couples already adopt children. What’s the difference? Would you believe? – if same-sex marriage becomes legal in Washington, the Church will close the soup kitchens in the middle of a recession. This is shameful.
In New York, the same-sex marriage bill passed by the Assembly lost in the Senate this morning (2 December), as expected. The New Jersey Legislature recently postponed a decision on the issue although it has enough votes to pass and the incoming governor has vowed to veto it. The situation in Rhode Island, with the government generally favorable and the courts opposed, is ambiguous. The Constitutions of nineteen states prohibit any kind of same-sex unions. This is frustrating.
We face an uphill struggle, and may expect many more setbacks. We patiently answer the arguments against us with reason. Our answers have little effect, because those arguments spring from prejudice: the prejudice of hatred (“Them damn faggots!”), the prejudice of belief (“Youcan’t do what my religion forbids”), and the prejudice of tradition (“Marriage in our culture has meant one man and one woman for centuries”). The third prejudice is slowly fading, the second has no place in a democracy, and the first is beneath contempt.