Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Advice on Same Sex Marriage to the Church and the State.

What is marriage---anyway?  It seems that depends on who’s asking. It's a contract binding men with women some say. For others it's a commitment to love in either a gay or straight relationship.  Both notions share a premise its legitimacy is predicated on a promise of fidelity. Does the heart of marriage depend on whether the partners involved are of opposite gender? Is this essential? We just don’t agree on the answer.

Historically the institution has been considered a union between men and women. When the ancient Romans married in the era of Augustus 2,000 years ago, the state sanctioned only marital contracts between men and women. It had been that way among the peoples of the world 2,000 years before the era of Augustus. The water in the idea of gay marriage is a puddle in the sea of world history. But think about it---in the not too distant past similarly so was the idea of marrying for love.  In the broad stroke of history, love has not been of primary importance as a foundational factor. Feelings between the parties were secondary or discounted. Marriages were political and economic arrangements to benefit the wider family. Historian Will Durant wrote in his book "The Renaissance" (The Story of Civilization) that it "...was an affair of property, and property could not be made dependent upon the passing whims of physical desire." I wonder if the spread of the idea that people marry for love helps to explain part of the momentum for the idea that gay people have a legal right to marry. Maybe patterns of thought about love that began two centuries ago are simply extending in ways we’ve never seen before. In any case, if two people of the same sex do marry, the question remains---ought the federal government validate that marriage?

I respect my gay friends and relatives, but I don't believe a valid marriage can take place unless it’s between a man and a woman. I don’t believe homosexual sex itself is legitimate because I believe sex is legitimate only within marriage. These are my personal religious beliefs. Since I'm single and a Christian who accepts  the tenants of Catholicism, I choose to live a celibate life until I marry should that happen. 

Who isn't aware that Christianity is engaged in political efforts to support the definition of marriage as a contract between men and women?  It’s due to an unprecedented challenge from those who want to broaden its meaning. But my advice to the Church is to stop the politics. The definition of marriage as a union between men and women is faith based.  I never heard a reason against gay marriage that made sense to me except for theological ones.  The religious constructs don't have bearing on the capacity of gay people to form exclusive relationships within a covenant of fidelity. If there was a proposition to define marriage as meant only for opposite sex couples, though I agree with the definition, I wouldn’t vote in favor of it. People in a gay marriage are no more and no less capable of commitment as straight people. I see this with my own eyes.

I don’t believe it's right to attempt to mandate into law religious belief on this matter. I'm obliged to seek clarity about  truth. I'm obliged to listen to other points of view with an open mind. I'm obliged to seriously consider the official teachings of my church. But my advice to the church is to focus on spreading the gospel rather than opposing gay marriage. Jesus took the Roman coin and showed the image of Caesar to His interlocutors, then said to give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar. When we examine marriage, can anyone disagree rightly that it stems from state authority? No church can marry without the consent of the state. Gay marriage is a political construct that falls within the boundaries of Caesar's realm.

Still, it bothers me that many people are so ready to re-define a word that has had the same meaning throughout 99.9 percent of human history. I don't think we should allow it to happen. But words live for us to employ and not the other way around.

I read an idea recently put forth to scrap the word marriage. Do surgery with word substitution on the body politic. Take out ‘marriage’ and insert ‘union’. We could agree on what union means.  When a couple, straight or gay, goes to the county court-house to indicate for the record they are committing, call it union. Don't call it marriage. Let those of us who are committed to another person say "I'm in a union" instead of in a marriage. We could agree on the meaning of that word. We can't agree on the meaning of the word marriage. The churches by and large won't let us. We as a plural society do agree both definitions share the idea of the importance of the promise to fidelity. Let's jettison the word in its political sense. When a couple commit for the record their relationship becomes a union. Call it a union! If that couple want the union recognized as marriage--- have them go to a church to have it recognized as such. Let the religious institutions confer an offshoot of union named marriage. We ought render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, but Caesar ought respect the  4,000 year old definition of marriage.