There was a big kerfluffle back in January on the interwebs when atheist turned Catholic blogger Leah Libresco came out in support of civil marriage for gays. She wrote:
Marriage in the Church is about both people making a positive committment to each other, to any future children, and to God.
Marriage administered by the State is about setting up protections for each person in the couple and any children who happen along
What the State does is important logistically, but is really a necessary but not sufficient way of talking about marriage. Currently, since we’re talking mainly about what rights the State gives to which people, we’re talking a lot about what we’re entitled to, not what we’re prepared to sacrifice and what we’re giving it up for. Those questions are partially addressed by the communities and traditions (religious or not) that shape our cultural understanding of marriage, but the way that purely civil marriage works does a lot to set expectations.
Here’s my one sentence, purely secular understanding of what marriage is about: You spur each other on to Virtue and you may want to spur children along in a similar way.
Not every gay couple queueing up is seeking that ideal, but plenty of them are. And it’s sure not the case that every pair of straights is looking to that goal either. And I believe that every marriage will benefit from putting that goal at the heart of the relationship, instead of thinking of marriage as something like your license to have sex without feeling guilty about it.
When a society has systematically excluded, harrassed, and intimidated a particular group, the burden of proof for anything bearing even a casual resemblance to discrimination is higher, as it ought to be. The great thing about the truth is that it’s out there to be interacted with. If we overcompensate for past wrongs, eventually we’ll notice, but, given that right now the one thing we’re really sure of as a society is that we were really badly calibrated on how threatening or decadent homosexuality was, some epistemological modesty is appropriate.
You can read the whole thing here. Leah got ripped a new one for that. I think some comboxers wanted to revoke her baptism or something. Even though she ends the post with a “hey, guys, I am only 28,” other, older Christians are making a similar argument. Bob Hyatt, a pastor of a nondenominational Christian church in Portland, wrote last year:
The State needs to get out of the “marriage” business. It should recognize that as long as it uses that term, and continues to privilege certain types of relationships over others this issue is going to divide us as a nation, and is only going to become more and more contentious. We need to move towards the system used in many European countries where the State issues nothing but civil unions to anyone who wants them, and then those who desire it may seek a marriage from the Church. When I pastored in the Netherlands, this was the system- you got a civil union certificate at the courthouse and then a Marriage ceremony at the church. This division largely negated the culture war aspect, and allowed those churches who objected to same sex marriage on biblical grounds to not only opt out, but to be able to continue to teach their biblical view of marriage, uncontradicted by the State.
Brian LePort, writing at Near Emmaus, agrees with Bob, and quotes C.S. Lewis to make his case:
Yesterday I proposed that we should make a distinction between civil unions recognized by the State (for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike) and marriage, something to be offered by churches, synagogues, mosques, and other visible religious institutions in ”A commonsense solution on same-sex marriage.” It appears that C.S. Lewis held to a similar paradigm. In a comment Ellen Cressman provided a quotation from Lewis’ Mere Christianity (p. 112 in the 2001 Harper San Francisco printing):
“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”
Now, let me be clear, I don’t agree with everything Lewis says in this chapter on “Christian Marriage,” especially his words immediately following on “headship” in the home. (Also, excuse his outdated reference to Muslims as “Mohommedans.”) Yet here I think he was on to something way back in 1952. Christians must be very, very careful about equating morality as governed by the Church with morality as governed by the State. We know this already, for as I mentioned yesterday we do not legislate divorce, even divorce save porneia, so we must be aware of the dangers of trying to use the State to do what even the Holy Spirit seems unable to do sometimes–hold together our marriages.
Now I know one reaction (and it was exhibited in the comments) is that if we move marriage away from the hands of the State, allowing them to provide a religious-less “civil union,” then we risk opening the floodgates to polygamy and all other sorts of “unions.” Fair enough, but at that we must ask what the State has to do with marriage/civil unions in the first place. I am not a historian of world culture, nor of marriage, but I assume that it has not always been so that the State dictated how marriage worked or determined who could or could not join together in a union. Christian marriage has existed with or without the approval and support of the State, so it was not the State that birthed Christian marriage.
Recently, Evangelical writer Karen Spears Zacharias also writes how civil marriage should be open to gays and lesbians:
Throughout the course of human history and world practices, marriage between threesomes and cousins has been the norm.
Used to be in the land before America, polygamy and marrying within one’s family clan was the common practice. Nobody thought it was weird. It was the way of the world.
But, yes, it is also true that the historical view of gay relationships has been a negative one. Gays have widely been regarded as those given over to perverse sexual appetites.
Which is exactly why Gay marriage ought to be considered a move in the right direction.
The fact that Gays want to enter into committed, monogamous relationship is a statement that they want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes of the past.
Getting married is a way of telling the rest of us that Gays value relationship more than sex. Gay marriage is a public proclamation that speaks to intimacy and commitment, not appetites gone wild.
Thus, the Gay Marriage movement ought to be viewed as a triumphant move in the right direction because nowhere else in history do we see gay sexual involvement seeking out committed marriage relationships.
Ultimately, allowing for the civil union of Gays is an idea that the moral majority and religiously reformed ought to embrace as affirmation of marriage, and a move away from the perversions of the past.
Gay Marriage is not something to be feared.
Judging some of those commenting after her post, there is much to be feared to some. What say you? Is this move towards embracing gay marriage-in the civil/secular- the future in Christianity? Is it a compromise?