Religious marriage, post-gay

by on July 24, 2011  •  In Culture, Marriage, Religion

Years of debates within the lgbt community over prioritizing access to marriage as a movement goal have stretched into decades, and I long ago gave up on hearing any new arguments on any side. Perhaps the only principle held universally in this intra-community disputation is that religious and civil marriage should be understood as separate and limited to their respective zones. As social acceptance of same-sex marriage increases, the number of faith groups performing them will probably increase — or not, but that's up to each religion. Access to civil marriage should be determined by application of secular principles such as equality, not based on majoritarian religious belief. And that's pretty much it for overlap.

Then I came across an essay in the Boston Review by gay writer Jason Anthony, who does have something original to say. So – even though it isn't my argument – in honor of the big day in New York, here are excerpts:

…I question whether embracing marriage is the spiritually and morally right thing for gays to do. I have intermittently made my living writing about religion and therefore witnessed a great deal of religious activity. In churches, synagogues, and mosques, something fundamentally restorative happens—mostly, I think, because the communities that meet there are so like queer families. Congregants make a simple commitment to be there for one another. By this act, if nothing else, they offer absolution for the many failings of the individual. Perhaps this is why the religious, according to research reported by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell in American Grace (2010), test as happier and more involved and invested citizens. Religion has gotten a bad rap for being exclusionary, but some of us still celebrate it as an unmatched social tonic.

That said, gay marriage may cause the greatest quake in the history of Judeo-Christian religion since the Protestant Reformation. A straightforward reading of Leviticus and Romans shows that a government siding with same-sex partnerships is a gauntlet thrown down to the Judeo-Christian tradition. A line in the sand has been crossed.

To be fair, society crosses these lines often. Women have spoken in church, despite Paul’s strictures. Slavery eventually passed away, though slaves in the New Testament are advised to be obedient. But the homosexuality debate is, to my mind, of an entirely different degree. On other social issues of our day, early Christians were a liberal vanguard. They promoted the radical message that, in spiritual life, “there is neither . . . slave nor free, male nor female.” Not so with homosexuality. Same-sex carnality falls unequivocally afoul of early Christian morality, just as it does with that of nearly every venerated holy text worldwide.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James points out that, time and again, societies take drastic steps when the will of the people conflicts with religious values. Deities get discarded when they fall out of step with popular morality.

"So soon as [the fruits of the deity] conflicted with indispensible human ideals, or thwarted too extensively other values; so soon as they appeared childish, contemptible, or immoral when reflected on, the deity grew discredited, and was erelong neglected and forgotten."

From the decadence and blood sacrifice of the pagan god-emperors that inspired the founding of Christianity to the excesses of the sixteenth-century church that led to the Reformation, new morals mean trouble for the spiritual status quo.

Fine, for those who can do without faith. But others, like myself, who value our shared architectures of morality and meaning may wonder what lies ahead. Will the LGBT world assimilate with our marriages and our normalized families to the Christian moral tradition—or might we represent some kind of Jamesian next chapter?

Our acceptance, let’s remember, was contingent on society deciding that consenting adults may choose their own kind of love. Is this the nature of the gift that we are meant to bring the future? If so, is fighting for marriage, and only marriage, in some sense a moral failure? What about the many other blessed varieties of human love to which, during our forty years in the wilderness, we gays and lesbians gave birth?…


3 Responses to Religious marriage, post-gay

  1. July 24, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    The notion of a “straightforward reading of Leviticus and Romans” is an asinine oxymoron.

    The real “gauntlet” here is the chasm between the dogmatic sects and the new, more flexible franchises (the latter of which the former never cease denigrating as “passing fads”).

    The Catholic Church survived Copernicus (whom Luther, recall, condemned), Judaism survived the Reform movement (although not in Israel), the Mormon Church survived 1890 and 1978. Gay marriage will be just another data point.

  2. Jay July 24, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    The whole argument is absurd. Who says that the only thing we are fighting for is marriage? As far as I know, no one on our side of the debate is calling for mandatory marriage. The idea that homosexuality is somehow so heinous a sin that accepting it will destroy civilization is nonsense. Just because it echoes NOM doesn’t mean that it is worth calling attention to.

  3. Judy December 18, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    I have no problem at all with gay love. I do however have a real problem with the gay activists wishing to hijack christian marriage. Marriage only makes sense as an institution if it is a union between man and woman. Gays can have another union – civil partnership – which works the same – leave us ‘marriage ‘ it doesnt belong to you.

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