Today the U.S. Supreme Court finds itself the focus of media attention as it deliberates on the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban (Proposition 8). In a show of solidarity, many of my friends who support gay marriage changed their Facebook profile pictures to a pink equal sign over a red background– a symbol promoted by gay activist group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that stands for equality– the implication being that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples creates a system of inequality. As someone who doesn’t find either side’s arguments on this issue convincing, it’s difficult to know how to respond to the advocacy of friends who both support gay marriage as well as those who denounce it.
On one hand, it seems heartless to take a stance on an issue that results in emotional hardship for human beings that God loves. To not be able to visit a loved one in the hospital or be able to share your material goods with them because the law doesn’t think your relationship is valid carries with it an apparent implication that you’re a second class citizen. More than that, the cold characterizations of, and unloving attitudes shown toward, homosexuals by many conservative Christians puts Christ to an open shame. If Christians are to see homosexual behavior as a sin or an aberration, why is it also necessary to caricature homosexuals and elevate homosexual behavior to the status of a super-sin that calls down the wrath of God more than the sins they find themselves engaging in– whether private sins of dishonesty or infidelity, or political sins of militarism or nationalism? Going further, why is this sin the one that should almost single-handedly define the political platform of Christ’s followers in the West?
On the other hand, to speak of “marriage equality” consistently is to say that government should also provide benefits to polygamists, those in committed incestuous relationships, etc. If we are to redefine marriage as to exclude gender distinctions, why then must we hold onto old-fashioned concepts like monogamy? If a man is born desiring multiple women, why should our traditional morality keep him from satisfying his desires with the endorsement of our government? In other words, how many lifestyles must we force government to approve of before we can speak of true equality?
What I see in this debate is two groups vying for control. One group will not be satisfied if the other group gets their way. If the gay rights movement wins, it will win by forcing the government to view their relationships as morally equivalent to heterosexual relationships– a government which represents a people which is evenly divided on whether or not this is actually the case. In other words, it will win by forcing its values onto the people, using the political and legal force of government to back its view of morality.
If the conservative (mainly Christian-identifying) side wins, it will also win by forcing its own morality onto the people– a people which, once again, is evenly divided on this issue.
To get government on your side is to have the force of government behind you, with the ultimate goal of enforcing your position and keeping down those whom you disagree with. For Christians who are for a traditional, government-defined view of marriage, this truth is particularly disheartening. It is tantamount to saying that the faith of the suffering Jesus Christ– who loved all sinners and announced to His executioner that His servants would not fight because His kingdom is not of this world– has been reduced to a grab for political power. The gospel is no longer the good news of the saving, forgiving Messiah, but the conquering force of an earthly kingdom– a force which does not love sinners and show them compassion and respect, but subjugates them to a second class role.
What makes this debate all the more frustrating is that we could promote equality without the government forcing anyone’s values on anyone else. By simply not issuing marriage licenses and allowing for domestic partnerships (which need not even be romantic in nature, but merely legal contracts), the benefits of marriage could be given to both heterosexual and homosexual couples without either side using government as a tool for the subjugation of groups that they disagree with. Unfortunately, this true equality– one that doesn’t force private morality onto society but respects the rights of all citizens to live freely– isn’t good enough for either side.
That being said, I am not nearly as worried as some of my Christian conservative friends are about the way this ruling might come down. If government sides against Christian tradition, what then? We will simply have to acknowledge what has been true all along– the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of this world. Instead of trying to demonstrate God’s power through political force, Christians should follow the example of Christ who treated all humans equally– as sinners that God loves– regardless of what law or custom said about them.
Hopefully at that point, when we finally lose our grasp of the civil authority, our history of hatred and misrepresentation will not come back to bite us and force on us the second class citizenship we have tried to force on others.
Useful resources also coming from this perspective: