In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that laws limiting marriage to male-female couples violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. Since that time at least four groups have unsuccessfully sponsored new ballot initiatives for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Now a new anti-equal marriage proposition has made it to the November ballot. Proposition 8 proposes to add a section to the California Constitution that would read as follows: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
On street corners in California in the last few weeks, groups of men and woman stood holding “Yes on Prop 8” signs. As I walked by a group of them outside of my daughter’s elementary school one day, a woman holding a sign threatened to rip my Obama T-shirt off of my back. Our children attend the same school, and she did it in a joking manner, but then in a serious tone, she said, “Gay marriage will ruin society.” I said, “How so?” “Traditional marriage will not be the same,” to which I said, “You can’t be serious.” She added, “It’s in the scriptures.” It seems to me that advocating for a law because it is in the scriptures implies a motivation to proscribe the rules of a particular religion on our state. Not only are church and state supposed to be separate, but this is the opposite of freedom of religion. While I waited on the corner for the traffic light to turn green, I was, of course, compelled to pull out my iPhone lightsaber. And I started writing this post in my head.
There are a lot of misconceptions and differing views about same-sex marriage. I am utterly at a loss to understand how someone else’s marriage could possibly diminish mine in any way. Supporting same-sex marriage does not mean that I oppose traditional marriage. It seems to me that giving all adults the same rights to legalized marriage only adds credibility and cache to the entire venture, but maybe I’m missing something. Will our population dwindle away because same-sex couples cannot procreate? More likely, the children of loving same-sex couples that adopt or go the extra mile in other ways to raise them will have the same legal protections that benefit children of heterosexual parents.
I think that discrimination rather than same-sex marriage could be the downfall of our society. To promote a discriminatory agenda, sometimes people wield threats in God’s name. Such strong-arm tactics are the infant brother of crusades and jihads and holy wars. Some induce fear about sensitive topics like children, schools, church, and taxes. Gay marriage will not be taught in schools. For that matter, I didn’t know that straight marriage ever was. But personally I would not mind if someone taught my child that there are all kinds of families because as it so happens there are all kinds of families. Churches will not be required to marry state-licensed same-sex couples or lose their tax-exempt status. And in case nobody has noticed, many churches have been marrying same-sex couples that do not even have licenses anyway. And you know what? I think that’s what Jesus would do.
While church and state are supposed to be separate, and I think they should be separate, there is an awful lot of religious talk and financial backing from churches going into anti-equal marriage propositions and court cases. I think that is wrong, not simply because church and state should be separate, but because I don’t believe that God (or whatever you call your higher power, if you have one) would be a proponent of discrimination. Period. Only because the issue of gay marriage keeps coming up in the context of religion, and, in particular, by Christians, am I adding to the discourse my view from a pew.*
I find it deeply troubling that many Christians, the very people who profess to be following Christ’s teachings, are opposed to legalized same-sex marriage. Christ commanded that we be inclusive and nonjudgmental, and that we treat each other equally. What could be less Christ-like than denying all human beings the same rights and privileges based upon immutable characteristics (e.g., race, gender, age, or sexual orientation)? In 1952, our nation’s highest court ruled that separate but equal is not equal at all, making that the law of our land, and that law is wholly consistent with Christ’s teachings, even, if not especially, applied to legalizing same-sex marriage (or in the case of California, keeping same-sex marriage legal).
“I can disagree with gay marriage but still love gay people” and/or “I don’t mind the idea of civil unions just not gay marriage” is a common refrain from some Christians. But the love-the-sinner-not-the-sin attitude requires judgment and labeling forbidden to Christians. Not being the first to cast stones is a mandate not to judge or label. We are told not to “remove the splinter from our brother’s eye lest we miss the log in our own.” Civil unions and marriage are inherently unequal and therefore unjust. Christians are called to act for justice and fairness. That is what it means to love our neighbors. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is essentially a rule of justice and equality. Christians are commanded not only to refrain from discrimination, but to see the universal oneness in all. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for all are one in Jesus Christ.” This list is clearly meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive such that we can say that there is neither black nor white, Christian nor Atheist, gay nor straight, for we all are one.
To live as Christ taught, as Christ lived, we must treat everyone with fairness and justice, and without judgment and labels. Moreover, we know that Jesus asked us to take particular care to treat equally and protect those who are vulnerable, those who cannot or are less able to stand up for themselves. There are many Bible stories to support this, but one that I like is when Jesus picked up the little child and told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus also said that what we do for the least of these we do for him. When Jesus used as an example a “child,” or spoke of “the least of these,” he meant anyone without power, anyone without an effective voice in society, anyone who is vulnerable because he or she is different from the majority. And isn’t each of us different from the majority in some way?
Drawing a line that says homosexuals engaged in committed, consensual, loving, adult relationships are not entitled to the same rights and privileges and legal status that are granted to heterosexuals under the same circumstances is drawing a discriminatory line. Not only did Christ speak and act against discrimination, he asked that we take action against any such injustice that might be rendered upon another. Offering one set of couples a civil union and allowing another to marry is separate but equal all over again, and our nation did away with that discriminatory practice in 1952. As recently as 1967, anti-miscegenation laws in some states prohibited interracial couples from legally marrying. Eventually “separate but equal” and “anti-miscegenation” laws were held unconstitutional, with churches among the strongest civil rights proponents leading the way. With regard to legalized same-sex marriage, it is time again for churches to step up and lead the way so that all of God’s people are treated equally in society.
*The views expressed herein are mine, of course, although not mine alone. However, I recognize that the topic of legalized gay marriage raises strong feelings, mine included, and that not everyone will agree with my views. For example, some might argue that I purposefully cherry picked pliant Bible verses to discuss. I am aware that there are other passages in the Bible that many people, scholars, theologians, and religious leaders read to specifically prohibit gay sex. I am familiar with those, and I have opposing views as to how those Bible passages are properly interpreted, which views I am willing to share and discuss. What would you expect from a lawyer with a Bible? So if you don’t agree with my views and/or if you have additional points that you want to raise or discuss, I will respond to relevant and respectful comments or questions by email, in the comment section, or in a follow-up post.