Thursday, August 02, 2012

On the Movement for Marriage Equality

Does the world need one more blog post about Chic-Fil-A and its CEO's stand on same-sex marriage?  Isn't this one of those tempest-in-a-teapots, those much-ado-about-nothing situations that are only blown out of proportion by all the pontificating?  After all, Dan Cathy has an absolute first amendment right to free speech.  And if I want this constitutional right which I so deeply cherish to mean anything I must defend it even when the speech seems to me to be mean or hateful.  Even when I find it deplorable.  What's the old saying?  I disagree with what you have to say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

I am, after all, a liberal.  I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister, for God's sake!  "Acceptance" and "tolerance" are our hallmarks.  "Freedom" is our mantra.  It's been said that the only thing a UU cannot tolerate is intolerant people . . . and to avoid being one of those intolerant people ourselves we're willing to put up with a whole lot of things.  Sometimes we even end up defending the right of people to say and do those things.

Well, that's just wrong.

Let me say that again because I know some people think that a wishy-washy, moral relativist who "respects the inherent worth and dignity of every person" would never take a stand and say that someone or something else is wrong.

Well, that's wrong too.

My faith tradition affirms and promotes "the free and responsible search for truth and meaning," not a feckless and meaningless search for half-baked platitudes.  And while Dan Cathy certainly has the right to voice his opinions, I have a responsibility to respond with the truths I have found in my searching.  My openness to having my opinions changed as I make new discoveries does not preclude my lifting up the truths I have found and challenging the opinions of others.  In fact, it requires me to do so.  The search I am engaged in is for "truth and meaning," not mere opinions -- whether mine or others'.

So . . . there are people who feel that marriage is a sacred institution that has, since time immemorial been a covenant between one man and one woman.  There are people who feel that heterosexuality is the norm and that homosexuality is, then, abnormal.  Some even believe that there are strict moral strictures against homosexual behavior of any kind and, so, certainly against homosexual "marriage."  These people often feel that the very foundations of civilization are jeopardized by an acceptance of this abnormal and immoral lifestyle.

Here's some of what I have discovered in my "search for truth and meaning":
  • Homosexuality may be less common than heterosexuality, but it is no less "normal."  Homosexual behavior has been observed in nearly 1,500 species and is well documented in 500 of them.  And evidence of its presence has been found in every civilization and culture we human beings have ever developed throughout our history.  Feel whatever you want to about it, hold whatever opinions you wish, but the truth of things is that we live in a world in which some men love men and some women love women.  (And not to complicate things, but there are also men and women who are bi-sexual, not because they "can't make up their minds" but because they are naturally and normally attracted to persons rather than genders.  In fact, there are those who argue that this is really the norm for our species . . . but I digress.)
  • Marriage is not the monolith so many want to make it out to be.  Throughout our history on this planet -- across countries and cultures -- we human beings have come together in all sorts of different configurations and have held all sorts of opinions about who should, and who should not, be allowed to enter into these relationships.  These opinions have changed over time.  Even looking at one particular swath of human history -- the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition -- we see huge variations in understandings about marriage . . . many which would be considered abhorrent by modern standards.  And just looking at the history of the United States we don't have to look further back than the 1960s -- a mere fifty years ago -- to find a very different conception of marriage than we have today -- marriage between people of different races was considered amoral and illegal.  (The Supreme Court's decision in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case is fascinating reading in light of the current discussion of marriage equality.)  The formula marriage = one man + one woman has never been carved in stone; no understanding of it has.
  • And even if you believe that there are religious strictures against homosexuality in general and, so, homosexual marriage in particular, the United States is not governed by religious law.  It never has been, nor was it ever intended to be.  (As lead minister of a congregation named in memory of Thomas Jefferson, I think the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom illustrates the mind-set of this nation's founders quite well on this matter, as does Jefferson's famous comment about a "wall of separation" between church and state.)  The United States is not a theocracy; "Christian Sharia" should be as anathema here as Islamic Sharia would be.  We are a nation of law, not religious codes.
So what about Dan Cathy's right to voice his opinion?  He has that right, or course.  And I applaud his willingness to put his money where his mouth is, as it were, and to financially support the organizations he affirms.  Yet it has also been sagely noted that "your right to swing your arm ends when it impacts my face."  And the opposition of the religious and political right to marriage equality is impacting a lot of faces.

As the bumper sticker puts it, "If you don't condone same-sex marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex."  Affirming the right of homosexual couples to marry does nothing to so-called "traditional" marriages.  (If our culture of serial marriage and convenience divorce has not yet destroyed the "sanctity" of marriage, if our cult of celebrity with their marriages that can be measured in days or hours has not destroyed the "sanctity" of marriage, nothing will!)  Affirming the right of homosexual couples to marry -- and I don't say "giving homosexual couples the right to marry" because I believe that they already have this right as human beings but are currently being denied it -- will not require any clergy or congregation to bless such unions.  Religions will, and should, continue to be able to create their own codes of conduct and their own internal laws.  But religion should not be allowed to dictate the laws of our land.

One final thought:  Although the discussion has been framed around the issue of marriage equality the fundamental issue at stake is equality.  Given that the United States is a nation governed by law, and given that both a survey of history and a survey of nature shows that homosexuality is no more nor less "normal" than heterosexuality, should homosexual couples be denied a right that heterosexual couples take for granted?  Should the law distinguish between and create two classes of people -- one with certain inalienable rights and the other without?

That's what we need to be chewing on these days.

In Gasho,

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1 comment:

Ann Salamini said...

Thanks for posting a link to the Loving decision, Erik. Referring to marriage as "one of the basic civil rights of man" puts a nice bit of flooring under the same sex marriage debate.