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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Self-Interview about Same-Sex Marriage (2)

I sat down with myself recently and asked myself some questions about same-sex marriage (part 2 of 3).

Who are you to tell someone who they can or can't marry?

I'm no one to tell anyone who they can or can't marry.  I can't force my beliefs on anyone, and I don't intend to try.  Because in fact, this very day anyone can consider themselves married to anyone they want.  If you are committed to your partner, and your partner is committed to you, and you pledge your lives to each other, even having someone to officiate a ceremony that says as much, and you consider yourselves married, no one can prevent you from doing that.  This is a free country, meaning that we recognize our inability to make anyone believe or not believe one thing or another.  So if you want to marry someone of the same sex, you can go right ahead.

But of course, this is not what proponents of same-sex marriage want.  It's not so much that they want for people to be able to marry others of the same sex; it's that they want such a marriage to be recognized by society at large both in general opinion and through the laws of the state.  This instinct is appropriate, because marriage is a public institution that is woven deeply into the life of every community.  A marriage not recognized widely as a marriage does lack a degree of integrity.  Nevertheless, since what proponents of same-sex marriage are looking for is recognition of these marriages by society at large, it is they who are trying to force their beliefs on other people.  I can't make someone who wants to pledge themselves in marriage to someone of the same sex not do so.  But some are trying to make me recognize a same-sex union as equivalent to an opposite-sex one as a member of a society organized around marriage in innumerable ways (tax law, for example).

So, I'm no one to tell someone who they can or can't marry.  But who is anyone to tell me what marriage I must or must not recognize?

How does disallowing same-sex marriage not violate the basic principle of equality under the law secured in our national and state constitutions?

Well, since I'm not a constitutional lawyer, I shouldn't get too deep into this, because I know enough to know that I don't really know what I'm talking about here.  But my basic answer, going back to the first question, is that every person in this country of requisite age may marry someone who is not a close relative.  It's just that "to marry" means by definition "to become joined in covenantal, sexual union with a member of the opposite sex."  As I said before, that's what marriage is.  Everyone has the right to do that.  To argue that some do not have their equal right to marry because they want to marry their same-sex partner is like arguing that some do not have their equal right to assembly because they want to assemble all alone.  It turns inside out the meaning of the words "assemble" and "marry."

But deep down, we already know this.  I just mentioned that we restrict marriage to people who are old enough and who aren't marrying a close relative.  We also restrict marriage to people who aren't currently married to someone else and who intend to marry a human being.  We place all these restrictions on marriage because we believe that anyone who enters into a marriage otherwise hasn't really entered it—it isn't real.  Until recently, marrying someone of the opposite sex was considered everywhere to be one of those requirements, but in any case, this way of restricting marriage to what is really marriage is not new.

Is keeping same-sex marriage illegal part of an agenda to make homosexual practice itself illegal or to discriminate against homosexuals?

Not for me.  Now, as I stated before, I do believe that homosexual practice is immoral.  And I also want to distinguish carefully between homosexual practice and homosexual desire.  A person may make choices that increase or decrease their amount of homosexual desire over the long term, but I recognize that they may not be able to do anything about the existence of homosexual desire within them.  That may truly be outside their control.  We can't be responsible for such desires.  But we are responsible for whether and how we act on our desires.  This is what I mean by homosexual practice, and I do believe that acting to gratify this desire is morally wrong.

But "morally wrong" does not necessarily mean "illegal."  It's grossly impractical and arguably itself wrong to make every wrong thing illegal.  I mean, when I lose my temper at someone when I'm driving, that's morally wrong.  Do we have the capacity or will within the court system to prosecute people for that consistently?  And how do we go about proving that someone has done something wrong within their thoughts, which only God can see clearly?

Even when it comes to physical actions, the law isn't always the best way of handling things.  Theologian David Wells described it this way.  There are some things that we generally agree are both wrong and dangerous to others.  This falls into the category of law.  Then there are other things that we generally agree are right and are good for the world.  These things we certainly don't want to prohibit.  But there's a gray area in between of things that we believe (perhaps not as widely) are wrong and potentially harmful, but these things are more situational, complicated, and/or private.  We don't think they should happen, at least not all the time or in every circumstance, but the law is too blunt an instrument to sort out what's right and what's not or impossible to be enforced fairly across the board.  This is the realm of virtue, where we hope that in place of people avoiding the wrong thing because it's against the law, they will avoid it because it offends their honor and their interior sense of what is right and wrong.

Every generation to some degree renegotiates what behaviors fall into each of these three categories.  In a prior era, homosexual practice fell into the realm of law.  Then it moved into the realm of virtue as sodomy laws ceased to be enforced.  Now some argue that it should move into the realm of what is altogether good.  I don't think it should go there.  But I don't think it should fall under law again either.  In other words, I don't think homosexual behavior should be criminalized.

Likewise, I don't think that homosexuals should be discriminated against in day-to-day life.  Otherwise, we would have to discriminate against everyone who does wrong but legal things, which means we would have to discriminate against all of ourselves, which means we would treat ourselves all the same, which means that we wouldn't be discriminating at all.

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