On Marriage Equality

I haven’t writ­ten much on my blog in the past few years, let along any­thing about pol­i­tics. But this has been some week, has­n’t it? Today’s US Supreme Court 5–4 rul­ing strik­ing down anti-same-sex-mar­riage laws —such as those we have had! here in Ten­nessee— feels like a once-in-a-life­time kind of change. That so many Amer­i­cans are sud­den­ly free to mar­ry whom they choose is amaz­ing and I felt moved enough to remark on it.

Rethinking My Youth, Part II

I wrote about mar­riage laws over ten years ago on this site. That was inspired by Vir­gini­a’s (where my wife and I lived at the time) state Supreme Court struck down an old law that for­bid adults hav­ing sex out­side of mar­riage. It was crazy that it was still on the books in 2005, but as I not­ed, Vir­ginia also banned inter­ra­cial mar­riage up until the land­mark Lov­ing vs. Vir­ginia 48 years ago this month1. I con­clud­ed with the fol­low­ing para­graph:

This sounds like all the same ratio­nal for ban­ning homo­sex­u­al mar­riages: that because God obvi­ous­ly doesn’t want them, than nei­ther should we. I’m not so sure that there’s a whole lot of evi­dence that sug­gests God doesn’t want two lov­ing peo­ple to have a for­mal com­mit­ment. Fur­ther, I think that at some point in my life­time, we’ll look back at today’s anti-gay-mar­riage laws and feel the same way about ban­ning inter­ra­cial mar­riage and unmar­ried sex: why did we ever have laws insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing hate and crim­i­nal­iz­ing love?

Well, at that time I tru­ly did­n’t think it would hap­pen so fast. And in the con­text of such a huge change in both pub­lic opin­ion and dumb, anti-gay laws, a decade seems fast. How­ev­er, I am sure that a decade seemed far too long for those men and women in long-term rela­tion­ships who were for­bid from mar­ry­ing the man or woman they loved. To them, it must have seemed like for­ev­er and the strug­gles they faced were tremen­dous.

Angela and I have been hap­pi­ly mar­ried now for over thir­teen years. I love her more now than ever and it would be incon­ceiv­able that our mar­riage would have been con­sid­ered any­thing less than some­thing shout­ing for joy over, let alone like­ly ille­gal at one time in the state where we lived. Our mar­riage is as strong as we are able to make it. No one out­side of us —not straight or gay— can change that. The only two peo­ple who could make our mar­riage mean less are our­selves. Today’s SCOTUS rul­ing does­n’t change that at all. It just gives many more Amer­i­cans the chance to have that same oppor­tu­ni­ty and the legal ben­e­fits (of which there are many) that go along with it.

To My Fellow Christians…

To my fel­low Chris­tians —espe­cial­ly those of you who feel this rul­ing some­how hurts you— please emu­late the com­pas­sion and love of Christ. He nev­er once spoke on the sub­ject of same-sex rela­tion­ships or mar­riage. Those pas­sages many of you so often feel the need to throw around from the bible? Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing per­spec­tive from a Pres­by­ter­ian Church USA (my denom­i­na­tion) news arti­cle from March of this year, just after the PC(USA) allowed for same-sex mar­riages (empha­sis mine):

“Some will say that we have turned our back on the ‘clear teach­ing of Scrip­ture,’ ” says Todd Free­man, pas­tor of Col­lege Hill Pres­by­ter­ian Church in Tul­sa, Okla­homa. “It appears that many Pres­by­te­ri­ans now con­sid­er that this is not the case. We rec­og­nize that our cul­tur­al bias­es and prej­u­dices were woven through­out the bib­li­cal wit­ness. This recog­ni­tion has helped lead the Pres­by­ter­ian Church to change its tra­di­tion­al stance on a num­ber of issues, includ­ing slav­ery, racial equal­i­ty, and the right of women to be ordained into posi­tions of church lead­er­ship. Many of us also rec­og­nize that the bib­li­cal pas­sages that con­demn same-gen­der sex­u­al acts are not in ref­er­ence to cou­ples in a lov­ing mutu­al rela­tion­ship, but rather address rela­tion­ships that are con­trol­ling, abu­sive, and exploita­tive.

Please read here and here for some detailed expla­na­tions on that final sen­tence. And even if you do choose to inter­pret those very same pas­sages as con­demn­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in any form, what about all the oth­er bib­li­cal laws that you (and I) break dai­ly? The mix­ing of fab­rics (Deuteron­o­my 22:11 and Leviti­cus 19:19), the eat­ing of pork and shell­fish (Leviti­cus 11), or even shav­ing our beards (Leviti­cus 19:27)? There are count­less bib­li­cal laws that most of us Chris­tians break on a dai­ly basis with­out so much as a sec­ond thought2. I don’t say this to con­demn you or myself. And even though I hope it’s obvi­ous that those who so often claim we can’t just cher­ry-pick from the bible are like­ly doing just that them­selves, that’s also not the point I want to stress. As a Chris­t­ian, I want to focus on lov­ing oth­ers rather than for­bid­ding them from being who they feel they are and lov­ing who they choose to love (like­ly because it just real­ly makes you feel icky and you’d like to back that up with a bible verse or two). It’s beyond me how any­one would claim to be a Chris­t­ian (or any moral or eth­i­cal per­son, regard­less of faith or lack there­of) and think that’s OK.

Two People

None of this may con­vince you, of course. But be aware that there are many dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of scrip­ture and we, as a nation found­ed on reli­gious lib­er­ties, sim­ply can­not deny oth­ers basic rights such as the free­dom to mar­ry —and yes, Jus­tice Scalia, it’s a right!— based on a nar­row read­ing of scrip­ture. That is what today’s rul­ing is about. Not a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of mar­riage —as that was always so much messier than con­ser­v­a­tives have led us to believe— but rather an accep­tance that we each get to define our own mar­riages. The only require­ment is two peo­ple will­ing to make that com­mit­ment to one anoth­er.

Last­ly, to all the won­der­ful cou­ples who go mar­ried today, in places like Nashville or Franklin, TN, I hope that ten years from now I can write anoth­er post. One that will look back and place the shear ridicu­lous­ness of how you were treat­ed in the same frame as oth­er laws gov­ern­ing who and how we could love one anoth­er.

For now, con­grat­u­la­tions.

  1. This is a bit of a per­son­al aside: Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, like­ly to be the most con­ser­v­a­tive mem­ber of the cur­rent US Supreme Court, is African-Amer­i­can and is mar­ried to a cau­casian woman (coin­ci­den­tal­ly, named Vir­ginia). It took a US Supreme Court rul­ing to allow his mar­riage to be rec­og­nized in all states, includ­ing Vir­ginia. So I can­not help but find it par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious that he has some ridicu­lous­ly nar­row inter­pre­ta­tion as to the mean­ing of “lib­er­ty” in the due process clause. He seems to lim­it to basi­cal­ly our abil­i­ty to go about the coun­try as we choose and no more. As such, he argues that peti­tion­ers were not deprived of their lib­er­ty, nor was there dig­ni­ty dimin­ished. Giv­en that a law also had to be found uncon­sti­tu­tion­al for him to have the lib­er­ty to mar­ry his wife, I can’t begin to see how he rec­on­ciles this. The peti­tion­ers have not “been left alone to order their lives as they see fit” as he states. They have been denied vis­i­ta­tion, death ben­e­fits, shar­ing of health insur­ance, adop­tive rights, and so much more. []
  2. I can’t say what Mike Huck­abee had for break­fast or what his nice suit is made of, but he clear­ly shaves his beard with­out much remorse. []