“It’s only fair that stable gay relationships of long standing should have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. I know the image of gay marriage is to some people horrific and ludicrous.” – Ian McKellen
I like Ian McKellen, I do. He’s a fantastic actor. (Having said that, one does wonder what J.R.R. Tolkien, a Christian, would have thought about McKellen playing Gandalf.) Anyway, I digress.
Yesterday, or perhaps a few days ago, New York became the 6th state to legalize gay marriage. There was celebration from some quarters, howls and disapproval from others. I personally think it offers another point to clarify my position on the issue.
I don’t think the government should be involved in defining marriage, for better or worse. Marriage is a religious institution.
You will say “no, it’s a social institution” – fine, it can be both. Yet I fail to grasp the time and place where marriage, functioning as a social institution within the context of a society’s norms, mores, and taboos, became the point of legal contention. If it is a social institution, then it really doesn’t need to be considered in the halls of the legislature … social institutions are not up for debate.
I will say that, as a Christian, I do not find gay marriage to be a legitimate form of “marriage” as defined in the context of Christianity and the Bible. It ain’t in there. Marriage is a man and a woman. The entire concept of gay marriage is not discussed – homosexuality is a sin. One finds little reason, from a Biblical standpoint, to discuss what is or is not permitted in a sinful relationship … it’s all not permitted (if you’re searching scripture).
But why should that matter? Why should some gay couple in New York care whether I hold that their relationship is acceptable in the eyes of God? I suppose my grand weight of theological prowess may turn a few heads here and there … oh wait, that’s not right.
Let’s reverse that situation though. Why should I care if some gay couple in NY wants to say they’re “married”? Whatever name they choose to ascribe to it is of little concern to me. I am not subject to their rhetoric for my decisions, reflections, or interpretations of the Bible. For that matter, why should I care if the state of New York says that two men (or two women) can get “married” to each other? The state of New York carries no theological weight with me. They can say what they will, this is not a marriage permitted in the Bible.
Once, in certain states, whites and blacks were not allowed to marry. Could a Christian of the day stand up and say “well, the Bible says that we’re all one people in Christ – but if the state says it’s illegal then it must be immoral so we won’t practice it.”? I think not. We do not subjugate our doctrine to the state.
So then, for what reason do we care about the declaration in New York? If the state cannot force us to change our theology (and it cannot); if the state cannot change the truth (it cannot); then what is the argument over?
Well, there are two arguments, and they seemingly come down on different sides of the spectrum.
First, the advocates of gay marriage will claim that there are benefits that accrue to married couples. Yes, there are. Certain rights are implied or inherent. I’m not just talking about hospital visitation rights. No, I’m talking more about mandatory health coverage for spouses and tax benefits of married couples.
These are easily dismissed though. I don’t think the government should mandate any of these benefits for marriage. No tax benefits or penalties (that means a flat tax, by the way), and no mandatory employer-funded health coverage for spouses. Visitation rights and the rest can be handled via whatever contractual mechanism you choose. Until we abandon these “benefits”, then it is quite-frankly unfair to make people second class citizens because they cannot or will not acquire a traditional marriage.
The second argument, falls along similar lines, but is in accordance with the conservative religious mind. The government has already taken to labeling homosexuals as a protected class in various forms. If you, as a business owner, decide that you don’t want to provide your services to a homosexual couple, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit. A photographer in New Mexico was sued for refusing to shoot a gay wedding … and lost! Really? I can’t just decide not to provide services to whoever for whatever reason? I though this was a free country.
So, my friends on the right have a legitimate point. How many Christians, who for reason of conscience choose not to participate in gay weddings, will be sued and lose their businesses? Moving forward with gay marriage legislation only further legitimizes the claims of the “victims” in such cases.
(Note, I’m not saying that I would refuse to participate, or that I wouldn’t refuse. I’m just saying some people might refuse.)
This too is easily dismissed though – if government were not involved in enforcing a moral code and let free people interact with one another freely. Ahhh, to be free here in the land of the free. It would be something, wouldn’t it?
So, I don’t really care if NY allows gay marriage. My theology will not change. The state does not define what is or is not moral, and this law doesn’t change any of that. And all of this would matter a whole lot less if the government weren’t so involved in everybody’s life.