Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thoughts. Controversial ones. You might not want to read them.

Warning: I'm about to embark on a post that reveals personal beliefs and thoughts on religious and political issues. I don't frequently do this, and in fact I'm not sure it was wise, but for some reason I'm doing it tonight. You have been warned, read on at your own risk.

The Obama Administration has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. I read that, and it distressed me. And I'm still trying to figure out why, which is why I'm writing it all down.

And before I go on, just know that I don't expect you to agree with me, but I do request that my right to have a differing opinion be upheld. I actually don't know if it's a right, per se, but I feel like it is one. And most people usually get upset if they aren't allowed to voice their own opinion in things, and there is the First Amendment and freedom of speech, so perhaps it is a "right". Anyway.

My thought process is thus: I've read the Bible, many times in different translations, and it says that homosexuality is a sin. I agree with that. I will hasten to add that in no way does believing that give me any right to heap abuse, mental or physical, on anyone, no matter their beliefs. The Bible is pretty clear that I don't have the right to judge anyone (matters within the Church being somewhat different, since there are instructions on how to deal with believers who are erring). I also have noted that Jesus only got angry at those who were robbing his people blind (the money-lenders! in His temple!) and that he truly loved all people. So, everyone clear? I do not agree with the Christians who shower hate instead of love. I sound like a hippie. But it was important to let you know my personal beliefs so that you understand the whole thought process.

The thought process moved on from that basic position to this: I've known several homosexuals. One of them was a good friend who helped me through an incredibly rough time. My uncle has been with the same man for longer than I've been born. This makes it impossible for me to hate, if Jesus' example wasn't enough. Doesn't change my beliefs, but they haven't been formed in ignorance. If that makes sense.

From there to here: why does the legalization of gay marriage bother me? As a Christian, this ain't my home port. Earth is not the final destination. It isn't my home. It's temporary. Why do I care? It isn't necessary for any government to uphold Christianity. It'll do just fine on its own. In fact, we were told to honor our governments and pray for our leaders, without any qualifications. "Give to Caesar's what is Caesar's", etc. What does it matter what my government does?

But before I answer that-What is marriage anyway? Was it invented by the Bible? Well yes, it was, and it said that a man would leave his family and cleave to his wife, who was a woman. And I think that's what bothers me: marriage, as defined by the Bible,which is among the oldest books written still in existence (which is well-documented, in case you're interested), is between a man and a woman.

Well ok, that's fine and dandy you say, but America is no longer a "Christian" nation. I'm not sure about that-many of our mores, from what I can tell, are Christian, and the men who founded our nation were influenced by Christianity, whether or not they themselves were Christian. But fine, let's say America isn't a Christian nation. What's wrong with letting anyone marry whom they please? Again, I'm brought back to what was the original definition of marriage (if you know of an earlier source, feel free to let me know): man and woman. And I think my issue is this: if this definition of marriage is broken, then what is the point? Why not let people marry multiple partners? What is wrong with that, if they're all consenting adults who love each other? It loses its original meaning, and therefore its original potency.

Gah I don't know. Doubtless my reasoning is faulty. What I do know is this: I feel that if our definition of marriage is changed at a national level, the repercussions will be severe. What those repercussions will be I don't know. Doom and gloom and all that. But our nation (and this is why it matters what the government does, because it represents all of us) will have taken a drastic turn.

And if you read through all of that, thanks. Both sides are pretty virulent when someone disagrees with them. I have no wish to be virulent. Neither do I have issues with civil unions. That is outside the purview of any church. And neither do I wish to be hateful. And neither would I be surprised if our readership, which is already tiny, became tinier.


Ruune said...

Okay, for my background, I am a Christian believer also. I don't believe that homosexuality is a sin but I respect those that do.

The problem as I see it is that marriage is no longer just as you described it, a man leaving his family and cleaving to a woman. It has become a civil institution which may be celebrated religiously but which has a whole heap of other rights and obligations which flow from it.

It's no longer true to point at the civil institution of marriage and say that it is the same as the religious "original". Some might regret that, and in hindsight, might say that it was a mistake to align the civil institution with the religious one, as we should have kept them separate. But that is no longer a path that is available.

But my thoughts about gay marriage are more dominated by this - I think marriage is a fantastic thing which can be terribly difficult but I do think it is an example of people living in a relationship which is the sort of relationship that God wants for us - real long term commitment to being a family not because you have to but because you choose to. I unabashedly want as many people as possible to experience what it is like to be engaged in that type of relationship. And if people in gay relationships want to participate in that sort of relationship, then I can only see it as a good thing.

Beowulfa said...

@ Ruune: Thank you for your insights. As I said (at least I think I did), I'm trying to figure out why it bothers me and if it should. What you said about marriage is true. And although my beliefs are not subject to change, you have given me much to ponder over.

Beowulfa said...

You know, my response felt harsh. I should've added, in the post as well, that I respect the right of people to choose. People cannot be browbeaten into any belief. I believe all of us were given a free will, to choose for good or ill.

Jem Baker said...

Wish i could write this well.

Shelly said...

Not going to stop reading your site cause you think, people don't stop reading authors cause they wrote one subpar book (not that I think the post was subpar)

I think part of the problem with interactions of people is that you are pushed away for having a differing opinion and then the other problem is that people who have a differing opinion instead conform to the mass opinion.

It is nice hearing the different sides without the "your mom" feel to them.


Ruune said...

Hey Wulfa, I totally respect your struggle. The greatest mark of a person is their willingness to honestly critically examine their own beliefs. If after that they stay the same, then so be it. But like you say the position is held out of consideration, not ignorance.

Beowulfa said...

@Jem: Let me read something you wrote. I'm sure you can write better than I can.

@Shelly: I think you are correct, and I have seen many conversations shut down because people refuse to listen. And I think that's dangerous-if you refuse to understand the other person's side, and just label them "wrong", then you have a recipe for making them your enemy. And people can do things to enemies that they would never contemplate doing to someone they considered a friend or even neutral.

@Ruune: Thank you for your assessment. I think it's one of the best compliments I've ever been given.

Entilzah said...


Very good and well written thoughts, even if you proport not to know your own mind. It is a very tricky question and one that deserves great soul searching and introspection.

I have very similar views to you, which *I* find interesting because I know we both come from differing flavors of Christianity.

Bottom Line: I don't believe in it personally, I was taught not to judge and treat others as you would have them treat you, I know too many wonderful gay people to paint them with one brush. Therefore, live and let live

Ruune brings up an excellent point in the different types of marriage: Legal vs. Religious. The legal is what we are dealing with here. HOWEVER, the legal system as well as the church system attempt to impose some sort of moral system on their people. The US (as well as most Western Nations) draw heavily from the Christian tradition since that is what a large portion of us were raised with. Obviously, that is different in other countries (Asia, Middle East). So the two are inextricably linked, for better or worse.

What this law pretty much covers is Federal Benefits for "Domestic Partners." The way our government works, most of these types of decisions are made at the state level, anyway. So I don't think this is immediately a big change.

But as you pointed out... where will this go? Very good question. But are we as a society already going there anyway? 50 years ago, the idea of a National Debate on this issue was unheard of... you just DON'T talk about these types of things.

But now it is everywhere, and (just as importantly) in our popular culture. In 1990 there were essentially ZERO gay characters on TV. When gay characters were portrayed in the early '90s on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5, it was groundbreaking. Now they are common.

Individuals in America are very split on this issue, and I do not see any large scale changes in the next few decades. The issue is just too polarizing (and the news sites too willing to pander to this) for there to be a consensus needed for major legal change. I wish I could say where it would go. I wish I could say where I WANT it to go...

BTW: Christians did NOT invent marriage as currently envisioned. At the very least it was drawn from the much older Jewish tradition (though, admittedly, same God here). Homer used a similar concept of marriage in the Odyssey (about 8th century BC) as can be seen between Odysseus and Penelope. I believe the Egyptians had something like that as well, though I can't quote documentation.

Kae said...

Thank you Wulfa for posting this in an intelligent and calm way. I appreciate this kind of discussion when emotion and bigotry are kept out of it.

I am not a Christian any more, but I completely respect your beliefs that homosexuality is wrong, and that the church shouldn't support it.

Like Ruune my issue with denying gay marriage is that it isn't really just "marriage" anymore. It is a civil union that coincides with a religious marriage. I think we get too hung up on the word "marriage".

All I really want for gay couples is the same legal rights that other couples receive in a commited relationship. This isn't the same at all as the government saying that they are sanctioning a true Christian marriage, and religious officials have every right to refuse to unite a gay couple in a legal or religious sense. I just want my friend's relationships to be taken seriously by the government - to receive the same tax benefits, the same medical rights, etc. I can understand, however, how it is hard to separate the concepts, when for most Christians it is all one and the same.

Cap'n John said...

In the U.S., religion has nothing to do with the State-authorized union we refer to as marriage, which for brevity's sake I'll refer to as Marriage (yes, with a capital M).

It is not required of a man and a woman of legally consenting age who wish to be Married that they first seek counsel with a minister (Priest, Parson, Rabbi, various Holy person, etc,), nor does a minister have to preside over their choice of "Marriage ceremony". The consenting couple need not even have a ceremony of any kind, but may simply apply for a State-issued Marriage license, then appear before a State-certified magistrate who will declare them Married not in the eyes of the Lord, but as per the State.

Again, religion has nothing to do with Marriage, and the benefits a Married couple receive are not conferred upon them by the Lord, but by the State. Religion and Marriage are mutually exclusive events. You can have religion without Marriage and you can have Marriage without religion because they have nothing do with each other.

Many gays would be okay with a Civil Union IF they knew they would receive the exact same benefits as a Married couple, but they don't. President Obama himself acknowledges that: “Unfortunately, my administration is not authorized by existing federal law to provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.” "Outcry on Federal Same-Sex Benefits", New York Times, June 18, 2009.

Quite simply, a Civil Union is not enough for gays because it does not go far enough. Unlike a Married couple, a couple in a Civil Union are not considered Married throughout the United States; often their Civil Union is only recognized within their home state, and sometimes not even then. You need look no further than the cases of 18-year partners Janice Langbehn & Lisa Pond, and 17-year partners Sharon Reed & Jo Ann Ritchie, for examples of discrimination against homosexual couples:

Any two legally consenting adults should be able to enter into the State-authorized union known as Marriage, regardless of gender.

I'm a Christian. I'm a member of the United Methodist Church and have been for my entire life, but I will not hide behind my religion nor will I use it to justify discrimination.

Beowulfa said...

@Entilzah: You know, as I was busily trying to capture my train of thought into some semblance of order, it occurred to me that I should acknowledge the Judaic origin of marriage, and of course the Judaic origins of Christianity.

I appreciate the way you broke down the religious vs. legal. The issue for me is, as you also mentioned, that in America at least the concept of marriage still has religious, i.e. Christian, overtones. And that may be applicable to only a portion of our population, I haven't studied the issue and am not qualified to make factual statements.

Assuming, however, that a significant portion of the American population viewed "marriage" as being part of their religious tradition, I'm not sure it would be wise for the government to step in and decree that all unions should be classified as a marriage, because they would then be smashing quite a few toes and not really maintaining the separating of church and state.

But then, as you pointed out, that's not what the Obama administration is doing. My uneasiness stems from the possibility of the government intervening in what I perceive to be a religious affair, and mandating that all civil unions are in fact marriages, and imposing political correctness upon all facets of life. And there you have it: Wulfa's pronouncement of doom and gloom.

As an addendum, I will profess my ignorance of how civil unions are formed. It was my understanding that after a certain period of time anyone could be considered "domestic partners". Is that the same thing as a civil union? Do some states deny this to same-sex unions? And is the issue that couples are having to wait to achieve this legal status?

@Kae: I have been thinking about the word "marriage" and what it means. You are right, to me it blends both religious and legal overtones. I'm not sure that will change; for too long marriage was a church affair, and I think, for Americans at least, that memory runs deep.

It is always my goal to keep emotion and bigotry out of my discussions. I have an opinion, I hold it to be true, and I very well might try to convince you of the rightness of it, but I am disrespecting my right to have that opinion if I cannot respect other's viewpoints and to be quiet and listen to what other people have to say. At least that's the way I think of it.

Beowulfa said...

@Cap'n John: You have answered the questions I had regarding civil unions-thank you.

And I hope I have been clear that I do not purport to hide behind my religion and discriminate. I get angry when I see fat preachers condemn anyone, because gluttony is also a sin, and how could they judge anyone without cleaning up their own house first? I believe that I should treat all people the way I would like to be treated, regardless of whether I agree morally with them.

You are correct to point out that marriage is no longer purely a religious ceremony, but I would not say that it is completely divorced from the issue. And that it why it is so tricky: we were, for all intents and purposes, founded with morals that stemmed from the Christian tradition, to be more specific the Reformation and the repercussions of that era. I think if marriage was from the beginning simply a legal matter, we would not have such furious debates (who am I kidding, we still would). But too many people do not consider it to be merely a legal matter, and are, somewhat ironically, concerned about the separation of church and state.

Beowulfa said...

And to every commentator (commenter?): thank you. I wrote this post in part to see what other people think, and that has been accomplished.

Cap'n John said...

Wulfa, my comment about hiding behind your religion wasn't directed at you. If anything you've shown yourself extremely open minded and willing to disagree with mainstream Christian POV on the homosexuality marriage debate by considering the option for a civil union that doesn't discriminate against homosexuals. Unfortunately, many U.S. states and Civil Unions still do.

The major problem with Civil Unions is that they're recognized on a state-by-state basis rather than at a Federal level. As such, some states may recognize other states' Civil Unions, while some states may not. Some states may allow homosexual Civil Unions, others may not. When compared to the Federally-recognized union known as Marriage, Civil Unions are a cheap imitation at best. Even those states which do recognize homosexual Civil Unions may not stand up to the litmus test, as Sharon Reed found out when she was told to leave her dying partner-of-17-year's hospital room.

Oddly enough, this reminds me of the episode of The Good Wife I saw a few nights ago.

When Julianna Margulies character, Alicia, got home from work she was ambushed by her daughter, Grace, with the very loaded question, "Why do you hate Jesus?" Alicia replied that she didn't hate Jesus but Grace refused to accept that. In her mind you either loved Jesus or you hated Him.

The culmination of their encounter was Alicia finally agreeing to take Grace to the Church of her choice.

"Church?" replied the dumbfounded girl, whose "Jesus-kick" was the result of watching a Youtube video with a cute guy espousing how Jesus was an anarchist and the first rebel.

"Yes, Church," said Alicia. "But you might want to do some reading first," she added, handing Grace a copy of the Bible.

As Alicia walked away Grace stared at the thick book in her hands and you could see the confusion in her eyes (all credit to the actress). Had she just won the argument with her Mom? Because it seemed like she had. But if so, why did she have this thick tome in her hands?

Now maybe I totally misread that final scene but I thought it a brilliant observation on organized religion, and how we should do our own research and make our own decisions rather than sit back & let others tell us how to live our lives. It didn't condemn religion, or I felt it did not; it just said, "think."

Anonymous said...

I would like to clarify a few points to your otherwise thoughtful post. First, its important to get a full understanding of the situation. The Obama administration has instructed the DOJ to stop defending Section 3 of DOMA, in particular in the cases moving through the 2nd district.

This is important for a couple of reasons. Section 3 is the part that prohibits the federal government in recognizing same-sex marriage in any way. Should section 3 ultimately be deemed unconstitutional, it means the federal government will not be forced to recognize gay marriage, but will no longer be forced NOT to recognize marriage (sorry for the double-negative). This does not deal at all with section 2 of DOMA, the part that says one state does not have to recognize the marriage laws of another state. So nationwide gay marriage is not happening any time in the near (or likely even in the somewhat distant) future.

The significance of the 2nd district is that there have been no precedent-setting rulings in that district regarding the level of scrutiny that should be applied in these cases. Quick and dirty background - there exists a hierarchy of "levels of scrutiny" that the supreme court has established in order to address issues surrounding the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment - strict scrutiny (deals with racial discrimination), intermediate scrutiny (gender discrimination), and rational-basis (some other basis). Basically if you are going to have a law that singles out blacks you need a really really good reason for it, otherwise it is unconstitutional. For a law singling out women, you just need a really good reason. For all others, you just need a good reason. In essence, the Obama administration has declared that it feels gays deserve at least the same level of scrutiny as women. That is an incredibly rough way to put it, but you get the point.

On your point of this may or may not being a christian nation - this is true only in the sense that it is a majority christian nation. Indeed several of the founding fathers were very opposed to christianity. When they wrote the constitution, they specified that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article 6, section 3). The 1796 treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was "in no sense founded on the Christian religion" Im sorry, but its just not true. I know you continued your arguments even after accepting this as a possible reality, but it's an important point that most people seem to forget these days.

Im not going to go too much into the "what is marriage anyway" question, partly because I have already gone on too long and partly because Ruune and Cap'n John have done a fine job addressing this. You can be sure I have another long rant in my back pocket about that, but I will spare you this time :)

So I will just close with this. You state that you don't know what the repercussions will be, but that they will be severe, doom and gloom. I am trying to be as civil as you were, but...c'mon. That's all you got? If you really are grappling with this issue, then I suggest that this is the area you better address first. As it stands, you are willing to deny another human being due process and equal protection, including a good friend and an uncle, based on some formless fear of the other.

Beowulfa said...

@Cap'n John: Stuff like that-being denied entrance to a loved one's deathbed-would break anyone's heart. And I do see the potential problems with each state having different laws in place. And the scene from the show? I wish more parents would do that. Not just the Bible, but with books in general. I will never forget that a parent came up to me in Barnes & Noble and asked for the Cliff Notes to Black Beauty. I don't know what other people think, but I viewed that as a travesty. It is a beautiful story that shouldn't be read in a horribly mangled, condensed and highlighted version (though those cliff notes can come in handy), but in its entirety.