Gay Marriage: A Moral Issue?

I really didn’t want to write another gay marriage piece: it’s getting tiresome. But I wanted to get my thoughts out ahead of the Supreme Court decision that’s due any day now.

Some of my conservative readings rail against gay marriage as a moral issue. Homosexuality is identified in the Bible as sinful, so admitting gay marriage in law is sinful and immoral. Then again, the proponents of gay marriage sometimes frame their position as a moral issue, a matter of justice and equality for all. So which end is up?

“You can’t legislate morality,” my mother told me years ago. It fit my view of the world as a teenager, and I didn’t challenge her on it. But now, thinking about it, one can legislate morality. Alas, one ends up with a state like Iran or Saudi Arabia, where the church is the state and the state is the church and the government can do no wrong as it is run by men of Allah.

In our society, it is not the responsibility of the government to enforce morality. It is the responsibility of each of us to live a moral life. Religion is useful in pointing the way to a moral life, but it’s not the only way.   (Indeed, the functional purpose of religion in society is teaching morality to children.)

But the conservatives who frame gay marriage as a moral issue have a useful concept: ‘natural marriage.’ Natural marriage is that which has been around with us for millennia. Natural marriage is exclusively, by definition, between a man and a woman. If you’re religious, it is a gift from God; if you’re not, it’s a consequence of our nature as sexual beings whose young require years of care and upbringing before they can be fully functional. It is also immutable.

To reconcile natural marriage to the government, which needs to track such things, there is civil marriage. Civil marriage is a construct of law and regulation. When a community legalizes gay marriage, they are legalizing gay civil marriage. They cannot change the definition of natural marriage.

And alongside natural marriage (which can’t be changed) and civil marriage (a construct of government) is popular marriage, i.e. marriage as understood in the culture. Gay marriage wouldn’t be worth getting bothered about if it was accepted as a bureaucratic workaround by which gay couples who were committed to each other could secure their rights with respect to each other, and for the rest of us, a curiosity, a weird exception to the rule, and nothing more.

But that wasn’t what happened, or at least not how it’s being presented in the mass media. People are apparently falling all over each other to embrace gay marriage, even though the vast majority of them are unlikely to participate in one. And if you’re not embracing the concept, you must be hateful or, worse, homophobic. (And calling people ‘chicken’ or ‘afraid’ or ‘phobic’ to shame them into agreement is, if not the oldest trick in the book, somewhere in the top ten.)

That the popular culture is so quick to ditch natural marriage (which was already happening well before gay marriage became an issue) is sad, but does that mean that we all have to embrace gay civil marriage as equivalent to natural marriage? I’d like to think not.

It certainly isn’t the same as racial discrimination. At one time, some places denied people of different races the right to natural as well as civil marriage. Thankfully, we’re long past that. But all our good thinking about fairness and equality will not turn civil marriage into natural marriage. And it’s not fair to anyone to maintain the delusion that they’re the same.

As for the question before the Court—is there a Constitutional right to gay marriage?—I’m not a legal scholar. But a commonsense interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment—the right to equal protection of the laws—doesn’t get me there. Natural marriage is gender-neutral: you need to have one of each. And if someone had suggested a century and a half ago that the Amendment would one day be used as the basis for a right to gay marriage, nobody would have believed such a ludicrous notion.

It remains to be seen if the Justices are, um, phobic….

5 thoughts on “Gay Marriage: A Moral Issue?”

  1. We have moved away from natural marriage in at least two ways: by deferring, sometimes for life, getting married and simply living with our partner as well as by increased acceptance of homosexual relationships.

    Were I gay, I’d be much more interested in certain benefits that come with civil marriage, such as the ability to cover my partner with my health insurance policy, bequeath property to them and file a joint tax return if it benefited us to do so than the ability to get married in church.

    I would argue that the people who are arguing that gay marriage is a moral issue are actually arguing that homosexual behavior is a moral issue. Denying gay people the ability to take advantage of civil marriage is a moneymaker for the government. Single people get hammered by taxes. I’d pay at least $5000 a year less in income taxes were I able to take advantage of the married filing jointly tax rates, standard deduction, and one personal exemption.

  2. The Bible, it is theoried, has been edited.

    Nobody knew what a “homosexual” was in biblical times.

    Somebody somewhere in the last century added that about “if a man lies with a man, he shall be put to death.” I do not believe God said to kill anybody.

    Everybody was married off — and at a young age and the marriages were arranged — it all had to do with longevity. I think it was rare to see somebody over 60 years of age, back in those days.

    Nobody knew b ack then what “a man lying with a man” meant — (and how interesting it doesn’t refer to a “woman lying with a woman”) and if somebody felt “different” they most likely didn’t know what it was, or what it meant. Your “obligation” was to be married and bring about the next generation and keep the blood line going….

    Which leads us to the theory that there is no proof Jesus was married. It is likely he was — again, everybody was married off and unless a male or female had a very obvious problem, the marriage wasn’t arranged for that person.

    (I don’t believe that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, either. I have a theory she was a woman on the run. She perhaps spoke out against something — maybe even the person she was to marry — and I believe she was cast out of the community. Or perhaps she left for some other reason.)

    In the Bible, it says marriage is between 2 people. It does not say “a male and a female.”

    What about other cultures that support multiple wives? The continent of Africa is full of polygamous marriages. So is lots of Asia.

    “It depends who you talk to.”

    Marry whoever you like. If you are not harming anyone, do as you wish.

  3. Most of the people who frame opposition to gay marriage as a moral issue indeed appear to base their position on what the Bible says about homosexual activity.

    As far as taxes, the benefit for getting married depends on the relative incomes of the two parties. If one of them makes most or all of the money, the couple comes out ahead, but if the two are roughly equal, it’s not so good.

    I don’t know if the ancients had a word for it, but I’m sure there were homosexuals, and homosexual activity, in that time. It’s not just humans: other animals can be homosexual as well, typically in response to food shortages or other environmental stresses.

    There is no question that the Bible, while the Word of God, was nevertheless compiled and edited by mortals. Nobody woke up one morning and found it under his pillow. Nevertheless, the line about a man lying with a man (Leviticus 20:13) is in the Kings James version, compiled well before the 20th Century. So it isn’t a recent political invention.

    In my work with contracts and specifications, I know that sometimes what a document doesn’t address is more of a concern than what’s actually written. One can go off with all sorts of speculations about aspects of Jesus’s life that aren’t recorded in Scripture, but that’s a subject for another day.

    Yes, marry whomever you like. (Well, as long as the ‘whomever’ is another human, and has validly consented.) But if your beloved is the same gender as yourself, don’t ask the rest of us–or worse, ask the government to force the rest of us–to believe it’s the same thing as natural heterosexual marriage.

  4. As I understand the recent Supreme Court ruling, same-sex marriage rights are guaranteed only to civil marriage. It’s not as if the Westboro Baptist Church has to start marrying gay people.

    True, the marriage penalty still exists if people make comparable amounts of money in certain ranges, but it is less than it once was.

  5. Gay marriage isn’t going to make marriage worse. We already have a society full of people having illegitimate babies with different people and multiple marriages. I’m a devout Catholic but believe gay people should have the right to marry but churches shouldn’t be forced to marry them. I was recently horrified to learn in church we have to start teaching divorce and marriage another way so not to offend those who have been divorced. I’m more supportive of a gay couple marrying than straights marrying many times, especially with kids.

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