Thursday, December 09, 2004

Same-Sex Marriage

Big day, today, in Canada. I hesitate to wade in on this issue because I have friends and family members I respect who have taken a principled stand on either side of it. And with every new anniversary of my own marriage, I'm forced to confess anew that, at the time, my comprehension of my marriage vows was rudimentary at best. But that's the nature of youthful declarations: you're so full of piss and vinegar, you're convinced you're capable of anything, even lifelong commitment to something larger than the ape within. And every year you experience at least one dull moment where you stop and think, "So that's what I meant ..."

Of course, true respect requires full disclosure. And so far as I have achieved it, here's my sense of clarity on this contentious issue: state recognition of same-sex marriage is an issue of civil liberties. Period. I know there are evangelicals worried this will somehow boomerang on them -- that the Liberals, or God forbid the NDP, could assign police squads to force Baptist pastors to do the unthinkable -- but Constitutional law is unequivocal, and coercion like that simply cannot be done without scrapping the Constitution itself. It's part of the same recognition of civil liberties I raised at the beginning of this paragraph.

My niece said it more succinctly, in a moment of exasperation. After being unwittingly exposed to evangelical hectoring on the issue, she walked away and said: "But it's not about them."

Still, let's make it about them for a moment. Evangelicals, like any religious community, profess to have clear definitions of marriage and family. Definitions aside, evangelical congregations experience roughly the same divorce rate as the "unsaved" society around them. Here's a chance for the gay community to be a beacon of light, a chance to demonstrate to nay-sayers that fealty to one person, to family and to society are imperatives we would all do well to commit to. Demonstrate the vows. Turn the stats on their ear, and prove 'em wrong, baby! Prove 'em wrong.


Scott said...

Thanks for weighing in on the topic.

I confess I don't get the evangelical position at all. I had a discussion with someone at work an hour ago who agreed that gay marriage was both necessary and inevitable but still expressed fear that churches would be forced to perform marriages they don't allow.

I don't recall any court decision ever stating such a thing or, quite frankly, any gay person even wanting to get married in the church. Bigger questions of gays belonging to faiths that don't accept them don't apply in what is, like you say, simply a legal discussion at this point.

My friend Jeff told me about seeing a woman crying on CityPulse just after the court opinion was delivered. She was bemoaning the end of civilization and I just can't comprehend that kind of hysteria.

If this legislation goes through, gay people will be a little happier and a little safer than they are now and that's really about all.

Whisky Prajer said...

"fear that churches would be forced to perform marriages they don't allow" -- the courts can't rule in favour of something unconstitutional, which is the bottom line in today's ruling. That's how it works for gays; that's how it works for evangelical conservatives.

Were I to give voice to the concerns of my evangelically conservative friends and family (an ill-advised proposition, but here goes), I think it would sound something like this: we believe these vows are sacred, and insist they be publically acknowledged as such. "Sacredness" entails male-female, lifelong fidelity, etc. etc., characteristics which make theirs a thorny proposition in any society, particularly one that has responded to its ethnic-cultural-religious pluralism with secular, democratic measures.

Where I have some sympathy for my e.c.f&f is in their understanding of the marriage compact's purpose: to establish a secure foundation for the family. Efforts to nail secular law to the floorboards of the church are I think misguided, but it's worth expressing concern on the point of fidelity and family -- another inevitable and contentious topic our courts will be dealing with in the forseeable future. How will gay marriage/divorce stats compare to straight stats? My hunch: it won't take long for gay divorce rates to eclipse straight divorce rates. Does it matter? My opinion: practically speaking, this would add to the burden on our already busy courtrooms; emotionally speaking, as with straight divorce, it matters only if kids are involved. And that's where I'm likely to sound a little conservative...

But as always, feel free to set me "straight"!

Anonymous said...

A couple of things . . .

The recent George Barna study defined "evangelical" for his study of divorce rates by theological criteria, not sociological criteria like church attendance. It would be interesting to see how evangelical church attendance would impinge on divorce rates.

Since the early 1970s, evangelical Protestant churches have tended to weaken their teaching on divorce and remarriage. This weakened teaching may well have led to higher divorce rates among evangelicals today than thirty years ago. Also, divorce law in Canada and other jurisdictions has weakened with the introduction of "no fault" divorce. Evangelicals are subject to the same divorce law that everybody else. Evangelical churches do not administer divorce law, the Crown (state) does. This is a key point evangelicals are making about legal recognition of same-sex unions: that it will weaken the institution of marriage.

Marriage started out not as a civil liberty, but as an institution for the union of one man and one woman "forsaking all others." Marriage has only become a civil liberty as the Court has said it is. Marriage has been made a civil liberty in order to create a ground on which the institution could be fundamentally changed in law. This is not about the gay community and their civil liberties, it's about an institution.

Statistics are not an argument, they are indicative of an institution already weakened and at risk.

Whisky Prajer said...

Greetings, Anonymous - and welcome.

Thank you for your comments, and forgive me in advance for the ones I am about to make, because I suspect my grasp of the concepts you raise is rather tenuous. I also have a stew of cold rememdies messing with my own constitution, but here we go - some responsive thoughts:

"An institution already weakened and at risk." Speaking from an (admittedly warped) Anabaptist perspective, I wonder if celebrating our secular government's original institutionalization of marriage hasn't contributed to this threat you partially articulate. I also wonder just what this threat might be? The final annihilation of marriage? Debasement of religious standards? Further disintegration of the public compact? I suspect the last two, since humanity (straight, gay, secular, religious) seems absurdly determined to express marital commitment, even as it continually demonstrates a lack of will to carry through on the vows. If debasement is the concern, then I think it folly for a religious body to appeal to any form of government for protection and promotion of its values. Recognition is promotion enough - the claim evangelicals make regarding gay marriage.

But again, the Anabaptist in me can't help piping up: perhaps government recognition is the last sort of "help" any religion could want?

My Catholic friends refer to marriage as a sacrament, which is a concept I can commit to, heart and soul. Government decisions hold no sway over sacraments.

Also I have to comment that as I have witnessed it, the North American Evangelical Church has proven itself catastrophically incapable of dealing with homosexuality. Evangelical "remedies" to the issue have amounted to an existence of torment and despair. My experience is limited to formative years in three different evangelical congregations, and the stories of friends and family. I've heard counter-anecdotes to my own, but like the Apostle Thomas, until my hands are in the wounds I cannot believe.

This prompts me to wonder if promoting values such as self-control and life-long fidelity aren't the greater Gospel values to be pursued? Anonymous, if this speculation qualifies me as a heretic, and your enemy, then it would indeed be a privilege were you to include me in your prayers and blessings.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. It was starting to get a little lonely over here in my God-believing, Christ-following, gay-marriage-supporting little world.