The Quick Triumph of Same-Sex Marriage

From the 2013 Anxious Bench archives

About a decade ago, the historian David Chappell wrote a thoughtful book about religion and the civil rights movement, titled A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Among other ideas, Chappell presents the argument that the supporters of civil rights, ultimately, had religion on their side. In other words, while there were plenty of southern Christian opponents of the civil rights movement (including those Birmingham clergy who — fifty years ago this month — prompted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”), they failed to mount a strong religious opposition. “[W]hite supremacists,” he writes, “failed … to muster the cultural strength that conservatives traditionally get from religion.” Segregationists generated much less religious fervor for their cause than did their opponents. White churches fractured over issues of race and civil rights, ultimately choosing peace and social order rather than a militant defense of Jim Crow. [Note: recent scholarship has suggested a much greater level of religious opposition to the civil rights movement].

When thinking about the recent gains of the movement to achieve full social equality for same-sex couples, I thought about Chappell’s argument and whether it applies in an ironic way to issues of gay rights. The two cases have many differences. For starters, Chappell points out that religious leaders in the South simply failed to match the intensity of political defenders of segregation. White ministers, with some notable exceptions, were not at the forefront of efforts to defend Jim Crow. By contrast, it was religious leaders rather than politicians who have provided much of the leadership in attempts to maintain traditional definitions of marriage. One might go back to evangelical support for Anita Bryant’s 1977 campaign, or examine the role of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition in opposing early efforts to achieve gay rights. More recently, one might consider the role of religious organizations and leaders in efforts such as Proposition 8.

Something happened to religious opposition to same-sex marriage after 2008, however. For starters, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — as best I can tell — calculated that the short-term political success of Proposition 8 was not worth the internal strife generated within the church (and perhaps the accompanying negative coverage in the media). While the LDS Church has not changed its stance on same-sex marriage, it has curtailed its political activism and modified the tone with which it discusses homosexuality.

Relatively few evangelical leaders (not to mention the Catholic Church) have changed their opinions about the desirability of same-sex marriage. And certainly some, such as Albert Mohler and Mike Huckabee, remain resolutely opposed. Outspoken evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage, however, has cratered since 2008. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Tim Keller, Philip Yancey. These are individuals that many evangelicals respect, yet my impression is that these leaders have been mostly quiet on issues surrounding gay rights.

Now, there are many reasons for that. Issues of marriage aside, many evangelicals came to a much-needed realization that the evangelical treatment of gays and lesbians has been deeply hurtful, destructive, and sinful. Thus, one reason for what I’m terming relative “quiet” is a repentance for the church’s past (and, in many cases, present). That would actually be a very charitable explanation, but I think there is some truth in it. Undoubtedly, evangelical leaders want to do a better job of modeling Jesus’s love for all people than did their predecessors in the 1980s.

Beyond that, what explains the “quiet”? A sense of same-sex marriage’s inevitability? A desire to not alienate young evangelicals (and potential converts)? A fear of being labeled bigots by the media (and by potential converts)? There are probably many things at play. It’s interesting to speculate whether the changing opinions of young evangelicals explain this relative “quiet,” or whether the relative “quiet” of many evangelical opinion-makers helps explains the changing opinions of young evangelicals. What seems certain is that when the standard-bearer opponents of a cause become squeamish and uncertain in their opposition, their cause is certainly doomed. Even if the earlier decades of debates over gay rights proceeded against a background of stalwart religious opposition, that opposition partly collapsed after 2008. That collapse certainly does a great deal to explain the recent successes of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. Even more so than was the case with segregation, if opposition to same-sex marriage does not firmly have religion on its side, it certainly is doomed to a quick collapse.

 

 

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  • Guthrum

    While there has been some treatment that has been wrong, too many are quick to label church pastors and leaders as “hate” filled or the “homophobe” tag when they speak their opinions and preach what the Bible says about this issue. The problem is that our pastors and church members have been silent too long. Many pastors are afraid that they might just offend someone if they preach the Bible. Churches have become country clubs: keep the members entertained, well fed, and avoid any thing that rocks the boat. In the meantime morality in this country has gone down the drain: entertainment is trash, pornography, pre-marital sex, adultery, stealing, politicians lying, gambling (lotteries), legalizing harmful drugs, and hortible crimes. Where is the lamenting that should be in our churches ? The newest craze is “trans” : people are trying to pick their sex of choice ! Weird, bizarre ! The Bible warns of people calling evil good and good evil. Just because five unelected judges say that something is now legal does not make it right. Our country is turning its back on God. Where is the lamenting that should be in our churches ? Whatever happened to shame ?
    People need to pray for this country. There needs to be a nationwide repentance. Churches need to get back to Biblical doctrines instead of popular culture.
    Read 2 Chronicles 7: 14: “lf my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and I will forgive them and heal their land” A call for nationwide repentance.

  • Dr_Doctorstein

    Guthrum, would you support a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage? If so, would you also support one outlawing adultery? How about a constitutional ban on remarriage after divorce?

  • Donalbain

    How can you have Biblical doctrines AND the first amendment?

  • Jeff

    It seems odd for you to use “unelected” as an insult. Who elected your god?

  • Tulse

    too many are quick to label church pastors and leaders as “hate” filled or the “homophobe” tag when they speak their opinions and preach what the Bible says about this issue

    Such pastors are saying that gays and lesbians will be tortured for all eternity because of their actions — this isn’t hateful? “I don’t hate you, I just think you should burn in hell forever” — this isn’t hateful?

  • stefanstackhouse

    The Bible says what it says, and the hard fact that we all know is that it says some pretty harsh things about homosexual practice. (Mere feelings, not acted upon, are not really addressed.) You can take a pair of scissors to those passages or just ignore them and pretend they are not there, but that’s just being dishonest. The honest truth is that the scriptures that some of us consider to be the authoritative and infallible Word of God are actually what can fairly be called “homophobic”.

    If that fact is uncomfortable and unacceptable to anyone, then perhaps the honest thing for them to do is to just pitch the Bible and the religion that goes along with it. It isn’t for them.

    If, on the other hand, embracing by wholehearted faith the Lord and Savior who became man, died for us, rose again, and will return with the blessed hope of eternal life – if that is the most important thing in the world to you, more important than physical life itself, then accepting ALL of God’s word and sincerely attempting – with reliance upon God’s grace – to apply it, no matter how offensive it may be to some people, is what you are called to do.

  • Dr_Doctorstein

    If “accepting ALL of God’s word and sincerely attempting … to apply it” is in fact “the most important thing in the world to you,” then one would expect you to be fighting just as hard against (say) divorce as against gay marriage. One would expect you to be as critical of Newt Gingrich for his divorces — nay, his adulteries! — as of Barney Frank for his homosexuality.

    Yet you know as well as I do that we don’t see this kind of even-handed application of biblical principle. We see an extremely disproportionate application against gay people. The evangelical community is like a judge who sentences black people to prison and white people to probation, then claims he is “merely enforcing the law.” This sort of thing feeds the suspicion that you are motivated by something other than biblical principle. It suggests hypocrisy and bigotry. It undercuts your authority in the public sphere. In battles like that over gay marriage, you wind up losing.

  • stefanstackhouse

    I don’t try to impose my opinions, meddle in, or even pass any judgement on whether or not others should or should not get divorced, or what the law should or should not be about it. My wife and I do have a firm commitment that divorce will not be an option for us. We have stuck together for 38 years, and we will continue to do so, because divorce IS NOT and option for us.

    While that sounds relatively tolerant, what I WILL NOT tolerate is for my church to proclaim to me that divorce is perfectly OK and no problem at all. Should this happen, I would be out the door and looking for another church – or starting one in my home if all else fails.

    I would venture to guess that even people that have gone through a divorce – Christians and non-Christians alike – would not wish that experience on anyone else. Grace, forgiveness, and love toward those who have been through something unfortunate is one thing; giving that unfortunate thing an official seal of approval as if it is a good and normative thing is something else entirely. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin, but it is bad enough that it is worth warning people off from it, upholding marriages, and preventing them from dissolving.

    Pretty much these same distinctions apply with regard to same-sex marriage (and to homosexual conduct, broadly defined, in general). I’m not into imposing my will or judging others. What consenting adults choose to do and what they want to call it is up to them. I’m no fan, either, of the government making those private relationships – especially in the bedroom – a matter of their official business. That is all one thing. Asking me or my church to agree that it is a good thing and requiring us to bestow upon it an official seal of approval is quite another thing altogether.

    For some strange reason that I don’t quite understand, it seems that people that don’t really give a damn about anything else that I or any of my co-religionists might believe in get really bent out of shape about this one thing.

  • Dr_Doctorstein

    It’s not so much about what one believes in as it is about which battles one chooses to fight. Those Christians who have gone to the mat against the legalization of gay marriage, while accepting things like the legalization of divorce, have undercut their own credibility and contributed to their own defeat on this issue. That’s the point.

    Also, of course, few people care what you and your co-religionists think about divorce, for the simple reason that there is no Christian movement afoot to outlaw divorce. But there IS such a movement to outlaw gay marriage; ergo, people “get really bent out of shape” about it. Not so hard to understand.

  • stefanstackhouse

    Actually, I think that a lot of self-defined “Christians” (whether they really are such or not is very much a debatable issue, but requires personal judgments I don’t believe I really have the authority to make) have behaved very badly toward people with same-gender orientation – as they have toward people of different races, people of different socio-economic status, people who simply disagree with them, etc., etc. All of this grieves me deeply, and I have honestly tried as best as I possibly can to disassociate myself from such behaviors and the attitudes that underlie them.

    I personally have not been all that worked up about the whole same-sex marriage thing. What consenting adults decide to do is entirely their business and not mine. For the record, I do think that it is a mistake for the government to be in the “marriage license” business altogether; running a civil partnership registry would be more acceptable from my perspective, but I admit that mine is very much of a minority position – both among Christians and non-Christians.

    I am far more concerned at the apparently coordinated and concerted efforts to drive out of business, defame, and bankrupt any operator of any ancillary wedding service that doesn’t instantly get with the program without objection, and with the talk about revoking church and parachurch tax exemptions, either selectively or across the board. These are symptomatic of a much wider and more sinister agenda, and it is an agenda that I do oppose. If there are people that are offended because I don’t silently and sheepishly back off and get with that program, then so be it.

  • Tulse

    How do you resolve

    I think that a lot of self-defined “Christians” […] have behaved very badly toward people with same-gender orientation – as they have toward people of different races

    with

    I am far more concerned at the apparently coordinated and concerted efforts to drive out of business, defame, and bankrupt any operator of any ancillary wedding service that doesn’t instantly get with the program without objection, and with the talk about revoking church and parachurch tax exemptions, either selectively or across the board.

    Would you say the same if the businesses and churches were acting the same way against people of colour?

  • stefanstackhouse

    No, because there is no Biblical warrant for racial discrimination or racism of any kind. None at all.

    Not to say that there is any Biblical warrant for any sort of hatefulness or unkindness toward anyone. There isn’t.

    However, there IS Biblical warrant for affirming that the things it identifies as being sinful are in fact sinful, and for refusing to approve, aid, and abet them. This can and must all be done in a non-hateful way. However, if the mere holding of this opinion makes one politically incorrect, a social pariah, and outlaw, then so be it. It may be that there are just some people whose positions and attitudes are such that they define any disagreement at all as being offensive and equivalent with hate, and their hostility may be the unavoidable consequence of any principled disagreement with them. I don’t feel that way toward anyone, but there evidently are some people who feel that way toward me.

    For the record, I recognize that people holding these points of view will probably have to get out of the wedding service business. Maybe churches will have to lose their tax exemptions as well. There might very well be good arguments for both that have nothing to do with what you or anyone else think about either. I rather suspect, though, that it won’t end there.

  • Tulse

    No, because there is no Biblical warrant for racial discrimination or racism of any kind. None at all.

    What? The entire Old Testament is about Yaweh’s “Chosen People”, who get to wipe out other peoples (such as the Canaanites) just because they are in the way. How is it not racism when one tribe of humans is literally divinely designated?

  • stefanstackhouse

    One cannot properly read the Christian new testament and possibly get the impression that “holy war” is something still mandated or even allowed for any Christian. At best, what happened back in old testament was a one-off under extreme circumstances, and under no circumstances established any sort of universal or ongoing standard of conduct. You might disapprove of even the one-off, and this is indeed an issue of vigorous discussion and dispute within Christian circles. There is no serious dispute, however, that it establishes no warrant for such a thing today.

  • Tulse

    So we can also dispense with Leviticus as well?

  • stefanstackhouse

    It isn’t a question of dispensing with it but of how it is read. Faithful Christians will read Leviticus and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures very differently than will people in the orthodox rabbinical tradition.

  • Tulse

    But that still doesn’t answer the question of how you know that Leviticus was also not “a one-off under extreme circumstances, and under no circumstances established any sort of universal or ongoing standard of conduct”.

  • stefanstackhouse

    Because Jesus is my Teacher and Lord, I am His disciple, and He has taught very clearly that His followers are to love our neighbors, treat them as we would want to be treated, and to turn the other cheek.

  • Tulse

    That’s doesn’t answer my question, which is why you think the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality are still in force — if anything, your comments are an argument that they should be ignored entirely.

  • stefanstackhouse

    I don’t think the Levitical prohibitions about anything are “in force”, either for Christians or for society at large. I suppose that there are Jewish people that still consider them to be “in force” for their faith community, but that is their business, not mine.

    The question isn’t about what you are or are not allowed to do, but what I am allowed to think.

  • Tulse

    I don’t think the Levitical prohibitions about anything are “in force”

    So, just to clarify, your opposition to homosexuality has nothing to do with any Old Testament prohibitions.

    The question isn’t about what you are or are not allowed to do, but what I am allowed to think.

    Nonsense — you can think whatever you like. What you can’t do legally in some jurisdictions (but by no means all) is to act in a discriminatory manner toward an LGBT person regarding a product or service that you provide. That’s a pretty narrow restriction, and one that we accept for people who have other characteristics, such as dark skin or religions that are different from your own.

    Now, if your complaint instead is that there are social sanctions against expressing some opinions publicly, well unfortunately for you that’s fair game. If you want to exercise your ability to express something that others find distasteful or bigoted, there is no reason to expect such folks to not also exercise their ability to express their distaste or sense of you as a bigot. If you want to participate in the marketplace of ideas, you have to be willing to accept such criticism — you are not insulated from other’s opinions of your views.

  • stefanstackhouse

    It isn’t even so much that I am “opposed to homosexuality”. Consenting adult non-Christians can pretty much do whatever they want. Nobody has appointed me as their judge, and I’m not interested in legislating morality.

    On the other hand, the Christian scriptures do clearly state that fidelity within monogamous heterosexual marriage and chastity outside of it is the expected standard to which Christians are to hold themselves and each other, and that any departure from that standard is what we consider to be sin. It may be offensive to some that we think that way, and yes, we may suffer social sanctions for thinking that way and not getting with the program. So be it – our Teacher and Lord warned us to expect such.

    As to the non-discrimination thing in the marketplace, I do think that if there are Christians that cannot in good conscience provide services that they feel constitutes an endorsement or an aiding or abetting of what they understand to be sinful, they need to get out of that line of business and re-invent themselves to figure out some other way to make a living. Fair enough. I do think it was pretty harsh to come smashing down so severely and so quickly on a few unfortunate individuals who were a little bit slow to adjust to what you must admit is a social and legal environment that is changing with unprecedented rapidity. Changes do need to happen, but it may take just a little bit of time for people in flyover land to get the message and to figure out how to get out of a business that they’ve spent a lifetime building up.

  • Tulse

    That’s a thoughtful and reasoned response, and I do appreciate the discussion.

  • Jeff

    Do you reject the possibility of neutrality? It seems like you only consider things to be good or bad, but a given thing could also be neutral, neither good nor bad.

  • stefanstackhouse

    There are all types of things that the Bible is silent about, and so yes, I am quite content to read that as giving me permission to make up my own mind, or to just consider it to be a neutral thing. Unfortunately, the Bible DOES have some things to say about same-gender sexual relationships, and I am afraid that the message is not affirmative. Sorry, but it is what it is. I’m not into imposing that on anyone or passing judgment against them, but neither am I going to soft-peddle the Bible or pretend that it doesn’t say what it says. If people want to reject the Bible – and the God that we believe inspired it and that it reveals to us – then that is their choice entirely. I’m afraid that I can offer no reassurances at all for those who would like to have the Bible and yet pick and choose which parts they are going to embrace and which they are going to reject. If they are looking for an OK for that, they are going to have to look elsewhere, as I just don’t have anything I can offer them.

  • Tulse

    The Bible says what it says, and the hard fact that we all know is that it says some pretty harsh things about homosexual practice

    It also says some pretty harsh things about those who ignore the poor, and fight against justice, and don’t succour their neighbour, and amass wealth for themselves at the expense of others. I really wish that Christians would get just as animated about these issues as about gay marriage.

  • stefanstackhouse

    I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself – yes, I am probably more animated about those other issues. It isn’t that I really care what consenting adults of any type do – that’s their business. And for the record, I would just as soon that government get out of the “marriage license” business altogether, and just run a civil partnership registry. That’s why I voted against Amendment 1 here in NC, which put me at odds with many Evangelical Christians.

    My contention is that there has been a very quick move beyond the mere issue of same sex marriage per se. Now we are seeing actions to shut down and sue operators of ancillary wedding service businesses who have been a little too slow to get the memo and get with the program, and we are seeing calls to revoke the tax exemptions of some or all churches and parachurch organizations. With all due respect, I think it is reasonable to conclude that there is another, larger agenda in operation here than just the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is with that larger issue that I am taking issue.

  • Tulse

    there is another, and larger agenda in operation here than just the legalization of same-sex marriage

    Yes, the agenda is fighting discrimination against LGBT people. And that does include treating them like other people when it comes to business services.

  • sg

    Nope. They drive past ten flower shops that will serve them to root out the one dissenter who won’t. They target Christians. They didn’t go to the Orthodox Jewish baker or the Muslim baker. It is a campaign of harassment and destruction.

  • Andrew Dowling

    It also is pretty adamant about ursury. Been to a bank lately?

  • Mark Byron

    Warren was in favor of Prop-8, which made him a bit problematic as the Obama inaugural chaplain; outside of that, he’s been largely apolitical. Keller and Osteen tend to be apolitical and I don’t recall Yancey being much of a political animal.

    2008 was about that point where the left edge of evangelical thought started to mellow on the issue, as the more emergent, post-modern types were seeing SSM opposition as getting in the way of outreach and ministry.

  • sg

    Mellowing?

    More like seeing the fact that they will be harassed or fired from their jobs for dissenting.

  • James or Not

    It’s interesting to see widespread changes in society such as this. I think a big reason for the acceptance of marriage equality is the growing acknowledgement that in civil society, laws must be based on civil goods rather than on religious edicts. Because the Prop 8 defenders could not marshall legitimate civil arguments against equality before the law, it soon became obvious that opposistion was based solely on religious sensibilities or on personal discomfiture, and further litigation never revealed any other legitimate civil arguments against. Eventually opposition to equality failed due to the nature of its source. We are not a Christian nation, in thrall to the bible, but a civil society in thrall to the Constitution which is inherently un-biblical.

  • sg

    The gay marriage thing was entirely media generated. The media promoted it 24/7 for years even decades. They also went out on witch hunts to find and harass dissenters. People were targeted in their businesses by bureaucrats and activists and judges.

    There is no explicit language in the constitution regarding marriage. There is explicit language regarding free association and freedom of religion. But the corrupt elites invent new rights out of thin air for special friends and announce that they trump what is explicitly written in the constitution.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Nothing to potentially keep those donations from coming in . . . .