Lately I have been busy in a number of areas, tending still to my garden as well as to our religious community, and also making mola salsa for my own use. Winnowing proves to take more skill than I seem to have. During this time New York state passed a law to legalize same-sex marriage and I cannot pass it by without adding in some of my own comments.
From the outset I must say that I support same-sex marriage both on legal grounds and also on religious grounds. I’ll forgo the legal arguments even though I think this issue is primarily one of civil rights. It is simply a matter of people asking that they be granted the same rights under the law as any other citizens. The arguments being used against same-sex marriage are not much different than the ones I heard years ago to defend bans on inter-racial marriages. And believe me I know well enough about that issue. In 1975 I was picked up by Alabama state troopers who wanted to know why I was “walking with a White woman?” Well, being of Italian descent I can get a little dark after being in the sun for a while. I soon learned that it was a mistake to say that she was my wife. Anyway, bigotry is fueled by ignorance, and some of the rhetoric being used over the political issue of same-sex marriage is simply to promote further ignorance of what is at stake for these, our fellow citizens.
In Ohio a law was passed a couple of years ago to ban same-sex marriage. I actively opposed the ban. I was disappointed in the result as to what it had to say about Ohioans. It was not out of any self-interest that I opposed the ban. It was simply the right thing to oppose such an un-American law that deprived basic rights to a single group of citizens. But the issue also has a greater relevancy for all of us. The Ohio law was sponsored by a group in Cincinnati, a group that is connected to a particular Christian congregation of that city. They claimed that marriage was instituted for men and women alone. Are Gays and Lesbians not men and women? Are they some sort of second class humans that they are to be made second class citizens as well?
The Cincinnati group claimed that allowing same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage. I have been married to the same woman for nearly 40 years. How is allowing anyone else to marry going to undermine my marriage? Does allowing marriage between Christians and non-Christians undermine the institution of marriage? I hope not, because my wife is a Catholic. Does allowing inter-racial marriage threaten my marriage? Well, maybe once in Alabama it would have. My wife is of Swedish descent, with wheat-blond hair and hazel eyes in contrast to me, but I don’t think that has harmed our marriage. Society can strain an inter-racial marriage by not accepting it, imposing itself on what ought to be a personal relationship between the married couple. It seems to me that part of our society is once again trying to impose itself into the private lives of others in a harmful way. What has that to say about that segment of society? What does it have to say about their religion when they use their religious beliefs to justify depriving others of basic rights? Didn’t the Southern Baptists once break from their northern congregation over an issue where they justified slavery by reciting passages from the Bible? How is that different from today when congregations divide or threaten to divide by claiming the Bible opposes same-sex marriages?
An argument is made that the institution of marriage is for the purpose of procreation. That is a shallow and rather archaic view of marriage. It seems more of a justification for men to divorce one wife and marry a younger breader. Maybe homosexuals won’t procreate within their marriage, but then I would hope that the desire of any couple for marriage, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is based on something more than just that they want to procreate.
Here is an even greater example that those who oppose same-sex marriage are basing their opposition in religion. The Cincinnati group claimed that women belong under the authority of a man, which could not be the case in a same-sex marriage. What? I am sure that not all Christians have such a low opinion of women. It is disgraceful that any religion is used to justify the subjugation of anyone, whether due to their sex, their race, or as here over their sexuality. This sort of argument that misconstrues religious beliefs as justification for bigotry certainly points us in a direction of understanding where this issue ought to go.
We ought to put aside all of the superficial arguments and finally recognize the legality of same-sex marriage in order to support the institution of marriage. In doing so we shall force people to rethink the basis of marriage. If you think of marriage in terms of procreation and subordination, or for exploitation, for economic gain, or for the sake of convenience, then you have marriage wrong. And apparently a lot of people have it wrong since our divorce rates are so high. Personal bonds of love and companionship and friendship are what build strong marital relationships. This is what homosexuals already have in their long lasting relationships. Maybe it is they who have something to teach us heterosexuals about marriage.
I am sure that there shall remain some legal questions to answer. But I don’t think those issues will be as important to us as individuals, as couples, and as a society as shall the change that shall result in our renewed understanding of marriage. In the long run it ought to have a profound effect on our spiritual lives. Redefining the relationships in marriage will help to redefine the relationships held within a religious community, and by extension then should also begin to change the sort of relationships we expect to find in our society at large. Just as a good marriage helps the individual partners to mature as adults, a new and better understanding of marriage will help our communities and their individual members to mature as well. This can only benefit our relationships with our respective Gods, too, as we come to mature more in our spiritual lives through good marital relationships. Every person of faith with a deep understanding of spiritual life ought to see the benefit of changing the public’s perception of marriage away from legal and economic issues, in order to focus more in their religious communities on the spiritual union between a married couple. Where love, compassion, and spirituality are seen as the strongest foundation for our marriages, the same shall be in our communities. Thus rethinking what marriage means, as legalization of same-sex marriages shall require of us, will only benefit religious communities that are bold enough to finally accept the reality of our diverse society. As I see it, same-sex marriage is more likely to strengthen, rather than to threaten, the institution of marriage as heterosexuals seek to enjoy the same benefits of a relationship based in deep love as Gays and Lesbians have for one another.
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