Unanswered questions on DOMA

Unanswered questions on DOMA June 27, 2013

I don’t believe in bisexuals. I figure the rest of us have to choose, so why shouldn’t they?

-Suzanne Sugarbaker/Designing Women 

A history-making day, that’s what all the news pundits and talking heads are calling it. And even those who didn’t agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), recognize the truth of that.

We will no longer be solely divided by Red and Blue states, but rather those same talking heads and pundits will divvy the country up by Gay and Straight states.

I heard rumblings of that as one person after another took to the airwaves and discussed what this means for Oregon, which, thus far, has not voted in favor of gay marriage, unlike our neighbors to the north and south of us. What is means, in all likelihood, is that it won’t be long before Oregon follows suit.

I’m perfectly fine with that. Unlike some of my evangelical friends, I have no problem with gays and lesbians marrying in civil ceremonies. I do not see the marriage of gays or lesbians as a threat to my marriage. The biggest threat to my marriage is my own selfishness.

For the record, Tim and I are doing great. We are coming up on 35-years together. It’s very unlikely we’ll make the next 35. Not because we’ll divorce, but simply because we’ll age out. To celebrate we are headed to Europe soon. I’ll wave to you from Paris. Promise.

But back to this matter of DOMA.

It all seemed rather silly to me. We do need a Defense of Marriage Act, but for everybody, not just gays or lesbians. We need something to help defend marriages. Headlines tell us that marriage, like church attendance, is in a steady decline.

One of my daughters — the only one not married — works in a Family Law office. She deals with people who are getting divorced every single day of the week. We need something to help people do a better job at staying married. Maybe we could come up with a Defense of Marriage Act that would teach us all how to do marriage better, instead of targeting people for exclusion, heh?

Honestly, some days I wonder why gays  and lesbians even want to be married considering how poorly we heterosexuals are at this.

Then I remember: Oh, yeah, legal reasons.

I understand that all too well.

One of the wrong-headed assumptions people make about us creative types is that we are all rich. Or wealthy. Or at least wealthier than anybody else they know. Yet, most of the writers in my circle, me included, are not rich. We are dependent upon others.

My marriage affords me health benefits, insurance, and a roof over my head during retirement (I hope).So, yes, I’m one of those evangelicals who supports the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. Not necessarily solely for legal reasons, but those reasons weigh heavily into the equation for me.

I’m happy for my friends who are gay and lesbian that they will now have access to some of the benefits of marriage that I enjoy. I hope those who do marry are fortunate enough to marry a life-long partner. Somebody who will support them in all the many ways that legitimize us as human beings loved by a mighty God.

A God, who, some of my friends and family members maintain, hates the sin of homosexuality.

I’ll tell you right up front that all this talk makes me a bit uneasy. That’s because I have people I love and care about on both sides of this issue. I bet you do, too.

Here’s what’s worrying me: While I’m a proponent of the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, I’m concerned that people who think differently about all that will now be confronted with the same sort of exclusionary mindset that they have employed towards gays and lesbians all these years.

That, I think, would be  a crying shame.

I hope that I’m just worrying for nothing. I do that sometimes.

Surely, people, who have struggled so long and fought so tirelessly for this day, understand that for history to really change, we all have to practice grace, even in the face of great wrong-doings. Especially then.

I’m counting on my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to accept that for some the bonds of marriage belong between a male and a female, at least in the eyes of God. For them, this day is apocalyptic. A sign that our nation is going to hell on a wagon train with a team of race horses.

I’m not saying they are right or wrong about that. I’m just saying I know some people who think that.

While I support the right to civil marriages, I would hate to see gays and lesbians start doing to Believers what was done to them for so many years — condemning others for thinking differently.

Berating them.

Belittling them.

Humiliating them.

Degrading them.

Because if anyone ought to know how hurtful and isolating that can be it would be the LGBT community.

I suppose for some this historic decision will not be enough. They will insist that until the Fill-in-the-Blank Church recognizes their right to marry, they are still being treated in a discriminatory fashion.

But just because the Supreme Court ruled against DOMA and in favor of the civil rights of people who are gay or lesbian, does not mean that the Supreme Court is going to force Believers to defy their particular faith traditions on this matter of same-sex marriages, does it?

After all, to do otherwise would be to violate the separation of Church and State, right?







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  • Susan_G1

    This ruling does not negate the first amendment, which declares: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    I think you’re safe!

  • JohnE_o

    Please don’t worry, everything is going to be all right.

  • AFRoger

    For there to be a backlash, there first has to be a lash. Or, to use a term perahps coined by President LBJ, there has to be a “frontlash.” I, too, pray that the backlash to the Court’s decisions is not a sequel to the frontlash.
    Marriage. Civil union. Life partnership. I hope we all ask ourselves exactly what that means. Since I now have the vested authority to perform marriages that pass legal muster, I find it a sobering responsibility, given the flawed nature of humanity. I worked long and hard to be recognized and vested with the authority conferred by the ordination by my church. It wasn’t a cereal boxtop version or an online instant thing. Worked my butt off for a decade in classes, CPE and internship while working full time. Much to the neglect of home maintenance and retirement savings. All to do legitimate ministry in a position that does not pay. I worked to do justice to Word and Sacrament, not to be a self-styled entrepreneur.
    But the qualification to legally marry people came with the package. Also, to pronounce the blessing of God on couples who wish to have that. I have married one couple, and I felt good about it. I also just “solemnized before God and witnesses” the marriage of a couple who had already legally been married by a judge some time prior. I don’t know for sure how to feel about this couple since they both have personality traits that could be very troubling if they don’t manage them; plus, they both have a disastrous previous marriage in their past. My prayer is that the sacred ceremony in which they sought God’s blessing serves as a sobering incentive to succeed despite their own human faults.
    A local columnist who is herself divorced has written several times about the importance of doing things that support and strengthen marriage. I want to call her to account because she has failed to describe what that would be. Should we enact a marriage “death penalty” by making it illegal for anyone who has ever divorced for any reason to remarry… ever? Would that strengthen marriage?
    Absent the columnist’s definition, I offer my own. It’s the same prescription I give for eliminating poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, low graduation rates, DWI deaths, drug cartels, sectarian wars, terrorism and world wars: character formation. Better formed, better built, more fully committed human beings. Ultimately, we have no other and no higher calling but to make more of us who better qualify for the humbling, lofty title divinely bestowed on us: God’s own handiwork.
    Meanwhile, how many married people can recite their marriage vows 90 seconds, 90 minutes or 90 days after the wedding? Or say what that vow actually means? Instead of blowing megabucks hiring wedding planners, people would do much better to spend a few hours actually being MARRIAGE planners themselves.
    And the rest of us can pray for them. We must.

    • tehsilentone

      i’m -pretty damn sure- terrorists are fully committed. Sectarian wars? Certainly.

      Telling everyone to have character is silly. It is a cyclical answer that states that people would do good more if they are already inclined to do good.

      “We wouldn’t have murder anymore if people just jolly well didn’t want to murder so badly.”

      “There won’t be religious wars if everyone was the same religion.”

      “No one would divorce if everyone stayed married.”

      • Dang people. They can be so infuriating. If only there was a do-better gene we could cultivate.

      • AFRoger

        Thanks for pausing over my words long enough to comment.
        Nowhere do I state or imply that “telling everyone to have character” will result in people who have character. Character formation is a lifelong process that begins with modeling it first and mentoring other human beings as they grow. It is the first responsibility of elders, parents and immediate family, secondarily the responsibility of friends and neighbors. It is ultimately the responsbility of the entire human community because without it, we fail as a species.
        It cannot be preached in the absence of practice. That said, the very concepts of self-discipline, self-control, loyalty and integrity, of forming and sustaining lasting relationships only suffer if they are never spoken of and lifted up as admirable, desirable, necessary and darned well worth working for. Hard to strive for something if we have no idea it exists.
        The business of loving our neighbors as ourselves cannot be accomplished in the abstract. God’s command is not a suggestion about how we are to feel about anyone. It is a call to do and to be with them by knowing them by name and life story.
        When Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that one day his children would be judged by the content of their character, he only did so having already been a husband, father, pastor and follower of Christ who lived character and modeled and required it of his children.
        How many children and adults around us have had no such gift in life? Do we say that these human beings now are not precious enough for some of us to give some of our time?
        I’ve fought the fight of my life to raise my daughter. I could not have done it without the faithfulness and steadfast love of my wife. These were the first neighbors I was called to love as myself. But there have been others. I’ve mentored three young men in my life. Last month at the memorial service for one of them I was stunned by the way my small investments were multiplied a hundredfold by that one man.
        No, Karen, we don’t need a do-better gene. I’ve read how in your own life Pastor Smitty fulfilled the command to love a neighbor as himself. You may not have thought of it as character formation at the time, but wasn’t his care during an anguished experience powerful in making you the compassionate and dedicated person you are today?
        God’s way works, but only if we are willing to try it. It doesn’t consist in standing on the street corner or the tube telling people what to be. It consists in walking with them so that God can show us both.

  • tehsilentone

    Eh. People are fickle. The churches will slowly or quickly but inevitably change their stances just like with interracial marriage. A bunch of new sublets of Protestantism to remember.

  • ahermit

    Hmmm. Let’s try rephrasing that:

    Here’s what’s worrying me: While I’m a proponent of the rights of people of different races to marry each other, I’m concerned that people who think differently about all that will now be confronted with the same sort of exclusionary mindset that they have employed towards mixed race couples all these years.

    Not sure that should be your biggest worry. People are, of course, free to believe whatever they choose, but when that belief leads to the marginalization and dehumanization of others than maybe the backlash is a necessary step in making the world a better place.

    • How about we agree that pushing others out of the boat was never God’s intent?

      • ahermit

        Well I don’t believe in gods so we’re not likely to agree on that. I will agree that even bigots deserve to be treated with compassion and empathy, but that doesn’t mean sugar coating what we are talking about.

        I just don’t see a real parallel between people being marginalized because of who they are or who they love and others being marginalized because of their hateful, exclusionary beliefs.

        In the aftermath of this DOMA decision no one will be preventing bigoted believers from doing or saying anything. They will never be subjected to the kind of “othering” that they have imposed on the LBGQT community or to any loss of legal rights.

        • I think your remarks prove my concern. Not everyone who believes that homosexuality is sinful is either hateful or exclusionary.

          • ahermit

            It seems to me that taking something as fundamental to someone’s identity as their sexual orientation and calling it “sin” is essentially hateful and exclusionary in the same way that believing the colour of someone’s skin marks them as inferior is hateful and exclusioanry.

            I’ve met some very nice racists in my time; people I genuinely like. But I don’t make excuses for their bigotry.

            By the way, we’ve had legal same sex marriage here in Canada for eight years now. The sky hasn’t fallen, no religious institution has been asked to change it’s beliefs or practices (nor could they be forced to if they were asked) and heterosexual marriages (like mine of thirty years) haven’t been affected at all. I think the concerns in your last paragraph are unfounded.

          • I suppose all worry could be considered unfounded, unless you happen to be the one doing the worrying. But for the record, I use it more as a figure of speech, a way to dialogue about something that I have heard others express their own concerns over.
            I know plenty of people who think that homosexuality is a sin. I don’t consider them hateful, ignorant or exclusionary. I see them as trying their best to honor God and their fellow man.

          • ahermit

            Those people may be fine people in every other way, but their belief is still, in its effects, a hateful, divisive belief. I’m not advocating marginalizing the people, but that pernicious belief should be met with the contempt it deserves.

            The racists who pushed the “white man’s burden” nonsense probably thought they were doing their best to honour God and their fellow man too…

  • Brett Falkenbergski

    Jesus said something to the effect of “treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
    Shouldn’t some Christians (and by extension, some denominations) expect to be treated the way they’ve shown us how they’d like to be treated?
    I already know that when I see some extended family for the holidays I’ll be more than happy to tell the ones that are against SSM (believe me, I’ll hear about it) that they’re not invited to mine and to have a good life.

    • I am sure it was very hurtful to deal with family members who spoke out about their opposition to SSM. Perhaps no other issue, since slavery, has so divided churches and families. But as I wrote in After the Flag has been Folded, our family was forced to learn forgiveness and, today, I’m thankful for that. I have family members as well who think I am left of Jesus for supporting SSM. However, they don’t write me off completely and I don’t them. We just agree that we disagree and strive to love each other anyway.

      • Brett Falkenbergski

        I have a huge extended family (15 aunts/uncles on my dad’s side alone) so I’ll have to pick and choose which ones to invite. They’ll just help me out in that regard. 🙂

    • CruisingTroll

      You have a fine paraphrase of the “second great commandment.” Perhaps you should take a deeper look at the first.
      As a reminder, it can be found in Matthew 22:36-40

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I suppose for some this historic decision will not be enough. They will insist that until the Fill-in-the-Blank Church recognizes their right to marry, they are still being treated in a discriminatory fashion.

    I think this conflates a few different points. 1) I don’t know anyone who believes that churches should be required to marry any couple regardless of the religious beliefs of that church, but to the extent that Fill-in-the-Blank Church continues to exert political will and influence public discourse, they are promoting legal discrimination outside of their church and cannot, at this point, just be ignored and left alone, agreeing to disagree. Because 2) this is an active political struggle. The DOMA decision, while certainly historic and a huge step forward, has no direct bearing on the 3/4 of the country where same-sex couples still can’t get married and threfore are still overtly denied access to the federal marriage benefits and responsibilities conferred by the DOMA ruling, not to mention all the other areas- like housing and employment- where LGBT people face legal discrimination.

    Put another way, LGBT people are still being treated in a discriminatory fashion, not by Fill-in-the-Blank Church and their internal policies, but, at least in part, because of Fill-in-the-Blank Church and their external activities. I think it’s important not to conflate these two roles.

    (Agreed, I should add, about not wanting anyone to be berated, belittled, humiliated, degraded or condemned for thinking differently. Of course, bad as any of those are, they all fall well short of denying others civil rights and protections.)

    • hydrochloriawk

      Thank you for this. The implication that the SCOTUS decision somehow just put LGBT people on top and that they now have Great Responsibility to be magnanimous when they continue to be oppressed, denied housing, denied marriage in most of the country, and suffer inordinately from drug and alcohol addiction really sat poorly with me.

  • kenofken

    I think we’re going to hear a lot more about the persecution fantasies of anti-SSM Christians in the coming years because it is literally all they have left to trade on in the debate, a debate that has been settled in all but details by the larger society. Their idea, that this country should be a functional theocracy, has failed utterly in the marketplace of ideas that is plural democracy. It also failed the fundamental test of fairness that have defined this country since day one (even if we’re slow to live up to it).

    I don’t think we will see courts and legislators attempting to force churches to bend their theology or sacraments to public opinion. We have a very strong legal tradition of separation of church and state, despite the ironic attempts of these same Christians to dismantle it at every turn. From where they stand now, they ought to be the staunchest supporters of the ACLU and Americans United.

    We will see Christian business owners forced to follow the laws where civil rights and public accommodation are concerned. They will, no doubt, cry persecution, but they deserve no sympathy on this point. The core of civil rights law is that the general public should not be humiliated or made second class citizens in the streets to accommodate personal bigotry. They can suck it up and follow the law like the rest of us.

    As far as day to day relations go, a lot of that is going to be determined by the words and actions of individuals. It’s true not all anti-SSM believers are hateful, but their movement, in the aggregate, is a hate movement. It has revealed itself as such over many years in word and deed. Their rhetoric is grounded almost entirely in demonization of gays, not in nuanced theology. In every public debate they enter, they cannot resist likening gays to pedophiles or characterizing them as evil partisans whose only purpose is to destroy others. See the absurd new propaganda term “homosexualist.”

    People who persist in this sort of hate-filled behavior deserve no consideration or kindness. As a non-Christian, I have no obligation nor inclination to turn the other cheek or love my enemies. I do however, believe that even the fiercest of enemies can make peace and move forward IF both approach it with true good will and an acknowledgment of damages done. For my part, I will try to take the measure of people as individuals rather than assuming based on their position.

    • hydrochloriawk

      Because of the fact that it has been a hate movement, and because lgbt people are an oppressed group, it doesn’t matter how many lgbt regard anti-ssm folks bitterly or even with lack of dignity (although of course christian lgbt people are called to behave differently). there would still be no comparison since they do not have the social power to truly oppress anti ssm folks. Just like blacks do not have the social power to oppress whites and so any bitterness a black person might feel toward white people even today is incomparable to the oppression they as a group have experienced, and in some cases might count as righteous anger. i think you’re right that we will see more persecution fantasies and martyr envy from anti-ssm folks than we will see actual “persecution” from lgbt people. Frankly, any group that needs its rights afforded to it through legislation or a court case or referendum just simply doesn’t have the social standing to truly “persecute”. I wonder how many people who were poorly regarded for maintaining their opposition to interracial marriage and segregation cried “persecution”. Probably quite a few. I don’t mean to draw too much of a comparison between persecution of blacks and persecution of lgbts (since they are in different leagues entirely), but it seems like an easily understood analogy.