By Rosemary Radford Ruether
In the current culture wars, we are constantly told by conservatives that gay marriage would be a disaster for the ideal and institution of (heterosexual) marriage. James Dobson, founder of the conservative evangelical group, Focus on the Family, has opined, "Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself." Pope John Paul II judged same sex unions as "degrading" marriage. The Vatican Declaration "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons" (2004) stated that "Legal recognition of homosexual unions obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of mankind."
But are these warnings that gay marriage poses a threat to marriage true? Do they make either logical or empirical sense? At a time when fewer Americans are marrying at all and many are divorcing, at a time when a third of American households consist in single people, why is it a threat to marriage that homosexual people are embracing marriage? Shouldn't we find the large numbers of people who are unmarried, often raising children as single parents, the prime threat to marriage? What is remarkable about the current movement for marriage among gay people is that they are asking for basically the same institution and ideals of marriage as heterosexuals currently enjoy. They want a publicly recognized sealing of a commitment to a life long monogamist union with another person with whom they want to share their lives, an institution which also carries with it certain legal rights, such as shared pensions and health plans. Why is this a threat to marriage?
If marriage is not allowed gay people, what is the alternative that conservative Christians are demanding for gay people? For some, gay people shouldn't exist at all; they can and should be converted to heterosexuality. But few medical and psychological experts now share this view. Sexual orientation has proved to be deeply imbedded and not easily changed. Another alternative is lifelong celibacy. But celibacy has generally been recognized in the Christian tradition to be a special gift, not given to most people. Why should all gay people be assumed to have this "gift?" If conservative Christians demand that gays remain unmarried, but not capable of celibacy, what are we saying? That they should be promiscuous, that they should have uncommitted relations?
Read an opposing perspective on same-sex marriage from a Priest here.
Two evangelical writers, Letha Scanzoni, author of the 1978 book, Is the Homosexual my Neighbor?, and David Myers, Professor of Psychology at Hope College, have recently (2005) published a book arguing for gay marriage from a Christian evangelical perspective, What God has Joined Together: A Christian Case for Gay Marriage. In this book they argue that marriage, in the sense of a permanent life-long egalitarian monogamist relationship between two persons for mutual care and child raising, is a fundamental human good. Couples in such relations are healthier and happier. Children are best raised in a stable two-parent household. If this is good for heterosexuals, then it is also good for homosexuals. Gay marriage does not destroy marriage, but rather extends this same good way of life to homosexuals.
The arguments that opening marriage to gay people is a slippery slope that will quickly lead to promiscuity, group marriage, polygamy and incest make no sense. Gay people and heterosexuals have both been promiscuous and pursued various extra-marital relations. The gay marriage movement is precisely a rejection of casual and plural relations. It is an option for a committed, monogamous relation with one other beloved person for the rest of one's life. One of the remarkable things about the recent opening of marriage to homosexuals, briefly in San Francisco and then also in Boston, is the number of gay people who came forward with great joy to officially seal what in many cases has already been a committed relationship of 10, 20 or 30 years. Are gay people "capable" of committed monogamous relations? Obviously so, at least as much as heterosexuals. What they are asking for is for this committed, monogamous relationship to be legally recognized as marriage.
Scanzoni and Meyers argue that accepting gay marriage, far from threatening marriage, will confirm and strengthen the ideal of marriage itself for all of us, heterosexuals and homosexuals. Gay marriage can be a positive example for the many people in our society that hesitate and fear to embrace a permanent monogamous and life-long relation, with its struggles as well as its joys. Gay marriage should be embraced by Christians as "pro-marriage, not anti-marriage." In Scanzoni and Meyers' words, "It can prompt heterosexual men and women to appreciate marriage in a new way."