Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Last week I lamented the recent decision of the California Supreme Court to strike down a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. The decision declared that sexual orientation, like race or gender, “does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.” I suggested that this will have significant and far-reaching negative social implications. I will expound on that today.

First, it is disingenuous to equate sexual orientation with race or gender. Gender is fixed (gender-change operations notwithstanding), and race is fixed for most people, though to be sure there are many people of blended races, which leaves them some latitude for self-determination in this respect. But sexual orientation is a continuum that ranges from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, with many places (e.g., bisexuality) in between. Societies, by their mores and laws, have channeled this polymorphous human sexuality towards heterosexuality primarily through the institution of marriage (see Dennis Prager, “California Decision Will Radically Change Society,”, 5/20/08). By limiting marriage to one man and one woman, societies have explicitly declared that this was the most desirable and effective mechanism for social cohesion and for the bearing and nurture of children. This, of course, has excluded from participation in the institution of marriage some people with different and less common sexual orientations, including man-man, woman-woman, polygamous, and incestuous relationships (In most western societies, homosexual and lesbian couples may still enter into civil unions). This indeed reflects a preference for heterosexual behavior in these societies.

At this point we need to distinguish between “tolerance,” “acceptance,” and “normalization.” A few decades ago, gay advocates urged society to tolerate homosexual behavior. This primarily meant not to attack it or be hateful towards homosexuals. Then society was urged to accept homosexual behavior. This meant primarily not to discriminate on the basis of it. Now society is being urged to normalize it. This means to consider it equal to and equally desirable to heterosexual behavior.

This third step is huge. One can easily envision the following if same-sex marriage is normalized: “Schoolbooks will not be allowed to describe marriage in male-female ways alone. Companies that advertise engagement rings will have to show a man putting a ring on a man’s finger – if they show only women fingers, they will be boycotted just as a company having racist ads would be now. Films that show only man-woman married couples will be regarded as ‘heterosexist’”(Prager, 5/20/08).

People who express these kinds of reservations often are labeled “homophobic,” which is an intellectually lazy charge. I have tremendous empathy for people dealing with same-sex attraction on any part of the sexual continuum. I treat gay people with dignity and kindness. To disagree is not to be phobic. I am particularly dismayed by the conservative church’s general lack of ministry to such people. But I cannot and will not consider this latest development “harmless” or “inevitable.” I will write again on this and talk about what I see as root causes and related issues.


Blogger Dr. Pedantic said...

Matt, I am disappointed that you didn't address any of the issues in my previous post (but thanks for not censoring it!) What I find "intellectually lazy" is for people to "lament" the California Supreme Court's decision without even reading it, and without understanding the legal underpinnings of the decision.

The comparison in the decision between homosexuality and race was as a matter of constitutional law, to determine whether discrimination against gays and lesbians should be determined under a "strict scrutiny" or "rational basis" standard. The Court looked at a number of factors to determine that strict scrutiny applied to sexuality just as it does to gender. And the comparisons between antimiscegenation laws and anti-gay marriage laws are valid.

And "channeling" gays and lesbians into heterosexual marriages is enormously destructive. Many of these fraudulent marriages do not last, and those that do are typically based on deceit.

Again, the Religious Right that has done so much harm to this country and to the reputation of Christianity can believe that homosexuality is a "sin" all it wants. But its obsession with homosexuality -- something barely mentioned in the Bible -- does, in fact, reflect homophobia, hatred, and hypocrisy. Again, where is the "lament" that there is not a Constitutional ban on remarriage after a divorce based on anything other than adultery? Why is the church so silent on that issue? I think we all know. That is because there are more church "leaders" living openly in marriages that Jesus characterized as adulterous than living openly in homosexual relationships. Meanwhile, the Church welcomes gays and lesbians so long as they lie to others, and preferably themselves, about who they really are (I have seen more than one pillar of the Church at gay bars on Saturday night who are then leading singing and teaching Bible classes at their local Church of Christ the next morning -- but as long as they aren't officially "out," that's okay).

As a matter of Constitutional law, all sorts of people can get married to each other. Britney Spears has a fundamental right to marry someone in Vegas on a drunken whim. Elizabeth Taylor can get married over and over and over again. Ronald Reagan was married twice, and had already impregnated Nancy before they got married. Anna Nicole Smith could marry someone several times her age. People of different religions, races, and backgrounds get married all the time. And "immoral" people get married all the time, with the Church not complaining at all. Why single out gays and lesbians, who just want their rights to be acknowledged, unless other "unbiblical" forms of marriage are also banned?

I'll close with a quote from Anna Quindlen, who put it better than I ever could: "Here's what I don't understand: is there so much love and commitment in the world that we can afford, as a society, to be contemptuous of some portion of it?"

10:30 AM  
Blogger Matt Soper said...

Dr. Pedantic,

I have been wanting to respond to you but never quite got around to it. Let me say a few things up front that any reader of this blog needs to know.

This is not a typical blog. The posts are essays that I publish in the weekly West Houston Church of Christ bulletin. Thus, they are on a fixed weekly schedule,and they are space limited! So, I can't address issues in as much depth as I might if I were writing a typical blog entry.

In that sense, this blog is more of an archive of my essays than an interactive conversation. Having said that, I welcome comments as long as they are constructive and civil, and will never censor them unless they violate these two criteria. I welcome feedback and the exchange of ideas and opinions.

I suppose I could make this an interactive blog, but I just don't want to devote the time to it at this point.

So, let me respond to your posts. No, I have not read the Supreme Court decision. I have no legal training. I don't believe that disqualifies me from having an opinion. I have read editorials by those who agree with the decision and by those who agree with it, so I'm not just shooting from the hip.

Yes, I understand that many Christians are hypocrites and that numerous ministers and church leaders have secretly lived homosexual lives. I don't believe that means that disagreeing with the court decision makes me a hypocrite. Some soldiers desert their units in battle. Does that make all talk by soldiers of duty, valor and patriotism hypocritical or irrelevant.

By "Religious Right," do you mean all conservative Christians? I consider myself a conservative Christian but not a member of the "Religious Right." I have heard the "Religious Right" described as those who try to "legislate morality." Granted. But isn't that what any politically active group does? They try to legislate their view of what makes the world a better place. Laws restrict and channel human behavior. Aren't those who are advocating the legalization of same-sex marriage trying to "legislate morality"? Of course they are. That's what legislation does.

Finally, as I addressed in my essay this week, I frequently have heard the protest, "Why single out homosexuals?" It certainly does sound mean and discriminatory to do so. But many of us who are against this development don't see it as singling out homosexuals; we see it as refusing to redefine marriage to include a special grievance group. Is it not feasible that by the same legal arguments being used today for same-sex marriage, brother-sister couples could advocate for their inclusion in the institution of marriage, or polygamists? I'm not being flip or hysterical. If you truly want to understand my position, think of it as refusing to redefine marriage, not as singling out homosexuals.

Thanks for your constructive and civil contribution on this blog to this issue. -- Matt

8:03 AM  
Blogger Dr. Pedantic said...

Matt --

With all due respect, yes, your not reading the opinion and not having the legal training to understand it does disqualify you from having an opinion. Reading diatribes by Dennis Prager (who probably also didn't bother reading it) doesn't count.

This is reminiscent over the church's hysteria over The Last Temptation of Christ. Many church leaders denounced the movie and called it blasphemous based on things they'd read and heard, but without ever seeing it. If they had, they would have found a very reverent, profound meditation on what it meant for God to take human form.

I didn't mean to suggest you were a hypocrite, and the fact that you are not hateful automatically disqualifies you from membership in the organized Religious Right!

As for hypocrisy, my point wasn't that people are leading secret gay lives. That's not hypocritical, so long as they're also not teaching and preaching against homosexuality. What's hypocritical is for churches to encourage gay people to lie. I had to leave my local Church of Christ congregation when I came out, while other gay members who are still officially in the closet are allowed to serve in positions of leadership, even though most people in the church know they are gay. The Bible condemns lying a lot more often than it condemns homosexuality, but the church basically says that being gay and a liar is preferable to being gay and truthful.

And again, there is more hyprocisy with regard to divorce and remarriage. Putting aside your scenario of "secret gays," how many people at the West Houston Church are in relationships that Jesus defined as adulterous? (i.e., are remarried after divorces for reasons other than adultery). Why are these adulterous couples welcomed by the church, while committed gay couples are not?

And as for redefining marriage, you are confusing the religious aspects with civil ones. The Court's decision just dealt with the legal institution of marriage. There is not a single religious institution in California that is required to conduct a same-sex wedding, and churches are free to continue discriminating and being inconsistent by permitting divorced couples but not gay ones to serve as leaders. The Court did not "redefine" marriage, and if you had taken the time to read the opinion, you would find a lengthy explanation of why the "redefinition" claim is a canard.

Marriage was "redefined" when it became a legally sanctioned institution with implications for inheritance rights, taxation, hospital visitation, etc. That is of fairly recent vintage, and it is just the legal aspects of marriage that have been affected by the Court's decision. And of course, marriage was "redefined" when after centuries of religious and legal antimiscegenation laws, the Supreme Court found a Constitutional right for members of different races to marry -- in 1967.

And culturally, marriage has been redefined repeatedly. For centuries, and in many cultures today, marriage meant s business transaction prearranged by the parents. Is that the "traditional" model to which she would return? Marriage was often between teen or preteen girls and much older men. As I mentioned before, Abraham was married to his half-sister, and Solomon was a big-time polygamist. The concept of marriage for love, and only for love, is pretty much a 19th-century invention. Didn't that "redefine" marriage, too?

If you had read the opinion, again, you would see that the Court addressed and persuasively rejected the "slippery slope" arguments with regard to incest and polygamy. That is not the issue in any event. The issue is whether as a matter of Constitutional law in a society that is not a theocracy, can a set of governmental benefits be withheld from people based on nothing other than their sexuality. The Court said no. The Court was right.

And how awful is it that the Church frequently accepts and even promotes hate, but is so terribly threatened by love.

10:39 AM  

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