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A Response to the Continuing Furor Over Same-Sex Marriage

One would have hoped that by now this issue would have been resolved and the country would have moved on to other pressing needs. Not that the rights of gays and lesbians aren’t pressing – they are – but with the country facing issues of poverty, homeless families, unemployment and uncertainty at levels we haven’t seen in years, it seems that those opposed to same-sex marriage are simply keeping this issue alive to avoid dealing with other things.

The following is a short essay I wrote in the Spring of 2008. I think the points made then are just as salient now.

Love, Sex and Marriage

Many people believe that with true love comes marriage and sex, although not always in that order. While that romantic notion has a lovely aura of “happy ever after” to it, these three aspects of human life can and often do exist separate from one another. Life just isn’t that simple and every marriage, composed of two individuals who come together to form a constantly evolving entity in its own right, is as unique as a fingerprint. For those happy few who have a loving, sexually fulfilling marriage, the dynamic between partners as they go through life changes how they love, how they experience sexual intimacy, and how they define what a marriage actually is.

To experience life-long love for another human being and to have that love reciprocated does not require marriage. There are gay couples all across this country that have been denied the right to be legally married but have been committed couples for decades. Marriage does not equate love, as we can all attest. Everyone knows of marriages in which the parties do not love each other yet they have remained married. And while sex is an important part of the human existence, deep and abiding love does not require it – some people abstain from sex for religious or philosophical reasons or have a physical disability that precludes it, yet they still find love.

So what does marriage require? The online American Heritage Dictionary defines marriage as “the legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife,” which implies the agreement of the parties involved to enter into the union (“marriage”). That a dictionary states that the union is between one man and one woman is indicative of historical precedent rather than any ideological stance on the part of the publishers. The “legal union” part is important, because it is through the legal acknowledgement of the union (contract) that couples receive the myriad benefits available from the U.S. government, and those benefits are important to the financial well-being of many marriages. Other types of unions can be fulfilling and life affirming but, because the government does not deem them to be legally binding marriages, they aren’t “marriage.”

I would add that marriage is a social contract as well, and as such, marriage (including same-sex marriage, if allowed) is good for communities as well as individuals. Anything that fosters long-term, committed relationships with shared assets and the emotional and physical support of all parties (including children) strengthens society. It is true that not all marriages meet this standard, but the ideal is rarely met for any aspect of society. As passion morphs into deep, abiding tenderness and understanding, we see how important this contract is. As Rausch puts it, “To be married is to know there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line.” (22). This may not be all that love is, but it is a huge part of it. As we age the chances of our needing to be “first in line” get larger, and even for couples for whom love may have faded, there is comfort and safety in this inter-dependent state of being.

Some people disagree that marriage is primarily a legal and social contract, that there is a “sacred” purpose to marriage that overrides all others. The Vatican tells us that, “Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit…You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.” (113) While this is specifically speaking of chastity, the idea that your body belongs to God and you must do with it what He wants is part and parcel of the “sanctity of marriage” argument. That argument states that marriage is a union decreed by God to provide comfort to men and women, shelter and education to children, and glory to God through your sexual congress and saintly behavior. Marriage for any other reason is not, by this standard, marriage (or, at least not as esteemed as marriage for these purposes).

In line with the Vatican’s position, Stanton and Maier state that men and women were both created in God’s image, which makes them equal. Given this complementarity of divine design, they continue by saying that “Marriage is how this equal cooperation between two different and complementary humans (God’s unique image bearers) is most fully expressed.” (28). Their argument is aimed at repudiating the idea of same-sex marriages as being equal to heterosexual marriages, but the arrogance is just as offensive to this heterosexual woman as it would be to a lesbian. This assumption, that if your genitals do not align with the “insert tab A into slot B” arrangement, and that you require another person in order to achieve “wholeness,” repudiates the concept of marriage as a social and legal contract and insists on a religious or moral definition. This point of view sees the production of children as paramount and the “completion” of each partner through the other as the benefit to be found by the married couple. Their grudging allowance that elderly marriages (no longer bearing children) and childless marriages (assumed to be due to tragic accidents of biology with the couple racing to the nearest adoption agency) do count as marriage is conditioned by their reiteration of the idea of completion through other as found in the statement that “marriage…brings the genders together into a humanly completely and cooperative relationship.” (30). I will agree that any productive, healthy partnership (not just marriage) is made up of people who, in some way, complement the other party or parties involved. That has nothing to do with God – that is social dynamics. If marriage is a form of partnership (which, as a legal contract, it is), then it only makes sense that the healthy, productive marriages are made up to two people who complement each other. Their genders are irrelevant, as is their age or their desire for children (provided they are in agreement on the last). In addition, I do not believe that all humans need another human to make them whole.

As a social contract marriage provides a model for monogamous sexual behavior. It is expected that married couples only have sex with each other for the rest of their lives. As any married couple knows, this includes periods of no-sex due to any number of reasons. In mutually respectful marriages, a period of no-sex finds both parties remaining sexually faithful until they are able to return to their normal sexual activities. If one party seeks sex outside the marriage, it is a breach of the social contract. If this occurs, some marriages will fail (thus severing the legal contract) while others will work through it and remain together. So while marriage provides a model for behavior, I don’t believe it regulates it. I think as many men as women are happy to be out of the “dating scene” and committed to one sexual partner they trust, physically, emotionally and psychologically. The best sex comes not with a series of strangers but with someone you trust implicitly, thereby freeing you to fully let go of whatever might have held you back sexually. The freedom to be truly yourself with this person – in sex, in frustration, in joy, in anger and in play – is one of the greatest benefits that marriage can offer. And I see no reason why any two people of legal age (not closely related by blood) should be denied these rights and opportunities, regardless of sex, race, religion or ethnicity.
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Works Cited

Rausch, Jonathan. Gay Marriage – Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. New York:Henry Holt & Co., 2003.

Stanton, Glenn T. and Maier, Bill. Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting. Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 2004

The Vatican. “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” Philosophy and Sex. Ed. Robert B. Baker, Kathleen J. Wininger and Frederick A. Elliston. New York:Prometheus Books, 1998.

“marriage.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, FourthEdition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 17 May. 2008. .

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