What’s the Yank with Gay Marriage?

Now that the gays and lesbians amongst us are so close to “getting in the game” of full marriage rights and the social recognition that it will entail, along comes Ralph Howe (Times Argus commentary Oct. 30, 2007) suddenly wanting to quit, take the ball, and go home. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bed sheets! Civil Unions for all. Marriage for Christians and other religious. And Mr. Howe is not alone. He has secular bedfellows, those who wish to civil-unionize all partnerships and abandon marriage to the religious ghettoes. One problem, of course, is that it isn’t actually Mr. Howe’s ball. It is everyone’s. His error is the assumption that marriage is essentially or properly a religious institution. A cursory understanding of the relations between the Church and marriage reveals the falsehood.

Though marriage was mistrusted and assailed by the earliest Christians, the Church eventually decided that it could be “Christianized” and incorporated into the Christian experience. It was anything but a sacrament. Paul saw it as a containment vessel for lust and wanted nothing to do with it. It is likely that Jesus himself didn’t wed and his rant in Luke — “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple,” shows little patience for family ties (or family “values” for that matter). But the regular people wanted it, needed companionship, heirs, and so on, so allowances were made. To this day, however, some Christian churches refuse to allow their priests to marry (straight or gay) and celibacy continues to be regarded as a special grace.

All the major religions have put their stamp on marriage, have drawn out this or that aspect, stressed this or that virtue, but it has always been a most human institution and, generally, an inglorious one.

And though often persecuted by both civil and religious authorities homosexuals from time immemorial have also been partnering and coupling and “marrying” and doing it for the same sorts of reasons that non-homosexuals have, stability, security, intimacy, companionship, love. Marriage is neither here nor there, good nor bad, holy nor unholy. It is certainly not Christian or Jewish or Muslim.

Marriage is marriage. It is the word we use to describe a couple who’ve committed to a shared life and to each other. Granting full marriage rights to all couples regardless of their sex or sexuality will give to same sex couples the respect and recognition they and their relationships so richly deserve.

Civil Unions in the public mind means “it is okay to be gay, as long as they stay in their parallel universe (though privately I still think they are all perverts).”

Marriage means, unabashedly, “it is good to be gay, it is good that you are here and the health of your relationships is good for all of us. Welcome. (And by the way, it really sucked the way you got treated for millennia, sorry about that).”

The public mind matters. The word matters. Marriage. If some Christians want to walk away from civil marriage that is their right and Mr. Howe can stop signing marriage certificates whenever he wants. His co-religionists can opt for civil union certificates.

I, however, am glad the gays are getting in the game. If some Christians quit and go home to their sectarian sandlots that is their right. But it would also be their loss, and ours.

And what’s the big yank with homosexuals anyway? Are they really so bad? or “unholy” as Mr. Howe suggests? It is time for Christians to get over their fascination with sex and orifices. It is most unbecoming and, in fact, revealing. And if folks don’t like being called homophobic they should stop fearing homosexuals, or judging them, or “loving them as sinners”, or keeping them out of the locker room or off the playing field. They are us. We are them. We are one big happy/unhappy family. It’s one big amazing and too frequently unfair game. Homosexuality is not a sin, or defect, or flaw, or tragedy, curse or illness. It is not abnormal or deviant. It is certainly not unholy. The only unholiness I can find in this discussion is in the prurient and judgmental imagination of those who would relegate their fellow humans to some secondary status.