Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Issue That Divides Our Times

My post list is littered with drafts of post that I have attempted to write on this topic.  On multiple occasions I have started a post and then abandoned it.  The topic of course, is homosexuality-specifically homosexual marriage (or marriage equality if that is the way you prefer to address the issue).  I always stop because I am aware of my position.  As an ordained pastor, I need to be very mindful about what I post on the internet because it is all public.  I am mindful that everyone has an opinion, and I usually just assume most people disagree with mine.  I have stopped myself, because I had to ask, what fruit does throwing my opinion out there.  If a member of the church reads what I have to say, will it be edifying or will it be divisive?  The answer of course, with this issue anyway, is that it will be divisive.  This is an issue that EVERYONE has a firmly entrenched opinion in, and no matter how eloquently I try to explain why I am right, it is not going to really change any minds or build anyone up in anyway.     

However, this issue is coming to a head and one way or the other will be a watershed moment in our collective history.  I am sure you are all familiar with this symbol by now.
 photo equalsign_zps88eafa87.jpg

If you have a facebook account (or twitter account, or instagram account, or you know a computer) then you have seen this equal sign plastered everywhere.  It's ubiquity shows that this issue has gone from a fringe issue to one that occupies the public consciousness.  The popular way to deal with this issue is through simple inaction and delay, but I do not think that will work much longer.  As I said, it is coming to a head.

I will not be offering my opinion on the subject in this blog post, and if I do it right you will not know which way I fall (feel free to try and read between the lines if you like though).  However, I have a couple of observations on the issue that I feel are usually overlooked in the debate (and mostly name calling) that surrounds the issue of marriage right now.

The thing with marriage is that it is a very complex term, and when someone refers to marriage they are using the one word to simultaneously refer to three different institutions.

First, marriage is a religious institution.  I realize people who do not claim any faith get married as well, but for many people marriage is a first, and foremost a religious ceremony and spiritual event.  Often the people who oppose homosexual marriage oppose it from the religious basis.  I do not need to quote chapter and verses the scriptures that reference homosexuality as a sin-we all know they are there.   I am also very well aware that for every single verse, there is an interpretation or rationalization as to why that verse does not truly condemn homosexual marriage as a sin.  Since I am not giving my opinion I will not comment on the legitimacy or fallacy of those interpretations.  I think if the people (especially the people of faith) who are in favor of homosexual marriage are honest, then they have to admit that it is fully possible that someone can honestly come to oppose homosexual marriage on religious grounds.  What I wish we could all agree upon is that some people oppose homosexual marriage out of religious conviction.  That does not mean these people are bigoted or homophobic, it means they are trying to live a faithful life by not comprising their faith based beliefs.  

Second, marriage is a legal institution.  When two people get married they change their legal standing and their legal relationship.  There are certain legal rights and responsibilities that come with agreeing to be bound to another person.  There are hundreds of homosexual couples who live their lives together, like heterosexual married couples, but are denied basic things like family hospital visitation.  Often, when people speak of support of homosexual marriage, they are speaking from this legal perspective.  I think that if the people (especially the people of faith) who oppose homosexual marriage are honest, then they have to admit that this is unfair and that it can even be unjust.  I do question if the current conflict over homosexual marriage has the same weight and significance as the civil rights movement did, but there are clearly some issues of fairness that need to be resolved.

Third, marriage is a social institution.  To be married in our society means something.  People view and understand themselves differently if they are married rather than single.  Society has a certain understanding of what it means to be married, and what marriage is suppose to be like.  The current conflict over marriage is largely about the social institution of marriage, and how we as a society understand marriage.  If the conflict over homosexual marriage was based in the religious institution  then only churches would be having the debate.  If it was only the legal institution of marriage that was being debated, then those on the pro-side would be perfectly happy with civil unions.  However, it seems that ship has sailed.  Those in favor of allowing homosexual marriage do not just want the legal rights, it is now about having social acceptance.  Those opposed to homosexual marriage, oppose how society defines marriage because a change in the social definition will put a more traditional understand of the religious institution of marriage at irreconcilable odds with the larger culture.  

The fight is over the social institution of marriage.  The problem though is those opposed to homosexual marriage argue with understandings of marriage from the religious understanding, while those in favor if it argue from the legal understanding.  This means, that both sides essentially talk past each other.   Both sides feel like they have simultaneously fully articulated their point and been completely ignored by the other side.  This is more than comparing apples and oranges.  It is like one side is using apples the other side oranges, and they are trying to describe a pear.

Because the social institution is what the debate is about, then I think that society should decide.  A lot of people are hoping that the Supreme Court decision on California's proposition eight and DOMA will give momentum to their side.  I hope the supreme court does know such thing.  This is an issue that we the people need to decide on, not a court.     This is happening in 2012 three states voted to allow homosexual marriages.  Of course,  in that same year North Carolina  joined the list of states that added to their state constitution provisions that banned homosexual marriage.  That is why this is the issue that divides our times. With each election more states are going to pick their side, and we are going to keep picking different sides. Right now 29 states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as only between a man and woman, while ten states allow same sex marriages.  The  other 11 states (including Indiana) are going to have to go one way or another, because public opinion will demand it one way or the other.

I am very interested in how this develops.  I read every news story related to this issue, because it has PROFOUND implications for the church as an institution   However, since I am not giving my opinion I will not comment on that.  

I am not sure if this post has any real meaning or  really adds anything.  But it has been floating in my head for years at this point and I finally glad to get it out, so thanks for reading (or at least scrolling down to the end and reading this).


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