When I hear someone say, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” my first thought is usually, “so?” It seems remarkable to me that people can state their opinion in this way, about something they have no say in, something no one even asked them about, and expect it to carry some weight. That’s what the entire same-sex marriage debate comes down to in my view. Two people wish to enter into a legal arrangement we call marriage, and other people who have nothing to do with said arrangement, would like to weigh in on it. In fact, they’d like to oppose it completely because they don’t care for it.
In the United States, marriage is regulated by the states. There is a right to marry that cannot be casually denied. States are proscribed from absolutely prohibiting marriage in the absence of a valid reason. The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, struck down laws in southern states that prohibited racially mixed marriages. These statutes were held to be unconstitutional in the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia because they violated Equal Protection of the laws. The recent Proposition 8 case in California is an example of how these protections are applied. The citizens of California had voted to make same-sex marriage illegal in the state. The law was overturned and the judge in the District Court case stated as part of his ruling that fundamental rights of Americans may not be voted away. They’re called rights for a reason. So if getting married is a legal right of American citizens, that right can’t be subjected to a vote. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling. North Carolina just passed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting marriage between same-sex partners, even though there were already laws on the books in NC making that marriage illegal. The reason the legislature pushed for an Amendment to the state Constitution is so that their anti-gay marriage laws couldn’t be overturned by a simple ruling from a judge.
Right on the heels of the NC Amendment came President Barack Obama’s seeming bombshell of an announcement that he has come to support that people of the same gender should be able to marry. While it’s a significant statement by a sitting President–the first President to ever support same-sex marriage publicly–it’s mostly symbolic in nature because he continues to maintain that states have the right to decide marriage issues. As long as that position remains the law of the land, we’ve essentially made no progress as a nation when it comes to resolving this issue.
As I said at the outset, the entire matter seems to boil down to some Americans just being unable to cope with the concept of homosexual men and women marrying each other and settling down to a life of domestic bliss. Opponents of same-sex marriage typically claim religious reasons, citing an obscure passage in one of the Jewish books of the Torah as the rationale for their opposition. I’d like to tackle that position first, before we move on to some other reasons because there is an overwhelming religious undertone to the opposition movement.
In Leviticus, the Lord allegedly told Moses to tell the children of Israel that: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” That’s it. That’s the whole passage. I think it’s important to provide some more context to this prohibition by The Almighty. Yahweh, the tribal god of the Hebrews, was laying down some very specific rules for the children of Israel to follow in this section of Leviticus, the rest of which are seemingly of no concern to the same people who use the Biblical passage to support their urgent desire to prevent same-sex wedlock. For example, the Lord states, in the same section, that a woman who has her period must be set apart for seven days and whoever touches her will be unclean (but just until evening), unless a man sleeps with her and then he’s also unclean for seven days. The Lord also states that if a man kills an ox, lamb or goat, and doesn’t bring it first to make an offering to the Lord, that man will be guilty of bloodshed and cut off from his people. There are very specific rules about farming, livestock breeding, wearing garments of mixed fabrics, shaving around the sides of your head and even disfiguring your beard. Tattoos are also a no-no, but none of these prohibitions reach the status of an abomination. Except for shellfish. Like man-on-man sex, they’re an abomination and we must detest them, meat and carcasses.
The punishments for violation of the laws in this section of the Bible are pretty steep as everyone who curses his father or mother shall be put to death. Adulterers? Death. Sleep with your father’s wife? Death. Sleep with your daughter-in-law? Death. If you have sex with an animal, not only are you put to death, but so is the animal.
I think it’s pretty clear that using that one line from Leviticus as your justification for opposing same-sex marriage is a copout. No one follows the rest of the Lord’s supposed laws from the very same section of the very same book, even when threatened with death as punishment. Why Americans are pretending to follow the rules of the Israeli tribal god in the first place is another matter altogether. Most importantly though, using the Bible as a guide to morality is a farce and I can support that position with one simple example. The single most crucial issue of human morality we’ve ever faced, and the easiest one to get right, the Bible got dead wrong. Not only does the Bible condone slavery, but it fully expects it. The Lord himself acknowledged that we’d own other human beings when he carved the tenth commandment into the mountain:
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his male slave, nor his female slave, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbor’s.”
So let’s grow up and be honest and stop using the Bible as our alleged guide to morality as it is plainly obvious that human morality precedes any so-called holy texts. It most certainly does not emanate from them. Without giving it much thought, we know it’s wrong to own other human beings, but the Hebrew god with all his obsession about sexual predilections and dietary restrictions thought nothing of it. Our morals do not come from the Bible, and we should stop pretending that they do by cherry picking a few sentences and using them to support our bigotry.
The other argument opponents make is that somehow if two men were to marry, it would destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. This is a laughable argument as over 50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and as anyone who has been through a divorce will tell you, there is nothing sacred or holy about it. A third of all married couples admit to infidelity and there is no data at all about how many married couples are actually happy. Usually riding the coattails of this argument is that marriage between two people of the same gender would somehow harm children or the very fabric of society as a whole. There is no evidence to support that there is any truth to this position at all.
It’s high time we face reality and be up front with what bugs us about two men getting hitched: we think it’s yucky. We don’t like the idea of it; the thought of two men kissing. Based on the amount of girl-on-girl sex in adult films and the popularity of these films, Americans don’t seem to have as much trouble with girls kissing. But we still don’t want them getting married. If anyone were to just think this through, it would be clear that the physical aspect of a relationship, the sex, is only one aspect of any long-term relationship. People aren’t getting married because they like having sex with each other, they are getting married because of a myriad of human connections, of common interests and ideology, of friendship and caring, of compassion and solidarity. Homophobes are more focused on gay sex than the people who are having gay sex.
We’ve got one shot at this thing called life and for much of the world’s human beings, life is a struggle for survival. A battle against abject poverty, disease, oppression and repression. Finding another person whom you care so much about that you are willing to commit to them for your foreseeable future is a remarkable thing and we should embrace it for what it is: love. A free people in a free nation have the right to experience and enjoy that love, to commit to each other in every way and none of us should stand as obstacles to that commitment. Even knowing the odds are against us, we enter into lifelong legal contracts for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. Our obligation as human beings is to get out of the way and let the two lovebirds enter into this marriage, for they have the fundamental right to be as miserable as any other married couple, or hopefully, as happy.