Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Real Question of Ref. 71

Note: the following is my own opinion, and does not stand for the official position of the church I pastor. In addition, it is an invitation to conversation. Those who disagree (as well as any who agree) are asked to respond in civility and with an eye toward mutual edification as we all journey down this path together.

On the radio Sunday afternoon the discussion was on Washington's Ref. 71, the 'Everything but Marriage' act. And the callers were angry. Over and over, the challenge was laid out: "Somebody needs to show me how giving gays the same rights as heterosexual couples affects their marriage. How does a gay marriage harm a straight marriage? What right do people have to vote out the civil rights of others?"

This seems to be the idea and the question at the heart of it all: What couples do in their bedrooms ought to be left to them and not the government. The lifelong commitment of marriage (or, in this case, civil union) ought to be up to the individuals involved, not the rest of society and certainly not the government. If two people are in love, who's to stop them from marrying? And how could those against gay marriage/civil unions be so heartless as to hold back basic rights (hospital visitation, insurance benefits) from two people who love each other? And, ultimately, what does it matter? Two men marrying, two women entering a civil union won't threaten 'straight marriage.' In fact, if any man or woman suffer in their marriage just because gays are given the same rights, than that couple had bigger problems to begin with.

I get that. In fact, should Ref. 71 pass, and should Washington eventually pass legislation recognizing gay marriage, it probably won't affect my marriage in the slightest.

But I think that's asking the wrong question. The assumption is "if what I do doesn't hurt you, then what right do you have to stop me?" Especially when the cause seems so noble - the extension of civil rights to a minority group within society.

The real question, though, is not how it affects me. The real question is how it affects society. And not just tomorrow or next Tuesday, but the days, months, and years to follow. And, theology aside, this is the reason I'm reticent to support Ref. 71.

Let me explain my thinking:

The healthiest place for children to be raised is within a family led by the father and mother who created them.

Already, some people are offended, because that statement is judgmental. For that, I am sorry. I don't mean to denigrate adoptive parents, nor single parents. Right now I know personally a half dozen or more mothers attempting to raise kids alone - some because of divorce, some through adoption, and various other reasons. And they are all doing an admirable job. In no way do I want it said that they aren't honorable or doing a wonderful job.

In addition, I know there are gay and lesbian couples raising their kids in a loving, caring environment, doing their best to support their children, loving them with a fierce and passionate love to rival the love of any straight couple. I recognize that reality.

But, in the end, I can't get around the fact that, of many 'good' possibilities, the 'best' possibility is a household with two parents of different gender, esp. if those parents are the actual biological parents of their children.

Of course, life is broken, and we do what we can to make the best of brokenness. Marriages fail, children are born into untenable situations, spouses die, some people can't conceive, others can't (or aren't ready to) care for the children they do conceive. And we do well to honor those who exist in these places of pain, to care deeply for single mothers or fathers, to support adoptive parents, to love kids who can't be with their birth parents.

At the same time, as a society, do we not have the right to strive for "the best," to create systems that push toward the ideal? Just because the ideal isn't always achievable, does that mean we don't work creatively to assist people in pursuing that ideal? (Which is why I'm perversely intrigued by the anti-divorce proposition making the rounds in California. It started out as an ironic statement. . .but I think just maybe we ought to take it seriously.)

At the end of the day, society has the right to formulate policy that is in the best interests of society as a whole. And, if the best possible scenario, if the healthiest situation is for children to be raised in the home in which they were born, raised by both the father and the mother whose genes they carry, then it seems to make sense that we would want policies supporting that ideal, while still showing kindness and consideration for those who can't achieve that ideal.

Sometimes, it seems we're almost ashamed to hold up an ideal, for fear of offending people who can't reach it. In this age of self-esteem, we dare not label something as 'best,' because all the other variations will somehow feel slighted. But this is not a pathway toward sustainable health; it achieves temporary good feeling while ignoring a deeper problem.

So my disagreement with Ref. 71 is not based on any effect it will have on my marriage. My disagreement is that it continues the falsehood that "any scenario is fine, so long as we call it so." Rather than pushing society in a direction of health, it sends the message that any option is just as healthy as the rest. And with that, I would disagree.

Let me flesh this out just a tiny bit: imagine a world wherein the vast majority of kids have been raised by the parents who conceived them, where they have known the loving hand of both father and mother, growing up in the presence of a healthy male role model AND a healthy female role model, where they have learned to respect both genders, where they have grown up within the sphere of influence of a man and all that he brings to the table, and a woman and all she brings to the table.

That, to me, is the healthiest option, and will create the healthiest society. And, as a society, shouldn't we be making policy that pushes us in the healthiest possible direction? Or do we settle for second-best (which isn't the same as 'bad,' mind you) just because everybody wants to be treated equally?

Post-script: These are not easy words to write. They are controversial; by some they could be conceived as an attack. I have friends who are gay and lesbian, I have former youth group kids who are now firmly on the other side of this issue. So I'm torn between my personal conviction and my love for them, recognizing that, even in posting this, I may be stretching the bonds of our friendship. On the other hand, we're all given the right to share our opinions in this political system, and too often I've been disheartened by the discussion on both sides. Too many on the one side take to name-calling and Bible-bashing, too many on the other take to bullying and lumping all on 'our side' into one pile. What I'm trying to do here is, in as few words as possible, explain my position without resorting to biblical texts or fear-mongering, trying to be a civil voice in the wasteland of 'activism by shouting,' offering up some thoughts for consideration without 'spreading the hate.' Obviously, I'm only touching the surface of this issue; had I nothing else to do in life I might have written a book. Unfortunately, that's not my calling, so, for now, these few thoughts will have to suffice.


Glenn said...

Dan. I like how you posed the question of asking ourselves whether allowing homosexuals the right to marry is good for society, instead of just asking how does it affect heterosexual marriages (the former is the way I have always looked at it in the past, and how Ive come to the stance that I hold now). I think this is an interesting place to take the discussion, a place that i dont often hear about.

I have another question to start off with: what is the purpose of having the government oversea marriages in the first place (this is half a rhetorical question, and half a real question. I assume it is for tax purposes, but I dont know the real reason, if there is one)? As far as I know, homosexuals can enter into long term relationships with whoever they choose, and still adopt children (although the process of adoption I'm sure is much more difficult, and they may have to go overseas). So, it seems that denying them the ability to call their relationship “marriage” only serves to keep them second class citizens. You wish for a society where kids are raised by their biological parents, I fear a world where there is a group of people that are treated like a lower caste. So maybe we just have a different viewpoint of what is more desirable for society. Unfortunately, there isnt a way to add up all the suffering that come from denying gays rights (or privileges if you want), and all the suffering from children growing up in homes that are not their own, see which is worse, and then fix that.

Youre right, we live in a broken world, and in a broken world, children will be abandoned by their parents. So what are the practical options? Isnt it better for that child, and society, to be adopted by a loving homosexual couple instead of being left in foster care? I admire your ideal, but I just dont see how it can happen. Near the end, you say that your ideal is the “healthiest option”. I dont see how it's an an option at all. It's something to strive for, but we'll never get there. But what can happen, is that we can get rid of treating gays like second class citizens. I think thats something that we could accomplish tomorrow if we all wanted.

I dont want to paint you as a bigot, this is just for discussion purposes, but how is this different from letting interracial couples marry? I am sure there were many people 50 years ago that said people of two different races could never raise a child “the right way.” In fact, I believe there was just something in the news last week where a judge in a southern state denied a couple a marriage license because they were of mixed race. But this is something that most of us would laugh at today. Of course a mixed race couple can raise normal and healthy children. We have a mixed race president! How can you be sure that in 50 years, we aren't going to look back at denying homosexuals the ability to marry in the same way?

I dont know how could I am at getting my point across about these things, so Ill summarize. You think (if I have been reading correctly) that children being raised by their biological parents is the greatest good for society, I think treating everyone equally is. You think one thing is best for society as a whole, and as of right now, I think the other. Maybe those two things can be reconciled somehow, maybe not.

Finally, let me ask you this: would you be for an amendment giving homosexuals the right to marry, with the stipulation that they could not raise children? Maybe thats a little too far out there, but if the children rearing is your only/main hangup...

Anywho, I like your thoughts and perspective on this. Good discussion.

Glenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn said...

update: after just watching last night's colbert report, i now know what this ref. 71 is that you wershington people are talking about. it sounds like the kind of thing that i advocate, giving homosexuals all the rights and privileges that heterosexuals enjoy, minus the word "marriage". i think "marriage" is something that should be left to the churches to decide and the government should stay out of, which is what i was going for when i asked that first question about what is the governments role in marriage in the first place. i didnt really explain that part though because since you were leaving church out of your argument, i wanted to do the same.

Ann said...

Dan, it's probably no surprise to you that I come at this question from the angle of reconciliation. If the alienation between genders is the most primary of humans' alienation, successive only to humanity's alienation from God, and outdistancing racial, ethnic, economic, and every other alienation, I've wondered what the consequences to society will be, too, of more gay and lesbian unions. Will there come a time in the next decades or centuries when the polarization between male and female, a divisiveness in locations (if not in roles), and a lack of understanding of male and female giftedness and distinctive strengths has surpassed even what we perceive today?

Gender alienation seems the oldest stronghold. Roles, education, finances, power, physical abilities, educational and economic opportunities have all been questioned and, perhaps, in some places, some progress has been made. But, there will always be many, many folks, who want to flee to the nearest human bastion of gender security: the church, a particular profession, the club, the military, and, now, a same-gender home?

Reconciliation is powered differently than natural human divisiveness.