I recently befriended the fellow young man who wrote this piece on Facebook where he shared this link with me. I really enjoyed reading his piece over at The Christian Watershed, so I attained his permission to post the blog here on my own blog. Definitely go give the site a look! Some great thoughts there! Hope you find these stimulating to your own thinking and convictions on the issue no matter if you agree or not.
Questions and Issues with the Homosexual Marriage Debate
By Joel Borofsky
The issue of homosexual marriage is one of the more polarizing issues in our modern society, that almost goes without saying. Yet, it seems that whenever a state decides to take it upon themselves to define marriage as between “one man and one woman,” an overwhelming majority of people support such restrictions.
To me, however, the issue boils down to “What is the role of the government?” Let us simply accept that most laws are enacting some form of morality, especially major laws concerning marriage. Thus, the whole, “The government can’t legislate morality” argument doesn’t hold up; while they can’t make people act a certain way, they can declare that moral x and moral y will be codified, thus to act out against x and y comes with consequences. That being said, what is the role of the government in this morality?
I would contend that the role of the government is to prevent our freedoms from coming into conflict with each other, that is, to prevent us from harming each other. Thus, we have laws against murder because such an act harms an individual (or individuals). We have laws against rape for the same reason, against pedophilia, and monopolies, and the list goes on. Laws created that have nothing to do with protecting us from one another – such as seatbelt laws – tend to be viewed as arbitrary and almost tyrannical. Even some laws that prevent us from harming one another can sometimes be tyrannical if taken too far (simply look at TSA procedures).
The purpose of the government, then, isn’t to enact a theocratic form of government where the government follows God’s laws. Rather, the purpose of the government is to keep us from harming each other and to prevent outside forces from harming us. It eradicates exploitation (e.g. slavery, insurance companies taking advantage of the poor, etc), but doesn’t become a tyranny.
If I am correct on the purpose of the government, then there are a few questions concerning homosexual marriage:
- Why is the government involved in marriage in the first place? While I can understand civil unions for tax purposes and other legal rights, if we are trying to protect the “sanctity of marriage” then it seems absurd to bring the government into the mix. Few Christians would argue that the government is sanctified or holy, so how can the government protect what is ultimately a holy institution?
- We should respect religious liberty, meaning that if a state does allow for homosexual marriage a priest/pastor should not be forced to perform the ceremony. Likewise, religious institutions should be allowed to not hire people due to sexual preference (this even includes people who are living together in a heterosexual relationship). At the same time, if we respect religious liberty, what if a church wants to wed two men or two women? While some would argue that such a church has abandoned their Christian principles, it’s not up to the government to decide when that has occurred. By banning homosexual marriage, aren’t we also banning the right of some churches to practice what they believe? Again, this is why the government should probably move towards purely civil unions rather than marriage licenses.
- Is homosexuality inherently abusive or bad, that is, is it any worse than people engaged in open relationships or Hollywood marriages? While people try to bring up statistics showing the homosexual lifestyle is destructive, such statistics typically aren’t good arguments against homosexual marriage, even if one is arguing the morality of the issue. For instance, even if 95% of homosexual males had 50 partners or more (I’m making up a statistic to show a point), this wouldn’t show that homosexual actions are inherently destructive; it could simply be explained that by an action being taboo, the risk involvement increases. Besides, their heterosexual counterparts are catching up quite quickly. Furthermore, while it was true in the 80s and even 90s that homosexual activity tended to come with a higher risk, anymore when it has been normalized it’s almost no different than heterosexual couples. Many homosexuals are able to find stable relationships. Now, I must stress that this has nothing to do with the morality of the issue, but everything to do with the legality of the issue. Unless it can be shown that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive (and this can be disproven by finding multiple stable homosexual relationships, which has been done already…), one is left without an easy argument against banning homosexual unions.
- Even if we did show that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive, this still would provide great difficulty in “outlawing” it.The main reason is because of something I alluded to above; what do we do with open heterosexual relationships? In an open relationship, there is a tendency for one partner to get hurt. In addition, do we outlaw adultery? Do we outlaw divorce? What punishments do we place on those caught in such abusive situations? Do we really want to live in a nation where the government is in charge of instilling values into our families? Perhaps we should ban all marriages in Hollywood, or among celebrities. Since the divorce rate is higher for celebrity couples, why haven’t we passed a constitutional ban on Hollywood marriages, which are seemingly inherently destructive? There is just a lot of inconsistency here.
- Shall we ban fornication (sex before marriage) as well? If we’re following Biblical morality and want to protect the “sanctity of marriage” via legislation, then shouldn’t we also ban fornication? This situation is far more analogous to homosexual marriage than even adultery or divorce (where someone is harmed). The statistics behind sex before marriage are also staggering, showing that when both partners have engaged in premarital sex, especially with other people, the chances for divorce or adultery increase dramatically. In other words, the argument that by allowing homosexual marriage we will somehow destroy the fabric of our society may be true, but it’s no more true than the argument that fornication among heterosexual couples does the exact same thing. Thus, if we outlaw one, why aren’t we outlawing the others?
- Perhaps one could argue that while homosexual activity isn’t harmful to others, it is harmful to the participants and therefore the government must stop it, but even this argument is full of inconsistencies and problems. For one, why not ban all homosexual activity, not just marriage if this is the case? But more importantly, how is this any more dangerous than couples who engage in open relationships, any more dangerous than adultery, any more dangerous than heterosexual promiscuity? I ask again, shall we enact laws against all of those actions as well? Should we pass a law saying that you can only get married once (as multiple marriages can ruin the institution of marriage)?
Ultimately, I’ve yet to discover a good argument from Natural Law on why homosexual marriage should be forbidden, other than “It’s not the job of the government to issue marriage licenses.” On this point I agree and think the government should only be involved in civil unions. But even if we reduce the government to civil unions, I’ve yet to see a reason to prevent homosexuals from engaging in those unions that isn’t simply arbitrary or inconsistent.
I understand that Christians want to protect the sanctity of marriage. But it’s not up to the government to protect what is holy; in fact, using the government to protect what is holy ultimately makes something unholy (as history has shown us). It makes sense to use the government to stop abortion as abortion creates a victim. It makes sense for the government to prevent certain types of drug use as the drug use is so harmful to the individual and the community that it simply can’t be regulated for positive use. But it doesn’t make sense for the government to try to protect the institution of marriage.
I would argue that traditional marriage is the foundation of a society and that as a society loses that traditional marriage, the society begins to collapse. At the same time, this stands far more true for divorce rates, abuse within marriages, and adultery than it does for homosexual unions. What is more important, however, is that since the traditional family stands as the foundation for a society, the government, by its very nature, can’t protect it; the walls can’t protect the foundation of a building. Only individuals through grassroots movement can protect the family.
Now, I must stress that I’ve made absolutely no comment on the morality of the issue. I would argue that while all legislation is the act of legislating morality, the two must still function on different codes. What is moral is dependent upon what aligns with our telos, or our function with God. God created us for a certain end and to go against that end is to be immoral. The law, however, must function on the code of preventing us from harming each other. The old maxim, “So long as it doesn’t harm you, what do you care” doesn’t work for determining what is moral, but it does work when attempting to legislate morality. For instance, it is immoral to blaspheme God because He has created us to love Him; but very few Christians would want to outlaw blasphemy against God. Likewise, even if homosexual actions are immoral, it makes little sense to outlaw them (or marriage).
In fact, since I’ve basically alienated myself from my conservative Christian friends, let me further my alienation from my liberal Christian friends by stating that I do believe homosexual actions to be a sin. God created humans for a certain economy (or telos) and when we violate this telos, we are committing a sin. Homosexual activity simply doesn’t fit within God’s design for humanity. The whole argument of, “Well I’m born this way” doesn’t fly in a world full of sin; while I accept and argue that homosexual attraction is, for many, an at-birth disposition, I don’t think this justified homosexual activity anymore than an at-birth disposition towards alcoholism justifies drinking.
However, I don’t view the sin of homosexuality (the actions, not the attraction; being attracted to the same-sex is no more a sin than a married man finding a woman other than his wife attractive) as any worse than other “sexual sins.” All sexual sins – with exclusion to ones where a victim is created, such as in rape or pedophilia – fall in the same category as going against humanity’s telos, specifically for sex. Thus, if we are willing to accept that one engaged in premarital sex can be a Christian, we should be able to accept homosexuals as Christians. That is to say, how we react towards those in sexual sin (such as pornography) should paint how we act towards homosexuals; we shouldn’t alienate homosexuals, but instead should love those in that sin as Christ loves us in our sins. If we can befriend someone engaged in some type of sexual sin, then certainly we can befriend homosexuals. If we can say a guy who is addicted to pornography is a Christian and will go to Heaven, certainly we can say the same thing of those engaged in homosexual activity.
All of the above considered, it should be understood that I’m simply asking questions and pointing out problems with the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage. I would say that one negative repercussion I see coming with homosexual marriage is that it could inhibit religious liberty. Just as I argued for religious liberty in questioning the outlawing of homosexual marriage, I too will argue for religious liberty should homosexual marriage be allowed. This means that private charities, adoption centers, churches, or religious organizations should be allowed to practice their beliefs regardless of whether a government recognizes a marriage or not. If a Christian adoption agency doesn’t want to adopt out to homosexual couples (or even non-Catholic, or non-Christian, or non-Religious couples) then it should be their right not to do that.
In other words, the issue of homosexual marriage is far more complicated than, “God said it’s wrong.” There are a myriad of issues that must be tackled, specifically concerning the sanctity of marriage. It just seems to me that if we’re going to protect the sanctity of marriage via legislation, we must first (1) eradicate the First Amendment and (2) outlaw all other instances that challenge the sanctity of marriage (should we allow atheists to marry since nothing is sanctified to them?). To say that homosexual activity is “just different” from adultery, fornication, pornography, or the like just seems arbitrary.
In the end, perhaps there is an argument against homosexual marriage that isn’t tied into heterosexual activity. Perhaps there is an answer to my questions/issues. But thus far, the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage have simply been problematic. Thus, for those that oppose homosexual marriage, one must find better arguments or realize that even if such an activity is impalpable to you, there isn’t a reason to outlaw it.