Talking Same-Sex Marriage with the TheoCons
Graphics love to the amazing Darkblack.
[This is a topic that comes up over and over again in any discussion of religion and politics and…well, pretty much any topic that touches on either issue. Like most progressives, I am sick and tired of the "hate the gays" meme being trotted out every election cycle (which is pretty much every two years, like clockwork…). But how to cut into its effectiveness with Theocons is a tough question. I do think that it has lost much of its stir up the base lustre, but we won’t know for sure until the election. Until then, using discussion to open up a closed mind to a ray of sunshine can work miracles sometimes, so this will have to be a start. — CHS]
In trying to talk about same-sex marriage with those on the religious and political right, it’s easy to get stuck. I’ve got my way of reading the Bible, you’ve got yours, and they’ve got theirs. I think X about history, you think Y, and they think Z. Instead of focusing on the two men or two women who want to get married, the gay or lesbian couple dissappear and the conversation turns into the discussion of an "issue", or worse, a "problem."
Enter the Spanish Inquisition.
What? You didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition? That’s OK – Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
I love Monty Python. In my humble opinion, good, rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off humor is an indispensable part of life. Few people I have never met in person have brought more joy and laughter to my life than Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Co. Humor is a way in which we connect with others and get through the pain and discomfort in the world. In laughing together, we recognize our shared humanity, the brokenness in the world, and our willingness to face it together. Which brings me to marriage, especially same-sex marriage.
The TheoCon view of marriage is built around power and gender roles. Their chief problem with same-sex marriage is that they can’t figure out who wears the pants in the family. Someone’s got to be in charge – and (by their theological lights) that’s the job of the man of the house. This is why TheoCons (especially the male variety) are rightly threatened by same-sex marriage. If Larry and Barry can marry, then marriage isn’t about preserving gender roles, with manly men providing for the family and meek women being the submissive nurturers at home, barefoot and pregnant. "Horrors!" thinks the TheoCon man. "What if my wife finds out about that? How will I keep her in line?" It gets even worse, if he thinks about himself: "What if they’re right? What then is my role in a marriage?"
The greatest gift of the GLBT community to the straight community in this debate around same-sex marriage is the focus on partnership. The whole Genesis 2 story of creation, around which so many on the right build their odd view of marriage, is not at all about gender and gender roles. It’s really about the difference between companions and partners. A dog is a companion. A cat is a companion. A giraffe is a companion. According to the story, God made all the animals, brought them all to the man to deal with his loneliness, but none of them sufficied. But another human being . . . that’s a partner! Interestingly, the history of English translations of this story mirrors the TheoCon/Progressive debates here. Older translations like the King James Version of Genesis 2 says the woman is to be a "helper" (or some similar word) for the man; the New Revised Standard Version more properly translates the Hebrew of this passage as "partner."
Among our chief tools for talking with TheoCons about same-sex marriage is humor. If we can’t hold the conversation and laugh along the way, we’ve got nothing. We’ll end up arguing and fighting, leaving both sides bloodied and beaten. But if we can laugh . . . then we’ve got something. Humor exposes self-satistfaction and sanctimony, and also points up logical fallicies, strained analogies, and other obstacles to understanding. In this discussion, that gives us progressives a huge advantage.
If you want to talk with a TheoCon about same-sex marriage, do yourself and your TheoCon friend a favor: first sit down ("Bring out the comfy chair!"), and watch Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, and Dianne Wiest in Mike Nichols’ 1996 version of The Bird Cage. All the issues of marriage are there, in both couples, holding up a mirror to all our relationships. After the movie’s done, then you’re ready to talk.
Let’s face it: sex is not just fun, but funny. Back in 1993, as my relatively moderate Lutheran churchbody was debating a possible social statement on human sexuality, Lutheran ethicist Larry Rasmussen of Union Seminary in New York City spoke at a conference dedicated to the draft statement. Though the subject was serious, Rasmussen made his substantive points with a good dose of humor along the way, like this:
Sexuality, like all God’s best gifts, is both strange enough and silly enough that not to howl about it is to live wide of God’s own considerable sense of humor. The same untapped corner of God’s imagination Gary Larson uses for "Far Side" cartoons is surely the corner God was playing in when sexuality was crafted as the most interesting of all ways to meet the neighbors and to get from one generation to the next.
Garrison Keillor’s concocted commencement address put me in mind of all this. . . .[Keillor said] "Laughter is what proves your humanity, and the ability to give a terrific party is a sign of true class. When Moses came down from the mountain with the clay tablets, he said, "Folks, I was able to talk him down to ten. Unfortunately, we had to leave adultery in there, but you’ll notice that solemnity was taken out." And that night the Israelites killed the fatted calf and drank wine and told old Bible jokes in celebration.
Let’s hear it for leaving solemnity out of the list of sins. (Punaise, you’re off the hook.)
The whole "gays can’t reproduce, so they can’t get married" argument cries out for satire and humor, as does the "children need a mother and a father, so same-sex marriage can’t be allowed" argument. If these arguments are true, then a few "modest proposals" for legislation "safeguarding marriage" based on this logic may be called for:
- Women and men who are infertile shall be barred from recieving a marriage license.
- A marriage without children shall be deemed to have come to an end when the woman reaches menopause, or when either partner becomes infertile after being married (i.e., develops a medical condition or undergoes a procedure that precludes having children, such as a complete hysterectomy, treatment for testicular cancer, etc.). Exceptions shall be made for couples who adopt children within 60 days of one member of the couple being diagnosed as infertile.
- Because having both a father and a mother are so important for children, if one member of a couple dies, leaving behind minor children, the surviving spouse shall have 60 days in which to remarry. Should the spouse not remarry, then the children shall be removed from the surviving parent and adopted into a family that can provide both a father and a mother for them.
- Should a husband or wife be disabled, placed on life support, or otherwise absent from the home for an extended period of time, the children shall be placed in foster care for the duration of the absence.
I don’t know what Jonathan Swift would have thought of same-sex marriage, but I think he’d have a lot of fun with the twisted logic that gets employed to oppose it.
Religiously speaking, marriage is a secular arrangement. I’m not talking about the fact that licenses are granted by the state and not the church, but about the general theology of marriage and the church. First of all, in most Christian and Jewish circles (and perhaps in other religions with which I am much less familiar), the two people getting married actually "marry" each other through the promises they make to one another. The priest/pastor/rabbi is there not to marry the couple, but to witness their promises, to invite the support of the community, and to ask for God’s blessings upon it. Promises by the couple make the marriage, not the prayers spoken along with the promises. The corollary is this: Christians may (and do) get married, but there is no such thing as "Christian marriage." Second, no religious official can be forced to perform a wedding they are opposed to. As a pastor, I require a couple to meet with me three times prior to the wedding. If that’s too much of a burden for the couple, they are free to go elsewhere to be married, but I won’t do the wedding, and no one can force me to do otherwise. Not my bishop, and not the government. I can’t prevent them from being married elsewhere, but no one can demand that I be part of it. Third, religious groups are free to keep their own definitions of what makes a "proper" marriage, without forcing those definitions on the rest of society. The easiest example to point to is the Roman Catholic church. By Roman Catholic doctrine, the church does not allow people who have been married and divorced to be married a second time while the first spouse is still alive. (An annulment is a statement by the church that the first marriage was somehow canonically "defective" and thus never really happened. It’s not a divorce.) The Catholic church does not say that those who remarry are not really married, but that these remarriages are not something they think God approves of, and they do not wish to have the church associated with them.
Not all religious folks walk the Dobson/Pope Benedict/TheoCon line when it comes to same-sex marriage, even within their own faith traditions. Some groups are much more open to GLBTs, not only welcoming them as members but ordaining them as ministers, like the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association. But even in other less open Christian denominations, there are groups working for change, like More Light Churches (Presbyterian), Lutherans Concerned/North America (Lutheran), Integrity (Episcopal), Dignity USA (Roman Catholic), and Reconciling Ministries Network (Methodist). An ecumenical, interfaith group called Soulforce takes the prinicples of non-violent resistance embodied by Ghandi and Martin Luther King and applies them to the struggle for freedom from religious and political oppression based on sexual orientation.
Once upon a time, a marriage between a Swedish Lutheran and a Norwegian Lutheran was a great source of scandal. Once upon a time, the marriage between a Catholic and a Methodist would have caused an uproar in the community. Once upon a time, the marriage of an African-American to a European-American would be viewed as a threat to children and society. One of these days, I believe that someone’s going to say "Once upon a time, the marriage of two people of the same gender was seen as scandalous" and the hearers of that story will scratch their heads and say "Wow – how could anyone have been offended by that?" I just pray that that day comes soon.
When I worry about marriage, it’s not same-sex marriage that scares me. No, I get scared by the commercialization of marriage, like the 3 inch thick copies of Bride magazine with their checklists and budgets and timelines and ads for everything needed for a storybook wedding. I am frightened by Vegas wedding chapels and celebrity drive-by weddings. I am appalled at folks who are going into their umteenth marriage without having figured out what went wrong with the many marriages that preceeded it. I am bewildered by folks who have just left school with huge educational debts who want to add $15,000 or more of wedding debt on top of it. "Who Wants to Marry A Millionnaire?" was a danger to marriage; Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, partners for over 50 years, are a tribute to it.
Thank God for Monty Python, Gary Larson, The Bird Cage, and leaving solemnity out of the ten commandments. When it comes to talking with TheoCons about same-sex marriage, honest humor is the best tool for prying open closed minds, about marriage, relationships, and life in general.
So, have you heard any great jokes lately?