On April 29, 2009 a group gathered at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Toledo, Ohio for “Conversations Over Dinner”. Our topic for the evening was “Same-sex Marriage”, an issue that has been in the news lately and that is one aspect of a constellation of issues surrounding human sexuality that are the subject of much conversation within the church globally.
We used a handout to guide our conversation and that handout was constructed using information from a variety of sources, including: “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry”, “Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality”, and conversations with interested parties. In case you are interested in such a conversation, here is the material that we used:
The Defense of Marriage Act is the abbreviated title of a US federal law passed on September 21, 1996 under the signature of President Bill Clinton. The law has two effects:
1. No state (or other subdivision within the US) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
2. The federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states.
Same-sex marriages are now legal in MA, CT, VT, and IA. Five states recognize some alternative form of same-sex union, twelve states ban any recognition of any form of same-sex union including civil union, twenty-eight states have adopted amendments to their state constitution prohibiting same sex marriage, and another twenty states have enacted statutory “Defense of Marriage Acts”. For example, the Alabama Defense of Marriage Act states, “A marriage contracted between individuals of the same sex is invalid in this state … The State of Alabama shall not recognize as valid any marriage of parties of the same sex that occurred or was alleged to have occurred as a result of the law of any jurisdiction regardless of whether a marriage license was issued.”
Some questions to ponder about Church and State:
1. What are the State’s secular interests in marriage?
2. What are the Church’s interests in marriage (for the moment, let us restrict our consideration to the Christian tradition)?
3. Do the interests of the State and the Church need to be the same? How does the concept of the separation of church and state inform our treatment of this subject?
The nature of marriage is not uniform across time and culture. Some cultures forbid, or have in the past forbidden, marriages between (i) people of different tribal groups, (ii) people of different faiths, (iii) people whose skins are different colors, etc. In some societies, polygamy is or was accepted and arranged marriages are practiced in some societies. Age limits on legal marriages have varied enormously over time and culture.
In the Christian tradition, a “one man – one woman” model for marriage was advocated by Augustine (354-439 AD) in The Good of Marriage. He wrote, “[Polygamy] was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful.” In 534 AD, Emperor Justinian criminalized all but monogamous man/woman sex within the confines of marriage. The Justinian Code was the basis of European law.
Some questions to ponder on the nature of marriage:
4. What are the purposes of marriage?
5. In light of your answer to (4), will same-sex marriage actually change the concept of marriage itself (some would say “change the definition of marriage”)?
6. Why do same-sex couples need the right to marry? Why aren’t domestic partnerships or civil unions good enough?
Issues surrounding same-sex relationships are among the most significant that confront the church today. The Anglican Church, for example, is on the brink of fragmenting over this matter.
Some questions to ponder on church and same-sex marriage:
7. How important should concern for the division of the church [i.e., schism] be in deciding about the blessing of same-sex unions?
8. To what extent does the lack of a life-partner [or denial of marriage equality] deprive one of experiencing life in a way that God would call “good”?
9. Can committed and monogamous relationships between homosexual persons [i.e., same sex marriages] in our modern world be distinguished from the homosexual relationships that are denounced in the Bible?
Sources: “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry”, “Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality”, and my friend, Wade Lee.