Blessing gay marriage

This month the legal status of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage will be considered for the first time by the Supreme Court. Though the Court may decide the two cases before it on narrow technical grounds, the underlying issue is whether gays have a constitutional right to marry.

It’s remarkable not only how much public opinion has recently shifted toward endorsing gay marriage, but how thin are the legal arguments now arrayed against it. Neither the brief offered by ProtectMarriage on behalf of California’s Proposition 8 nor the one by House Republicans on behalf of the Defense of Marriage Act attempts to argue that same-sex couples are a threat to society or children. The House brief simply asserts that it is “rational” to believe that children fare better when raised by biological parents of both sexes—without marshaling much evidence for this view.

Both briefs introduce as part of their case against same-sex marriage a curious new argument about the “social risks” presented not by homosexual couples but by heterosexual couples. The point is that reckless sexual relations between unmarried heterosexuals can produce unintended offspring, which are a potential burden to society, whereas reckless sex between homosexual couples doesn’t pose this threat. Therefore, the briefs say, society has reason to offer heterosexual couples, not gay and lesbian couples, the distinct benefits of marriage.

One immediate objection to this inverted argument is obvious: Why should gays and lesbians be denied the benefits of marriage because they don’t present the same social risks that heterosexuals do? In any case, denying gay couples the right to marry would not do anything to steer reckless sexually active heterosexuals toward the responsibilities of marriage.

Whatever decisions the Court makes on the legal status of same-sex marriage, religious bodies are entitled under the First Amendment to articulate and live out their distinctively theological understandings of marriage. The question posed to Christians is whether the procreative possibilities of marriage are a necessary and defining element of the institution as understood theologically.

Inside and outside the church, marriage has long been defined as the lifelong commitment of two people to sharing all things in life—children, property, money, joys, sorrows, poverty, prosperity. What Christians have added to this general understanding is not an insistence on procreation but rather an insistence that marriage mirrors in some way God’s fidelity to creation and to God’s people. Because marriage reflects God’s faithfulness, Christians believe that living out an unconditional lifelong commitment to another person offers a way of living more deeply into God’s purposes for one’s own life. Marriage offers a path leading one out of selfish desires into greater concern for the welfare of others. That distinctively Christian understanding of marriage would not be damaged by a legal endorsement of same-sex marriage. It could even be enhanced.

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at Bill Thomas

Amen.

Christian Marriage - same gender blessing

Thanks for a discussion on what makes a marriage "Christian". And thanks for noting that these  practical principles and theological insights - are not dependent upon "the plumbing" of the two who are marrying. The biblical laws governing marriage were many, but the bottom line was about racial purity and legitimate inheritance of the goods that God had given to each family. In that sense, the marriage laws were related to the land. Luther and Calvin both challenged the theological norm of their day that marriage was first, for the procreation of children.  Rather, they posited, God had provided a way out of human loneliness via the call to lifelong committed relationship - that mutual support in prosperity and adversity was a second blessing. And, that when it was God's will, that the couple had children and raised them in the knowledge and love of God. In that day, everyone knew that the children belonged to God and were on loan to the parents.  Your final 2 sentences are practical and true. "That distinctively Christian understanding of marriage wouldnot be damaged by a legal endorsement of same-sex marriage. It could even be enhanced."

I appericiate this marriage.

I appericiate this marriage. I think different people has different choices and hence the gay marriages are now in news. Also, government has also make gay marriage legal. Mr. Obama is supporting a same sex for dating and for marriages. I wish such marriages will be safe for society and for all people who are dating people of same sex.

Letter from Rocco M. Pugliese

As one opposed to gay marriage, I find the March 20 editorial, “Blessing gay marriage” disingenuous. You state, “Inside and outside the church, marriage has long been defined as the lifelong commitment of two people to sharing all things in life--children, property, money, joys sorrows, poverty, prosperity. What Christians have added to this general understanding is not an insistence on procreation but rather an insistence that marriage mirrors in some way God’s fidelity to creation and to God’s people.” 

Pardon me, but historically the “general understanding” among Christians indisputably has been that marriage takes place between a man and a woman. For the Christian Century to suggest otherwise is a misleading sleight of hand unworthy of this publication. Moreover, it is by no means clear that the current “general understanding” of marriage among Christians includes gay marriage. 

Rocco M. Pugliese

Woodbury, Conn.

Letter from William A. Hartfelder

While I can agree that the “distinctively Christian understanding of marriage would not be damaged by a legal endorsement of same-sex marriage,” much more needs to be said regarding the distinction between what may be legal and what should or should not be blessed. This is inextricably intertwined with an all-too-often overlooked issue in our contemporary debates over ministerial participation in gay marriage: the separation of church and state.

For all our talk about the separation between church and state, clergy in the United States essentially function as clerks of the state when it comes to marriage. This is especially true in those states that require clergy to obtain a license from the state.

When I was ordained a Lutheran pastor over 25 years ago, one of the first things I was required to do was to apply for a license to officiate at weddings. I filled out the required form and, together with a photocopy of my certificate of ordination and the appropriate fee, sent it to the office of the secretary of state. In return I received a suitable-for-framing license to “solemnize” marriages in the state of Ohio. It is interesting to note that it is the clergy’s signature on the state-issued marriage license--not her or his signature on a document provided by the clergy’s religious body--that legally marries two people in the eyes of the state.

I, for one, would much prefer the model used in Europe, where a marriage is first a matter of state law. If a couple desires to have their marriage blessed by the religious body of their choice, they may do so.

With the blurring of the separation of church and state comes the confusion between “rights” and “rites.” Let the state define people’s legal right to wed, but let religious bodies define and exercise the rite of marriage that reflects their faith, tradition and practice. 

William A. Hartfelder

Westerville, Ohio

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