Sunday, March 15, 2009

Religion, Violence, and Defense Of Marriage Acts

Any settlement of peace between Israel and Palestine deals with the issue of Jerusalem last, as this is the one area where peaceable dialogue is non-negotiable. In a similar fashion, I have tried delay discussion on the hot-button issues of abortion and gay-rights on this blog, because we all have deep-seeded, genuine, and emotive responses to these issues. Because of my studies on religion and violence, however, I feel compelled to write this post. If possible, let's please try to discuss one of these issues, gay marriage, in this narrow context.

ReligionDispatches has an article discussing the religious violence employed when defending against gay marriage. The author, John Pahl, believes that Defense Of Marriage Acts (DOMA), currently present in 37 states, are forms of religious violence. He argues six reasons DOMA's are violent. Here I offer Pahl's argument ledes (in blue), with abbreviated justification:
  1. DOMA Laws violate sacred texts. The use of biblical texts (i.e., Genesis, Leviticus, Romans and I Corinthians) project twentieth century, alien understandings of homosexuality onto ancient Jewish and Helenistic cultures.
  2. DOMA Laws elevate heterosexual marriage to idolatrous status. In some religious communities the defense of marriage is all-consuming. This honors heterosexual relationships, the majority, with special privileges, privileges not available to the minority.
  3. DOMA Laws scapegoat gays and lesbians. Real threats to heterosexual marriage and civil society are scapegoated onto a voiceless and powerless group, who only seek the similar rights of the majority.
  4. DOMA Laws sacrifice homosexual rights, and damage civil society, in the interest of religious purity. The exclusion and discrimination of a "dangerous" few, constructed around a purity interest (the purity of marriage and normal sexual relationships), invariably damages our understanding of trust, the most important practice in civil society.
  5. DOMA Laws confuse legislation with religion, and violate the First Amendment .... It is a violation of the First Amendment protection of free association to inhibit, by law, who can associate with whom, when that association does not harm the common good. Also, it violates the establishment clause, when religiously-implicated exclusion is legislated.
  6. DOMA Laws perpetuate an association of sex with power, and thereby do damage to any sacramental sensibility that might remain in association with even heterosexual marriage. These laws establish hierarchies of relationships and give heterosexual relationships power and dominance in the public sphere, losing the sacramental nature and deep trust inherent in loving relationships.
After his six points of violence, Pahl offers this conclusion:
People who wish to “defend” corrosive influences on marriage – and I count myself as one – might actually find allies among gays and lesbians who desire public recognition for their pledges of fidelity and their commitments to share resources and responsibilities with one another. A true defense of marriage would not involve mean-spirited exclusions, but would embrace practical policies that strengthen deep trust and support families facing economic challenges. (emphasis mine)
I couldn't agree more. Defending the sanctity of marriage is one thing, but doing violence to our sisters and brothers is quite another.

Note to self: Beware the Ides of March.

11 comments:

Darren Staley said...

Never realized you had a Caesar complex, Drew, but okay.

That said, great post. It makes no sense to me that men and women can get married and divorced over and over, but two men or two women getting married will somehow destroy the whole institution.

This argument basically says that if gay marriage were adopted that millions of married men and women may wake up the next day and come out of the closet.

Churches do not have to take any part of it. Preachers are free to marry or not as they see fit.

Also, if I understand literal theology correctly, being gay is not a sin. It is only bad when they act on it. What if two men wish to marry yet remain celibate?

Matt F. said...

This may be the most absurd position that conservatives feel the need to espouse. If we were making anyone marry gays in one's particular church, I could understand. That is not the case. It is a secular, legal argument, and there is no leg to stand on in that case.
I also feel that there are two issues where there is a huge gap between public opinion among people my age and younger and public policy: gay rights and marijuana laws. For the record I am not gay and don't smoke pot, but these are two issues that will be mostly gone in 20 years, when people of our generation get in power. There is simply no rational reason to stand against them, and everyone I talk to (younger than 40) seems to get it.

Kent H said...

I realize I'm fighting an "up-hiller" here but what else is new? I'm under 40 and frankly all I get is how absurd it is to demand the redefinition of the word marriage to incorporate a lifestyle and population block that now demands it. I really do wonder sometimes why we think we're so smart and have things together, while those generations before us were just ignorant and hateful.
Darren, first of all, I'm sure people (homo or hetero) get married to remain celibate all the time. But that's irrelevant.
Secondly, marriage is not a civil institution, it is a God-given, religious institution with God as its designer and definer (Gen 2:24). We have no right to tell God now that we are "reading 21st century, western sensitivities on the issue" in order to force a twenty-first century definition on marriage. I personally feel it wa a major mistake to allow civil government anywhere near marriage in the first place.
Thirdly, if anything, the OT Jewish views of homosexuality as perversion were much harsher than modern America's (practicers of sexually perverse acts were cast out from the people - Lev. 18:29).
Further, moves are already being made to force churches and religious organizations to hire homosexuals (in the face of their religious objections) and honor their unions for the purposes of benefits. Pastors will be forced to perform these weddings against their convictions. "Churches 'receive' federal money (tax exemption)," they'll say and so they have to do what the fed says.
We are seeing a move by a very influential voting block to declare as prejudice and intolerant (the greatest sin in post-modernism) all who are simply trying to say what God has said (in love) about the sanctity of marriage.
Sadly, however, I agree with Matt that this will be another loss for people of faith in the next 20 years (along with pot). When there is no sanctity of life in a nation, there will be little sanctity of any other sorts.

Jesse said...

First, I to some extent agree with Kent's comment that "I personally feel it wa a major mistake to allow civil government anywhere near marriage in the first place."

If government got out of the marriage business entirely, however, that would have to include removing prohibitions on what independent institutions can define as marriage. If your church defines marriage exclusively as one-man-one-woman, then that's fine; but if mine believes that God allows them to marry me to another man, they are entitled to act upon that conviction.

There are, however, merits in the civil benefits provided by government to married couples - rights of hospital visitation, of inheritance, etc. - but if we have separated church from state on marriage, then again we cannot prohibit same-sex couples from the same rights as other couples.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point, Kent, but I don't see how your argument can lead anywhere else.


Moving to the post in general, I strongly agree with Drew's characterization of DOMA laws as religious violence. In addition to the points you make, and the strong ones added by Darren and Matt, I want to add one other point:

Although I fervently disagree, I can sympathize when people make the argument that their religious tradition prohibits gay marriage. But these arguments are often stated in a euphemistic, passive way - "same-sex marriage contradicts religious teachings" - rather than in a way that accurately portrays the consequences of this approach - "Your love for this woman is immoral," "You must change who you are, because your love is sinful," "God's word says that you are 'hateful' because you love a man."

Comments along these lines are generally limited to the extremists, largely because I think they reveal the religious violence that Drew points out is inherent in these attitudes. And yet, opposition to same-sex marriage is fundamentally rooted in these ideas. There is no alternative.

Prop 8 didn't tell same-sex couples, "I guess we won't force churches to marry you." It told them, "You cannot wed the person you love." It told them, "If your partner is suddenly admitted to the hospital, you may not be allowed in to hear her last words." It told them, "Because 52% of the voters in your state think that you are immoral, then you are immoral." It told them, "No matter how faithful, loving, and devoted you are to your partner, your relationship is inherently worth less than mine." It told them, "Even if your religious convictions tell you it is okay for you to be the person you were born as, your faith and identity are abhorrent." It told them, fundamentally, "You are worse than the rest of us."

If you are uncomfortable saying any of those things directly to the face of a fellow human being - very likely including close friends of yours, whether you know it or not - then be careful about using broad statements and euphemisms. Those statements carry the same violence; the only difference is that, as a heterosexual, you have the privelege of ignoring it.

Darren Staley said...

Kent,

Maybe this is an unfair analogy, but allow me to edit your post using slavery as an example:

"Slavery is not a civil institution, it is a God-given, religious institution with God as its designer and definer (GExodus 21:1-4). We have no right to tell God now that we are "reading 19th century, western sensitivities on the issue" in order to force a nineteenth century definition on marriage. I personally feel it was a major mistake to allow civil government anywhere near slavery in the first place.

We are seeing a move by a very influential voting block to declare as prejudice and intolerant (the greatest sin in post-modernism) all who are simply trying to say what God has said(in love) about the sanctity of slavery

Sadly, however, I agree with Matt that this will be another loss for people of faith in the next 20 years (along with women's rights).

When there is no sanctity of bondage in a nation, there will be little sanctity of any other sorts."

This is what your argument sounds like to me.

Kent H said...

Then Darren, you aren't listening and you don't know the Bible. Sorry - not worth more than that.

Darren Staley said...

Kent,

First, I am listening. Just attempting to understand.

Second, while I am no theologian, I spent over an hour every Wednesday night and Sunday morning in a Baptist church from six to sixteen (not including Sunday school and VBS). And I have a degree from one of the country's top Catholic universities.

Blanketly stating that I "don't know the Bible" is just not factual.

So let me ask you, a literalist, this question: is slavery biblically permissable?

Kent H said...

Darren,
The Scripture understood that slavery was an institution that the people of Israel dealt with under their several oppressors. God gave them instruction toward several issues in that regards and that is all.
God certainly never tried to encourage or define slavery as an institution with civic and spiritual contributions to make.
But in the area of marriage, God Himself performed the first one and defined it as the cornerstone of a healthy home and a vibrant civic order.
To equate God's dealing of marriage with His understanding of slavery was just apples to oranges. That's plain.

Darren Staley said...

Kent,

I take your point, but let's separate the issues. Is slavery biblically permissable? Just a yes or no will be fine.

Kent H said...

To enslave another person violates the nature of men's relationships and the creation of man in God's image. The unwilling bondage of a person is evil and God holds oppressors to judgment often (esp. in the Old Testament).

However, God allowed slavery in history for the correction of Israel. At times, slavery came upon Israel to discipline and return God's people to Himself. And in those times of chastisement, God understood that slavery was a reality and gave instruction in that reality. That is God's call and a mystery of God using even the horrendous things of this world to His sovereign ends.

God has most assuredly never set up "God's favorite people to enslave" list and itemized those given permission to enslave them. That's my take.

Darren Staley said...

I'll take that as a yes.