Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's get controversial

I tend to avoid discussing controversial topics on this blog. But lately, I haven't been blogging much at all, so I thought, why not go all out and talk about something really controversial? I've had this post bouncing around in my head for a really long time, and I think it will do me some good to get it out. And, maybe, just maybe, it will do someone some good to read it.

Let's start with marriage. Marriage is an ecclesiastical concept. In most Christian denominations, marriage is a sacrament, like baptism and communion. I believe in marriage. I believe that it is a sacred bond, not to be entered lightly. I believe in staying married for life, and I believe in saving sex for marriage. In this day and age, very few people share my definition of marriage.

My church does share my definition of marriage. That is part of why I attend my church. My church also shares my definition of communion and baptism. This matters to me, because I am part of this church body, and I care about how it administers the sacraments.

I believe in separation of church and state. I don't want the government to tell my church who we can baptize or how to serve communion. There are many different Christian denominations, as well as many different religions, all of whom have different ideas about things like baptism and communion. And marriage.

Here's where this leads me: I don't think the government should marry ANYONE. To me, this is just like the government trying to baptize people. It's not their place to baptize or marry people; it's the church's place to administer sacraments.

But the government does marry people. It started marrying people, because there were legal implications to being married, and they wanted atheists to have access to those rights and responsibilities. I wish they had used a different word. Called it a "civil union" from the get-go. Because that's what most marriages in this country are. A legal arrangement with certain rights and responsibilities, based on a love relationship. Not a contract with their god of choice, and definitely not a covenant with my God. Most "marriages" in this country are not "marriages" by my definition of marriage. We're using the same word to mean different things, just as Catholics and Baptists use the word "baptism" to mean two different things.

But I'm okay with that. My decision to be a Christian is my decision. My decision to embrace Christian morality is based on my relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't expect the rest of the world to choose that morality any more than I expect everyone else in the world to do my husband's laundry. I do it because I love him, not because I think I'm supposed to. The same goes for my morality. I choose it because I love Him, not because I think I'm supposed to.

I don't think the government should be marrying anyone, but since they are offering a civil union contract and calling it marriage, I don't think they have the right to deny that contract to anyone. It baffles me that the Christian right clings to the issue of gender, and wants to deny government-issued marriage to same-sex couples, when so few of the other "Christian" requirements for marriage are being met. How is a heterosexual celebrity marriage that lasts four days any more "Christian" than a homosexual marriage performed in an Episcopal church?

If I lived in California, I would have voted "No" on Prop 8. I believe in freedom of choice, equality, and the right to embrace whatever morality you choose, for whatever reasons you choose (barring, of course, choices that directly injure others). I believe that a homosexual couple has as much of a right to be married in this country as an atheist couple. My church's doctrine should not define the government's actions.

When I attend a Catholic church, I am not allowed to partake in Holy Communion, because I was not baptized Catholic and confirmed in the Catholic church. They have the right to exclude me, because that is their doctrine. I don't think the government should force them to include me. I don't think they ever will, because it's none of their business who the Catholic church serves communion to. Likewise, I hope that the government will stay out of churches' administration of the sacrament of marriage. Many churches require engaged couples to go through premarital counseling, won't marry couples who are living together, won't marry divorced couples, won't marry couples who don't regularly attend their church, etc. They have the right to do that. What they don't have the right to do is deprive those engaged couples of their rights, under law, to all of the legal ramifications of being married. When a church refuses to marry a couple, they can always go to another church, or to City Hall. If the government refuses to marry people, they can't go anywhere (except maybe Canada).

I am interested to hear your comments on this, because in all of the arguments I have heard on both sides of this issue, I have heard very little that fits what I believe. You may disagree with me, but please keep it civil. This is my blog, and I don't want any mudslinging here.


Dan said...

I agree with you. Since "marriage" has become a universal term for the legal union of a couple, the government should not deny that right to anyone who can legally consent. Likewise, I don't think government should force churches to perform marriage ceremonies for people who don't meet that church's criteria.

Rebecca in Houghton said...

Thank you, Jule Ann, for so eloquently putting into words how I feel about this topic. Amen and Amen.

Alana said...

I agree with you, and to take it a step further: maybe the government could make the marriage contract something that more accurately reflects the legal responsibilities and ramifications of entering into that contract so that people would have to think about the marriage in terms other than just how they feel about a person at a particular moment in time.

EarthenForge said...

Very well said! I could not have explained it better myself and I could not agree with you more. :) I like Alana's idea, too.


Marianne said...

In many European countries, there is already a separation of civil and religious marriage (although the term is used synonymously). In Switzerland, you MUST be married in a civil ceremony and it is the civil ceremony which is legally binding and confers all the related legal rights and responsibilities. The ceremony is performed at local city halls, etc. Religious ceremonies may then be held to bless the unions in accordance with whatever faith the couple professes.
Many couples are married at City Hall on a Thursday afternoon and then have their religious wedding with gowns, guests, reception, etc. on the weekend. In some other countries (Italy, I think? I'm a bit fuzzy) couples may be seen to walk into the courthouse or city hall for a civil ceremony and then walk immediately across the street to the church for their religious ceremony.

Using that model, it is easy for the government to have a say in whom they extend legal marriage to, while leaving religious groups free to bless these unions (or not) according to their traditions and beliefs.

While I firmly uphold the right of same-sex couples to marry and have the same legal rights extended to them as heterogeneous couples, I think a lot of kerfuffle and resistance could have been avoided by going that route in Canada.Luckily, the transition appears to have taken place without the huge backlash which I know some people in the gay community feared.

tosha said...

Hi Jule Ann! I haven't looked at your blog in a long time, and then I come and enjoy such a thoughtful post. I think that I agree with you, and (be encouraged) there are people who are more theologically and politically conservative than I am who might agree with you too. I sort of wonder if making legal marriage benefits exclusive for heterosexual couples qualifies as the government endorsing particular religions, which (of course), is unconstitutional.

thanks for your thoughts.

intensesimplicity said...

I guess I will be the first to go out on a limb. I think there is way more to be concerned about homosexual marriage that has nothing at all to do with religion. Bottom line... Homosexuality is unhealthy. I personally know a man dying of AIDS. An unhealthy society is a threat to our community.
And let's look down the road a little farther. Once homosexual marriage is widely accepted, then what's next? marriage to animals? marriage to multiple lovers? marriage to children? What are the long term implications of that? How would this affect the cost of our health care? How would this affect morality in general?

Dan said...

Everything bad that can happen to you in homosexual sex can happen to you in straight sex if you don't take precautions. If anything, straight sex is riskier... you can't get pregnant having gay sex.

The entire "if we allow gay marriage, next people will be marrying animals!" argument is, I'm sorry, ridiculous. Are animals people? Can children given legal consent? This argument, it seems, always gets dragged out by people who want to imply that all homosexuals are subhuman pedophiles with mental illnesses. It's quite frankly insulting.

People's basic rights shouldn't be oppressed because of an argument about money. I'm sorry, but it's too expensive to set up a polling station in your community this year, so you don't get to vote anymore. That seem fair to you? And there was a time when reactionary conservatives dragged out the same arguments about how interracial marriage was "immoral". It doesn't hold any water, and if anything should be a history lesson for us on why listening to such things is bad.

If this was a troll, then well done, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

sarah said...

Because I feel comfortable enough with Jule Ann, and hope that this does not harm my relationship with my homosexual friends, I'll tell you that as a Californian, I voted yes on 8.
I voted this way because I believe that the issue was not about equal rights for same-sex couples- everyone should have the same rights and opportunities whether hetero- or homo- sexual.
I voted based on definition- the law asked me to define marriage, and I feel much the way Jule Ann does- so I defined marriage the way I think it should be...
Does calling a homosexual union a civil-union make it less of a union than two heterosexuals? I don't think that to have a separate label means inequal.

Like I've tried to say, I think the issue was less civil rights and more definition. Any homosexual person can marry another person, and any heterosexual person can have a civil union, with the same rights provided...noone is excluded from marriage except through who they choose to marry.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought: using the word marriage in this culture is similar to using the word Christmas. For religious people, both marriage and Christmas have a deep spiritual meaning and are a part of the Christian faith. For those not of the Christian faith, marriage and Christmas have taken on more secular meanings. Many Christians lament the fact that Christmas has come to mean Santa Claus, evergreens, plastic decorations and saccharine t.v. specials, as well as rampant materialism, but they are not going to get the word back to its original meaning.

However, in an interesting twist of fate, people seem to be less and less comfortable wishing each other "Merry Christmas" these days and are more likely to say "Happy Holidays". So, perhaps in the future, Christmas will come back around to having a uniquely religious meaning.

And eventually, maybe people will feel more comfortable calling their commitment to each other a civil union, and the word "marriage" will again be a religious word.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why it put me as anonymous, the last post was by Alana.

Dan said...

Yeah, that whole "oh they can just have civil unions" thing? "Separate but equal", eh? Hmmm, funny, I remember a bit of history about that one...

sarah said...

I don't think that the civil rights movement and the current homosexual rights movement is the same. But then we get into issues of choice or believe one way means that all following decisions must be based on that.

The real difference is that homosexual people can already get married, and do. I have three unrealated friends whose parents married, and then found that they were gay and decide to get a divorce and lead a homosexual lifestyle(except in one case). People should have the right to make this choice, and do. What prop 8 talked about was something different.
Blacks were not able to do the things that whites were...this is simply not the case with prop 8. Rather than give someone something they should already have, prop 8 asked what a thing was, and should it be redefined to mean something else.
What is wrong with defining things different ways for different things, if the rights are the same?

Dan said...

Wait, you're actually trying to say that gay people being able to marry the opposite gender, whom they may not be attracted to, is the same as letting them marry the people they actually want to be with? Seriously?

Choice or genetics? Okay, at what point did you decide to be straight?