Tuesday, December 9, 2008

do you Get Religion?

Get Religion, to which I've linked on several occasions, is a metablog: it's about writing about religion. GR covers religious journalism and offers its own commentary about how the media handle religious issues and events. Sometimes, it seems to serve not merely as an observer but also as an ombudsman, holding journalists' feet to the fire when the writers at GR see them as remiss. This GR post is a good case in point: it takes on no less than Newsweek Magazine's recent cover article in favor of gay marriage.

Full disclosure: I support gay marriage, and would even go so far as to say that the right of any two consenting adults to marry should be explicitly enshrined in the Constitution. Barring that, a federalist solution-- where the legality of such marriage is determined state by state via legislatures and not courts-- will do just fine. I do not, however, believe that religious institutions can or should be forced to marry homosexuals. I appreciate those institutions that do allow such marriages to take place, but harbor no resentment toward those that don't. An enterprising gay couple will have little trouble, in this day and age, finding a place that will marry them (if they insist on a religious ceremony, that is).

I see the marriage issue as divided into at least two distinct fields: legal/civil and religious. This follows from the separation of church and state: a state might determine that it is legal for homosexuals to marry within its borders, but certain churches in that state would be within their rights not to permit a gay wedding on their grounds. It is important to keep this division in mind in order not to confuse the many issues that arise when gay marriage is discussed.

Arguments for and against the legalization of gay marriage abound; I won't rehash them here (though you're free to leave comments, of course). Whether the Newsweek article has gone off the deep end, as the GR post writer seems to think, is something I'll have to determine on my own. And so will you. Happy reading.



Bradley said...


I agree with on this. BTW--Did you see the Prop 8 viral video?


Sufi Guy said...

I pretty much agree with your position on gay marriage. I simply don't understand why certain religious organizations are getting all uppity over it; it's not as if gay couples will be going to their churches/mosques/temples/whatever to tie the knot anyway.

The major issue here isn't "marriage" in the religious sense, but basic equality under the law.

Rhesus said...

What does marriage mean?

Kevin said...


Haven't seen the vid yet, but heard about it when it first came out.

Sufi Guy,

Two arguments in particular are troubling for me:

1. "Allowing gays to marry violates or erodes the sanctity of marriage"; and

2. "The current law is perfectly fair: I, as a heterosexual man, am not permitted to marry another man. Therefore, heterosexuals and homosexuals already receive equal treatment under the law."

The first objection relies on an irrational slippery-slope argument (usually degenerating into, "What's next? People marrying goats?").

The second objection strikes me as willfully missing the point.


Rhesus said...

Also, is Law something independent of distinct cultures/societies/countries?

Oh yeah,


Kevin said...


Good questions. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on marriage, law, etc.

Me, I'd say that marriage is, at least ideally, a lifetime commitment or covenant entered into by two consenting adults who, as a function of that commitment, promise to love, cherish, and respect each other, and to help each other grow as people. That, first and foremost.

Marriage will, in most cases, also entail family-- this in at least two senses:

1. A marital union signifies the union of two disparate families.

2. A martial union signifies the willingness to nurture a new generation that represents the extension and continuation of the united families.

Some folks say that marriage is primarily about children, and when they define marriage as necessarily between a man and a woman, they're using something like that historical argument to justify their position.

I admit that the historical argument holds a lot of water. Unlike some folks, I don't see tradition as something we can or should heedlessly cast aside. But I also think that the nature of an institution can change, and definitions aren't graven into the stone of the cosmos. Slavery is a long-standing institution, but most cultures have seen fit to do away with it. Marriage itself has changed as women have gained more rights and freedoms; the way people see their roles as marriage partners now is not how those roles used to be seen. Whether marriage is "about" creating and/or nurturing a next generation is, as of the twenty-first century, no longer clear. After all, if we insist that marriage is primarily about procreation, and we write out a legal definition of marriage to that effect, what do we do about infertile hetero couples?

So: simply having a historical argument isn't enough to justify the continued denial of rights to a certain group of people. I view this as a civil rights issue, and because gays never comprise more than 3-5% of a given country's population, it seems to me there's nothing for us heteros to "fear," if indeed "fear" is the correct word here.

Your other question re: the relationship between law and society/culture is a fascinating one, one that frequently has me banging my head against the wall. On the one hand, I understand and at least partly agree with folks who say there is a distinction to be made between the legal and the moral.

But I can't bring myself to see this as a clear distinction. I think we form laws for moral reasons, which makes laws a function of morality. Laws exist in order to provide boundaries for a peaceful society; is that not a moral goal? So just as I have puzzled over how separate church and state can be, given their "overlapping miagisteria" (to borrow Stephen Jay Gould's term), I wonder to what degree law and morality are actually separate things. In my opinion, they overlap, too.

Thanks for the thought-provokers.


Kevin said...

Well, I'm sure that Gould didn't write "miagisteria."

Miy biad.