Although there has been considerable push back against gay marriage over the past few decades -- especially at the ballot box -- results from the 2012 election suggest that the tide has turned and that in a rather short time gay marriage will become as much a part of our cultural life as interracial marriage, which only a few decades back was illegal in many parts of the country. Having gone through the Prop 8 battles in California, my expectation is that the next time this goes to the ballot it will cross the finish line, with Oregon going along with it. Yes, the tide has turned, and Martin Marty picks up on the conversation and offers some important interpretive keys for us. Resistance to this tide may continue, but its strength will continue to be eroded. So the question is -- on what side of the tide do we wish to be on going forward?
Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion
The University of Chicago Divinity School
The University of Chicago Divinity School
Gay Marriage Tidewater
-- Martin E. Marty
David Cole captures readers’ attention with the observation that “the gay rights movement has achieved more swiftly than any other individual rights movement in history, not merely the impossible but the unthinkable.” A few years ago, writes Cole, “those who fought for the right to marry. . . the partner of one’s choosing, regardless of gender—were called crazy and worse, by many.” As things have turned out and are turning out they “have proven not foolish romantics, but visionaries.” While the move toward acknowledging the rights of gays has elicited enormous backlash—that needs no chronicling here—Cole can quote Ellen Goodman: “In the glacial scheme of social change, attitudes –about gay marriage] are evolving at whitewater speed.”
Cole pictures that Supreme Court decisions could rule in ways which would slow that speed, but “it seems certain that in the not too distant future, we will look back on today’s opposition” on this subject, “the way we now view opposition to interracial marriage—as a blatant violation of basic constitutional commitments to equality and human dignity.” If so, how do religious institutions and leaders regard these options? Many are seen as being among the stronger forces and voices on the “anti-“ side, but others are often public supporters on the “pro-“ side.
Weekly I find on my desk piles of print-outs on this “public religion” debate, but rarely make use of them in Sightings. For once, before the tidewater sweeps all these evidences aside, let me summarize what I read and hear on many fronts among the “antis.” Advice given them: 1) Pretend this change is not occurring and ignore it; 2) since that doesn’t work, mount fierce opposition in state and church; 3) since that works less well each year, work out strategies for living in the face of changes one cannot welcome; that approach works at least temporarily for some, but the these resisting forces are themselves conflicted and convincing only to the convinced; 4) point to downsides in ecumenical relations with “poor world” churches where the tidewater does not yet rush; 5) reappraise your arguments, converse with the “other”, and make your case.
They will hear other counsel, such as: 1) It’s all over. The culture has changed. Among those of college age, and millions of others, most don’t even know what the dammers of the tidewater are talking about. 2) Notice that partners in gay couples in thousands of Christian gatherings, including in their pulpits, are often observed, even by the uneasy, as being among the most dedicated members. Exclude them now?
Where the pro- and anti- folk converse, one overhears: “Does not the gay marriage movement violate Scripture, the presumed norm in most churches?” Advocates of gay marriage come back: they recognize that a couple of verses in each biblical Testament rule out homosexual acts as sin. However advocates deal with that, expect to hear something like: “Why select this issue?” They will go on: “In our parish, perhaps in the pulpit or in our family are—against more explicit biblical witness—divorced-and-remarried-to-divorced persons who are honorable and honored members. Why are they not disciplined or criticized?” Fall-back position: “But gay marriage is against Natural Law, so it’s simply wrong.” That works for many Catholics and some Protestants, but most in church and world are wary of citing Natural Law: “its teachings, when invoked, tend to match what people have already decided, on other grounds, is right or wrong.
The tides rush on.
David Cole, “Getting Nearer and Nearer,” New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013.
Michael J. Klarman, From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage (Oxford University Press, 2012).
Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
This month’s Religion & Culture Web Forum features “Medicalized Death as a Modus Vivendi” by Michelle Harrington. Harrington argues that "an unchastened practice of palliative care constitutes a modus vivendi in the political sense. Standardized assessments and interventions purport to provide a way of coping with the fundamental questions of human existence with only instrumental reference to the diverse beliefs of religious traditions; they threaten to homogenize and manage the patient and his or her intimates according to a generic spirituality that serves clinical norms and efficient social functioning." Medicalized death, Harrington concludes, "cannot do justice to the considered convictions of Christians who profess a faith formed around death and resurrection." Read Medicalized Death as a Modus Vivendi.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.