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A Member’s opinion: Facing facts about same-sex marriage

A Member's opinion:

Facing facts about same-sex marriage

by Gerald T. Nordstrom, a retired teacher and Becketwood Member.

Before you read this, it is only fair to say that the viewpoints presented here are those of someone who once was a very traditional Christian conservative, but who, through objective observation and a developing compassion for minorities, came to reject certain views that he now recognizes as wrong and, quite possibly, hypocritical.

Throughout history, many minority groups have suffered condemnation, rejection, even extermination. Minnesota does not practice genocide, but the loathing of homosexuals is common enough so that its citizens are being pressured to vote on a constitutional amendment designed to determine that “only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage.“ If the people vote yes, a treasured relationship will be denied to an ever-present minority.

The question must be asked: Why do heterosexuals seek to prevent homosexuals from being treated as equals?  What is it that ignites these feelings of antipathy toward such a significant portion of the population? Following are some of the issues involved:

Nature.   It has often been said that gay sex is unnatural and should therefore be condemned.  But what is natural for one may not be natural for another. The majority once thought left-handedness was unnatural. It was even said to be of the devil. Fortunately, civilization has progressed sufficiently to where this percentage of the population is no longer stigmatized. While reasonable Americans are now sufficiently educated to know that it is unfair to judge a person on left or right handedness, on skin color or national origin, when it comes to sexual orientation, civilization still has a long way to go before prejudice is eliminated at all broadly.

Those who disparage homosexuality argue that, due to anatomical differences, heterosexual sex is obviously natural and gay sex is obviously unnatural.  Yet, if those who participate in same-sex relations don’t to find it unnatural, why is this an issue?

Marriage.   Most people have cherished the romantic dream of finding a special someone, someone who will be a tender, loving, life-long partner. In times and places less regarding of romance, the driving force has been for financial security, not affection or compatibility, marriage being a deal made between families and based on various practicalities.

The traditional expectation, however, has always been that marriage would be between a man and a woman…or, depending on the culture, between a man and more than one woman. (It is written that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines—though the numbers were no doubt exaggerated to enhance the king’s reputation of power and virility.)

Presumably because of Christ’s miracle at the wedding in Cana, Christians associate weddings with religion, and most might assume that first-century weddings must have been very much like those of today. But liturgical vows said in a church are a relatively recent development.

It is frequently argued that same-sex marriage threatens the very institution of marriage. But how? Where homosexual marriages are legal, do the benefits of other marriages fade or dissolve? No. Do fewer heterosexuals marry? No.

Some conservatives, not all, maintain that when same-sex unions and marriages are officially recognized, the traditional concept of family is weakened. No, it is when homosexuals marry heterosexuals that families weaken. Many homosexuals, longing to be in a familial relationship, have married members of the opposite sex, but then, largely because of the unnaturalness of the relationship, have been driven to divorce. It can truly be said that in recent years the Church has promoted the breakup of many families by its insistence that gays try to live as heterosexuals.

By denying homosexuals the stability of marriage and by vilifying them for being what they are, the Church has also elbowed gays into leading lives marred by serious depressions. And among those who have acquiesced to ecclesiastical condemnation, the Church has actuated countless suicides. Not a good record.

Some churches think they are being inclusive and nonjudgmental by accepting gays into their membership…but with the stipulation that they remain celibate. For unmarried heterosexuals they may have set the same condition, but it is not the same. With the Church‘s blessing, heterosexuals are encouraged to marry when they yearn for intimacy.

Morality.   Among Christian conservatives, many hold the conviction that there is one ironclad standard of morality, and it applies to everyone—especially in highly sensitive matters of sexuality. When this conviction becomes part of a carefully cultivated conscience, many become incapable of seeing the immorality in depriving homosexuals of a chance to lead lives fulfilled through marriage.

Legality.   Churches are of course free to set their own requirements and restrictions as to who can or cannot be married within their walls. But churches have no right to dictate secular law. They have no right to impose mandates or set limits on individuals outside their purview. If a free society is to be free indeed, the people must be free to follow their own consciences on personal matters.

Some say that same-sex marriage should not be legal because the next step could be bigamy…or worse. But such arguments are only volleys wildly fired in an effort to defend personal prejudice. As no one is being forced into same-sex marriages or endangered by them, laws prohibiting them are unfair and unwarranted.

Children.   Many of those opposing gay marriage maintain that matrimony was established by God for the purpose of producing children.

They therefore conclude that gays —being unable to procreate—violate the will of God and should not be allowed to marry or parent children. The only conclusion to be drawn from this reasoning is that heterosexuals who are unable or unwilling to bear children should also be barred from marriage.

One is tempted to assume that those intent upon preventing gay marriage have never been fortunate enough to have (or witness) a spouse who is a treasured friend and companion. What should be clear is that marriage is about more than having babies.

There are those who are intensely opposed to children being raised by same-sex parents. By insisting that children must have the parental influence and guidance of both genders, could they be suggesting that children should be removed from all one-parent households and be placed in foster homes, homes where men are married to women?  Do they not see that in berating gays for wanting children, they display a deplorable lack of sensitivity toward all single parents—male or female, gay or straight?

Here is something the opponents of gay parenting never seem to grasp or mention: At all levels of society, gays and lesbians make better parents than the countless straights who live hedonistically, procreate recklessly, and then neglect their children, thus burdening society with unmanageable children in schools…and, most likely, with another generation of irresponsible adults.

Business.   Some employers have protested that providing family benefits to same-sex couples would bring financial hardship to their businesses. As it is unlikely that they would complain as loudly if the same workers entered heterosexual marriages, this is a blatant display of pernicious prejudice.

Spread.   Homosexuality is not contagious. If there now appears to be an epidemic of homosexuality, it only seems that way because gays and lesbians are finally feeling more free to come out and be who they are and always have been.

Choice.   Being sexually active outside of marriage is a matter of personal choice. Sexual attraction isn’t. It just happens, it being more than a chosen “lifestyle.” It is nonsensical to speak of “choice” when handsome male Hollywood heart-throbs prefer male lovers over the gorgeous women who eagerly flock around them. Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter come to mind.

But what of the homosexuals who have succumbed to the notion of “choice” and have sought to be “cured” by “praying the gay away“? Despite extensive programs and prayers, all too many have found this change to be beyond possibility. Among the few claiming reorientation, it might be they have been trying to convince themselves…or were bisexuals.

Driving Forces.   Truth be known, apart from those who deify the Bible (or at least parts of it), the stress, squabble, and current schism in the Church over homosexuality has little to do with the Bible. Rather, it is the product of gut-level revulsion and head-level prejudice.

Also sexual curiosity. It is my suspicion that homosexuality would not be an issue if people— especially men—never speculated or fantasized about what gays do sexually. Chances are that, if a man finds himself sexually aroused by what he imagines (or sees), feelings of alarm can result and lead to “gay-bashing”—be it by way of demeaning humor and name-calling or in attacks more physical.

Be it verbal or violent, gay-bashing or rape, this is a power issue, one causing the perpetrator to feel superior.  It was probably this that kindled the rage that brought about the torture, anguish, and death of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to freeze to death along a Wyoming highway. Why was this done to him?  For being himself…but also for the feelings he aroused in his barbaric tormenters.

Scripture.   Many have religious reasons for objecting to same-sex marriage. They often justify and sustain their disdain for homosexuality by quoting Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

In the brandishing of these 15 words, many demonstrate scriptural selectivity. The Christian Church has never given much attention to Leviticus and all its 613 mandates for living a holy life. One example: Of all the Christian men who zealously quote Levitical law regarding homosexuality, how many obey the equally weighted command in Leviticus 19:27: “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” Do the mandates of fashion have more weight than biblical injunction…or what?

Also from the Old Testament, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is frequently offered as evidence that homosexuality is evil. The same story is told in both Genesis and Judges. In each, a group of rowdy men, “a perverse lot,” sets out to tease, test and torment a newly arrived stranger in town. In both versions, the host, obeying the rigid conventions of Middle Eastern hospitality, tries to protect his guest from these men and their evil intentions.

Today, in the way the story is usually told, these thugs are presumed to be a group of villainous gays seeking to rape a man. The unfairness of this assumption is clearly shown in the Book of Judges version where, when these wicked men refuse to leave his door, the host bargains with them—to the point of offering them his daughter as an alternative to his guest. Seeing this as too generous a sacrifice, the guest puts forth his concubine instead—a deal the men are eager to accept.

That night the men so violently gang raped the poor woman that, in the morning, the host found her dead on his doorstep, presumably having bled to death.

Reading this ancient myth with open eyes, it becomes clear that this story was incorporated into scripture, not to make a statement about homosexuality, but to illustrate how hospitality to a stranger is a great good, and most clearly that rape is a tremendous evil.

As for the New Testament emphasis on homosexuality, there’s no evidence that Jesus ever mentioned it. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. We’ll never know. However, he did express concern for what some now call “family values.” He is quoted as speaking out against divorce and remarriage, adultery and fornication—all of which occur, currently and historically, at every level within the Church.

Ironically, in our so-called Christian nation, divorce and remarriage are statistically most evident within the fundamentalist churches of the Bible Belt. This is also where one finds the broadest swathes of intolerance toward homosexuals. Here, for all their protests of biblical faithfulness, we may be seeing a majority pointing accusing fingers at a despised minority so as to distract from their own guilt.

Until the Christian right aggressively condemns divorce and remarriage, adultery and fornication, more than they do homo-sexuality, all their pious protestations about family values stand as blatant hypocrisy.

Finding nothing in the Gospels to enforce their antipathy toward gays, many have taken smug satisfaction in the explicit anti-gay statements made by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans.

He began by revealing his belief that God’s wrath is upon anyone (gay or straight) who is “unrighteous” and not “living by faith.” He criticized anyone who worshiped idols and anyone he considered as “futile in their thinking.” Then, speaking of anyone whose sexual behavior he deemed as impure (gay or straight), he wrote, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among them-selves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (1:18-25).

After having delivered this very broad broadside, only then did Paul launch into an explicit castigation of homosexual activity: “Women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.  Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (1:26-27).

Seizing Paul’s reference to a “penalty” as being code for sexually transmitted disease, many conservatives have eagerly declared AIDS among gay men to be a much-deserved punishment from God.

However, in Paul’s mention of a “penalty,“ there is no implication of disease whatsoever.” Rather, he listed two dozen ways in which he saw homosexuals as being “filled with every kind of wickedness,“ not one of them being related to sex (1:28-32). His stated reason for his barrage of criticism?  Because “they did not see fit to acknowledge God.”

This being a charge that might be made far more broadly, one wonders why Paul chose to pour out such an abundance of vituperation upon homosexuals. Fundamentalists would say that the Holy Spirit directed him to do so. But unless one buys into the vicious notion that “God hates gays,” it’s not hard to conclude that Paul, in writing his letters, was revealing his own personal response, not God’s.

It is broadly understood that whenever someone struggles against a particular temptation, the tendency is to become highly critical of anyone else who has yielded to it. Referencing Romans 7:15-20 as evidence, some have suggested that in his criticism of gays, Paul may have been revealing, inadvertently, a deep-seated self-loathing toward a well-closeted inclination of his own. Not an uncommon reaction.

While some will be horrified at such an interpretation, others have wondered if Paul’s reaction to homosexuality might identify the mysteriously mentioned “thorn” in his flesh referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Supporting such speculation, we know that Paul was not comfortable about thoughts of marriage, having written that, “it is well for [men] to remain unmarried as I am”…adding conditionally and perhaps reluctantly, that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:1-9).

Time will always reveal the injustice of laws and attitudes that are based on contempt. What history shows is that those who discriminate against members of a minority will eventually come to be regarded as ignorant, prejudiced and cruel. Despite the criticism of current conservatives, President Obama will ultimately be credited as having taken a correct and courageous stand when he finally decided to defend same-sex marriage.

As there is so much religious involvement in the push for anti-gay marriage amendments to the various constitutions around the country, and what I have said here about St. Paul will no doubt have Christian conservatives rising straight up and turning right, the question must be boldly asked: What is the truly Christian response to homosexuality?

As in nearly every other situation, there is solid reason to believe that the answer resides in an application of, what else? The Golden Rule! In this case it can be framed as, if I were gay, how would I want to be treated? Everyone wants to be accepted for who he or she is and to be treated without discrimination. Unless one consciously or unconsciously seeks to dismiss the Golden Rule (a guide sacred in all major religions), the only authentically Christian attitude regarding homosexuals is this: Love your [gay] neighbor as yourself  (Matthew 5:43,19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31 & 33; Romans13:9; Galations 5:14; James 2:8).

In Conclusion.  A constitution should not be used as a tool by bigots to promote discrimination and belittlement. If in 2012 a majority of Minnesotans vote to incorporate into their state’s constitution an amendment intended to prevent same-sex marriage, it will be due to a deliberate effort to legally establish homosexuals as second-class citizens—not a noble cause!

Many conservatives will defend a yes vote, seeing it as a way to preserve a tradition they see as sacred. But how can a vote motivated by hatred and the dismissal of empathy be holy?

Regardless of the outcome of this vote, those who vote no on this amendment—doing so by way of empathy and compassion—should remember and take courage in this:

If, by groundswells of caring and conscientious persistence, slavery, apartheid and resistance to the suffrage and ordination of women (in some denominations) could be overcome, there is good reason to believe that those who experience and personally practice unconditional Christian love will lead the way toward an eventual triumph over the disparagement and denunciation of homosexuals, as well.

Leave a Reply

  • Linda Back McKay June 18, 2012, 11:59 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful and important words, Jerry.

  • Kirk S. June 21, 2012, 12:09 am

    Nice Post! – well thought out, researched, written, and meaningful!

  • Paul Hagen June 21, 2012, 1:19 am

    Well researched and beautifully said. Thank you for daring to speak out on a subject about which many like-minded Christians remain silent for fear of ruffling feathers. I think that the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament would want to shake your hand. He dared to ruffle a few feathers too.

  • Jack Heule June 23, 2012, 6:07 pm

    I find well written position statements on both sides of controversial issues to be very helpful, and appreciate Jerry’s contribution to broadening our understanding.

  • judy solmonson June 24, 2012, 2:17 am

    What a thorough and thoughtful essay on homosexuality and the sacredness of marriage for all. Yes, let’s all vote no on the marriage amendment.

  • Ruth Halvorson June 25, 2012, 2:52 pm

    Thank you Jerry for a well thought through and timely piece. Exclusion hurts not only a few, but all of us.

    • Betty Maetzold June 27, 2012, 6:56 pm

      Thank you Jerry,I will be voting “No” in November.Betty Maetzold

  • Cathie Nicholl July 1, 2012, 3:44 pm

    Thanks, Jerry. You have said it all and said it well.

  • Elaine Churchill August 29, 2012, 6:14 pm

    Well said, Gerry. We’re all God’s children

  • Phillip Nelson September 8, 2012, 3:28 am

    That was one of the most compelling rationalization I have ever read.

  • Vanjie Bratt September 27, 2012, 4:47 pm

    Thank you Gerry for sharing the process that so many of us have gone through and with such depth.

    • Ruth October 30, 2012, 3:57 am

      Thank you, Gerry. You response is so well-thought-out and well-written. If it was in the Strib or SP paper I must have missed it. If not, it should have been!! Thank you for writing it here. I join you in voting “NO”!!