I fully realize that wading into this issue is the literary equivalent of swallowing a hand grenade after pulling the pin. But this blog is not just about writing; it's about life; it's about addressing the social phenomena we see around us. And the hot button issue that has swelled to critical mass is the one before the United States Supreme Court. Call it what you will: gay marriage, "marriage equality", whatever the label we have the general contours of the debate. As an ethics teacher at a Christian school, I've been asked about this issue numerous times. And since we are discussing the issue of homosexuality in class next week (complete with watching the film Philadelphia), those questions will come at gale force.
Well, I guess I can't avoid it. Might as well talk about it. However, let me take it from a different angle, trying to inject some light rather than heat. Some random comments:
1. I think the federal legalization of gay marriage is inevitable. However, I don't think the federal government should be in the business of defining marriage. Of course, it's in the business of defining too much stuff lately, anyway. If people actually read and understood the Constitution, they'd be more shocked and angered.
2. While I'm open to listening to people when they are making their case on a topic, I'm not convinced of how critical "marriage equality" is. It could just be me, but I don't know of a tidal wave of marriages waiting to happen in that vein. All that being said, I'm humble enough to say I could be wrong on the numbers.
3. From the Christian point of view, I am embarrassed to say that the actions and attitudes of the church toward gays and lesbians historically has been, on balance, deplorable. When John Q. Churchgoer speaks out against homosexuality and decries gays and lesbians for sinning, he tends to forget that all people (gays included) have to put up with his sin, which might seem (to him) more subtle but in truth is no less damning or less odious to God.
4. This is NOT to make a slippery slope argument. Let's face it. I'm not saying that once you open up the gates to gay marriage, you'll open a Pandora's box of other practices like polygamy and other matters. We really don't know the future. But from a logical point of view, if you reduce marriage to "the willingness of any two people who love each other=the ingredient for legitimate marriage"...well, that same argument works for polygamy, incest, etc. I'm not trying to be gross or saying that will happen. I'm just saying the argument works beyond the gay marriage issue.
5. In every school I've taught (and remember, I've taught in four Christian schools), I've had students who were either practicing homosexuals or at least struggled with same-sex attraction. Those are students with whom I've had some great, honest relationships and whose stories are all too raw. It takes a lot of guts to honestly admit such matters to people in these environments when you're not sure of the response from your confessor. I can truly say that these students are among the bravest I've ever known.
Now, shifting gears. I don't think this is the place for me to declare myself pro- or anti-marriage equality. As a follower of Jesus, I believe my calling is to extend God's costly and transforming grace to all people, straight or gay. That being said, I don't see why the reality of grace forces me to affirm gay marriage. But when I look on the social horizon of America, that's not my primary concern.
I have to thank my friend Andy Kerckhoff for bringing this article to my attention [Speaking of Andy, you should check out his blog, Growing Up Well, and devour what he's written]. David Frum of CNN has--I think--rightly pointed out that straight marriage is the real issue. Whatever happens on the "marriage equality" front is one thing, but the real crisis lies elsewhere. Increasingly, young adults are jettisoning the idea of marriage themselves. When almost half of American children are born to unmarried women, that's significant. I'm not saying that automatically consigns a child to a rough existence; we know of powerful examples of wonderful people who flourished under the loving care of a single parent. But that's the exception, not the rule. Frum himself points out that "children born to married mothers and fathers are more likely to finish college, more likely to avoid prison, and more likely to form marriages themselves than children of single parents." Yet the problem runs even deeper, much of it arising from a rising number of males who finish less education, earn fewer wages, and in general set their sights on fewer and fewer responsibilities. In short, men are refusing to be men, refusing to achieve so that they can provide a stable environment for an exclusive partner to whom they pledge their life.
That doesn't sound so much to me like a conspiracy to force gay marriage on the American public. That sounds like we're facing an imbecile epidemic. That sounds like a generation has arisen that has nursed itself at the breast of self-indulgence and self-esteem and knows or cares little for other-centeredness, for promise-keeping, for choosing responsibility over entitlement, or for punching through the brick walls of hardships and challenges before them.
Family legend has it that my great-grandfather in Kansas suffered much, and at one time there was only a sack of wheat between his family and starvation. Yet he remained faithful and they stuck it out. I admit that compared to that hard-nosed fidelity and relational commitment, I don't see a lot of that in America writ large today. And that, folks, is the real crisis for marriage in America.