I confess that the title to this post was meant to be blunt, but please don’t think it was intended to be rude. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is an unfortunate tendency in our culture today for people to be drawn to the sensational and controversial. So I avoided the temptation to go with a more philosophical title in hopes that by being straightforward and blunt I would draw more people in. If you are reading this, hopefully it means I succeeded in that small task. I encourage you to keep reading, at which point it is my hope that you will see I hold those who disagree with me in the greatest respect and do my best to sympathize with the situation in which you find yourselves (while never claiming to fully understand because I confess to not being subject to same gender temptations myself).
This topic is of particular importance to me personally. The denomination with which I was formerly affiliated (PCUSA) is being torn apart by debates over same sex marriage. My home state of Maryland recently passed a statewide referendum legalizing same sex marriage. But most importantly, I have had many dear friends throughout my life (including some currently) who are in same sex relationships and who firmly believe in their right to be married. I do not approach this topic lightly because I know the potential hurt that my position may cause them.
Please do not misunderstand me. I really do not hold myself out as any particular expert on the subject, nor do I think my own opinion is so drastically important that everyone should stop whatever he or she is doing to listen. No, I am just one voice in the cacophony and I am perfectly comfortable with that. But America’s democracy is built on the premise that each person has the right to contribute to the cacophonous marketplace, so I am just going to take what small forum I have available to me in order to make my contribution.
I. The Proper Tone of the Conversation
For starters, you should know the tone I am hoping this post will take. It is not my intention to launch into any ad hominem attacks. I have seen both sides of the debate approach it from that type of an angle and I firmly believe that those voices do nothing but inhibit the free marketplace; they do not make any meaningful contributions to it. Some time ago I wrote a post on another blog about a protester carrying a poster with two hangman’s nooses on it saying “God’s solution to gay marriage.” In 2011 I read about Delegate Luiz Simmons of Montgomery County, Maryland poking fun at his Republican colleagues by saying he’d reviewed the witness list for a panel hearing on same sex marriage and “God has not signed up either for or against” the proposed legislation. Both sides are guilty of “debating” the issue without actually saying anything of substance. My goal is to do my best to avoid any such attacks. If I fail in your eyes, I can only ask your forgiveness in advance. I will be the first to admit that I am far from perfect.
I also want you to understand what kind of discussion this will be. I am a Christian. That much is obvious. Since 2006 I have been the President of Ten Minas Ministries, a Christian apologetics ministry. I am currently an apologist with Ratio Christi. I am also well aware that for that reason alone many people will disregard my opinion outright. I can only beg your indulgence and ask you to stick with me for a while. Hopefully I can convince you that the mere fact that I am a Christian should not per se discredit my position. I hope that you will give me a fair hearing, just as I will do my best to give you a fair hearing if you choose to voice your concerns in a comment.
As a Christian, I am prepared to defend the position against same sex marriage from a purely scriptural perspective. I have done so on previous occasions. But that is not the approach I will be taking here. After all, this post is not strictly addressed to Christians, but to society as a whole. The apostle Paul told the church in Corinth, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Paul was not saying that we should not speak up for what we believe to be right, but rather making a rather obvious observation. Why should those outside the church care what the scriptures say on a topic if they do not accept the Bible as authoritative in the first place? I fully appreciate that many people reading this post may think the Bible is nothing more than myth and fantasy. That is a discussion we can have on another day. But for the purposes of the defense I will make of my position, I do not expect you to give one ounce of credence to the Bible.
Of course, I also must be completely honest with you. I am a Christian, and I do accept the authority of scripture. Therefore, a complete answer of “Why I am opposed to same sex marriage” would have to include as one of its grounds that it is forbidden by God. Again, I confess to my biases and will not shy away from them. But if God really is the creator of the universe, and if the Bible really is His word, then shouldn’t we expect that there will be some relation between the two? In other words, if I believe same sex marriage is wrong based upon scripture (God’s special revelation), then shouldn’t the natural world (God’s general revelation) support this position as well? I am not saying that all the claims of the Bible should be provable from nature alone, but at a minimum we would not expect God’s two revelations to contradict each other. In reality, I believe the non-scriptural case weighs against same sex unions, and I will now turn to explaining why.
II. Sex and Marriage
The first step in understanding my position is to overcome our social taboos. Nobody seems to want to talk about sex in public settings. Walk into any debate on this subject in a lecture hall, legislative committee, or elsewhere, and you will hear people talking about love, commitment, God, family values and children, but hardly ever sexual intercourse. I apologize in advance if it makes you uncomfortable to hear so frank a discussion about sexual relations, but I assure you that it is necessary.
I am speaking purely from a secular perspective about marriage. After all, as I said before I am not presenting a scriptural defense (but if I was then the evidence is overwhelming that a Christian definition of marriage is only between a man and a woman). But what about civil marriage? Should a court clerk, judge or justice of the peace be allowed to perform a same sex union? Assuming that the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution prevents any religious considerations from entering the equation (I do not concede this was the original intention of the Constitution, but that is neither here nor there for the purposes of my point), then the question really becomes one of morality. After all, that is what our laws are all about. They legislate morality. I will come back to this point shortly, but for now I want to make sure you understand that there is an inseparable link, even on a civil level, between marriage and sexual relations.
Take the Commonwealth of Virginia as an example. A civil marriage in Virginia can be annulled even after the ceremony if sexual intercourse has not yet taken place. The withholding of intercourse is also considered to be grounds for divorce. Even on a purely secular level, sexual relations are irrevocably intertwined with the concept of marriage. When the government permits two people to marry, it is granting its official blessing for the two of them to engage in sex.
When I have spoken on this topic previously some confusion has arisen at this point. Obviously as a Christian I believe that marriage is the only circumstance in which sexual relations should be condoned. However, I am taking a secular approach in this post. I am not arguing that marriage is the only circumstance in which the government condones sexual relations. However, there certainly are circumstances in which the government bans sex. I am not simply referring to non-consensual sex (such as rape). All 50 states also have laws against many instances of consensual intercourse (i.e., incest, statutory rape, etc.). However, in permitting two people to marry, the government is also stating that these instances of prohibited consensual intercourse do not apply and it thereby condones intercourse between the couple.
That is the point at which I address my question. Is it morally right for our government to condone sexual relations between two people of the same gender? If so, then I see no secular reason to prohibit these marriages. If not, then I do not see how they can be condoned.
III. The Burden of Proof
Everyone is biased. Let me say that again so that it sinks in, everyone is biased. I bring a bias to every issue. So do you. But there are “biases” and then there are “Biases.” The lowercase kinds of biases are not necessarily a bad thing if the biases themselves are warranted. They come from our worldview. If your worldview is justifiable, then the biases it brings will be as well. The uppercase varieties are the ones that make us examine an issue with our emotions instead of our brains. I admit to my bias. I am a lawyer. I have been a lawyer for 14 years, which means I have a certain way of looking at things. It is not necessarily a good or a bad way. It is just a typical “lawyerly” way.
When I begin looking at a problem, the first question I ask myself is, “Which side has the burden of proof?” Pretend you are sitting on a jury in a case where the Plaintiff is claiming the Defendant punched him in the face. At the end of the evidence you are called upon to make a decision about who wins and who loses. Unfortunately, after listening to all the evidence, you come to the honest opinion that it is evenly split. The evidence on one side is just as strong as that on the other, and you really do not know what happened. You don’t have the option of declaring a tie. Somebody has to win. How do you decide? The legal system makes that decision for you by giving one side the “burden of proof.” That means that one party has the job to convince you, by whatever slim margin, that he or she is right. If they don’t convince you, either because the evidence for the other party is stronger or because it is evenly split, the other side wins. In a civil case the Plaintiff has this burden. The tiebreaker goes to the Defendant.
Because this is my background, I tend to use the same approach when examining social issues. The first step in my mind, before I look at a single piece of evidence, is to decide who has the burden of proof. You may feel differently, but for biological reasons alone I feel this burden must be assigned to those in favor of same sex unions.
One thing that I believe must be conceded by people on both sides of this issue is that when it comes to intercourse there is a certain biological compatibility between opposite sex couples that is not present with members of the same sex. There are parts of the male and female bodies that are designed (whether you believe that design is the result of a divine being, natural selection, or anything else) to go together (forgive me as I try to address the necessary issues without becoming too crass in the effort). Our bodies are such that heterosexual intercourse elicits certain physiological reactions that at best must be artificially created in certain same sex activities. Furthermore, heterosexual relations appear to find further support in the simple fact that they serve a biological purpose that homosexual relations do not. Even if you deny the existence of a supreme being, even natural selection has clearly created beings that rely upon sexual intercourse for procreation and survival of the species.
Before we proceed any further, it is important for you to understand what I am (and am not) relying upon these biological factors to show. I am not using them to make an affirmative case against the morality of same sex intercourse (which as I said before is the deciding factor in whether to condone same sex civil marriages). Rather, I am looking to decide where to assign the burden of proof. In doing so I search for common ground. On what can both sides agree? I believe that any fair observer simply must concede these facts to be true. If we cannot even agree on this much, then I see no point in going further. To deny these very basic facts about the human anatomy is to guarantee that you will never be open to any argument.
The only purpose for which I use these facts is to decide which side has the burden of proof. Because these agreed upon facts seem to favor heterosexual relations, I assign that burden to those advocating a form of relations that runs against the biological stream, so to speak. Please also understand that this does not mean advocates for same sex marriage cannot meet that burden. Plaintiffs win cases in court every day even though they have this same burden. It is a tiebreaker, nothing more. If same sex proponents can tip the scales ever so slightly in their favor they would still win the day.
IV. Is Morality Objective?
I have made several comments thus far about “morality.” Specifically, I have claimed that whether our government should permit same sex intercourse via marriage is a moral question. But doesn’t this beg an even larger question: What is morality? Some people believe there are objective moral laws that apply equally to everyone regardless of what we may personally believe. The Holocaust was objectively wrong. Its rightness or wrongness is not open for debate, not a matter of personal opinion. Other people firmly believe that morality is purely subjective. There are no absolute moral rules. Societies decide for themselves what is moral and what is not with no higher authority than the will of the people.
The answer to this question would take far more space than is practical, but I also do not believe we need to answer it for our current purposes. Remember what we are talking about. This conversation is about whether the civil law should permit same sex unions. In order to have a civil law in the first place, there are certain assumptions that we simply must accept, one of which is objective morality.
The civil law is by definition an objective standard that applies to everyone. Murder is not legal for one person but illegal for another (leaving fairness in the application of our laws aside and speaking purely from a philosophy of laws perspective). On what basis do we formulate these laws? Clearly at least certain laws are intended to prescribe morality. Why is rape illegal? Because it is a moral violation of the victim in the highest degree. We do not ban rape on purely pragmatic grounds. Regardless of the consequences, rape is a violation of someone’s personal rights. On this point I think people on both sides of the aisle of this debate should agree. People have inalienable rights. The Declaration of Independence says so and I fully embrace that concept. Of course, these rights are not absolute. We have a right to freedom, but it is not freedom to do anything. Our freedom does not extend to that class of activities that the civil law has declared to be illegal.
So in formulating laws we look to a standard by which to judge right and wrong. It makes no sense to say that the standard to which we look is subjective. That would be equivalent to saying, “morality is purely subjective but we are going to enforce it objectively.” That is a contradictory statement. Besides, our legal system does not look like one that accepts subjective morality. If it did, we would expect to see laws that say the same action would be illegal for those people who accept the immorality (or illegality) of their actions but not for those who do not. Imagine trying to get a conviction in that system of justice! The fact that we pass laws with moral principles that apply equally to all demonstrates that our justice system is based upon the assumption that the same rules of conduct apply equally to all. Therefore, regardless of what you may personally believe about morality, if we are confining our discussion to the question of the civil law, we must work within the philosophical framework of that system, which means we must (at least for the sake of discussion) accept that “legal morality” (for lack of a better term) is objective.
V. The Sacredness of Gender
So far I have assigned the burden of proof to those in favor of same sex marriage and demonstrated that if we are talking about a legal course of action, we cannot escape the dilemma by saying, “What is right for you may not be right for me, so why can’t you just let me live my life in peace?” That statement assumes a subjective morality which the legal system simply cannot accept and still expect to function. Whether we like it or not, we must assume that there is a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer to this question and do our best to figure out which is which.
So that I cannot be accused of simply putting forth a defensive effort, allow me to place some evidence on the side of the scale opposed to same sex unions. Granted, based on what I said before I believe those opposed to same sex marriage have the tiebreaker, but this does not mean they cannot offer their own evidence. Please permit me to articulate one argument.
Many people favoring same sex unions like to draw a parallel between their cause and the civil rights movement. They point out that African Americans were being denied basic rights and claim that the same is being done to them today. At first blush it is admittedly an attractive argument. I certainly am not in favor of treating people unfairly? Who would be?
But there are a few distinctions that must be taken into account, and in the end I believe the civil rights movement actually counts as evidence against same sex unions. First, on what basis are people being denied privileges? In the civil rights movement it was because of the color of their skin, clearly an irrelevant criteria. In the current debate, as I have framed it (which as far as I can tell is the only fair secular way for opponents of same sex marriage to frame the discussion) it is because of something people do; i.e., an activity in which they engage (same sex intercourse). While it is always improper to deny people privileges based upon whom they are (i.e., the color of their skin) it is not so obviously wrong to deny privileges to people based upon what they do. I will get to the alleged biological disposition for homosexual attraction shortly, but for my present purposes it is sufficient to point out that our entire legal system is about denying people life, liberty or property based upon something they did or promised to do. This does not answer the question for us, but it does point us back to our starting point that the real question we must ask ourselves is whether the activity of same sex intercourse is moral.
Here is the question I believe advocates for same sex unions must answer. The reason it is wrong to discriminate against someone because of race is because race is sacred. I do not use this term in any theological sense, but rather to denote something that is part of our identity as a human being. We do not choose our race. It is part of who we are and it is wrong to violate that. While proponents of same sex marriage often argue for a biological predisposition (more on this to come), it seems to me that they fail to acknowledge that people are also born with a certain physiological gender that should not be violated. Why is it that someone’s race is held sacred but physiological gender is de-sacralized? It seems to be an arbitrary and self-serving distinction. Proponents of same sex marriage elevate an alleged biological sexual predisposition as sacred (given the definition I have assigned to that term) and therefore urge that it should not be violated, but they give no consideration to the sacredness of biological gender. If anything, gender bears a closer relationship to race than does sexual disposition. Gender and race, after all, are at least both physical attributes. We are born into our gender in the same way as we are born into our race. If morality honors a person’s race then shouldn’t it also honor gender? If there is moral value in race, then there is moral value in gender and any act in violation of that gender should be viewed with some level of suspicion.
Can gender be de-sacralized based upon the free choice of the individual? Perhaps. I am willing to concede that it is possible. But how would you react to an African-American insisting on using a separate bathroom because he does not think himself worthy to share a bathroom with Caucasians? Would you walk away believing that this is his right or would you try to convince him that his reasoning is faulty and he should not think of himself this way? I, for one, hold both race and gender to be sacred. While I will not prevent people from de-sacralizing either in themselves of their own free choice, I also cannot in good conscience celebrate the act of them doing so.
VI. What About Love?
At this point in time you are probably thinking of many arguments that far outweigh the weight I have just placed on my side of the scale. One leading argument is based upon love. After all, even if gender in general should not be violated, certainly the overpowering value of love far outweighs whatever value we assign to honoring gender.
This is the point on which I believe more confusion exists than any other, and it is largely the fault of those in the Christian church. Rather than acknowledging that same sex couples genuinely love each other, we deny that their feelings are real, as if we somehow became omnipotent and could see into their hearts and tell them what they are feeling. It always seems pointless to me when one person apologizes for what another person has done, but for what it is worth I apologize for this incredibly presumptuous reaction that has been advanced by many in the name of Christ. Since when is Christianity about denying love? Far from it! I will never deny the genuineness of the feelings felt by people in same sex relationships.
It is here, though, that I feel the English language fails us. Many terms in English have nuances of meaning. “Love” is one of those terms. Greek is a far better language to illustrate my point. Four different words for “love” in Greek are agape, eros, philia and storge. “Agape” refers to a deep, true, self-sacrificing love. “Eros” is sensual. “Philia” is a friendship type of love. “Storge” is a natural affection, like that of a parent for a child. I “love” many other men in my life. When we are talking about whether same sex intercourse is morally condoned, we are not speaking of agape, philia or storge love, but rather the eros variety. Yet when people say that this type of marriage should be permitted because the couple “loves” each other, in context they are generally referring to agape. The reason it is allegedly such a crime to deny marriage to these couples is because they share such a deep devotion to each other. But if the real question is whether intercourse should be allowed, this is missing the point. Granted, it is an easy mistake to make because our English language does not make these fine distinctions. We use the word “love” for each, so we can miss the fact that we are using “love” equivocally rather than univocally.
You do not need to be married to share agape love with someone and I would never dream of telling someone they do not truly feel that way for another person in their heart. But we need to avoid the temptation to become sidetracked. If the proponent is seeking to put weights on one side of the scale, evidence that does not address the issue at hand has no value in the balance. I grant that agape love has enormous value, and possibly could outweigh what I have placed on the other side of the scale if it was relevant. Unfortunately, comparing the value of agape, which is not denied by disallowing same sex marriage, to the value of the sacredness of gender is comparing apples and oranges.
Only a balance of gender and eros would be relevant. Eros though, at least in its physical expression, is not per se entitled to nearly the same value as agape. Eros has a history of having both beneficial and detrimental expressions. While eros can be beautiful, it can also have negative expression as when it is responsible for adultery or underage pregnancies. Agape is always good. Eros can be good or bad and therefore cannot per se be entitled to the same value. When placed on the scale in isolation, then, I do not believe eros can justify de-sacralizing gender.
VII. What About a Biological Predisposition?
This leads to another common argument, that people are born with a certain sexual disposition. It is a genetic, not a learned behavior. Some people swear the evidence clearly shows a genetic connection whereas others feel equally strongly the other way. Again, though, if we maintain a narrow focus on the relevant issue, the answer to this debate would not make a difference either way.
We are examining whether certain actions are moral, not feelings. In other words, the key question is not whether it is moral to have feelings of attraction toward members of the same sex but rather whether it is moral to act on those feelings. What is morality if not a set of rules to tell us when we cannot do something we may genuinely feel a very strong desire to do? If we did not desire to do something then we would not need morality to tell us not to do it. We would not have any desire to do it in the first place. The same can be said of the law. If nobody had the desire to do something, there would be no need to outlaw it.
Thus, even assuming people have a sincere biological attraction to members of the same sex, that does not bring us any closer to resolving the legal/moral question of whether it is right to physically act on that attraction.
VIII. On What Basis Could Same Gender Sex Be Moral?
My point in the last two sections has simply been to illustrate that two of the arguments often raised in support of same sex marriage actually miss the point. Of course, that does not mean that it cannot be justified on other grounds. There are many competing objective moral theories (because the legal system must assume an objective ethic, we do not need to concern ourselves with subjective theories). Perhaps one of them could support same sex unions. In reality, though, I find it difficult to justify the practice under any objective moral theory.
Even though I personally hold to a form of divine command theory (which is a theory of objective ethics), I am excluding that as a possibility for what should seem obvious reasons. Most divine command theorists would likely claim that there is just such a command against same gender sexual relations. Besides, for the purposes of this post I am assuming a completely secular legal system that would not be permitted to use Divine Command Theory in its foundation.
A strong utilitarian argument could be made for same sex unions. After all, in Utilitarianism the “moral” is the act that produces the greatest happiness measured against the least suffering. The participants in same sex relations, acting on their feelings of eros, undoubtedly experience some degree of happiness. As long as these activities take place in private the rest of the world remains ignorant to their occurrence and therefore sustains no negative consequences. What is wrong with justifying same sex intercourse on utilitarian grounds?
Simply put, since when is happiness the sole determining factor of morality? If we really think about the consequences of a utilitarian ethic most people would likely be offended by it. For example, if a person ridicules a dear friend behind his or her back, the unsuspecting victim experiences no unhappiness over the incident whereas the perpetrator derives some level of happiness. If the total measure of happiness versus unhappiness were the sole measure of virtue, then this ridiculing would appear to be a virtuous act. The definition of “good,” however, appears to include concepts other than merely happiness, such as friendship and loyalty. Utilitarianism has a backwards understanding of the role happiness plays. Happiness is not something that is good for its own sake. Instead, happiness is a response we have to other things that we recognize as good, independently and in their own right. So perhaps the happiness versus unhappiness ratio does favor the private expression of same sex intercourse, but that does not make it moral.
What about a Kantian ethic? Does the categorical imperative favor same sex unions? The categorical imperative says to always act in such a way that your maxim could be taken as a universal law. Could we will that people universally be permitted to engage in same sex intercourse, even if privately expressed? Given the important biological purposes served by heterosexual intercourse to the survival of the species, I do not see how this could be willed as a universal rule.
Aristotle gives us another option. He claimed the moral action is found in the mean between two extremes. Between slovenliness and extreme vanity we find a healthy level of humility. The problem is that it is difficult to see how same sex intercourse could be viewed as any kind of a mean. If this is the mean, what are the extremes? Aristotle conceded that some things (he gave the example of suicide) are not subject to his golden mean analysis and are therefore wrong in themselves. Is same sex intercourse of this character? I do not pretend to know. But at best we must remain agnostic as to how to apply an Aristotelian ethic to the question at hand, and if the proponent of these unions has the burden of proof then an Aristotelian ethic cannot break the tie.
IX. What About Civil Unions?
So in the end I come to the conclusion that those favoring same sex intercourse have not met their burden of convincing me that such activities are moral. If those activities are not moral, then neither is same sex marriage that explicitly condones such behavior. There may be other behaviors condoned by marriage that are perfectly acceptable from a moral perspective. After all, marriage may include sex, but it is also far more than sex. However, if in asking me to condone same sex marriage you are implicitly asking me to condone five things, four of which are moral and one of which is not, the morality of the four does not mitigate against the immorality of the one.
But what about civil unions? Is it possible to have a “middle ground” where these couples can enjoy some form of official recognition without condoning sex? Perhaps, but I am skeptical. I am lawyer so I am naturally suspicious of people’s motives. Why does someone want a law recognizing civil unions? Is it really because they believe we should create a new category of government recognition or is just a back door attempt at moving one step closer to full recognition of marriage?
It is at least theoretically possible to create a civil union law that overcomes the objections I have raised in this post. I only question the need for it. Unmarried people can already enjoy many of the alleged benefits of civil unions. Unmarried people can share a joint bank account. Living wills and medical powers of attorney can grant the power to make medical decisions. It is true that unmarried couples do not get the same income tax advantages, but perhaps that should cause us to question why we give these tax advantages to married couples, not to expand them even further.
So I am open to a discussion about civil unions, but I confess to going into that discussion with some serious reservations.
X. Let He Who is Without Sin…
In the end, I remain unconvinced that same sex marriage, in all its implications, is moral. I do not agree with that lifestyle. That being said, I will not deny you the right to live that lifestyle if you choose. I simply cannot celebrate or condone it. I also think many Christians forget that even though we believe homosexuality to be a sin, it is far from the only sin in the Bible. Yet for some reason we elevate this sin above all others, especially above those we have committed ourselves. We should address this question with respect, not hostility. I ask all Christians to reflect on sins they have committed in their life and ask how they would feel if someone addressed that sin in them in the same manner in which they address the issue of same sex marriage. Would you like being demonized? Then do not demonize your opponent. Do you appreciate being insulted and ridiculed? Then why do we treat others this way?
It was my sincere desire in writing this post that I would demonstrate the possibility of having an intelligent conversation about these issues without being rude or letting emotional outbursts take over. If in your mind I failed in this task, I offer my sincere apologies and ask simply that you not measure Christ by the mistakes made by this one far from perfect disciple of His.
Thank you for bearing with me through my long and rambling contribution to the cacophony. God bless.