Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Forsaking All Others

There has been, as one would expect, a lot of talk about marriage equality in the past few months, especially since the President's announcement about his support of it. Although his support of it is not surprising, a great many odd comments have been made about it, some accusing him of changing his position for purely political reasons. I happen to think that there is nothing odd about a state senator supporting marriage equality in Illinois, but deciding not to do so as a US senator. Different roles often call for slightly different positions. What should be obvious is that the President has been a supporter of the rights of Americans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

More troubling to me than the critical comments about the President's position, have been assertions that marriage equality puts us on a slippery slope to accepting polygamy. Most of those who make these assertions are Christians, arguing that same-sex marriages are inconsistent with Biblical marriage. Of course, anyone who has actually read the Bible knows that there is not just one pattern of marriage seen as acceptable. However, these critics of marriage equality do get one thing right. Over time Jews and Christians came to believe that monogamous lifelong unions were, if you will, God's will. In western democracies these have also been accepted, with perhaps some waffling on lifelong, as the one kind of relationship that deserved legal recognition. Sadly, what we have now in the US is both lifelong monogamy and serial monogamy. There is, I think, no reason to believe that marriage equality will do anything to increase the incidence of serial monogamy. It will not destroy what its critics like to call traditional marriage.

There are two qualities of marriage that I think are just as likely to be true in same-sex as in opposite-sex marriages, and may, for a variety of reasons be more likely in same-sex marriages: mutuality and fidelity. When a couple marries in the Episcopal Church, they include in the statement of their intention to forsake all others. I often like to point out to couples that the others should include anyone or anything that becomes more important than one's spouse, but the most obvious meaning of this is that what the Church describes as a union in "heart, body, and mind" is intended to be exclusive. I think one reason why fidelity is essential is because without it mutuality will not be possible. Even with fidelity, most married people find mutuality challenging at times. This may be particularly true for men married to women. Patriarchy is still a powerful force in society and it is often very hard work for men - and at times women - to leave the father knows best mentality behind. Mutuality means, as a colleague once said in a wedding homily, that it's not about me, it's about her. If I am in the relationship to get my own way, to get my needs met, then I am not committed to mutuality. While all healthy relationships do involve mutuality, the mutuality that is intended in marriage, that union of heart, body, and mind, is not possible in polygamous relationships. We cannot give ourselves wholly and unconditionally to more than one person.

Like the domino theory on the 1960s, the slippery slopeargument against marriage equality sounds hollow. What rings true, and what the wider society needs to hear from Christians, is our support for lifelong monogamous marriages marked by fidelity and mutuality, our belief that it is such marriages that most of us will flourish.

1 comment:

Porlock Junior said...

It's odd, though incidental, that the "slippery slope" has become such a big deal in this and other issues. I remember when it was a rather obscure argument used only (so far as I saw) by civil liberties lawyers concerning erosion of rights. Or the boiling of frogs, to use a metaphor that at that time belonged to conservatives.

Now it's the stock in trade of people who disagree with Civil Liberties people and all their works -- except for this one.

Sort of like "Hate the sin but not the sinner", an admirable idea one would hear from pious old-fashioned Christians ("one's grandmother" as C. S. Lewis said) -- but now hijacked by fake-pious Christians who apparently have run a dark marking pen over their text of I Corinthians 13. And this change was inspired by this same issue as the "slippery slope" one.

(While I'm up -- I see that your blog allows me to sign in with Google and use my blogging name on the post. In some other blogs Google insists on identifying me by my banking, or real, name. Odd. But thanks for using the right method, even if it may be inadvertent and unexplained!)