Gay marriage, part 85,345

It’s been some time since we’ve discussed gay marriage on M*, so in the interest of increasing traffic, we are about to rectify that problem.

I want to draw your attention to a very well-written series at “Real Intent” on gay marriage.

Let me excerpt a few key portions.

1) Gay and straight isn’t an on/off switch. A few people may be exclusively attracted to members of the same gender regardless of culture and context. A few people may be exclusively attracted to members of the opposite gender regardless of culture and context. But the vast majority of us are somewhere on a spectrum in-between, at least theoretically capable of feeling a variety of levels of attraction, admiration, and emotional investment in members of the same sex. It is historically strange, to say the least, that we view so many manifestations of male connection and affection as signaling membership in a separate gay minority group. We stigmatize feelings and ways of relating today that are probably normal components of human nature for almost everyone.

2) The 1960s and ’70s gay rights movement used language of sexual liberation and personal freedom from social accountability, which created a common public association between homosexuality and casual sex or promiscuity — but that’s not necessarily representative of same-sex relationships now or throughout history. There have been and are many same-sex couples who are deeply committed and faithful to one another. And I think we do ourselves a collective disservice if we treat the emotional reality of those bonds lightly as we decide which legal framework to use for same-sex relationships in a democratic society where subjective experience should carry weight.

As somebody who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and had a gay roommate in college, I find the way this issue is discussed among Mormons (especially left-wing activist Mormons) to be very unfortunate. The above quotations show a much better understanding of the spectrum of sexual attraction. I cannot tell you how many times commenters on this blog have implied that all people must be divided into categories of either “totally gay” or “totally straight,” and this attempt to group people is artificial and incorrect. The implications for prophetic guidance (same-sex attraction is NOT a sin but same-sex sexual activity IS a sin) make much more sense if we understand the truth, ie that there is no on/off switch and people are responsible for their actions.

Let’s call the relationship between two people of the same rough generation lateral and the relationship between generations vertical. If we go back more than a hundred years in history, I think it’s clear that marriage as an institution was considered primary vertical (that is, designed to protect the relationships between generations) and only secondarily lateral (that is, designed to protect the relationships between individual lovers). That’s why Alexander never would have thought of marrying Hephaestion. Even though the two men’s strongest lateral relationship was with each other, Alexander married at least two different women for the sake of his vertical relationships. Ancient Greeks seem to have valued both types of relationships, but would have considered it ridiculous to assume they were the same.

However, you don’t have to look only to the past to see the vertical dimension of marriage. Attend an ethnic wedding in the United States today and you’ll see largely neglected kinds of clothing, music, and traditions rise to prominence. Even assimilated, clean-shaven men from traditionally Sikh families typically grow beards for their weddings as a sort of nod to ancestors. Even very American Jews use the Hebrew mazel tov to congratulate a new couple, because there’s an unspoken feeling at a wedding that the new couple is standing in a chain of couples that goes back to days before ancestors ever set foot on English-speaking shores, and that the couple is going to continue that chain of descendants until long after today’s English is dead.

Now, over the past hundred years or so, it’s become increasingly common around the world to give the lateral elements of marriage more weight. Matches that start with love are now the norm rather than arranged marriages where love is a secondary feature the couple can choose to develop. Spouses are expected to be close friends in their personal lives as well as partners in an intergenerational enterprise. And even the most deeply pro-natal faith groups in America seem to support these trends and to feel good about a model of marriage that is equally vertical and lateral.

But those same groups are extremely uncomfortable with a definition of marriage that fully devalues the institution’s vertical elements. Don’t believe me? Go ask orthodox Jewish, LDS, Catholic, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu religious figures sometime what they think about couples who plan not to have any children. I think you’ll see quickly that the old idea that marriage is complete only with the arrival of children is very much alive, and not just a pretense for homophobia as Judge Walker’s decision assumes.

This strikes me as an extremely astute way of describing the real purpose of marriage and helping us understand why modern-day prophets are continuing to insist that marriage is about more than just two people being “in love.” Obviously, the being in-love part is extremely important, but the vertical relationship, especially from an eternal perspective, is much, much more important. This is what the temple is all about: our relationships can continue into the eternities, and the author does an excellent job of helping us understand that this is a central purpose of marriage.

The author concludes with some excellent points about how gay marriage is about social engineering.

Let’s assume that marriage as an institution would not be affected by being expanded to include same-sex couples. Would same-sex relationships be benefited or harmed if they were expected to do the same work of connecting generations that marriages have traditionally done? Again, we don’t know. My general impression is that few same-sex couples before, say, 1990, felt like parenting or grandparenting were vital missing dimensions of their romantic relationship. Is it optimal for gay couples to have norms based in heterosexual relationships projected onto them without any adjustment? How would it affect gay men, in particular, to have adoption and parenting as common social expectations of their long-term relationships? Will it be good for same-sex couples if their parents immediately ask when grandbabies are going to come?

I don’t necessarily have a problem with social engineering, but hastily redefining a core building block of society seems like really shoddy engineering work. I agree that we need to do something in this country to protect gay Americans, but is trying to leverage social acceptance by redefining marriage really the best solution?

And will anyone really benefit in the long term if we decide it’s hate or prejudice to believe that same-sex and opposite-sex relationships aren’t quite the same?

In summary, the author brings up some very interesting questions, and I hope his six-part series is widely read and pondered.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “Gay marriage, part 85,345

  1. “The old idea that marriage is complete only with the arrival of children is very much alive…”

    A couple of years ago I had an Elder’s Quorum President, a good friend of mine, who didn’t have any kids. They wanted kids badly, but they weren’t in a position to adopt, and weren’t able to have children naturally. I stay in touch enough to know that they still don’t have kids, and I imagine they probably won’t have any.

    I have other friends, including some good friends, who face similar circumstances. All of them have strong, meaningful marriages, even though they’re unable to have kids.

    Hopefully it’s understandable why the “idea that marriage is complete only with the arrival of children” is so incredibly offensive.

  2. The idea is only offensive if you choose to take offense. I think we as a culture need to stop taking offense at every little notion.

  3. A good intro.

    I think it’s also helpful to point out the fallacy of “fixed sexuality.” The human mind changes in response to different stimuli. Sexuality changes, and that’s fact…

  4. Tim, if your friends believe that their marriages are complete, then why did/do they yearn for the children?

    I think even you must confess that there is something about parenthood, in and of itself, that helps to bring husband and wife to greater levels of commitment and intimacy.

    Why get bent out of shape over a concept that really makes a whole of sense, and that your friends most likely would agree with if you asked them to be frank and honest about it? Good grief.

  5. I should point out that I agree that there’s a wide spectrum, and that a lot of people who are attracted to the same sex are also attracted to the opposite sex. Of course, many aren’t, no matter how hard they try.

  6. Do you really think most married couples without kids, even those who really want kids, will tell you that “our marriage is incomplete because we don’t have children”?

    If people are telling you this, you’re hanging out with very strange people.

    More likely, they’ll tell you, “We really want kids. However, our relationship is strong. We’ve grown closer through this difficult trial. Our commitment is strong, and our marriage is complete, despite the fact we don’t have children.”

  7. I know plenty of people who strive to be happy and never achieve it? Does that mean that it’s not important to be happy in live? Or could it be they’re just going about it in the wrong manner?

  8. Tim, this was a long post, perhaps 4000 words or so. I am not sure why you chose to concentrate on one small phrase. Don’t you think that is a bit too much nitpicking?

  9. Nit-picking or not, Tim has fixated on a pivotal issue. Do we exist for ourselves, or do we have responsibilities? It seems to me, that we are in the midst of cultural suicide. Our culture has no idea of how to make a sustainable culture. Sure, there is a lot of hand-wringing over the environment, and animal cruelty laws, but little attention to what a marriage should be or even how to make it last, as the Lord teaches us.

    The first and earliest commandment was to multiply and replenish the Earth. We treat that casually at our own peril.

  10. The author, James Goldberg, points out some interesting things, but he neglects to come to any hard conclusions or recommendtions. He asks some interesting thought questions at the end, but the only implication he seems to clearly make is that it _might_ be dangerous to tamper with an institution that holds our culture together.

    I think he stops short of the important “and therefore… ” types of conclusions, predictions, or recommendations that are part of advocacy types of writing.

    I see some connections, though not explicit, between his points and the points I’ve made in various comments on blogs about SSM. Things like hard-coded versus soft-coded sexual orientation, and how taboos can help keep people on the margins (whether they be thrill-seekers, late-bloomers, explorers, boundary pushers, or abuse victims recreating the cycle of abuse) from adopting harmful activities or lifestyles from which they will find it difficult to extricate themselves.

    One example he failed to mention is the sub-culture of sex among prison inmates, which also supports his thesis. In part of that population, especially among African-Americans, in the absence of the availability of females, homosexuality loses its taboo. A direct consequence of that, even further hushed up, is that some continue the practice after release from prison, and effectively become bisexual. That is a serious but less-spoken-of transmission vector of AIDS among African-Americans, promiscuous bisexual behavior by former prison inmates. The topic was dealt with on a Law and Order episode, and confirmed to me as accurate by an African-American friend.

    Goldberg’s thesis of sexual “plasticity” coupled with our current cultural demand to self-identify as either gay or straight, may be cause for some of those marginal cases or late-bloomers to incorrectly come to the wrong conclusion in regards to their own sexuality/orienation. He may have implied that, but I didn’t see any affirmative statements.

    Also, add into that mix the fact that our culture creates pressure for ever earlier sexualization, or sexual identification, and you have further opportunity for sexually immature children and teenagers, without sufficient life experience, to incorrectly analyze and judge themselves as to what their sexual orientation truely is. Imagine someone saying to your socially awkward 14-year old, “Can’t get a date (with the opposite sex)? Oh, you must be gay.” Except under the new paradigm there is nothing wrong with being gay, “Oh, you must be gay then” is no longer an epithet. So the socially awkward or late-blooming boy or girl who hears that often enough may seriously start considering it. It’s another source of confusion, and another impetus for marginal cases to experiment and explore.

  11. “Also, add into that mix the fact that our culture creates pressure for ever earlier sexualization, or sexual identification, and you have further opportunity for sexually immature children and teenagers, without sufficient life experience, to incorrectly analyze and judge themselves as to what their sexual orientation truely is. Imagine someone saying to your socially awkward 14-year old, “Can’t get a date (with the opposite sex)? Oh, you must be gay.” Except under the new paradigm there is nothing wrong with being gay, “Oh, you must be gay then” is no longer an epithet. So the socially awkward or late-blooming boy or girl who hears that often enough may seriously start considering it. It’s another source of confusion, and another impetus for marginal cases to experiment and explore.”

    This is definitely a very unfortunate sign of our times. My teenage girls, quick to condemn any sign of “homophobia” around them, will, in their quiet and introspective moments, agree that there are dangerous currents taking place among teenagers. Any slightly effeminate boy is considered gay and pushed toward having sex with other boys or men. Any “butch” girl is also pushed toward other girls. The fact that there are three separate things 1)being effeminate or butch 2)being attracted to the opposite sex and 3)acting on it somehow seems lost to our current generation of young people, and this is a very, very bad thing.

  12. Pretty interesting to consider the sealing ordinance in this light of future adoptive children of gay couples. ” and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming.”

    Where children are unable to be sealed to parents, the whole earth is described as utterly wasted – in a sense the purpose of the plan if salvation is for naught.

    Of course, we’ve been undermining generations at the margins for, well, generations. But that’s no excuse to continue actions which will curse the earth and leave it utterly wasted.

  13. Chris, It’s not a stretch at all to file that under the “they’ll figure it out in the millennium” heading, along with all the other things we currently file under that heading. Since the fall of Adam, there are so many undocumented marriages, re-marriages, divorces, polygamous marriages, polyandrous marriages, undocumented births, out-of-wedlock births, incestuous conceptions, abandonments, adoptions, orphans raised in an orphanage, foster children, kids raised by no one, etc., since the beginning, that the question of who to seal modern adoptees to simply pales by comparison.

    The vast vast majority of temple work for the whole history of humanity will be done post 2nd Coming, in the millennium. And the vast vast majority of the ordinances done for PRE-millennial persons will have to be done based on knowledge transmitted by angels or spirits from the other side of the veil to ordinance workers on this side of the veil.

    If the Lord can figure out how to link up all those other undocumented and very complicated relationships and births mentioned above, he can figure out what to do with kids adopted by gay couples. Every soul is known to Him.

    Also recall the principle of spiritual adoption that the early saints attempted, but didn’t quite get right. Joseph introduced it as a true principle, even if they didn’t do it correctly all the time, and even if it got suspended.

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