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.