Is It Really the “Beginning of the End”?

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court held that two people of the same sex have a constitutional right to be married.  The decision, celebrated by many, is a cause for more than a little bit of hand-wringing by others – particularly those who believe that for religious reasons marriage can only mean the indissoluble union between one man and one woman.  Friends I love dearly fall on both sides of that divide.

I’m not interested here in debating the merits of the Supreme Court’s decision, or of same-sex marriage for that matter.  But I would merely share a couple of thoughts with my friends on both sides of the issue.

First, and this is directed to all of us, with respect to the tone with which we continue our conversations on this issue, one of the best things I read yesterday was from Bishop Gregory Hartmayer.  He wrote

This Court action is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

The moral debate however must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another. In many respects that moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as is the granting of this civil entitlement.

This decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.

Second, In the aftermath of the announcement of the Supreme Court’s opinion, the sounds of Chicken Little have been heard across the internet.  To share some of the lines I read: “See you in jail”; “It’s the beginning of the end”; “The sky is falling”; “Same sex marriage is more distressing than terrorism”; and “Persecution is beginning.”

To those who have expressed or harbored such thoughts, I’d suggest a pause and a deep breath.  First, I am reminded when I hear the sounds of doom of the passage in Acts where the Sanhedrin wanted to put Peter and the apostles to death for their preaching. A Pharisee named Gamaliel argued against doing so with this simple claim: “if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”  I would say something similar here: my faith that God has a plan and that God’s plan will prevail is strong and unshakeable.  This is not the “beginning of the end.”

Second, it may, in fact be, that this decision leads to less protection for religious liberty than many of us would like to see.  Those who stand firm for their religious convictions have faced hardship before and they will do so again.  The test is how the handle themselves, how they witness to their faith, in the fact of such hardship.

To those on the other side of the divide, it is good to remember that those who oppose same-sex marriage do so not out of bigotry or hate, but out of deep-seated religious convictions about the nature of the human person.  Out of the belief that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God.  And, that whatever one’s view on the matter, we are all brothers and sisters, children of that God.  One can believe in gay marriage without believing it necessary to force those with religious beliefs to the margins of our society in one way or the other.

Update: Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s statement sounds a similar tone to Bishop Hartmayer’s.  He writes:

This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement. The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.


8 thoughts on “Is It Really the “Beginning of the End”?

  1. Susan,
    Some people oppose same-sex marraige out of bigotry and hate. That said, if God did not punish us for our genocide against Native Americans, or the promotion of slavery and by extension, Jim Crow, God won’t punish us for allowing people in love to get married.

    • Floyd: I could have phrased that clearer. What I want to convey is that religious opposition to same-sex marriage should not be equated with bigotry.

  2. Susan: Your blog seems a civil platform to pose a question I’ve always had about the “religious liberty” aspect you touch on.

    Obviously, as someone in a same-sex relationship since 1980 and legally married to that same woman for 4 years, I come with subjective bias. But I have an honest question that has always bothered me when the religious liberty threat is raised, in regards to this and many other civil issues.

    You wrote: “One can believe in gay marriage without believing it necessary to force those with religious beliefs to the margins of our society in one way or the other.” And this strikes at the core of my question. How does a civil ruling force anyone to change believing what they believe?

    And I don’t mean to wade into the murky matters of whether a church will be legally forced to perform same-sex marriages, which I don’t believe will happen… but only this question: How does any civil ruling–or anyone else’s strongly held belief–affect another’s belief system? How can ‘your’ belief system be threatened or forced to change?

    This is an honest–and not adversarial–question. I have been, and will probably continue to be, incredulous about this claim from many in religious communities, both conservative Christian, Catholic, and Buddhist alike.

    Maybe you can help me understand this view.

    _/|\_ Wendy Shinyo

    • Hi Wendy,
      Phrased as you do phrase it, there is no conflict (how does one’s belief affect another’s belief). But faith is not just what one says, but how one lives one’s life. To live an incarnational faith means that how one lives one’s life has to be consistent with one’s faith. So, to give my view (which you may disagree with) of some examples of recent legal issues: (1) I don’t believe anyone benefits from Massachusetts having forced Catholic Charities out of the adoption business because of its religious objection to placing children with same-sex couples. Catholic Charities has had a tremendous record of placing difficult to place children, and there is no access issue because same-sex couples have other entities through which they can adopt children. (2) I think there is a difference between ordinary commercial operations and things that are more in the nature of personal service contracts. That is, I don’t think a wedding photographer with a religious opposition to same-sex marriage should be penalized for not wanting to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony – doing so requires active participation in the event. And those are the kind of cases I was thinking of when making my comment for this reason: NO same-sex couple really wants someone photographing their wedding who doesn’t want to be there, so the litigation is solely to punish the photographer for his views. (3) I spoke at a Harvard conference in May on the issue of graduate counseling students with religious opposition to counseling gays about their relationships. If you are interested, you can find a video of that talk here.
      Does that make it clearer?
      All best,
      PS E-mail if you want to continue the discussion in a less public manner.

  3. Susan – Thank you for having the conviction and courage to open yourself up to criticism from ‘both sides’ while sharing your, Bishop Hartmayer’s, and Archbishop Gregory’s messages – based on love – on how Jesus would encourage his children to respond to same-sex marriage.

    I pray the gay pride parades being held today are not entirely a celebration of equal rights finally conferred, but a ‘commissioning of the spirit’ within (the Holy Spirit for many) for all couples to recommit their lives ‘lived’ to the Love they ‘profess’ being the center of their relationships.

    From a position of faith, the moral question is likely the more consequential for salvation. . .

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Susan. I agree with your concern over Catholic Charities being forced out of the adoption business. And I agree with you about living your faith. My main concern remains and it is a tricky one to verbalize. I will share via email.

    And thanks for the link … I will check it out!

  5. Recovering from a torn calf muscle suffered while playing tennis last week has brought morning mass into my home via EWTN – and since the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, many a homily and programing commentary has embraced little of Jesus’ message of genuine (instead of expressed) love and inclusion.

    Assuming statistical and empirical evidence supports that a nuclear family of a father, mother and their biological children is often ideal for child development, how will the court’s decision handed down eventually deprive children of having a father?

    Can words similar to Jesus’, “He that is without sin among you, Let him first cast a stone at her,” also apply to the state of most marriages? Let the one whose marriage is perfect among you venture to judge the marriage of another.

    For the last 2,000 years has marriage resembled the ‘ideal marriage’ that is attributed to Scripture and preached from many a pulpit today – a union (un-dissolvable) between one man and one woman based upon procreation?

    ‘Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage’, by Stephanie Coontz brought back smiles. An article in LiveScience (2013) provided a summary worth reflection . . .

    Though marriage has ancient roots, until recently love had little to do with it.

    “What marriage had in common was that it really was not about the relationship between the man and the woman,” said Stephanie Coontz, the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage,” (Penguin Books, 2006). “It was a way of getting in-laws, of making alliances and expanding the family labor force.”

    But as family plots of land gave way to market economies and Kings ceded power to democracies, the notion of marriage transformed. Now, most Americans see marriage as a bond between equals that’s all about love and companionship.

    That changing definition helped pave the way for same-sex marriage and (and earlier) Supreme Court rulings, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissed a case concerning Proposition 8.

    From polygamy to same-sex marriage, here are 13 milestones in the history of marriage.

    1. Arranged alliances
    Marriage is a truly ancient institution that predates recorded history. But early marriage was seen as a strategic alliance between families, with the youngsters often having no say in the matter. In some cultures, parents even married one child to the spirit of a deceased child in order to strengthen familial bonds, Coontz said.

    2. Family ties
    Keeping alliances within the family was also quite common. In the Bible, the forefathers Isaac and Jacob married cousins and Abraham married his half-sister. Cousin marriages remain common throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. In fact, Rutgers anthropologist Robin Fox has estimated that the majority of all marriages throughout history were between first and second cousins.

    3. Polygamy preferred
    Monogamy may seem central to marriage now, but in fact, polygamy was common throughout history. From Jacob, to Kings David and Solomon, Biblical men often had anywhere from two to thousands of wives. (Of course, though polygamy may have been an ideal that high-status men aspired to, for purely mathematical reasons most men likely had at most one wife). In a few cultures, one woman married multiple men, and there have even been some rare instances of group marriages.

    4. Babies optional
    In many early cultures, men could dissolve a marriage or take another wife if a woman was infertile. However, the early Christian church was a trailblazer in arguing that marriage was not contingent on producing offspring.

    “The early Christian church held the position that if you can procreate you must not refuse to procreate. But they always took the position that they would annul a marriage if a man could not have sex with his wife, but not if they could not conceive,” Coontz told LiveScience.

    5. Monogamy established
    Monogamy became the guiding principle for Western marriages sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries, Coontz said.

    “There was a protracted battle between the Catholic Church and the old nobility and kings who wanted to say ‘I can take a second wife,'” Coontz said.
    The Church eventually prevailed, with monogamy becoming central to the notion of marriage by the ninth century.

    6. Monogamy lite
    Still, monogamous marriage was very different from the modern conception of mutual fidelity. Though marriage was legally or sacramentally recognized between just one man and one woman, until the 19th century, men had wide latitude to engage in extramarital affairs, Coontz said. Any children resulting from those trysts, however, would be illegitimate, with no claim to the man’s inheritance.

    “Men’s promiscuity was quite protected by the dual laws of legal monogamy but tolerance basically enabling of informal promiscuity,” Coontz said.
    Women caught stepping out, by contrast, faced serious risk and censure.

    7. State or church?
    Marriages in the West were originally contracts between the families of two partners, with the Catholic Church and the state staying out of it. In 1215, the Catholic Church decreed that partners had to publicly post banns, or notices of an impending marriage in a local parish, to cut down on the frequency of invalid marriages (the Church eliminated that requirement in the 1980s). Still, until the 1500s, the Church accepted a couple’s word that they had exchanged marriage vows, with no witnesses or corroborating evidence needed.

    8. Civil marriage
    In the last several hundred years, the state has played a greater role in marriage. For instance, Massachusetts began requiring marriage licenses in 1639, and by the 19th-century marriage licenses were common in the United States.

    9. Love matches
    By about 250 years ago, the notion of love matches gained traction, Coontz said, meaning marriage was based on love and possibly sexual desire. But mutual attraction in marriage wasn’t important until about a century ago. In fact, in Victorian England, many held that women didn’t have strong sexual urges at all, Coontz said.

    10. Market economics
    Around the world, family-arranged alliances have gradually given way to love matches, and a transition from an agricultural to a market economy plays a big role in that transition, Coontz said.

    Parents historically controlled access to inheritance of agricultural land. But with the spread of a market economy, “it’s less important for people to have permission of their parents to wait to give them an inheritance or to work on their parents’ land,” Coontz said. “So it’s more possible for young people to say, ‘heck, I’m going to marry who I want.'”

    Modern markets also allow women to play a greater economic role, which lead to their greater independence. And the expansion of democracy, with its emphasis on liberty and individual choice, may also have stacked the deck for love matches.

    11. Different spheres
    Still, marriage wasn’t about equality until about 50 years ago. At that time, women and men had unique rights and responsibilities within marriage. For instance, in the United States, marital rape was legal in many states until the 1970s, and women often could not open credit cards in their own names, Coontz said. Women were entitled to support from their husbands, but didn’t have the right to decide on the distribution of community property. And if a wife was injured or killed, a man could sue the responsible party for depriving him of “services around the home,” whereas women didn’t have the same option, Coontz said.

    12. Partnership of equals
    By about 50 years ago, the notion that men and women had identical obligations within marriage began to take root. Instead of being about unique, gender-based roles, most partners conceived of their unions in terms of flexible divisions of labor, companionship, and mutual sexual attraction.

    13. Gay marriage gains ground
    Changes in straight marriage paved the way for gay marriage. Once marriage was not legally based on complementary, gender-based roles, gay marriage seemed like a logical next step.

    “One of the reasons for the stunningly rapid increase in acceptance of same sex marriage is because (many) heterosexuals have completely changed their notion of what marriage is between a man and a woman,” Coontz said. “We now believe it is based on love, mutual sexual attraction, equality and a flexible division of labor.”

    Stephanie text offers much to discern and discuss, respectfully. . . Marriage’s evolution towards a foundation of love seems to offer as much, if not more, grace, blessings and promise than most of the previous forms.

    To what ‘age’ and state of marriage would most wish to return?

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