I’ve resisted the temptation to write about gay marriage for quite some time, firstly because I’m not gay and secondly because I have been married and divorced more than once, thus disqualifying me experientially, morally and ethically from engaging with the issues it raises.
Quite a number of the historic denominations seem more concerned with being inclusive than being the ‘church’, whatever certainty this presupposes. I don’t think that we have much idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving and, of course, it’s a necessary strategy for survival in what is denominationally a buyers’ market; it’s a smorgasbord of intellectual and social paradigms out there and one size doesn’t fit all. Furthermore, the inclusive church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between gay people.
When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, some ministers think it’s mandatory to ask if they love one another. The couple dutifully admits that they do – if they said otherwise, the priest or whoever might have serious doubts about joining them together, especially if the denominational slant is sacramental. But, in truth, how would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is offering the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which we can look back and call all those collective decisions, hopes and fears ‘love’. It is a hard discipline over many years and some of us weren’t, it seems, quite up to the task.
The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, for socially advantageous or politically expedient reasons, just like a lot of other religious practices, Christians married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony, and they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t ‘know’ one another. Where does all this ‘love’ come from? As the song says “what’s love got to do with it…” They could have sex because they were married, not, as is the case today, with whomever and whenever they felt like it.
Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling, carrying with it a transcendent holiness that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because quite a lot of self-confessed so-called Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.
What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters with the requisite honesty so as not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental lies. We have become serial polygamists, confused about whom we’re allowed to sleep with and who we’re not. We’re confused about our reasons for having children and the moral relativism which we practice is justifiable in the broader ethical context in which we find ourselves. It would be surprising indeed in such a climate if gay marriage legislation actually failed.
If you were expecting me to come out firmly on one side or the other, sorry to disappoint. I make no judgement on horrifying Levitical pronouncements – I am not sufficiently qualified to do so, neither am I qualified to demand certainty in the face of moral confusion. The whole purpose of intellectual wrestling is that sometimes, the two protagonists are locked in inertial combat, where neither appears to be moving. My hope is that some internally fruitful debate is produced.
My thanks to Stanley Hauerwas for some of his thoughts.