Ben Buchwalter

The Human Side of Marriage
December 9, 2008, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights

In Iowa today, the debate rages over the rights of gay men and women to marry. Iowa’s Supreme Court is hearing an appeal to a district judge’s decision to declare the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The Assistant Polk County Attorney Roger Kuhle argued that the decision should be overturned because “fostering same-sex marriage will harm the institution of marriage as we know it. […] It’s not going to happen tomorrow. We’re not going to see any changes tomorrow, next week, next year, in our generation. But you’ve got to look to the future.”

Yes, saying that gays will “harm” marriage is going too far, but as divorce rates and adultery continue to skyrocket, a change in the institution of marriage could be the shot of energy needed to revive the practice.

But where does this definition of the virtuous, unblemished “institution of marriage” come from? Many Americans have an idea that the Bible clearly and succinctly says that men should not marry men and that women should not marry women. And if this law is disobeyed, then the heavens will reign down on the earth in violent fervor… or something like that.

Well that simply is not true, as documented by Lisa Miller of Newsweek in an article urging a religious, pro-family openness to gay marriage. Her argument is based on two truths. First, the Bible is a largely antiquated document, many sections of which have already been debunked by changing historical standards:


The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours. 

Second, Miller says that the Bible simply does not state explicitly that gays should not marry. Granted, it does not seem thrilled with the idea, but the religious opposition to gay marriage comes primarily from common practice:


Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument). Common prayers and rituals reflect our common practice: the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer describes the participants in a marriage as “the man and the woman.” But common practice changes—and for the better, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. 

Surprisingly, an article criticizing fervent opponents to Proposition 8 published in Creators also says that the anti-gay arguments attributed to the Bible are overblown:

The fact is that nowhere in the Bible are homosexuals called “an abomination.” And no one, beyond one sick fringe family that has no standing in any religious community, refers to gays as “abominations.” On the contrary, religious opponents of same-sex marriage always speak of “hating the sin, not the sinner.

Well, ostracizing gays for the sin of loving who they love still seems pretty far-fetched, but the article supports the point that anti-gay sentiments come more from tradition than from the Bible.

So when it comes to states like Iowa and California, courts and legislatures need to think not about the Bible or antiquated conceptions of marriage and morality. They need to think about what humans need most from their families and friends to be successful. And Miller explains those needs very well:

More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good—and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this.


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