Making Something LEGAL is NOT the same as Making Something MANDATORY

I was reading this article this morning about folks hoping to promote the passage of a bill to deny homosexuals the right to marry in California by fasting for 40 days (by means of no solid foods for 40 days).  While I was pondering the food related aspects of fasting for 40 freaking days, I also was thinking about my feelings on the social stance these folks were trying to promote. 

Alarmed by a California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, churches of many faiths have banded together in support of a measure that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Let me state a few things right off the bat.  I am Christian and a member of a local UCC church.  What I write about acceptance of the self in regards to size and other societal groupings is written with this religious background coloring my world-perspective lens.  And I find it very difficult to believe that those of us who believe in Jesus or Christianity in any of its varied forms could truly want to meddle so much in something so trivial and bearing so little on our own lives as the permission for two people of any gender to share the civil benefits of the state of “marriage”.  I find it REALLY hard to believe that God cares if two people who love each other and want to join together to share the love He has gifted our lives with, happen to both have a penis or both have a vagina.  And besides this, who are we all to mind business other than our own??

What really gets me though, and what I feel most people (regardless of their view on the topic of homosexual marriage might be) could see as problematic as well, is that the fear that seems to fill those seeking a ban on gay marriage rights (or other rights as I will explore a bit further down) is an irrational fear that making something LEGAL will mean EVERYONE WILL START DOING IT!  What problem could someone have with OTHERS choosing to live their lives out as they wish, with making it legal for two people to form a union?  IS it the fear that making it LEGAL will make people feel they HAVE to do it?  That someone THEY know might decide to up and become gay and go get married??!? Because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t pan out this way.  Making something LEGAL does not mean it has become MANDATORY.  Making it legal for any two people to marry is not the same as a legal mandate that now EVERYONE must only marry people of the same gender so it doesn’t affect your OWN ability to marry or stay married to who you want! 

Giving people RIGHTS does not take away from your own.  Respecting that people can love who they want and get the same civil benefits as any other two people who choose to marry is not going to erode the state of marriage.  God does not hate when people love.  Perhaps in someones mindset He* does but I choose not to believe that if there IS an overarching deity who has had a hand in creating this existence of ours, that it would be a malevolent being of hatred and fear and loathing for differences.  I believe that accepting yourself and the reality that others ARE NOT THE SAME AS YOU and that is OKAY is part and parcel of accepting religion.  Demanding equal rights to all, in ALL things, is a part of this acceptance; it does not work AGAINST faith.

Similarly, and how this all ties back into food and size-acceptance; making it legal to respect people as human beings regardless of their size, shape, color, beliefs, gender, ability, age, etc is NOT the same as mandating that you must also BE any of those same sizes, shapes, etc.  Just as making it legal to marry someone of the same sex DOES NOT mean you HAVE to marry someone of the same sex; making it illegal to discriminate against someone for being FAT does not mean you have to BE fat.  Okay?  We’re not here crying out for justice to make everyone “JUST LIKE US”.  We’re trying to open the world to the realization that we are NOT all the same.

No one in the push for social justice is trying to change who YOU are.  The push is for everyone to accept that not every “I” will be the same as “you” and that is OKAY.  No particular sexual orientation or size or physical attribute makes ANYONE better or more entitled than the rest of the population.  Giving every one of the multitudinous varieties of human existence in this world the SAME rights would only serve to make us all more capable of the kind of loving progressing that has been set before us.

That is what I believe and you might disagree.  I am encouraged though by one of the quotes in the article which sparked this reflection; one that shows perhaps we are not all that far off from realizing as a social whole (particularly from a religious front) that equality was not meant for suffering.

“Everybody understands that Jesus, in his own culture, was notorious and persecuted for consorting with outcasts,” said the Rev. Peter Laarman, a United Church of Christ minister who opposes the gay marriage ban. “When Jesus said all are welcome at the table, I think he really meant all.”  (Emphasis mine)

As do I.  Which is why I think I have such a reaction of deep sadness when religion; particularly my religion; is used to try and support a denial of rights and acceptance to any particular group.  Oh, and FYI, you’re ALL welcome at my table.  Yes, even if you disagree with me.  And I think we’re having roast chicken tonight.  Yum.


*He, for those wondering, I use only in the generic sense of “He/She/It” as I believe that God is all genders and no genders.  He is also all sizes, all shapes.  How could He create the bounty of human variety we see in the world in HIS IMAGE if he were NOT all things?  No size, no shape, no color, no creed, no physical condition is an offense to the Love of one who would choose to create such a vast variety in his image.  WE need to learn to accept our variety as part of His greater plan.


17 thoughts on “Making Something LEGAL is NOT the same as Making Something MANDATORY

  1. It’s really nice to hear someone say–yes, I am religious, and I am for social justice because of it (versus of, in spite of it, or not caring at all).

  2. I also think a lot of religious groups don’t understand that legal acceptance and recognition of same-sex marriages does not in any way obligate them to perform said marriages.

    Interfaith and interracial marriages are absolutely legal in all states. It is up to each church to determine whether or not they will hold the ceremonies. Making same-sex marriages legal simply requires that if two legally competant single people above the age of consent wish to marry, someone must perform the ceremony. That person may or may not be the person they prefer. Any church right now can refuse to marry two people whose relationship they disapprove of, or because they think the couple isn’t committed enough, or because they find the way the couple wish to carry out the ceremony inappropriate.

    Again, legal does not make for mandatory.

    After all, smoking cigarettes, playing poker, owning rental property, and having plastic surgery are all legal. I’ve never done any of these things. That hasn’t stopped anyone else, and those who do them have never forced them on me.

  3. I used to think exactly what you’re saying, and then I started to look into some of the arguments on their side, and why gender matters so very, very much.

    And now I think that gay marriage *is* a real threat to what a lot of conservatives believe about marriage, in that to them, marriage is conceived around and, as an institution, depends upon fairly rigidly inscribed gender roles. After all, it’s not an accident that marriage vows have traditionally had the woman agree to love and *obey* her husband, and it’s not an accident that, for through the 1800s, marriage meant coverture, with the woman losing all rights to property and legal personhood upon marriage.

    If two men or two women get married, their union doesn’t allow for an easy division according to gender roles (and it’s notable that many people who’re unfamiliar with gay relationships ask, “So which one of you is the man/woman?” as if those roles are absolutely *necessary*).

    Homophobia and misogyny are tightly, tightly bound, and I think we won’t get very far at all in understanding conservative (especially Christian conservative) objections to gay marriage if we insist that it won’t change their lives if two gay people marry.

    It will, and maybe it should.

    Those who fear gay marriage often desperately wish to return to a time of more “traditional” gender roles–a time of legal and personal subservience of women to men.

    Or, to put it another way, the call for gay marriage at this moment is happening because, like it or not, heterosexual marriage roles and gender roles are changing and women are more autonomous than they have been in the past.

    And I, for one, think that’s a great thing.

  4. I’m quoting David Blankenhorn on the LA Times recently. I agree with everything he’s said here (except for the part about being a liberal democrat. These days, I’m an eco-centrist, political independent with conservative social values.)
    I’m a liberal Democrat. And I do not favor same-sex marriage. Do those positions sound contradictory? To me, they fit together.

    Many seem to believe that marriage is simply a private love relationship between two people. They accept this view, in part, because Americans have increasingly emphasized and come to value the intimate, emotional side of marriage, and in part because almost all opinion leaders today, from journalists to judges, strongly embrace this position. That’s certainly the idea that underpinned the California Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

    But I spent a year studying the history and anthropology of marriage, and I’ve come to a different conclusion.

    Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving, and many of its features vary across groups and cultures. But there is one constant. In all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood. Among us humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.

    In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its next generation. Marriage (and only marriage) unites the three core dimensions of parenthood — biological, social and legal — into one pro-child form: the married couple. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and a father, accountable to the child and to each other.

    These days, because of the gay marriage debate, one can be sent to bed without supper for saying such things. But until very recently, almost no one denied this core fact about marriage. Summing up the cross-cultural evidence, the anthropologist Helen Fisher in 1992 put it simply: “People wed primarily to reproduce.” The philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell, certainly no friend of conventional sexual morality, was only repeating the obvious a few decades earlier when he concluded that “it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.”

    Marriage is society’s most pro-child institution. In 2002 — just moments before it became highly unfashionable to say so — a team of researchers from Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center, reported that “family structure clearly matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.”

    All our scholarly instruments seem to agree: For healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other.

    For these reasons, children have the right, insofar as society can make it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. The foundational human rights document in the world today regarding children, the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically guarantees children this right. The last time I checked, liberals like me were supposed to be in favor of internationally recognized human rights, particularly concerning children, who are typically society’s most voiceless and vulnerable group. Or have I now said something I shouldn’t?

    Every child being raised by gay or lesbian couples will be denied his birthright to both parents who made him. Every single one. Moreover, losing that right will not be a consequence of something that at least most of us view as tragic, such as a marriage that didn’t last, or an unexpected pregnancy where the father-to-be has no intention of sticking around. On the contrary, in the case of same-sex marriage and the children of those unions, it will be explained to everyone, including the children, that something wonderful has happened!

    For me, what we are encouraged or permitted to say, or not say, to one another about what our society owes its children is crucially important in the debate over initiatives like California’s Proposition 8, which would reinstate marriage’s customary man-woman form. Do you think that every child deserves his mother and father, with adoption available for those children whose natural parents cannot care for them? Do you suspect that fathers and mothers are different from one another? Do you imagine that biological ties matter to children? How many parents per child is best? Do you think that “two” is a better answer than one, three, four or whatever? If you do, be careful. In making the case for same-sex marriage, more than a few grown-ups will be quite willing to question your integrity and goodwill. Children, of course, are rarely consulted.

    The liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously argued that, in many cases, the real conflict we face is not good versus bad but good versus good. Reducing homophobia is good. Protecting the birthright of the child is good. How should we reason together as a society when these two good things conflict?

    Here is my reasoning. I reject homophobia and believe in the equal dignity of gay and lesbian love. Because I also believe with all my heart in the right of the child to the mother and father who made her, I believe that we as a society should seek to maintain and to strengthen the only human institution — marriage — that is specifically intended to safeguard that right and make it real for our children.

    Legalized same-sex marriage almost certainly benefits those same-sex couples who choose to marry, as well as the children being raised in those homes. But changing the meaning of marriage to accommodate homosexual orientation further and perhaps definitively undermines for all of us the very thing — the gift, the birthright — that is marriage’s most distinctive contribution to human society. That’s a change that, in the final analysis, I cannot support.

    [David Blankenhorn is president of the New York-based Institute for American Values and the author of “The Future of Marriage.”]

  5. Many religious groups also believe that homosexuality is a choice, and not biological, so gays and lesbians should not be allowed to marry because they choose their lifestyle, one which does not allow for natural procreation.

    My personal belief is that gay couples should be allowed to marry. They will not destroy the “sanctity of marriage” any more than the thousands of heterosexual couples who have already done so whether it be by committing adultery, getting married in a drunken stupor while in Las Vegas, through domestic violence, etc.

    Sadly, too many Christians have abandoned “Do unto others as you would do unto yourself,” in favor of “Do unto others only if they believe and act like you do.” Not to mention “Mind your own business.”

  6. I’ve been reading for just a few days so I’ve hardly had time to become a lurker. I’ve got some fat on me too, but not enough for most of this blog to feel as personally relevant as it does to many. So I may not have much to say here, but I’ll read at least for awhile, because you may not really need to hear anything I might say about fat, but I probably need to hear what you have to say. Then I can go out and talk about it with other people who need to hear what I learn from you more than you do.

    I am a lesbian (more or less), however, and your post made me want to try to think through the fear you wrote about.

    In order for homosexuality to be a sin, it must be right for no one, in any circumstances. In which case, queer (or GLBTQQGIP…whatever-sexual-or-vaguely-sexually-related-nonconforming) people cannot be really innately, healthfully queer: they must be people who ought to be straight but have been somehow tainted with queerness. If that’s true, then being straight doesn’t exempt you from being gay–it’s as possible for you as for the people who have already fallen. Which is scary, because this whole thing is predicated on gay sex as a sin and because, well, the thought of having sex with someone you aren’t attracted to at all tends to be fairly squicky. The thought that you might someday find that you actually, on some level, are tempted to do that squicky thing is even scarier.

    So lets try this: having sex with people you aren’t attracted to is bad. Maybe even a sin if you think in those terms. Exclusively straight people, don’t sleep with people of your own sex/gender. Exclusively homosexual people, don’t sleep with people who are not of your own sex/gender. Everyone else, pay attention to who you’re attracted to and if you’re not, don’t.

    Much simpler, except that it means giving up quite a bit of privilege and all the mental and emotional work that goes into realizing that no, really, the right answers are not the same for everyone.

  7. I think that if a church (or other house of worship) refused to perform an interracial marriage between two people who were members in good standing of that religion, they might be open to civil lawsuits. Because that would be discriminating on the basis of racial/ethnic identity, which is illegal even for houses of worship.

    However, a church or other house of worship which held the belief that same-sex sex is against the tenets of their doctrines would not be required to marry a same-sex couple, because they would not be discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation–they would be restricting their religious rituals to members in good standing of their denomination, which is permitted.

  8. Thanks everyone for reading and adding your thoughts. I love reading all these ideas and feedback. There are actually a couple other comments still in moderation that I won’t be able to get to (they are long!) until Tuesday or Monday night as I’m heading out of town but I will continue to read and approve things as soon as I can because these are some very well thought out reflections that I look forward to discussing!

  9. Kay I disagree whole-heartedly with the statement that marriage is primarily a license to have children. Marriage is a legal status. It can also be a spiritual bond. In this day and age of single parents, divorced and re-married couples and adopted families I can’t think of how offensive it is to all of these different types of families to insist that only a religiously married couple has the right (and obligation) to have children.

    However, that religious belief has nothing to do with the right of two individuals to obtain the legal status of marriage.

  10. I’m a Christian, not a homophobic, have homosexual friends, but I’m against gay marriage.

    God makes it clear in the Bible that a marriage is defined between a man and a women. Every time marriage is mentioned, it is referred to as wife and husband.

    I’m not sure how as a Christian, you can generalize it in your statement here:

    “I find it REALLY hard to believe that God cares if two people who love each other and want to join together to share the love He has gifted our lives with, happen to both have a penis or both have a vagina. And besides this, who are we all to mind business other than our own??”

    Well, you might not believe it, but it’s biblical.

    If you’re a Christian and want to base your beliefs therefore on the Bible, please provide biblical backing rather than a simple idea that “you find it hard to believe”. That can open a good discussion based on theology, not mere feelings about difficulty to believe it.

    I ask this very cordially and politely, yet frankly, so please don’t take it as sarcasm.

  11. Okay, my turn. I’m also a Christian and I am opposed to gay marriages for two reasons. They will probably seem weak to many, but here goes:

    1. God does care about this issue and has communicated to us exactly how He feels about it. We don’t have to guess at His position. The Bible (take it or leave it) makes it clear in the Old and New Testament (Leviticus 18:22 & Romans 1:27, respectively) that homosexuality is outside the boundaries of correct sexual activity. Feel free to check it out for yourselves to ensure I haven’t taken it out of context.

    2. Marriages that are made up of homosexual members that become legalized will see itself placed on an equal footing with standard man-woman marriages. It is my belief that our country was founded on Christian principles found in the Bible and as such, our laws should reflect that today. As a Christian, I love every person, and don’t cast stones, because God doesn’t “rate” sins. The sin of shoplifting is on the same level of a murderer. All sin drives a wedge between us and the God who created us, and I sin everyday, despite my desire to not do so. Therefore, when I communicate with homosexuals, it is never in a “holier than thou” way, because I have my own mistakes to worry with.

  12. To both Cohesive Faith and Steve I wanted to also just point out that while the Bible is the cornerstone guiding the Christian Faith, it IS still a compilation of words written down by man. It is not as infallable as God since the hands of man, however dedicated and faithful they may have been, were vitally a part of its creation.

    Also, if we were to follow each and every doctrine, with no room for interpretation as I believe the bible should and often is used, as closely as you wish to follow Leviticus and Romans for their specific denoucement of homosexual relations, then I’m afraid that poor Steve is going to have to start chopping off hands and carving out eyes to keep with the “So if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your body parts than to have your whole body thrown into hell.” portion of the bible. If you want to cling so fervently to a portion of the bible which supports your dislike for gay marriage, how can you throw out an equally vivid call such as Matthew’s above?

    All that I am saying is that the bible needs to take a role as guiding our faith, not as being an unchangeable doctrine from which no room for adjustment as the world around us grows and changes. And this might be directly counter to how both of you believe. We’ll have to agree to disagree; I’m not trying to say my way is better, just perhaps less restrictive and hurtful.

    It is one thing to think that the tenements of the faith call for no ceremony to join two people in marriage. It is another to feel that this belief should also be extended to the legal sphere and force itself upon the civil rights of all people regardless of faith.

    And those are my own thoughts.

  13. I’ll leave my last reply on this subject.

    I think your logic of saying, since Jesus spoke in hyperboles at times (cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye) doesn’t mean that ALL of what’s in the Bible is hyperbole open to interpretation.

    I think it would only take common sense to deduce that the above verses in Matthew are hyperbole while the issue of marriage and homosexuality is not addressed as such.

    I think you are entitled to your own opinion, but you should not “stamp it approved” as a Christian stance, since it’s not backed by the Bible.

    Also, if you’re going to just be very open and interpretative about all parts of the Bible according to how you want it to be, then you probably aren’t stating that it’s an authority over your life.

    just a quote from Romans 1:

    24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

  14. sorry, correction on this paragraph – bad grammar while in a rush:

    “Just because Jesus spoke in hyperboles at times (cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye), it doesn’t mean that ALL of what’s in the Bible is hyperbole open to interpretation.”

  15. Hi again cohesivefaith.

    “Just because Jesus spoke in hyperboles at times (cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye), it doesn’t mean that ALL of what’s in the Bible is hyperbole open to interpretation.”

    So, at what point do you decide what IS and what ISN’T open to interpretation? How do you decide that one bit of hyperbole is less important than the next in this day and age?

    I’m not just using my own opinion as a stamp of approval saying “This is how the whole faith is”. I have indicated that there are many versions of the christian faith, and many individual ways to live within each of those branches; this is my individual stance within the faith, one that the Rev Laarman from above pointed out can be nestled within the loving arms of the UCC.

    You did say you were just responding once more. I do not want to discourage discussion and would welcome you back to write again. If you do stop by again I’d encourage you to take a look at the discussions here: which are far more articulate at pulling up the finer points I’ve tried to address here; namely that the bible should not be used as a means to deny the rite of marriage (one which far outdates chrisitanity) to anyone.

    Blessings! 🙂

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