GAY MARRIAGE AND ALL THAT: some muddled musings

I hesitate to handle this hot potato.  The best I can do so far is to toss it from hand to hand because it is so hot, and I’m not sure at the end of it how much I want to eat.  But it seems to me that there’s a lot of muddled thinking going on, not least my own – and this is partly because the discussion/argument is at different levels and layers, but people get them mixed up.

Here’s the question I am asking:  is marriage a category or is it a definition?  Is it a category, like ‘sport’?  Football, cricket, swimming etc – although very different from each other – can be put into the category of ‘sport’.  Using this as an analogy, and  if marriage is a category, then different kinds of relationship can be put into it.  Polygamous marriage, for  example, is relatively common amongst Muslims and allowed by Muhammad:  up to 4 wives, and provided each is treated equally.  So I could say that marriage is already a category, because it already contains different understandings of marriage.

On this argument, gay marriage is acceptable.  It is a different kind of marriage, but it can be included in the general category of ‘marriage’.

What are the criteria for belonging to this category?  The most often-repeated explanation is that if two people love each other, and are committed to one another with the intention of life-long faithfulness, then this is the basis for marriage.

By this reckoning, our government has just affirmed that marriage is a category, and not a definition.  The next logical step is for other sorts of loving relationship to be included in this category.  We had an example in the summer, with a 15-year-old schoolgirl running away with her teacher.  Paedophilia was the term used, but they didn’t see it that way.  They loved each other and wanted to be together.  What are the arguments for this kind of relationship not eventually being recognised as a form of marriage?

Likewise, with the multifarious relationships that people now inhabit, with children of one mother having different fathers in many cases, the chances are that at some stage the step-brothers and -sisters are going to fall in love with each other and want to be together.  This is still called incest, but what are the arguments for this also not eventually being recognised as a form of marriage?

People say that gay relationships used to be taboo, but now we know that they are for some people normal and natural, so they should not be taboo any more.  But is this the only reason for recognising gay marriage – that it is high time we took a more humane view and broke the taboo?

What are the reasons for breaking the taboo?  We surely need to have some, otherwise we’re in danger of saying that we should break the taboo only because it is taboo.  The logical next step in this argument is to start saying that other so-far taboo relationships should also be allowed.

I’m not making the argument against gay marriage here.  But I am raising the questions that occur to me as I listen to the arguments in favour.

If however marriage is a definition, then that is a different ball-game.  In sport,  cricket is cricket and can’t be football, because it is different by its nature, and plays to different rules.  If you take a bat and start  hitting a large ball into a net, that doesn’t make cricket football.  And vice-versa.  Applying this to marriage, if the definition of marriage is a man and a woman in a loving committed and faithful relationship, usually in the hope of having children, then this is what it is.  No amount of saying that it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, is going to make any difference.

So where does this get me?  I’m still not sure.  I think I’ll try another approach.

Many of the arguments seem to be about whether marriage is a God-given ordinance, natural law, both or neither or something else.  It seems to me that marriage is a social construct.  Ever since humans started to multiply on the planet, they have always had relationships of various kinds and sexualities.  Not all have been called marriage, but the idea of a man and a woman or women living together for procreation is common to every culture.

Where does the Christian church come into all this?  We surely can’t make rules for people who are not of our persuasion.  But the church has followed Judaism, our spiritual forebear, in bringing human relationships into our understanding of who God is.  Interestingly, the Old Testament allows for polygamy which was practised by such patriarchs and kings as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon.  I think this had largely died out by New Testament times (I need to check), and then came the very strong teaching, especially by Paul, on the church as the bride of Christ, and how this is the pattern for Christian marriage.

It seems to me that the church’s part in all this is to decide where it stands, and stick to it.  That of course is much easier said than done in my Anglican denomination.  The vast majority of Christendom worldwide, the Orthodox and Catholic denominations, already stand firm on this definition of marriage and are not going to change their minds.  Sometimes it feels as if we Anglicans are in a small boat heading for the straits with the Scylla of secular society on one side, demanding to know what the fuss is about;  and the Charybdis of our fellow Christians demanding that we stand with them on the ground of our historic faith.

Being Anglicans, some people are leaping into Scylla’s arms saying we should reflect the views of secular society more:  and some into those of Charybdis, saying they are fed up with our shilly-shallying and are going to denominations with more certainty and more security.

That leaves the rest of us tied to the mast (yes, I know, that was for the sirens!) hoping that the ship will make it through – but not being quite sure where – or how –  we will come out.  This doesn’t bother me too much, as the church has always had upheavals, but it does bother others, very much indeed.

And then I wonder if this isn’t too dramatic an image?  Sometimes it seems much more like a Mad Hatter’s tea-party, with the Red Queen of the traditionalists shouting ‘off with their head’ to everyone who disagrees:  the Mad Hatter asking questions nobody has the answer to:  the dormouse of indifference:  and myself as Alice, trying to follow it all, and wondering all the time what God thinks.

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12 thoughts on “GAY MARRIAGE AND ALL THAT: some muddled musings

  1. Judaism nowadays has different movements. There’s the orthodox, the conservative, ther reform and the reconstructionist. There’s probably more which I’m not aware of. The less orthodox a movement is the more tolerant is its practices and its inclusion of women and homosexuals. There are many women Rabbis and acceptance of homosexuals except in the orthodox community. I personally know some lesbian Rabbis. As to the gay marriage issue, I don’t have any issue with people doing what they want, as long as they don’t hurt other people, dogs, cats and living creatures. I don’t consider it my business, as I don’t view marriage a God’s institution. Since Hitler had the same feelings about Jews and homosexuals (they should be erased from the face of the earth), I have strong conviction about the rights of other people.

    I appreciate the fact that you even engage in this discussion and struggle with the issue.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Rachel. Always interesting! I find ‘not hurting others’ a slippery concept – it’s not always possible to see how or whether others – or indeed ourselves – are going to be hurt, or not, in the long term.

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  2. Taking football as an example, As our football matches have always been between two teams of Men or Women per se (as marriage has always been between men and women), the rules I think have changed to let Men and Women play against each other (men and men in marriage). The football composition hasn’t changed, just the components 😉 However, i don’t like the idea of gay marriage at all.

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    1. I believe in Afghanistan there is a strong culture of older men with younger boys, which is considered acceptable there, whereas we would see it as paedophilia. My questions are really about what criteria we are using to make our judgements.

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  3. Oh dear, a narrow view may be *the* view or no view; Where does the understanding of the broad spectrum life come into it? It’s another question full of pitfalls like the hot potato you are tossing about between your hands, GillyK, and close on its heels are the opposing factors of intolerance and tolerance.

    I would venture to suggest that a definition is man-made and altered with time and circumstance, just as some religious codes and rules are. Not all are globally accepted and dissension can simmer through…yet another issue. Man is fallible, mores are too.

    Regarding incest;I am not aware of support for change to total acceptance of it as one of society’s norms.

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    1. No, there is no support at present, but with the huge rise in half-siblings, this will soon present as a conundrum, and I wonder what criteria will be used to make the judgement.

      As for tolerance – I think it can be applied to decisions and/or principles, but I find it a slippery concept, insufficient on its own for making informed judgements. I observe that those who insist on tolerance in one direction are very often intolerant in others. I appreciate your comments.

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  4. Since I am not a Christian, nor an Anglican, I think it’s best that I don’t offer any opinions. I am just making this comment so I will get notifications of other comments on this post. But I did like you comparison to what is cricket, and what isn’t… and I’m quite curious to hear where we’ll go from there.

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      1. I don’t know. I am just an orthodox Jew, and I don’t keep up with the other schools of thought. Within my narrow world there is just one opinion on this subject.

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