It is interesting to observe theologians and government officials debate the two subjects we're usually well advised to avoid discussing: religion and politics. When the issue they're debating is homosexual marriage, it is even more fascinating.
Politicians are supposed to steer clear of things sexual and God knows, so are clergymen - who additionally are supposed to stay out of politics. Yet, here we are in the great debate about legalizing the union of same-sex couples, and it should surprise no one that all the sermons and speeches advanced in an attempt to appear out-front and leader-like seem merely to pander to emotions as they circle the issue.
Perfectly sober people who have degrees in law or theology and who know for a fact that we are Constitutionally protected against a union of Church and State tell us that homosexual marriage is immoral because the Bible says it is. Well, if this is still the land of the free and the home of the brave homosexual marriage is not immoral because the Bible says it is.
The legalization of homosexual marriage is a civil matter and the Bible may or may not influence those lawmakers who accept the Bible's moral guidance; but if they do use the Bible as a guide, they ought to keep the source of their opinions to themselves. If a Muslim member of Congress voted for or against a Bill because the Koran dictated that he should do so, there would be blood in the streets.
Likewise, the folks who consider themselves Keepers of the Flame of Compassion - so benign and generous as they skewer every 'bigot' who disagrees with them -insist that homosexuals have a perfect right to become legal spouses. There is no such right in existence today, perfect or imperfect. What they seek, then, is a civil change in status, i.e., new laws that will grant a new right.
But only the electorate has the power to grant such a right and the electorate does not seem inclined to do so.
A variety of polls and state referenda have made it clear that while people are not opposed to same-sex adults living together, and believe that what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms is their own business, and who further concede that a couple who has formed a permanent domestic bond should be entitled to such benefits as accrue to heterosexual unions, i.e., social security survivor benefits, medical insurance coverage, income tax breaks; and so on, they are still strongly opposed to state-sanctioned marriage between such individuals. While everyone can more or less understand the how and the why a person of one sex can be attracted to a person of the same sex, few want to see the legalization of this union. There is an instinctive opposition to granting this right; but though it is seldom articulated, this gut feeling is what is driving the reluctance. And not without reason has this voiceless instinct kicked-in.
In order to discuss a subject we have to confront those who are opposed to the honest appraisal of it. And when it comes to this particular subject, calm rational appraisals are nowhere to be found.
People who want to legalize same-sex marriage, and who believe that they are taking the high moral ground in doing so, excoriate those who oppose such legalization. Every questionable act of sexual indiscretion made by opponents and/or their family members is dragged out as if to charge hypocrisy. "How can George Bush insist that marriage is between a man and a woman when Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian!" The irony seems to be lost as the proponents hang "in-or-out-of-closet" homosexuals on family trees, hoping to watch them twist slowly, slowly in the wind just to embarrass their opponents.
Those who oppose legalization of same-sex marriage are equally savage in their criticisms of the proponents. They blindly drill down through strata of clerical sexual misconduct, both of married and of celibate clergy, just to reach enough gay-bashing fuel to fill a few lamps to light our way to a divinely ordained heterosexual heaven.
We have to ignore all the defense mechanisms, the posturing, the holier-than-thou rationalizations and the convenient scriptural injunctions. The rhetoric makes for interesting drama, but it doesn't provide any insight into the fundamental conflict. It is the people's instinctive reluctance, their natural reticence to reject the proposal, that we may find rational solutions.
Years ago in a conversation with a few members of our county ministerial society the pastor of a large Protestant church expressed his concern about the amount of money and other 'consideration' that frequently went into a marriage contract. He had just officiated at the wedding of an elderly member of his congregation to a teenage girl. Someone in the group asked if she was a "mail-order" bride. He gave an "I wish" look and said, "No. I'm sure it involved the settlement of a family debt - but nobody would admit to it." He had individually called the parties aside and discussed the worrisome disparity in age. They both claimed to be in love. "The groom assured me that it was a May - December romance and I said, 'May of 1990 and December of l950.'" Everyone laughed but each of us knew it wasn't really funny. We stood around swapping marriage horror stories and it occurred to us that, aside from a few elderly "befuddled" unions and "Green Card Valentines," all of them, without exception, involved juvenile coercion or juvenile misjudgment. In any discussion of homosexual marriage this is the one issue that needs to be addressed.
Among the many forms of coercion we discussed that day was the pressure applied to fulfill arranged marriages. A variety of immigrant cultures provide for the "purchase" or "down payment" ("Layaway" would be more like it) of a bride or groom. Children who have not yet learned to tie their shoes are betrothed in marriage to other children. Money changes hands. All the legal requirements of a contract are met: the instrument is signed and dated, its purpose enjoys a meeting of the adult minds at least, and consideration is given and accepted. The simple fact that someone's future has become a kind of commodity is irrelevant. The culture has some inane words of wisdom to nullify objections: "The key to happiness consists not in marrying the woman you love, but in loving the woman you marry." Sure. And then the parties of the first and second parts go off and ride a tricycle and braid a Barbie doll's hair while they wait for puberty.
Ten years or so later the wedding celebration occurs and whether or not the bride and groom are in the "old" country or in the U.S. makes no difference. So much pressure is brought to bear on the pair that many do not even consider breaking the contract. They may be madly in love with others or they may find each other repulsive. No matter. Sometimes one of the parties dies or is otherwise unavailable and a substitution is made - an old uncle for a young groom. No matter. There is a wedding. If one or both of the parties is underage, the parents will sign the license application and only the possibility of pregnancy allays the concern of the officiating cleric. Shotgun weddings come in all varieties.
Even more distressing are the religious cults which surface with alarming regularity in the United States. Cult elders, who seem always to have a fondness for virgins, will consummate marriages to brides who've been thoroughly brain- washed into believing that they're privileged to have been chosen for the honor. When the cult practices polygamy (as most do) the male participants may do an end run around laws against polygamy by legally marrying only their first wife and letting subsequent wives gain their marital status through religious ceremonies. Occasionally, a series of young legal brides is facilitated by a series of divorces. Statutory rape charges are neatly avoided; and the young women and their children enter the welfare rolls, as geographically isolated from public scrutiny as they are insulated from public opinion by their own firewall of religious "exclusivity" fervor.
Signing away a brainwashed minor's rights is not so difficult as people might suppose. Any social worker can tell of many mothers who, when faced with the prospects of losing or antagonizing a husband or lover, will look the other way when he makes sexual demands upon a daughter - regardless of the girl's age. And if that sacrifice is so easily accomplished we ought not be surprised to discover how quickly a parental imprimatur is placed upon a license to commit child abuse. Sex, money, religious fanaticism are great facilitators; and when it comes to minors and marriage licenses as little is required to obtain judicial compliance as it is to promote parental enthusiasm.
But even conscientious parents of sexually active teenagers will likely prefer teenage marriage to unwed parenthood or abortion or even the immorality and health dangers of reckless promiscuity. But that the law is so accommodating to teen-age marriage is, however, due entirely to the biological facts of reproduction.
States are inclined to give the right to marry to those to whom nature gave the power to reproduce. And in continuing protection of that child come ancillary provisions for financial child-support. The system is not perfect, but it is the best we have. If we could wave a hand and by some magical gesture remove all sexual desire from human beings under the age of eighteen, we would all be outside in the streets flapping our arms.
So we give our reluctant permission for youngsters to marry. The father of the bride may let the groom know that he has already "damaged" his little girl as much as paternity will tolerate. Dad will be nearby to protect his daughter, but the groom knows that ultimately, so long as he doesn't commit a battery upon his bride, he has the law on his side.
Pedophile teachers can lose their licenses and be jailed; pedophile priests can be defrocked and jailed. But pedophile husbands can laugh "all the way to the boudoir."
Human nature is not always predictable. But one thing that we can bet the farm on is that the day the electorate discovers that parents and some accommodating justice of the peace have approved the marriage of a teenage boy - a boy who ought to be playing shortstop in a sandlot league but is instead lying beyond the reach of the law in some ageing pedophile's bed... a grotesque bride to all but the perverted - well, that is the day that the homosexual community ought to fear. For on that day... the day that "marriage horror stories" include the legal sodomizing of coerced kids... is a day that there will be one horrendous backlash against the gay community.
Homosexuals who desire the rights and privileges of marriage - especially those persons who want to raise children and be complete family units - will surely see that it is in their interest, too, to prevent the exploitation of children.
And it is for this reason that any proposal to change the civil code ought to begin with an acknowledgment that since "same-sex equality" by definition excludes the need for "pregnancy possibility" that accommodates underage heterosexual marriage applicants, same-sex marriages ought to be limited to consenting adults.
Last modified: July 11, 2004
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