The Politics of Gay Marriage
A Radically Centrist Christian Perspective
Gay Marriage is a hot political topic in the United States at the moment (Spring 2004). In some ways – as usual – I think both the Left and Right aren’t really being honest with themselves and each other what the real question is. This cries out for a solid radical middle treatment, and since several people have been asking me for one, I decided to attempt one here.
I think the principled Right is really worried about fact that traditional standards of morality are eroded, and are smelling victory in that this is one issue where public opinion tends to agree with them. Unfortunately, in order to win here they often end up effectively a) condoning homophobia and b) ignoring worse issues that are affecting marriage.
The principled Left is primarily worried about ending homophobia and allowing homosexuals to be be full members of society. They believe that legalizing gay marriage is necessary, if not sufficient, to normalize homosexuality. Of course, in so doing they often end up treating marriage as an arbitrary social convention, and ignoring any possible differences between homosexuality and heterosexuality.
Of course, the unprincipled Left and Right are happy to exploit the principled factions of their respective parties for political gain, which obscures things even further.
I believe the problem is that we’ve evolved to a point where both the Left and Right treat legality as the measure of morality, which is just silly. We need to split the debate about the practical issue of what the state should do about marriage, from the moral issue of whether homosexuality is “good.”
I think a true Radical Middle approach to the problem would start with Humility. The state has a responsibility to make decisions based on the information available to the larger community, while respecting the fact that different sub-communities may hold different views based on their unique experiences. Most importantly, the state needs to explicitly affirm it is not the ultimate arbiter of morality. Its role is to optimize public policy to maximize value for its citizens — and create an environment of moral growth where society as a whole can learn to cope more effectively with its problems.
To start with, why not have the state get out of the “marriage” debate altogether? The federal government could just define ‘domestic partnerships’ for tax and inheritance purposes, modeled on the rules for business partnerships, in the interest of civil stability. And explicitly encourage religious organizations to define their own policies and rules for marriage, not subject to governmental constraints.
Frankly, I think the Right would be better served, not by fighting the Left on this issue, but by coopting this issue to refocus the debate on how to truly support marriages and families. Things like:
- sponsoring credible, results-oriented research on the causes and cures of divorce, abuse, and illegitimate children
- adopting welfare, tax, education & labor policies designed to optimize healthy families
- requiring premarital exams for marriage licenses (like driver licenses)
- mobilize society to stigmatize/minimize marriage-destroying behaviors (e.g., pornography, alcoholism, credit card debt) – like we’ve done for smoking and drunk driving
In my opinion, a society which did these things would be far more marriage-friendly than one with a constitutional amendment to prevent Gay Marriage.
I also think the Right needs to rethink their whole attitude towards homosexuality. I don’t have time to justify it here, but I think the optimal perspective is to treat homosexuality as a disability, somewhere between deafness and alcoholism. All things being equal, heterosexuality is better than homosexuality (which the Left hates to admit). But all things are rarely equal, and many gay partnerships are far healthier than a significant fraction of straight couples (which the Right hates to admit). And a society where gays lived out the norms and values of socially-reinforced monogamy is far better (and thus worth encouraging) than one where they simply engage in unmitigated promiscuity.
I don’t know if liberal and fundamentalist Christians can adapt to this viewpoint. However, I believe the evangelical church, at least, has an opportunity and obligation to get over its cultural homophobia and blindness to create an environment where gays are comfortable attending church and hearing the gospel. Even if you take a strong stand that homosexuality is sinful, I believe the gospel obligates us to preach salvation to sinners, not require sinners to first give up their sins. In other societies with rampant polygamy or adultery, for example, most missionaries focus on first building an indigenous worshipping community, and then let the scriptures and Holy Spirit work on the hearts of converts to convict and heal them.
I think if evangelicals fully embraced, loved, and witnessed to homosexuals, we’d probably get a deeper understanding of marriage and be able to truly engage culture in a credible way. And maybe even find a way to really help homosexuals, if we truly believe that this condition isn’t God’s best for them.
Ernest N. Prabhakar, Ph.D.
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The radical centrist think-tank New America Foundation has several articles related to gay marriage: