In 2005, Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, legalizing same-sex marriage. This was the final step in a debate that slowly swept through the provinces, with some provinces recognizing same-sex marriage as early as 2001. Through the long battle towards marriage equality here, lines were drawn between politicians and religious groups on either side of a seemingly impassable void. The agreement that was eventually struck was that civil marriages were legally available to both same- and opposite-sex couples, but religious institutions continue to have the choice to perform or not perform marriages, as per their individual beliefs. But even then the law was still in jeopardy, as several Conservative motions in the House of Commons sought to re-open the debate, until Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed the case was closed.
Now in 2013, the United States are facing a similar decision. The Supreme Court of the United States is now addressing the constitutional legality of the 1996 law DOMA, Defence of Marriage Act, which codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages, restricting legally recognized marriages to being only between people of opposite sex. Many groups in the States argue this law intrudes on the lawful ability of individual states to recognize same-sex marriage, a view that some of the federal justices seem to share. There is growing excitement both in the States and as people watch from around the world, as this law may be overturned, potentially opening the floodgates to marriage equality in the United States.
But 2013 finds the States still bitterly divided over this issue, with more optimistic polls showing support for same-sex marriage slightly above 50%; although this number is less than encouraging to Canadians that see support levels closer to 80-90%, it is still a massive shift in American beliefs. As it was here, it is conservative religious and political groups leading the charge against same-sex marriage, with arguments including the belief that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice that the rest of society shouldn’t have to tolerate, and is in fact destructive to society. On the other side, people in support of same-sex marriage tend to believe it is a legal issue, not a religious one, and that allowing same-sex marriage is an important step in ensuring true equality for all.
And in the middle of it all, many of the bitter battles of words and actions are waged by Christians on both side of the issue. This is something I struggle with deeply, and find myself wondering about as I examine this extraordinarily complex issue.
How do we meet others in this debate in a respectful and considerate way?
How do we discuss with others, when our views seem so completely at odds?
How do we meet in tolerance? Do we have to tolerate intolerance?
How we face this challenge in a Christian way is deeply challenging, though to me, the right choice is astoundingly simple. With a balance of scientific and scriptural study, I believe that Christians are called to walk with our LGBT brothers and sisters, and struggle with them towards marriage equality.
All reputable psychological associations, based on rigorous research across numerous disciplines, teach that sexuality is not a choice. In all the research I found, the organizations confirm that one cannot to choose their sexuality (while stressing sexual behaviour is the person’s individual choice). Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists states:
Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people.
As well, because sexuality is not a choice and therefore an ingrained part of who a person is, it is unhealthy to encourage/allow practices that try to “change” one’s sexuality. They argue that it cannot be done, and only damages the person to be “changed”, as sexuality is not a “problem” to be “fixed”. The American Psychological Association, the most respected and relied upon psychological association in the world, states [emphasis mine]:
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
This leads to the issue of what Christians and the Bible have to say about sexuality and sin. I also believe through critical and thorough reading of the Bible that one’s sexuality isn’t a sin, Christians should support same sex marriage. I find it abhorrent that the Holy Word of God, our God of mercy and compassion, is used out of context to prop up brittle arguments to restrict what should be a right. There are few enough passages that address homosexuality, written in a time when the word has little to no bearing on the meaning today. Above all, the message that speaks to my heart, that I believe should compel every Christian to support our LGBT brothers and sisters, is the Greatest Commandment:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
This takes us back to – how do we face this difficult issue in a Christ-like way?
I think it starts with open hearts, and compassionate dialogue. We should prayerfully consider what exactly it is that we believe, and meet others in a place where we can truly talk it over, and learn and consider exactly where their heart directs them. You may be very surprised where it is, and hopefully the conversation can be one of mutual enlightenment.
One of the most powerful conversations I had about same-sex marriage was with one of our pastors, someone I deeply respect and admire. I found out that our views are very different about same-sex marriage, but I believe we both left with a better understanding of the issue, and a greater respect for each other. If nothing else, by knowledge of the depth of thought and feeling we’ve each poured into it.
I expressed many of the thoughts written here, while he told me that he has prayed and thought and read over same-sex marriage for many years, and has been deeply saddened and wounded by actions of many in the global church towards the LGBT community, but also very wounded that many have assumed the worst of him because he doesn’t think the church should perform same-sex marriages. Through his scholarship and work in the church, he believes that Jesus called on only one man and one woman to be wed; I obviously disagree, but I hope that I have gained better understanding as we talked, and that I may have planted even a small seed of further consideration in his heart.
In the very end, this is an issue of marriage rights, legal and not religious. Marriage is a legal right before a religious one, and I believe that every consenting adult couple should have the ability to wed, to share a life together, and not be restricted from the legal rights heterosexual couples enjoy, and far too often, take for granted. No one should be restricted from what should be their right by their chromosomes, an issue I am honestly amazed still exists in 2013. I believe religious institutions should perform same-sex marriages as expressions of love and devotion, but it is their right not to. It should not be their right to influence the legality of the marriage. We are not theocracies.
But regardless of what I believe, this debate is largely a bitter battle between Christians as it continues to unfold, and will likely continue to long after the legal debate is settled. As we approach Easter, and spiritually approach the cross, how can we face each other, and accept both Christ and the global church into our hearts?
We must follow Christ’s divine example, and reach out with compassion, grace, and understanding.