In January, the Supreme Court agreed to review the 6th Circuit court’s decision to uphold gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Last month, after a federal court order required the state to begin recognizing same-sex marriages, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore forbade probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. In response, the Supreme Court declined to stay the order, allowing gay couples to marry in Alabama wherever they could find a judge sympathetic enough to provide a license. Justice Clarence Thomas (dissenting from the seven-justice majority) wrote that the Supreme Court’s refusal to stay the court order “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution” of the constitutionality of gay marriage bans. That is, spoiler warning, Thomas expects that the Supreme Court will strike down gay marriage bans across the country.
I thought the anticipation of this decision would be a good time to further discuss my thoughts on gay marriage, and my views on gay marriage are, in effect, a specific instance of a more general idea: I don’t think the government should be involving itself in marriages. Christians view marriage as a sacred oath between one man and one woman. Different denominations see this idea differently. But one way or another, the understanding of what it means for a Christian to be married depends on their specific form of worship. Churches (and other religious communities, as they see fit) should be governing marriages, not Uncle Sam. Marriage as a continual act of worship is a private endeavor.
That leaves unanswered broader legal questions of inheritance, property rights, hospital visitation, and more, completely unanswered. While the language of civil unions was never popular, I believe that is the answer. If a couple, married religiously or not, wants certain legal rights, that is an arrangement that should be made with the government. Additionally, that arrangement need to reflect a sexual or romantic relationship at all. It just most often would.
This idea, I’ll admit, is a bit contrived and it will never take hold in America. It is just the way I think things out to be: if you think of marriage as a religious act, then let it be practiced within your religious body. If you think of marriage as a legal concern, subject it to the government. Apply new terms as you see fit.
None of that discusses my opinion on gay marriage as it currently stands, so here goes. I think gay marriage should be legal, and I believe my foundations for saying so are conservative in nature. (This means, of course, that I will find myself in a substantial minority on this issue. Many conservatives will disagree with my reasoning – despite the fact that one of the earliest arguments for gay marriage was conservative in nature – and many liberals will think I don’t take things far enough. Such is life for the centrist view.) When discussing whether or not it should be difficult for non-Christians to get divorced, C.S. Lewis had this to say:
Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.
I think the very same logic applies to this circumstance. We should not employ the government to impose a specific religious morality on the American people at large – especially where it’s easy to imagine a differing point of view making a similar imposition on us. (Lewis goes on to make a similar religious marriage/secular marriage distinction as mine: “There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.” This is probably where I got the idea.)
There is still an elephant in the room: children and childrearing. One can reasonably make the claim that the best-case scenario for a child is to be raised by his or her biological parents, when those parents are married into a committed, loving, and stable relationship. Fair enough: I think that is probably true as well. Now imagine the spectrum of possibilities, with this hypothetical best case on one end and something like a malnourished, impoverished, abusive, neglect-filled upbringing on the other. Where do you think the health and well-being of a child raised by a gay couple actually lands on that spectrum? If they are also committed, loving, and stable, I would bet it’s far, far closer to the best-case end. And if they are not committed, loving, or stable, then those factors probably have far more to do with any parental shortcomings than does homosexuality.