Gay Marriage Inevitable?

Jesus and God and apologeticsA century ago, America was immersed in social change. Some of the issues in the headlines during this period were women’s suffrage, the treatment of immigrants, prison and asylum reform, temperance and prohibition, racial inequality, child labor and compulsory elementary school education, women’s education and protection of women from workplace exploitation, equal pay for equal work, communism and utopian societies, unions and the labor movement, and pure food laws.

The social turmoil of the past makes today’s focus on gay marriage and abortion look almost inconsequential by comparison.

What’s especially interesting is Christianity’s role in some of these movements. Christians will point with justifiable pride to schools and hospitals build by churches or religious orders. The Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century pushed for corrections of many social ills—poverty and wealth inequality, alcoholism, poor schools, and more. Christians point to Rev. Martin Luther King’s work on civil rights and William Wilberforce’s Christianity-inspired work on ending slavery.

(This doesn’t sound much like the church today, commandeered as it is by conservative politics, but that’s another story.)

Same-sex marriage seems inevitable, just another step in the march of civil rights. Jennifer Roback Morse, president and founder of the Ruth Institute for promotion of heterosexual marriage and rejection of same-sex marriage, was recently asked if she feared being embarrassed by the seeming inevitability of same-sex marriage. She replied:

On the contrary, [same-sex marriage proponents] are the ones who are going to be embarrassed. They are the ones who are going to be looking around, looking for the exits, trying to pretend that it had nothing to do with them, that it wasn’t really their fault.

I am not the slightest bit worried about the judgment of history on me. This march-of-history argument bothers me a lot. … What they’re really saying is, “Stop thinking, stop using your judgment, just shut up and follow the crowd because the crowd is moving towards Nirvana and you need to just follow along.”

Let’s first acknowledge someone who could well be striving to do the right thing simply because it’s right, without concern for popularity or the social consequences. I would never argue that someone ought to abandon a principle because it has become a minority opinion or that it is ridiculed. If Dr. Morse sticks to her position solely because she thinks it’s right, and she’s not doing it because of (say) some political requirement or because her job depends on it, that’s great.

Nevertheless, the infamous 1963 statement from George Wallace comes to mind: “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” That line came back to haunt him. To his credit, he apologized and rejected his former segregationist policies, but history will always see him as having chosen the wrong side of this issue.

Christianity has similarly scrambled to reposition itself after earlier errors. Christians often claim that modern science is built on a Christian foundation, ignoring the church’s rejection of science that didn’t fit its medieval beliefs (think Galileo). They take credit for society’s rejection of slavery, forgetting Southern preachers and their gold mine of Bible verses for ammunition. They reposition civil rights as an issue driven by Christians, ignoring the Ku Klux Klan and its burning cross symbol, biblical justification for laws against mixed-race marriage, and slavery support as the issue that created the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mohandas Gandhi had considerable experience as the underdog. He said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

(And then they claim that it was their idea all along!)

The same-sex marriage issue in the United States has almost advanced to “then you win” stage. Check back in two decades, and you’ll see Christians positioning the gay rights issue as one led by the church. They’ll mine history for liberal churches that took the lead (and flak) in ordaining openly gay clerics and speaking out in favor of gay rights.

If someone truly rejects same-sex marriage because their unbiased analysis shows it to be worse for society, great. But it is increasingly becoming clear how history will judge that position.

Truth never damages a cause that is just.
— Mohandas Gandhi

Photo credit: Spec-ta-cles

Related posts:

Related links:

  • “Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Are Defenders of Natural Marriage on the Wrong Side of History?” Issues Etc., 5/25/12.
  • “Pure Religion: Revivalism and Reform in Early 19th-Century America,” The Dartmouth Apologia, Spring 2010, pp 20–24.

22 thoughts on “Gay Marriage Inevitable?

  1. To broken Bob the atheist,

    I’m not sure gay marriage will come to be accepted by conservatives. Take abortion. It has been lawful for nearly 40 years, yet it is still strongly opposed by both Catholics and fundamentalists.

    • Broken? I’m missing the context.

      Your caution makes some sense. I probably should’ve made clearer that it’s my opinion that gay marriage is inevitable. Abortion is a good cautionary tale.

    • I’ve never been one to worry about “acceptance”. I worry about having equal legal rights. If I have those, I don’t care who “accepts” that fact, or who “accepts” me. Life is not, after all, a popularity contest. I try to do what is good for me and for the people I love. Beyond that, I don’t care who “accepts” my equal legal rights: I care only who ACKNOWLEDGES that I HAVE equal legal rights.

  2. Anyway, even if by an unlikely twist of interpretation, mainstream Christianity comes to accept gay marriage, the fact is: most Christians need to be angry at someone, so they will find another convenient target. Now it’s politically incorrect to hate women, Jews or blacks. But many believers still hate gays or muslims (and sometimes, atheists). Tomorrow, depending on the unfolding of history, another target may come to prominence and the attention may shift from gay marriage to newer issues.

    • By the way, I don’t think Christians as a group are any worse than other groups united by a shared worldview (buddhists, muslims, marxists, skeptics, and so on). They are not better either in spite of their claim to be helped by the Spirit of God. A few Christians are saints, it’s true, but most Christians are weak. Like non-Christians.

      • Jains are pretty hard to beat.

        Christians seem to me to be roughly the same as atheists (to take just two of your groups) except that Christians can invent celestial justification to do crazy immoral stuff.

        • Yeah, it’s true that Jains, who are atheists, are very committed to “ahimsa” (nonviolence), yet they push that principle to absurd consequences: they don’t want to kill insects and plants.

        • I’ve been to the statue of Bahubali in Shravana Belgola. Jains have quite a lot of supernatural beliefs. I wouldn’t call them atheists.

    • You say that I’m far too optimistic? You could be right, but tell me more. Doesn’t gay marriage seem to be following the same trajectory as other civil rights issues?

      the fact is: most Christians need to be angry at someone, so they will find another convenient target.

      You’re a bit cynical! I hope you’re wrong, but I gotta admit that your hypothesis isn’t crazy.

      • To Bob S,

        It’s not being Christian that makes one xenophobic. It’s rather that people are naturally xenophobic, and their worldview, a cultural construct, only determines whom they will love to hate.

        If people could be led to hate ideas or views (as you hate God belief) rather than real people, it would be a big step forward.

        • And yet we have many examples of society taking steps forward–science improving health, abandonment of slavery, civil rights for minorities and women, and so on.

        • Sure, there has been progress, but what really happened is that the collective scapegoat has shifted from one target (women, Jews, blacks) to another one (gays, muslims, “arabians”). In other words, social reformers blocked some outlet for collective hatred, but soon another outlet was found. Well, to be more specific, gays have been hated for centuries, but they had received comparatively little attention until the 19th century. And when gays dared claim their rights, they fueled a renewed hatred against them. Of course I’m not suggesting that those gay rights activists should not have claimed their rights.

          What is great is that science often exposes the lies and the deceptions behind such demonization, so that people who don’t like to be wrong will hesitate to engage in it.

        • Christians must have an outlet for their xenophobia? Is no group immune from this problem?

          I guess the only disproof will be a future society where gays, minorities, and atheists are treated the same, but even then you could argue that the inherent frustration has simply been bottled up (just because few bigots are bold enough to say racist things doesn’t mean that there are no racists).

          I don’t share your pessimism. The social progress in the West in the last 200 years seems authentic (that is, not zero-sum) to me.

        • I agree that the progress has not been zero-sum, but we need to take into account a general improvement of life, health, wealth, safety, education, knowledge as well as more opportunities for inter-group contacts, direct or indirect (on the TV or the net, for instance). Such improvements helped to reduce people’s inherent aggressiveness (that is, the part of it that was due to the environment and not to genes).

  3. One can easily detect that mechanism of collective hatred in any high school. There, there are always some unpopular students who are harassed by bullies for no other reason than he is perceived to be different. And since teenage societies are but a simpler template of society tout court, they tell us a truth: what people hate is otherness. What people want is to build a group in which everyone is alike, at least in relevant respects, and they want to destroy people outside their groups, the “Others”, who are given every kind of flaws, depending on what the group considers to be corrupt. For MacCarthy, gays were part of the conspiracy against America. For the communists, gays were a product of a corrupt bourgeois society…

    • I agree that if a clique can’t find an obvious reason to feel superior in an us-vs.them way, they’ll just skip down the list until they find something else. If “he’s black” or “he’s gay” isn’t PC, then “he’s fat” or “he’s ugly” or “his clothes suck” are always fair game.

      What people want is to build a group in which everyone is alike

      Is that true? Or is it that they want to cobble together reasons why the group that they’re in is actually superior to others? That is, cobble together reasons why they’re entitled to be exclusionary.

  4. All this talk of progress should not hide the fact that in some areas, things have worsened since, say, 50 years ago. Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms are expanding. It is no secret that in Christendom, fundamentalist Churches grow faster than liberal Churches (in spite of the latter’s openness to the modern world). In islamic countries, it is often dangerous to fight the rise of fundamentalism and the hopeless youth is often seduced by the deceptively simple answers and certainties of fundamentalists.

  5. So? Is this blog is active and running, or is it rotting away in the graveyard of the dead sites?

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