Yesterday on NPR, Jenna Chavez, a member of an evangelical church in El Paso, Texas, succinctly summed up the foundation for the argument against same-sex marriage:
[Marriage has] been defined...for thousands of years...I don't think a court should determine what it is if God's already determined it. I do think it's bizarre. To me, it's almost like what is this world coming to?
As the Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of same-sex marriage—and given that the ‘court is wary’ of a broad ruling, we might not have a clear-cut answer anytime soon—we have to consider what underlies the main thinking behind the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act: not the Constitution, but what ‘God’ considers proper.
The language that attorney Charles Cooper is using is designed to sidestep this fact—the content thus far has been about couples in same-sex marriages not being able to procreate (he never mentions infertility within ‘straight’ relationships), as well as respecting the boundaries of ‘traditional’ marriage.
Backing up this argument, Antonin Scalia offered that there is ‘considerable disagreement’ about whether gays should be able to raise children; he is most likely self-referencing his own writing, as he did with his racial entitlement remark.
Meanwhile Samuel Alito stated that same-sex marriage, as a concept, is ‘newer than cellphones and the Internet.’ As a national discussion this might be true, but as a policy position desired by gays, this is either blatant criticism or a sociological blunder...or, more scarily, a total disconnect from the country he resides in.
What matters about this decision is not what a divine authority has stated about the fine print on a marriage certificate, but how we conduct ourselves as a nation. The fact that over the last four years culture war issues—predominantly abortion rights and same-sex marriage—have dominated the attention of policy makers and courts is a discouraging indicator that we’re focusing on the wrong battles.
As Stephen Prothero wrote about in American Jesus, our conception of God (and its acolytes) are constantly transforming. The Christ figure, for example, did not receive widespread reverential treatment until the 18th and especially 19th century Revival movements that spread across the Northeast and, eventually, westward. Since that time, Jesus has been used to justify whatever his believers wanted him to.
That trend continues today, where God serves as an ideal invisible placeholder for those opposing abortion and gay marriages. The schism this mentality has created is dangerous: a conservative religious agenda that supposedly supports smaller and smaller government, yet is certain that government’s role is to uphold their privacy-invading (and culturally backwards) religious agendas.
And so you’re going to hear about the inadequacies of raising a family against all evidence to the contrary—or, at least, not recognizing that the same issues exist with straight couples. The constitutionality of same sex marriage is going to be discussed, but underlying the rhetoric is a fear of crumbling religious conviction and the demands of what a civil society ‘must’ be, as dictated by scripture and revelation.
While this ruling is important on a cultural level—these policies define us nationally and globally—it is, again, disheartening that fictitious religious arguments are given so much attention while actual real world problems, such as climate change, banking regulations and energy policies, remain pushed to the back of our minds.
Yet this is part of the role culture war issues play, distracting our attention from problems that really do need solving. This is not surprising, given that the role of religion in general is often nothing more than making promises about future and destined events that will never transpire as a band-aid to the suffering in front of us. It's easier to dream a Utopia than be present.
Those denying marriage rights to gay people are simply on the wrong side of history. All national polls, save Fox News (and even that is tied), show public opinion supports equal rights. The will of the people decides who we are, not a supernatural agent.
What happens today and tomorrow might define another important component of modern America. And that is the choice we are left with: Do we move into the future, or stay bound in a past with archaic laws and mores that no longer represent who we are as human beings?
Just because we’ve done things one way for any period of time does not mean we need to keep doing it that way. That’s part of what evolution implies, adapting to changing circumstances. For this, we don’t need divine authority. We simply need common sense and the willingness to change.
Image: Lasse Kristensen/shutterstock.com