While the Supreme Court of the United States ponders questions about marriage equality, human rights, and states’ rights, I’ve been thinking about love. For those who support the right of two consenting adults to choose to marry, the question is fundamentally, after all, about love. It’s about the freedom to love whom we were wired to love and to covenant with that person. Yes, it’s also about the receiving all the privileges and accepting all the responsibilities that accompany that covenant. It’s about that covenant being seen as equal in the eyes of the government, regardless of the make-up of the 23rd set of chromosomes each person brings. But when it comes down to it, marriage is about love.
And that’s why I’m flummoxed. While my first thoughts about love revolve around family and those whom are dearest to me, my next ones, thanks to my upbringing and positive church experiences, turn to religion. God, it is said, is love. Jesus spoke of love throughout the Gospels. While I’ve lost in faith in God and in the divinity of Jesus, I’ve retained a respect for love — a reverence for the power of love, in fact — and a soft spot for the teachings attributed to the historical Jesus.
News flash. There’s no place in those Gospels where Jesus says anything negative about gays or lesbians. Nothing. Nada. Jesus does say plenty about love: Love your neighbor as yourself, love one another, and so on. He stands by the outcasts of the turn-of-that ancient-millenium society — lepers, prostitutes, the poor, and plenty of other regular folks. He encourages compassion, love’s active sidekick, to just about everyone, regardless of social position, life choices, or circumstance. We simply never hear about the homosexuals, possibly suggesting either they just weren’t the top of the outcast hit parade or at least that they didn’t make the cut when the Gospels were written. In short, it doesn’t seem that’s what was terribly important to Jesus or at least to those who wrote about Jesus decades and centuries later.
So why, tell me why, do some Christians –not all — not nearly — froth at the mouth at the thought of marriage between same-sex partners? As I’ve wandered the web today, I’m distressed by the vitriol by the Religious Right, both Protestant and Catholic. Reading through articles calling the equality sign above “The Sign of the Beast” and extolling teens that God “loves the person but hates the sin (of homosexual sex).” It turns out, at least in the eyes of those social conservatives, marriage isn’t really about two people committing to each other, either in a religious community or a secular ceremony, with the rights and protections that affords. It’s not even about love.
It’s about sex.
Isn’t it always? The funny thing is, most of heterosexual marriage isn’t about sex, so I’m not sure how it manages to be for homosexuals. Sure, both parties able and willing, sex is present in marriages. It can be an exceptionally good part of marriage, although it can get a short shrift when life gets busy. And, if children are desired, the procreative end of sex is one way to bring them into the family. But most of marriage, most of the time, isn’t about sex. Now, I’m divorced, so maybe I was doing something wrong during those 14 years of marriage, completely missing something, but I doubt it.
Much of marriage is about partnership. We generally marry to partner, to share our lives with someone we love and with whom we share values, desires, and maybe a few dreams. If we’re pragmatic about it, we may consider our future partner’s goals and approach to hard times as well as the legal benefits such union afford. Heck, we may look at credit ratings. But primarily, we marry because we love someone. We love so deeply and completely that we covenant with one another in the presence of others and share that commitment publicly.
Can that all be done outside of marriage? Sure, but in the eyes of the law, it’s not nearly the same. Those legal benefits of union – over 1,000 on the federal level – aren’t small details. Those benefits may include partner access to employer-provided medical insurance, tax benefits (or liabilities), exemptions from estate and gift taxes upon the death of a spouse, social security benefits for a surviving spouse, the ability of a partner to take family leave when the other is ill, visiting rights at hospitals, decreased costs on auto and housing insurance, and even child support should divorce occur. Yes, there are legal means to set up some of those outside of marriage, but many of those benefits only are realized for those in a federal government sanctioned marriage.
So let me get this right. As a nation, we’re denying same-sex partners a host of legal protections, many which better a family’s ability to care for those within it, even if a marriage is dissolved, because some of us are focused on sex? I’m not naive. I know religion is behind this as well. Not the religion I grew up with, one focused on love and social justice. This one is based on judgement and rules. Many people marry within a church because their belief system supports or even demands that way of partnering (and that’s often about sex and when to have it, too). Over eighteen years ago, I married in the Catholic Church, with marriage as sacrament as well as a legal contract. I married because I loved my then-fiance and wanted to partner with him. I then realized, in material terms, the benefits that people with the right to marry take for granted, building an appreciation for the legal end of marriage as soon as our first joint tax return occurred and when we discovered my company offered far better health insurance than his.
But love and legal arguments don’t work if you’re wrapped up in what happens in the bedroom some nights a week (more or less – no judgement here). In discussions with the religious right, it comes down to sex rather than love and stability. And I don’t understand this. Jesus doesn’t have too much to say about sex, aside from some lines about adultery and lust. He never mentions the details, nor does he say that partners must be male and female. Jesus leaves out a host of details about other issues of life, such as dietary restrictions, fabric content of clothing, and menstrual regulations. I’m still stymied.
Love. Laws. Sex. Let’s embrace the first, allowing two people, DNA aside, enter the covenant of marriage. Let’s make the second equal across all consenting couples, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or shoe size. And as for the third? It’s not really my business, is it? Let’s keep it that way.