I’ve come to believe that the gay-marriage issue is a critical factor in alienating many people from religion, if not from God, and I think many believers underestimate its importance.
Many people feel about gay marriage as some of us felt about the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. In the eyes of many young people, especially, it’s a matter of justice, of recognizing people’s rights, of acknowledging that love comes in various forms.
Many religious people counter that gay marriage is against the natural law, a traditional concept for Catholics and some other Christians. They also believe gay marriage is bad public policy that undermines the traditional family.
A federal judge recently struck down Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage, one of many states where the law has changed due to the courts or the ballot. The unmistakable trend everywhere is toward allowing gay marriage, and it doesn’t appear that opponents can muster enough energy and clout to reverse the trend.
Some people lament what’s happening while others rejoice. The views of the two sides will continue to be the subject of bitter public debate, especially in the social media. The invective is part of the culture wars that are raging in this country and in many other parts of the world – wars that keep us from approaching the issue rationally and with mutual respect.
Truth is, many of us are conflicted. We know and love gay people, many of whom are family members, and we don’t want them hurt. We don’t want them to feel isolated, discriminated against or treated unfairly. We want them to feel part of society’s mainstream, to be accepted and respected like everyone else.
On the other hand, some of us feel uncomfortable about making such an important change to the meaning of marriage without more thought, more analysis about what it means for individuals and society. After all, the implication in the involvement of the courts and the law is that society has a stake in marriage. It’s not just between the people getting married. It affects the common good.
Some will say that religious people are conditioned – by tradition, their leaders and conservative politicians – to feel that way. But that’s a partisan assumption, part of the culture war’s polemic. I assume supporters of gay marriage are sincere; they should assume no less about those who are conflicted.
Here’s what our bishop, Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines, wrote on the subject in a recent edition of The Des Moines Register.
“…Many of us can agree on this: God loves everyone, gay or straight. No one is excluded, and sexual identity is only one component of who we are. Gay people are welcome in the Catholic Church. Many of them are hurting from hateful attitudes, and as Pope Francis has said, Christians should see themselves less as enforcers of rules than as doctors in a field hospital.”
He then went on to restate the church’s position, saying marriage between a man and woman “is the best way to nurture and protect children,” adding that this position “is based on the solid teaching of Scripture and our own tradition about its meaning.”
Many church leaders appear to go out of their way to avoid talking about homosexuality, pretending gay people don’t exist. But Raul Vera, bishop of Saltillo in northeast Mexico, doesn’t appear to among them. Here’s what he said in a recent interview in El Pais, the Madrid, Spain, daily newspaper.
“I have a friend who was a priest and is homosexual. He says that not acknowledging homosexuals is like using rugby’s rules to play football, then complaining that a player isn’t playing by the rules. The Church has to draw near to homosexuals not with condemnations but with dialogue. We can’t deny the richness of a person simply because of his sexual preference. That’s sick; it’s having no heart; it lacks common sense.”
Theology, the study of God and humans’ relationship to God, evolves, albeit slowly. And if Catholic and other Christian theology evolves regarding gay marriage, it will probably be because of discoveries about homosexuality itself, about which, despite all the grandstanding on both sides, we know very little.
What does any of this have to do with the purpose of this blog, which is “a discussion of faith, belief and religion for people who have given up on God and/or religion?” I believe such controversies, and this one in particular, can be obstacles in the search for God. We can hold the view that seems most rational to us, trying to keep an open mind (and if we’re at that stage, praying for guidance), but searchers for God must place the controversy in brackets.
We can’t pretend the controversy doesn’t exist, or try to “wish it away.” But what matters in the search for God is sincerity, single- and open-mindedness and persistence. We can’t let anything get in the way, even a controversy as important as gay marriage.w that faith and skepticism are not mutually exclusive.