As I wait for the storm to settle--and having written my column for the bulletin--this seems as good a time as any to write this post.
It won't be as good or as carefully researched as it might be, but it will do till that happens. Perhaps a reader can provide a link to a resource somewhere that does a better job of what I'm going to attempt here.
But since my comments at a Washington Post blog, and then a subsequent post here, have generated many comments--including questions from (mostly anonymous) visitors who seem to be genuinely puzzled about what I'm saying about marriage, so-called "same-sex marriage," and what the state and the Church have to say about all this, I guess there are some things I'm taking for granted. So I'll outline some thoughts here.
1. What is marriage? Who says?
Marriage is an institution that arises out of human nature itself. It is not the creation of government, nor of religion. So--surprise!--marriage is not a religious institution at all! The proof of this can be seen so easily that I suppose it's so big we don't even see it at all, sort of like the sky: marriage--I mean between men and women--has existed everywhere, older than memory, in every culture, regardless of religion. The Christian Church did not present this idea to the pagan world; the Jewish People did not do so before Christianity. Men and women figured it out a really long time ago.
Now, it is true that monogamy does have a religious component: while marriage involving men and women is a universal practice, having it involve a single male and a single female is not universal. Since I am not an expert in world religions, I cannot say if other religions teach it; but it is clear enough that it existed at one time among Jews, and among pagans in the vicinity of the Jewish people, because the Bible bears witness to it.
It is also clear that monogamy emerged within Judaism, and Christianity has carried that forward. If I were doing exegesis on the Bible, I would explore here how the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) implicitly, if not explicitly, favor monogamy. That isn't directly on point here, but it is of interest, because sometimes folks will assert that the Bible "approves" of polygamy, and I think that's not really the case, but it is the sort of thing someone might think I was presupposing here.
So as a matter of history and universal human experience, marriage is heterosexual.
Those who favor so-called "same-sex marriage" would certainly have a powerful argument if they could point to examples of human societies that developed along different lines. And while there was a day that you could say, "oh the evidence exists, but we can't get our studies published"--but those days are long gone.
The question has to be asked: if this assertion that heterosexual marriage is a universal fact of history is wrong, why has no one disproved it? The best one gets is either citation of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or some other citation of an obscure culture where some sort of homosexual behavior seems to have been winked at or even encouraged to some degree.
But take the case of the Greeks and Romans: the fact remains that even in this example, where--we are told--there was open tolerance, if not encouragement of homosexual relationships...even here, marriage was heterosexual. And this is actually very telling, because if there were a place where you'd be likely to find the sort of history you'd want, if you favored same-sex marriage, this would be the place. Yet the gay-friendly Greeks and Romans (I'm sidestepping the argument about whether this is truly accurate) still didn't see any reason to create same-sex marriage.
Now, at some point, someone will say, why haven't I appealed to the Bible for what Jews and Christians believe about God's role in marriage?
The answer is because Christians do not believe they--or the Jews--"invented" marriage; another way to put it: heterosexual marriage (the only kind there is) pre-existed both Christianity and Judaism; if the Bible never existed, this would be just as true a statement. Christianity (I won't speak for the Jewish people) never asserts marriage to be an essentially religious institution, but rather a natural one that takes on religious meaning within our own faith.
Be aware that those who now seek to deconstruct marriage operate from the premise that this is a religious issue; and we are foolish--and factually wrong--to go along with that. It's like saying that because we use water for baptism, water was invented by Christianity; rather, Christianity takes a natural reality and invests it with a new meaning. And in the case of baptism, we invest the natural reality with rather more meaning than we do the natural institution of marriage.
Back to "what is marriage" and "who says." Some might say, my claims are arbitrary. How can this be? Marriage arises out of fundamental human nature--human sexuality and the need to procreate. Biblical religion asserts these are good things; does any society uninfluenced by the Bible believe otherwise?
Of course, reason would say that the burden does not lie with me to prove these things. I do not accept the burden of proving what is patently obvious and has always been held to be true, until the curious, recent phenomenon of folks acting as if this is all some thing that came out of the catechism. Those seeking to reinvent marriage are the ones who have the burden of justifying making a radical (i.e., to the root) change in a universal, old-as-humanity reality.
Update: when I dashed this off, it was one, very long post. I came back and broke it into three posts, and bolded the questions, and fixed one small error. Otherwise, same content.