A Little Monday Controversy


I know I shouldn’t wade into the New York controversy on a Monday morning, but I do think it is worth considering the question, “What is marriage?”  The successful effort of late in New York has redefined marriage to mean something that it has not meant before.  The state has changed the reality of what we know as marriage.

Obviously, I would object to a redefinition on “religious” grounds (see Romans 1:18ff).  But this issue is not necessarily a “religious” issue.  It is a “reality” issue.  George Weigel has a thoughtful explanation of what the decision in New York means in terms of the power of the state to impose its own reality on the citizenry.  Please give his column a thoughtful read without the emotional, knee-jerk thoughtlessness of many comments I have read lately by gay rights advocates who believe gay marriage is a civil rights issue. The issue is not a civil rights issue (for reasons Weigel explains).  The issue is one of dismantling reality into an alternate image desired by political power.

The issue is an attempt to redefine reality.  Such a redefinition does not enlarge us, it diminishes us by disconnecting us from the rails of reality.  A train does not become more free by jumping off its tracks–even if the field it enters promises to be vast and expansive and full of riches.  Marriage has been defined and is defined a certain way.  Pretending it can be another might make some feel better about themselves for a short season, but it will do nothing to protect and preserve humanity.

Reality is what it is, and no state–not even New York–has the authority to alter it.  Sadly, what I believe will follow in New York is a whole new set of freedoms lost in an attempt to maintain this new unreality.  Religious freedom will be the first freedom to go.  Freedom of speech will be second.  The state will have to control its newfangled reality by force because it will not be able to rely on what is self-evidently obvious any longer.  So, the state will have to force religious charities to act according to its legalized unreality.  Then, the state will force its citizenry not to speak against its brave new order of legislated reality. That is what I think this decision means from a political perspective.  That is why, sociologically speaking, I oppose New York’s new law.

Read Weigel’s piece. I think he explains it well from a non-sectarian perspective.

12 thoughts on “A Little Monday Controversy

  1. “impose its own reality on the citizenry.”

    How is gay marriage imposed on anyone? It allows gay couples who want to marry do so. It does exactly nothing to straight people. I’m legitimately confused by your claim that it imposes anything on anyone.

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  2. I apologize if my language was confusing. You say that you are confused by my saying that the state has imposed its own reality. I think that is plain enough, but it must not be. So, I will illustrate the point with a true example. In Massachusetts, there was an adoption agency working to connect orphaned children with adopting families. The agency had been active doing this work for more than a century. When the law changed, the agency was told that its practices had to change, too. The agency thought a marriage was a union of a single man and a single woman. History in general and history in Massachusetts provided the agency with affirmation of their definition.

    The agency had operated for decades under the assumption that a family was a husband, a wife, and their children. After the law changed, the agency was told that their definition of marriage and family had to change, too. They were told that they had a wrong understanding of what a family is. In short, a new, state-ordered reality was imposed on them. They were forced to decide whether they would agree with this new definition of marriage and family or not. If they disagreed with the new definition of marriage and the new definition of family, then they could no longer help orphans in Massachusetts. Though I understand your point about individual rights to sexual expression, I also understand the more significant point (in my opinion) of the more basic right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I have little doubt that both freedom of religion and freedom of speech suffered a severe blow in New York. Redefining social institutions has its consequences.

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    • I believe the agency in question was a Catholic organization, and if they wished to deny working with gay couples all they had to do was get rid of their non-profit status. It seems like more of a financial decision than anything else.

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  3. Other than the issue with the adoption agency (and I also believe they were Catholic, I remember the news reports and all they had to do was become a purely private/religious organization and get rid of all public funding and they could choose to follow any rules they like. However, if you take public funding then there are certain rules and regulations you must follow.) I have not heard of freedom of speech or freedom of religion being curtailed in any other state that allows same-sex marriage.

    society is constantly evolving and if that is your definition of reality being redefined then it’s a natural part of life.

    I have written a blog about why I think (from a semantic standpoint) the term marriage should be made separate from the government, but pretending that a member of a minority wanting to be able to marry the person is going to destroy free speech and freedom of religion is just far-fetched, ridiculous, inflammatory and a bit silly.

    http://thesnarkwhohuntsback.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/i-really-hate-arguing-semantics-thats-why-the-same-sex-marriage-debate-frustrates-me-2/

    (The blog about semantics)

    And I want to add “Marriage has been defined and is defined a certain way.”

    Really? That’s interesting, because I’m pretty sure that’s a relatively new idea. Even in the Bible there was polygamy, which isn’t currently allowed for. The “one man, one woman” thing became common because of the “modern” Christian church. I can’t actually name any religion that states that only one man and one woman can marry. Can you? It’s a societal (and dogmatic) construct that SHOULD evolve, just the way society always has.

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  4. I wish I had more time to spend on this today, but I will quickly note two concerns for further review. First, I don’t at all think that the issue is one of semantics. For that to be true, there would be no inherent value to the term marriage.; it would have to be meaningless except for what we attach to it and meaningful only after definition is offered to it. Meredithancret, your extensive list of benefits for marriage at least hints at the reality which the state has long recognized: that there is an inherent value to marriage.

    Second, the benefits bestowed by the state on the marriage are not an establishment of the institution of marriage (which is why the state is not warranted in redefining marriage). The benefits bestowed by the state are an affirmation of the inherent value of marriage as constituted in the biological union of a man and a woman in coitus. The state recognizes marriage; it does not create marriage or define it. The only way for the state to alter or redefine marriage is to usurp the inherent institution of marriage and treat it as though it were the property of the state, which it is not. Meredithancret, you are almost arguing this very point. (For more detail, see here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2263).

    I still do not believe that the state owns marriage and bestows it upon us. I think the institution of marriage both predates and preempts the state. Finally, Matthew 19:4-6 makes the case for monogamous marriage plainly enough (since you brought it up). The fact that some went against the original rule of creation is no surprise to anyone who has read the Bible. If it is plain about anything, the Bible is plain on the matter of our disobedience.

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    • I agree, the Bible is plain on disobedience. God never punished David or Solomon for the many wives and concubines that they had. Also Mathew 19: 4-6 actually doesn’t state that marriage should be one man and one woman. It says that a man should leave his parents and live with his wife, it does not say how many wives or husbands are permissible.

      I think you are misreading my arguments in my article. I specifically state that the word (institution, whatever) “marriage” needs to be separate from the legalities of civil unions. The term “marriage” needs to cease to carry any legal meaning if religious organizations don’t want the government to have any control over it. Sorry, if it has legal benefits at all then religious groups have no right to decide what the word means. Remember that wall of separation between church and state?

      The inherent value of the term marriage is only what we put into. Language evolves (unless you speak French) and that means that the only “inherent meaning” that a word has, is the meaning we assign to it. Currently we assign the benefits of a legal contract to that term, in most states that is a legal contract between a man and a woman, but that is changing in many states. There is no reason why the word can’t evolve, especially as long as it is a word that is used by the government.

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  5. I did read and understand your argument (hence my referral to a thorough rebuttal of the concept of semantic marriage). It seems to me that you are arguing in two different directions. To be consistent, you will need to say that marriage has no inherent meaning. It only has the meaning which the prevailing political power assigns it. I do not believe that at all. I believe marriage has meaning inherently, regardless of what the New York legislature or the Roman Catholic Church says about it. If you think its meaning is rooted no deeper than the definition of the word, then you are arguing against yourself and for an oppression by whoever gets to define the term (whether it be the RC Church or the NY legislature or the DC establishment). Your attempt to cast out all definitions of the terms, I think, is a futile one since marriage is, as I have stated, self-evidently a reality. Marriage is already a defined reality. Thus, the only question is whether the state has the authority to redefine it in response to a political movement. I do not think the state does. Thus, I am opposed to efforts to redefine marriage based on political machinations.

    As for Matthew, he can speak for himself. No comment necessary.

    Matthew 19:5-6, [Jesus answered and said, “Have you not read…] ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

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    • No comment necessary? But I pointed out why I believe the verse does not support your claim that God stated that marriage should be between one man and one woman and I only brought up religion because you were claiming that marriage has an inherent meaning, which I believe was simply put in place in more recent years by the Christian church.

      Any other inherent meaning, as long as marriage is used by the government as a legal contract, is decided by society and society alone. You can’t have it both ways. Either marriage is a religious construct and therefore should not be part of government at ALL or marriage is a political and social construct that can be redefined at any time depending on the whim of government and the evolution of society. Similar to how the words “Gay” and “fag” have evolved over the years and have gained new “inherent meanings”.

      “Marriage is already a defined reality.” Yes and the current defined reality of it has been changed from earlier cultures that predate the Bible and American civilization.

      What do you believe the inherent meaning of marriage is? And why do you believe it to be so?

      Also the state has the write to redefine the terms of any legal contract that they control or that gives benefits to certain groups of people. Currently marriage is used in legal form, therefore the state has the right and ability to redefine the terms of who can enter into the contract.
      That doesn’t change reality. It doesn’t force you to marry someone of the same sex. It doesn’t invalidate your marriage to someone of the opposite sex.

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  6. All of this scripture quoting about how the union of two men or two women is wrong assumes that God is in fact real and the Bible is in fact his actual word, not a collection of stories based on events that happened thousands of years ago. I then have two questions: 1) Why should the laws of the United States of America have anything to do with the word of a speculative God?
    and
    2) Why does gay marriage bother you people so much? if you are opposed to gay marriage, don’t do it. But leave the rest of the world to decide for themselves what is best for them without imposing the word of a make-believe God.

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  7. Your Brain is God,
    The reasons I put forward were established without recourse to Scripture. The articles I pointed to also defended their positions without Scripture. There are strong arguments for marriage (and against its redefinition) even without reference to God. I am not ashamed of acknowledging God or His Word. I can defend my belief there, too. However, I wrote this post without referring to Scripture. Interestingly, Scripture was brought up by proponents of gay marriage, not by me. It may be that “religion” or “the Bible” has been propped up by you as a straw man which you assume can be dismissed easily by the mere assertions of a skeptical atheist. Rather than taking cheap shots at “religion,” you should demonstrate that you are engaging the actual arguments of the debate.

    Second, your argument in reply says if we don’t like it “don’t do it, just leave the rest of the world to decide for themselves what is best for them.” I am curious why you haven’t chosen to follow your own advice. Why not let believers decide for themselves what is best for them without attempting to impose your atheistic beliefs on them?

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  8. Pingback: Blog comment debates « The Snark Who Hunts Back

  9. No attempting to impose my atheistic beliefs on anyone. You are free to believe what you choose. I will believe what I choose. I should be able to marry who I choose, likewise for you.

    Your position on the new York ruling ‘changing the definition’ of marriage brings to mind the rhetoric of those who opposed giving African Americans the right to vote (they were only 1/2 a person after all, right?).

    Mr. Weigel is a homophobic, bible thumping jacka##. Whether he or you believe it, Gay marriage IS a civil rights issue.

    By the way, besides being all worked up about the definition of marriage being changed, how exactly are you, or any non-gays adversely affected by gays being allowed to get married?

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