As the Supreme Court hears arguments for and against gay marriage, it presides over a debate that tears at the hearts of America. Each side claims the moral high ground and tries to frame the debate in its favor. Why is this such a wrenching issue?
As I see it, the friction in the debate revolves around two key factors:
Legal status. Marriage is many things, at its most basic being a symbol of love and commitment, but it's largely a legal status with privileges of joint property, decision-making and inheritance. It has societal stature and acceptance as an institution and is seen as a demonstrative of stable, adult behavior.
Religious status. Traditional marriages involve a woman and man loving each other enough to leave behind other interests and devote themselves to their new life. The world over, marriage most often involves religious ceremonies that acknowledge heavenly sanction and accountability in their mutual promises. Thus legally and morally joined together, heterosexual marital intimacy usually leads to children and the accountability before society and God for their physical, emotional and spiritual care.
The current debate over gay marriage pits the first aspect of marriage against the second. And the pain generated is extreme on both sides.
Gays seek the redefinition of marriage to give them the same legal privileges and status as traditional couples, and associated societal acceptance. Accounts from the gay community of lives filled with confusion, shame and pain are heartbreaking, and many support their plea for marriage's legal privileges out of a sense of justice and compassion.
Those who support the vintage, unified definition of marriage usually appeal to society's moral duty to uphold family structures and to care for the rising generation of children. They typically don't agree that sexual orientation warrants a reclassification of marriage. However, many support a new legal status for the LGBT community, such as civil unions, but not a wholesale redefinition of the institution.
The LGBT community has been subjected to humiliation and abuse by some, that is abundantly documented and is inexcusable. Unfortunately, anyone holding to traditional marriage definitions are typically lumped in with the direct persecutors. They are comically caricatured and broadly labeled as bigots, anti-gay, homophobic and hateful. A growing number actually label a religious view of homosexuality as "thought crimes."
The overwhelming majority of individuals, couples, families and congregations who seek to maintain the legal and religious status of marriage don't fit any of the labels slung about them. In fact, most are deeply torn and the entire debate causes deep pain for them as well. Why? Taking Christians as an example, they have to balance the virtue of being a peacemaker with the mandate to adhere to standards they consider divine.
They are taught not to "throw stones" at those who they believe are sinning because they are all debtors to a redeemer due to their imperfections. They are taught to love others while not affirming behaviors.
Many people dear to me behave in ways that don't mesh with the standards I imperfectly aspire to meet. It is a fallacy to say that I hate them when I don't accept their behavior, sexually or otherwise. I still love them, completely, while believing in a better way. I am grateful others have loved me despite my flaws. While some prefer unfettered acceptance of any and all behavior, it is a fallacy to label those who love with standards as hateful.
Parents also try to shield children from a hyper-sexualized world — where adult themes increasingly intrude on innocence. They believe their grade schools should be innocent bastions filled with arithmetic, the Krebs Cycle and kickball teams, not hotbeds of human sexuality. Out of an understandable obligation to their children — not hate — they take a stand to preserve the legal and religious status of marriage.
Rather than stoop to agonizing slurs, the debate should focus on a legal status based upon sexual orientation, while preserving traditional marriage, households and families.
Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a GM at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. [email protected] or @Sanders_Matt