Marriage ammending in Minnesota
Its relationships to science, business, and scripture
BY CHARLES R. PETERSON, MD
Arguments in the debate about the Minnesota Marriage Amendment have been framed mostly by legal and biblical interpretations. Two other very relevant factors that deserve more attention are science and business. One theological stance is at odds with science and business, another is not.
By simple coincidence, two verses in the Oct. 7 biblical texts appointed for worship in most mainline churches poignantly frame the debate. These verses are from Genesis 2 and Mark 10: “It is not good for the human being to be alone,” and “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…”
In his book, A Time to Embrace, Presbyterian Princeton Seminary theologian and attorney William Stacy Johnson states, “This (Genesis verse) is the most important text in all of Scripture for the gay marriage debate… The God of the universe expresses concern about the human being who finds him- or herself dwelling in nuptial loneliness.”
After unsuccessfully struggling with the psychological problems of homosexual persons for a century, the scientific community took a major step in 1974 when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) adopted an ethical resolution that began, “Whereas, homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, or general social or vocational capabilities, therefore, be it resolved that that the APA deplores all public and private discrimination against homosexuals in such areas as housing, public accommodation, and licensing, and declares that no burden or proof of such reliability or capacity shall be placed on homosexuals than that imposed on other persons…”
In this simple but elegant resolution, science separated itself from religious tradition in the same way that Galileo had done centuries ago. Science went from a theory of homosexuality as an abnormal psychological disorder to that of a normal biological variant. Mental health specialists recognized that their traditional treatments were generally making homosexual patients no better or sometimes worse. Their psychological stress came from societal oppression, not from homosexuality per se. In a short few years most major medical institutions and disciplines easily adopted the APA nondiscrimination policy. Many psychiatrists considered this ethical decision analogous to Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on the bus.
In the decades since, many businesses, large and small, have introduced the same nondiscrimination policies. Recently leaders of many Minnesota businesses and corporations have asserted that a discriminatory constitutional amendment would be bad for the state’s businesses. Because of this cultural shift in business, millions of American people experienced how normal and like heterosexuals most lesbians and gays are, and the related welcoming attitude found its way into many churches. The outcome of this paradigm shift unquestionably improved the well-being of most gays and lesbians with no credibly established adverse effects on any individuals or groups.
The changes in science and business did not quickly change the traditional homosexuality stance in churches. However, there was some shift in a traditional interpretation about heterosexuality. Forgiving grace was used to soften Jesus’ words that defined remarriage after divorce as adultery. Many policies that prohibited remarried divorced pastors from continuing their work as pastors were discontinued.
The culture that allowed this grace for heterosexuals still denied it for homosexuals, even though neither Jesus nor the prophets are recorded as saying anything about intimate same-sex relationships of any kind. Churches with an oppressive stance towards homosexual persons unknowingly continued to drive many young, secretive, and lonely homosexuals out of homes and churches into environments dangerous to their health. Most received help from psychological specialists, but significant numbers died of suicide or AIDS.
Christians generally agree that a committed relationship was one of the best deterrents to sexual promiscuity for heterosexuals. But for reasons such as “sin” or “revelation” most traditionalists on this issue do not accept this principle as valid for homosexuals. Science and traditional theology are usually not on the same health track.
In the 1960s, allegations that the gay rights movement was damaging traditional marriages surfaced without any
objective supporting evidence. The linkage was, however, significant in the other direction: An unproven accusation of harm to marriages when there are more credible explanations of marriage deterioration energized the fledgling gay rights movement. The current erosion of marriage started with WW-2 and blossomed in the controversy over the Vietnam War. Wars, especially when seen as unjust, are generally corrosive of family values. Professor Johnson asks, “Why are certain people in American churches more upset about gays than they are about unjust war or torture?”
The policy changes based on business and biomedical ethics independently helped gay rights momentum. These changes are substantial, ethically moral, and will not likely change under a marriage definition amendment. Simply defining marriage without the words “only a one time union…” in deference to Jesus words does nothing legally to reduce heterosexual promiscuity or divorce rates.
Jesus seemed most ticked off by two human traits: miserliness and hypocrisy. The two together are even worse: “Woe to you…hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” The wealth risk for part of a heterosexual majority to choose as a core moral stance one that scapegoats homosexuals is relatively cheap compared to things like increasing taxes to assure health care for the poor. The application of strict literal law to homosexuals by heterosexuals who simultaneously view Jesus’ words on marriage and divorce as a non-literal ethical challenge seems a blatantly self-serving interpretation.
Those in the younger generation seem to see the operative double standards quite easily because surveys show that they are much more supportive of gay rights than the older generations. If the marriage amendment passes in Minnesota, it will certainly face future challenges. Meanwhile, it unnecessarily divides us. It also stains our state’s constitution with what for many is a symbol of religious hypocrisy.
Jesus prayed that all would be of one spirit. The marriage amendment takes Minnesotans in the opposite direction. We should vote “no” on this amendment.