The Same-Sex Marriage Debate
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
There is an ongoing public discourse taking place which affects public policy, and by extension, all of us. It involves scholars, our media, political operatives, religious figures and other key influential and knowledgeable persons.
One topic currently being debated within this discourse has the potential to profoundly effect the institution of marriage as we know it. This topic is often referred to as the same-sex marriage debate. Briefly, proponents and opponents are debating the wisdom of granting same-sex partners marital status.
Since we live in a society which affords us input into this vital topic, and since this issue concerns us all, I thought I’d summarize this debate in an effort to facilitate and encourage your participation. I pray that the thoughts that follow will not be misconstrued or hurtful toward any group since this is not my intension. My objective here, is to simply offer information from my own perspective as a Greek Orthodox priest who happens to also be very interested and involved in matters that concern the well-being of marriages and families.
Some Background Observations
In order for us to be equipped to either understand or participate in this debate, we need to understand some of the basic legal thinking that is influencing this debate. And while I am certainly not a lawyer, others whom I have read are, so I will simply condense their thoughts.
As I understand it, the laws pertaining to marriage in our country are profoundly impacted by the following three legal and constitutional assumptions:
First, throughout our country’s history, the concept of consent has had a primary role in influencing court decisions and legislation related to marriage. Since our constitution protects our freedom of choice with regards to lifestyle and belief system, legal experts have historically applied this concept to our right as citizens to choose our life partner.
Second, an equally important constitutional and legal concept relates to our right to privacy. In simple terms, this right permits us to do as we please in our own homes, as long as we are not precluding others from doing the same. When applied to marriage, recent court decisions have decreed that it is not the State’s role to interfere with its citizens’ choice of life partner.
Third, since we live in a multicultural, multiracial, multi-religious society, no single group’s perspective can enjoy a privileged position to the detriment of other groups. When applied to marriage, what this means is that the norms pertaining to marriage are determined through consensus from one like-minded group to another. An example of this is our own Greek Orthodox/Orthodox faith based community. With few variations, those of us who are part of this community, generally construe marriage in a similar way.
A Profound Impact on Marriage
These three presuppositions have had a profound impact on modern marriage. For instance, they helped civil rights proponents successfully challenge and overturn existing laws prohibiting interracial marriage. They would also assist proponents of equal rights for women.
Similarly, the gay and lesbian community is using these legal presuppositions to promote same-sex marriage. An example of this can be observed in what took place in Alaska in 1998. In a Superior Court case, the judge ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, stating that the “right to choose one’s life partner,” is a fundamental privacy right that should receive protection. He further observed that “Government intrusion into the choice of a life partner encroaches on the intimate personal decisions of the individual…. The relevant question is not whether same-sex marriage is so rooted in our traditions that it is a fundamental right…but whether the freedom to choose one’s own partner is so rooted in our traditions.” The outcome of this case is that legislation emerged sanctioning same-sex relationships. Moreover, since this ruling, both Hawaii and Vermont have drafted similar legislation. Other States are expected to follow suit in the near future.
These rulings have prompted Congress to draft and debate what is known as the Federal Marriage Amendment. This amendment would seek to define marriage as a union between “a man and a woman.” Should this amendment pass, States would then have to comply with this standard.
Opponents and Proponents
In effect, these initiatives have intensified this public discourse, differentiating those involved in a discussion of this issue into two camps: those who oppose and those who propose same-sex marriage. In the briefest of terms, here is what both sides are asserting.
Opponents argue that recent court decisions and legislation sanctioning same-sex marriage will further weaken the institution of marriage, especially at a time when we as a nation should be doing all we can to strengthen it.
They further argue that these decisions potentially legitimize other types of live-jn situations and unions. For instance, should those who are promoting same sex marriage succeed, they wonder what would stop others advocating to legitimize polygamous relationships, as well as other more bizarre arrangements.
They maintain that this initiative would further undermine children’s well-being. Supported by reputable research, they assert that children need both biological parents in order to thrive. As such, whenever possible, our nation should be promoting a two- parent, biological family structure.
They further argue that laws have traditionally protected the institution of marriage because marriage has been perceived to be fundamentally important to society’s well-being.
Conversely, proponents favoring same-sex marriage argue that they are not seeking to negatively impact the institution of marriage. They simply desire inclusion and legal legitimacy for same-sex couples. They further argue that because these relationships are not legally sanctioned, people’s constitutional rights are being violated.
Orthodox Holy Tradition
Orthodox tradition - which is based on divinely revealed truths - conceptualizes marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This can clearly be seen in the Book of Genesis (1-2). In these chapters, God creates “the heaven and earth” (Gen 1:1). Then, as a crowning touch, God creates the first couple, Adam and Eve. In effect, this first union functions to legitimize one divinely revealed truth – that the origins of our understanding of marriage are based on an understanding that it is a union between one man and one woman. Moreover, it is through this union that God calls humankind to participate in the procreative process that would fulfill His commission to also “be fruitful and multiply.”
I am not certain how this debate will eventually play out. However, many experts suggest that it is only a matter of time before same-sex relationships – in some form – will be sanctioned. What I am certain about is that we must become more involved in public discourses such as this one.
As a Greek Orthodox
faith based community, that has become a part of the diverse
tapestry of our country, I believe our voice
is important, and should be heard. It is important for two reasons.
First, if we truly believe that we have God’s divine truth,
then we must seek to share this truth. Second, I believe our
sacramental, traditional perspective of marriage contains merit,
and should be included in any definition of marriage that is
currently being debated. My viewpoint is, that it is time that
our perspective be prayerfully amplified and shared, in this
and other debates affecting public policy.