Wide-ranging thoughts on the Minnesota Marriage Bill

14 05 2013

Let me say right off the bat that I just don’t like the issue of gay marriage. I don’t like what it does to us all. The debate brings out a level of vitriol that so far transcends any other topic. Slurs against homosexual people are incredibly hurtful, damaging, and far too common. And the harsh words directed to traditional marriage advocates are no better. Since last fall, I’ve seen myself and others called bigots, small-minded, backwards and homophobic (the most misleading misnomer in modern conversation). Look at those words for a moment. These are insults. These aren’t logical words arguing with a political position. These are fighting words, pieces of ad hominem attacks against a person’s character, not their arguments.

Words hurt, folks. They hurt everyone – gay or straight, marriage traditionalist or expansionist. And I hate that this debate has seemingly made us all forget that ever-important kindergarten lesson.

With full disclosure that I just don’t like what this argument does to us, I want to organize a few (gentle and non-confrontational) thoughts on today’s landmark marriage bill in Minnesota.

The Good? The Fitzsimmons Amendment. Last week, a St. Michael-Albertville representative tacked on an amendment adding the word “civil” before the word “marriage” wherever it appears in the bill. The idea was to protect religious institutions from being forced to violate their beliefs under the bill, and though most analysis of the amendment says the effects will be insignificant if anything, it’s a step in the right direction.

This is the route the debate needs to go. It’s becoming clear that there is a divide between how government treats marriage and how the church treats it. Civil or governmental marriage is about legal recognition, it’s about tax benefits and visitation rights, and to be honest, it’s not the government’s place to be giving these rights to some and denying them to others.

What’s unfortunate is that the state has tied these rights to a religious concept called marriage that encompasses so much more for religious people than a legal document and a tax break. The battle cry for the marriage bill has been “love is love,” and love is a vital part of marriage. But when someone says that if two people love each other, they deserve to get married, I can’t help but feel like they’ve missed something in the definition of marriage. Love is essential, but marriage is so much more than love. Marriage is lifelong commitment, marriage is ever-growing intimacy, marriage is the one and only setting for procreation, it’s the nursery for growing children, the breeding ground for a deepening relationship with God, the seed of the so-vital family unit, the affirmation of the complementary strengths and weaknesses of each sex, the living symbol of the church’s relationship to our creator. And I’m sure there are plenty more aspects I’ve missed that my more theologically-versed friends can help me out with.

If I sound a little overly dramatic, if I sound like I’m describing something sacred and absolutely vital to myself and my faith, then you’ll understand why a government redefinition of marriage is so painful for Christians like myself.

Quite frankly, the government can’t and shouldn’t be promoting marriage, not if it encompasses everything listed above. Ideally, the state wouldn’t be involved in marriage at all. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem an option at this point. The next best thing would be allowing the state to do what it wants legally (based, of course, on what its constituents ask for – people of faith included), and religious institutions should be able to promote the more comprehensive definition of marriage without legal restraint.

That’s where this bill concerns me. It’s a rare law that comes with zero unintended consequences, and the most likely to follow this bill are discrimination suits against people of faith.  No matter how adamantly supporters of the bill assert that it won’t happen here, they are unable to provide any hard evidence. Why? Because  the facts argue otherwiseprecedent from other states makes it awfully clear that there will be unintended consequences and that whether advocated intend it to or not, this bill will wind up forcing people to violate their personal and religious beliefs, as one local law professor wrote in the Pioneer Press.

These problems were addressable in the Minnesota bill. One of my local representatives tried to add an amendment Friday fixing some, but it was shot down. There just wasn’t time. The bill was rushed through, it was forced down the throats of the minority by a majority that, spurred on by a desire to be on some arbitrarily-defined “right side of history,” simply wouldn’t listen to anyone with a differing view. I agree with Melissa Coleman when she wrote last week that this was an extreme solution to an issue with many available compromises.

Last fall we were told that a constitutional amendment in favor of traditional marriage was too concrete, too permanent. But the pleas to merely ‘continue the conversation’ ring hollow now. Continuing the conversation simply meant deciding just as permanently 6 months later, only in the other direction. In fact, the argument then that the constitutional amendment was redundant and unneccessary sound a lot like the arguments now that there is no threat to religious freedom in the Minnesota Marriage bill. Are we willing to trust the same faulty argument twice?



With all this said, I think it’s crucial for Christians to keep focused more than ever on our role here and now. Don’t panic, don’t get depressed over the passage of a single bill. We often forget that our government and our church are not one. As much as we should try to set up a God-honoring government, it’s not our main focus. This isn’t our permanent home, and we shouldn’t be so consumed with shaping this world the way we want it to be that we forget that our first focus is people. We’re not called to legislate others into our own morality. We’re called to love them. I firmly believe God doesn’t care about our legislative victories and courtroom triumphs half as much as he cares about how we love other people.

This isn’t some corruption of our perfect Christian homeland. This isn’t our home. God is setting up the perfect home for us, and our job is to get as many people in as possible. At best, fixing up this world is like cleaning a hotel room – it’s a stop on the way to something better. Our job is unchanged, and while I worry that this bill might make that job more difficult, now is the perfect time to refocus on what our priority truly is.

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14 responses

14 05 2013
NotAScientist

“now that there is no threat to religious freedom in the Minnesota Marriage bill. Are we willing to trust the same faulty argument twice?”

What do you think they’re going to do?

Christian Churches aren’t forced to marry Jews or Muslims or atheists. And they aren’t going to be forced to marry gays. Unless they want to. And some do.

14 05 2013
Jared Anderson

You’re right that churches, for the most part, won’t be forced to do anything (although there is a very real chance that churches who rent out their facilities to non-members for weddings will be forced, under non-discrimination laws, to rent them for gay weddings too – an excerpt I edited out of this blog: “giving gay couples the ability to marry is one thing, forcing a church to violate its own religious tenets in its own sanctuary is quite another”).

The real danger is to Christian organizations and Christian-owned private businesses. The hyperlinks in my 5th-to-last paragraph lay out most of these that have already popped up in other states, but a quick summary:

Christian groups who own buildings potentially forced to open their facilities for marriage ceremonies that violate the organizations religious beliefs.

Christians who own catering, photography, wedding planning businesses faced with the choice of performing weddings they morally object to, paying court-imposed fines, or simply closing their doors.

Christian charity agencies (like the Catholic charity in one of my links) being forced to place adoptive children with same-sex couples, violating the core beliefs of that charity.

Again, these were addressable problems in the bill. But in the rush to make history and be able to pat ourselves on the back, additions strengthening religious protections were voted down and ignored. That’s my major concern with the bill.

14 05 2013
NotAScientist

Let me ask you: would you support a business that said it morally opposed mixed-race couples and refused to offer them equal services?

I understand that you probably don’t view that as the same as same-sex marriage. But we do, and the law does.

If you would support one and not the other, I sincerely ask why?

14 05 2013
Jared Anderson

I wouldn’t personally support that business with my money. But to say we should legislate it out of existence? I think most people would agree that that would be a massive government overreach. It’s trying to legislate others to follow your own morals, just like I argued against Christians doing in my post.

15 05 2013
NotAScientist

“I think most people would agree that that would be a massive government overreach. ”

Except there are laws now against discriminating against race. Are they burdensome?

15 05 2013
Jared Anderson

In some cases, yes.

Beyond that, comparing race and sexual preference is apples and oranges. One is an unchangeable human characteristic. The other is a behavior.

With all due respect, this is the point where gay marriage advocates like yourself do more harm than good in convincing people to join your side. This is where establishing a right for one group starts to infringe on the rights of another, and it’s exactly why I am forced to oppose gay marriage even though I don’t agree with the way gay couples are denied tax benefits, visitation rights, etc.

The crux of the gay marriage argument is that this is a right homosexual people deserve and one that doesn’t tread on the rights of anyone else. You’re making the argument yourself that their right actually does tread on someone else’s.

14 05 2013
joe

Jared,

People don’t think that critically. They don’t see what a church is, they certainly don’t know what a 501c is, and they certainly can’t look forward enough to grasp the idea of a church being forced, however coercively (like losing 501c status), into perform ceremonies that are against the fundamental platform upon which the church was founded. Nobody cares that there happens to be a clause, somewhere, that states something about a separation of church and state.

It will only be a matter of time before a bill will be presented and voted on that forces all churches claiming 501c status to perform ceremonies against their core beliefs. It will happen.

Don’t give people that credit Jared. They do not deserve it. The real issue is not “gay marriage” the real issue is the destruction of the chruch.

15 05 2013
Jared Anderson

I want very badly to believe that this is all done out of misguided good intentions. Unfortunately, there is a lot of evidence that agrees with you, and I think there is a faction out there dedicated to minimizing the church in America, though it’s hard to say how big a faction. It’s absolutely another reason that I think we as Christians can’t just bury our heads in the sand on divisive issues like this one.

16 05 2013
NotAScientist

“In some cases, yes.”

Here, clearly, we disagree then.

“One is an unchangeable human characteristic. The other is a behavior.”

No. Both are unchangeable human characteristics. The behavior is a response to the characteristic.

“This is where establishing a right for one group starts to infringe on the rights of another”

I don’t see it that way. All I see is a group of people upset that they won’t be allowed to discriminate against another group.

“You’re making the argument yourself that their right actually does tread on someone else’s.”

I don’t recognize ‘the ability to discriminate against a group of people because of the way they are’ as a right.

19 05 2013
Jared Anderson

If we’re considering behaviors merely an extension of who a person is (and condoning behaviors merely because a person is naturally inclined to them), then by extension we need to stop infringing on the rights of pathological liars, serial killers, those with genetic predispositions towards alcoholism and so on.

Also note that I never advocated making homosexuality illegal or anything of the sort. No rights are being infringed upon there. I just oppose redefining a religious institution in a way that that directly conflicts with the religion that created the institution.

You’re right though, this is pretty much the point where we fundamentally disagree, and we both have to respect the other’s right to hold a differing opinion.

19 05 2013
NotAScientist

“and condoning behaviors merely because a person is naturally inclined to them”

No.

We condone behaviors that a person is naturally inclined to and that cause no harm. Both being black and being homosexual qualify.

“I just oppose redefining a religious institution”

If it were only a religious institution then my wife and I, both atheists, wouldn’t have been legally allowed to be married in the US. As we were, it’s clearly not entirely a religious institution.

19 05 2013
Jared Anderson

Being black isn’t a behavior. And I would argue that homosexuality does cause problems, both societally (a non-religious argument) and spiritually (a religious one).

I appreciate having this conversation, and I think it’s great to discuss the issue at more length than the short sound bytes it normally is. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where we simply don’t agree, and neither is going to persuade the other. Such is life.

I appreciate hearing from you, and I respect that you have substantive arguments that you’ve clearly thought through (which is too rare in political discussion), and hopefully you can respect my arguments the same way while still disagreeing.

(I threw a follow your way… I like to hear differing opinions and I’m interested to read more of your work!)

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