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.