When it comes to gay marriage, I’m somewhat reluctant to say I’m progressive(ly conservative). Or even that I’m conservative(ly progressive).
To put it simply, I’d support civil “gay marriage” but couldn’t support religious “gay marriage.” It may seem like a cop out or double speak, but it’s not. Here’s a basic rundown of where I stand.
A few years ago, I woke to the reality that what the government calls “marriage” is a different monster than what God calls marriage. Since (apart from the Creation mandate and the general call to salvation and repentance) only God’s people are “obligated” to follow God’s intention for God’s people. In other words, the traditional Christian ethic for marriage only applies to followers of Christ (or Old Testament believers when applicable).
Now, come on, you remember high school, right? There was only that one couple who claimed that they didn’t need a piece of paper to tell them that they were married (or in love, or husband and wife, etc) before God or whatever higher power they believed in. I realized they were right in a sense.
At least from the Christian perspective (one that is mimicked in various ways through means of God’s Common Grace in almost every culture in the world), marriage is promise covenant of fidelity and commitment – whether or not love is involved – between a man and a woman that is witnessed by God, by their respective families and by the community at large. The witnesses are there to remind the couple that their of their vows are of the uttermost importance. And should the marriage come to an end they have to face the shame of breaking their word. In many ways this is a picture of the sort of relationship that Christians enter into with Jesus (Ephesian 5).
In this way, a couple could have a ceremony and festivities and be witnessed by God, family and friends as exchanging vows, without ever having to bring the civil authorities into it.
What we call marriage today, then, is a merging of two distinct entities. The religious “marriage” which I just described, and the “civil union” or “domestic partnership” which amounts to a governmental and private means of bookkeeping. If the government sees you as “married” (in a civil union, whereby you’ve pledged to go through life together – sharing expenses, responsibilities, etc) you get certain privileges and perks, typically reflected in taxes and through whatever social policies exist (like a hospital counting a spouse as family) or being able to make decisions in lieu of your partner’s absence.
One way that clearly demonstrates the distinction is the fact that Common Law marriage hasn’t yet disappeared from the Western world. Essentially live together with your partner for long enough, acting and encountering life as if you were “legally” married, and the civil authority puts you on their books as being married as such. No “pesky” clergyman needed! (Common Law marriage is slowly going away from the US, however. Though I’m somewhat shocked that the “smaller government” spokespeople are willing to allow its death as an acceptable casualty.).
Another way that comes to mind is that a couple needn’t even have to have a religious minister sign the marriage license paperwork. Eloping is common enough to need a word to describe it.
So all this being the case where does that leave us? Religious faiths and worldviews have the right (at least in the US) to practice their way of life and morality with huges amounts of freedom. If one’s sincerely held belief that exercising the sexual priveleges of marriage while not fulfilling whatever held requirements is morally wrong, then it’s just as wrong to force someone to act against that. Christians have a long-standing view and hermenuetic that limits Marriage to one man one woman before God, family and community that has only come into question because people have stopped taking the time and effort to dig and discover where those boundary markers come from. (It’s so much easier just to claim that it’s a history-wide case of “the Man” keeping a thumb on gay individuals.)
However, when it comes to the sphere of civil life, “marriage” (here, really domestic unions) is a bookkeeping matter and a measure of convenience and courtesy extended to citizens. If one is choosing to legally bind oneself to another, I don’t think the government or anyone should stand in their way. I mean we step back and let corporations and non-profits do it all the time. And it’s legally possible to do so in almost any situation.
All that being said, I hope it’s a bit clearer why I find the gay marriage issue somewhat unfortunate. It’s clear to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, that we’ve reached a point where the GLBT activists are pushing for cultural acceptance not just, what really amounts to, tax relief. How is this? Well, it’s pretty much always been possible to form a legal entity that contracts two (or more) individuals together in “marriage-like” ways.
If someone wants to go to a courthouse and become domestically partnered, I wouldn’t stop them. There are clear benefits (financial and otherwise) to doing so, and most everyone should have the privilege.
But if someone wants to go to a church and demand that the church explicitly change their views on what its marriage roles, requirements and responsibilities are just to fulfill some personal emotional need, then that’s a different situation – a situation more akin to a toddler throwing a tantrum because he can’t get his way and won’t accept what his parents are telling him. (Now if a church does happily agree to marry you, then go there instead. Don’t try to bulldoze your way through.)
Of course, I’d expect there to be some friction and frustration. The Church, as the body of Christ, has always lived under different obligations, duties and privileges from where the World generally operates. One of the reasons why God allowed life on earth to progress to this point is so that we can better learn to love and understand each other, and better learn how to call others to new life in Jesus.