Same-sex marriage in The Atlantic

From The Atlantic:

So yes, marriage will change. Or rather, it will change again. The fact is, there is no such thing as traditional marriage. In various places and at various points in human history, marriage has been a means by which young children were betrothed, uniting royal houses and sealing alliances between nations. In the Bible, it was a union that sometimes took place between a man and his dead brother’s widow, or between one man and several wives. It has been a vehicle for the orderly transfer of property from one generation of males to the next; the test by which children were deemed legitimate or bastard; a privilege not available to black Americans; something parents arranged for their adult children; a contract under which women, legally, ceased to exist. Well into the 19th century, the British common-law concept of “unity of person” meant a woman became her husband when she married, giving up her legal standing and the right to own property or control her own wages.

Many of these strictures have already loosened. Child marriage is today seen by most people as the human-rights violation that it is. The Married Women’s Property Acts guaranteed that a woman could get married and remain a legally recognized human being. The Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginiadid away with state bans on interracial marriage. By making it easier to dissolve marriage, no-fault divorce helped ensure that unions need not be lifelong. The recent surge in single parenthood, combined with an aging population, has unyoked marriage and child-rearing. History shows that marriage evolves over time. We have every reason to believe that same-sex marriage will contribute to its continued evolution.

The argument that gays and lesbians are social pioneers and bellwethers has been made before. Back in 1992, the British sociologist Anthony Giddens suggested that gays and lesbians were a harbinger of a new kind of union, one subject to constant renegotiation and expected to last only as long as both partners were happy with it. Now that these so-called harbingers are looking to commit to more-binding relationships, we will have the “counterfactual” that Gary Gates talks about: we will be better able to tell which marital stresses and pleasures are due to gender, and which are not.

In the end, it could turn out that same-sex marriage isn’t all that different from straight marriage. If gay and lesbian marriages are in the long run as quarrelsome, tedious, and unbearable; as satisfying, joyous, and loving as other marriages, we’ll know that a certain amount of strife is not the fault of the alleged war between men and women, but just an inevitable thing that happens when two human beings are doing the best they can to find a way to live together.

Eve Tushnett, also writing in The Atlantic, replies:

The biggest reason I don’t just de-pope myself is that I fell in love with the Catholic Church. Very few people just “believe in God” in an abstract way; we convert, or stay Christian, within a particular church and tradition. I didn’t switch from atheistic post-Judaism to “belief in God,” but to Catholicism: the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, Michelangelo and Wilde, St. Francis and Dorothy Day. I loved the Church’s beauty and sensual glamour. I loved her insistence that seemingly irreconcilable needs could both be met in God’s overwhelming love: justice and mercy, reason and mystery, a savior who is fully God and also fully human. I even loved her tabloid, gutter-punching side, the way Catholics tend to mix ourselves up in politics and art and pop culture. (I love that side a little less now, but it’s necessary.)

I didn’t expect to understand every element of the faith. It is a lot bigger than I am. I’m sure there are psychological reasons for my desire to find a God and a Church I could trust entirely: I don’t think I have a particularly steady moral compass, for example. I’m better at falling in love than finding my way, more attuned to eros than to ethics. Faith is no escape from the need for personal moral judgment; the Church is meant to form your conscience, not supersede it. There are many things which, if the Catholic Church commanded them, I think would have prevented me from becoming Catholic. (More on this below.) But I do think it was okay to enter the Church without being able to justify all of her teachings on my own.

At the time of my baptism the church’s teaching on homosexuality was one of the ones I understood the least. I thoroughly embarrassed myself in a conversation with one of my relatives, who tried to figure out why I was joining this repressive religion. I tried to explain something about how God could give infertile heterosexual couples a baby if He wanted to, and my relative, unsurprisingly, asked why He couldn’t give a gay couple a baby. The true answer was that I didn’t understand the teaching, but had agreed to accept it as the cost of being Catholic. To receive the Eucharist I had to sign on the dotted line (they make you say, “I believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches” when they bring you into the fold), and I longed intensely for the Eucharist, so I figured, everybody has to sacrifice something. God doesn’t promise that He’ll only ask you for the sacrifices you agree with and understand.


The Church needs to grow and change in response to societal changes. We can do so much better in serving the needs of gay/queer/same-sex attracted Catholics, especially the next generation. But I think gay Catholics can also offer a necessary witness to the broader society. By leading lives of fruitful, creative love, we can offer proof that sexual restraint isn’t a death sentence (or an especially boring form of masochism). Celibacy can offer some of us radical freedom to serve others. While this approach isn’t for everyone, there were times when I had much more time, space, and energy to give to people in need than my friends who were juggling marriage and parenting along with all their other commitments. I’ve been able to take homeless women briefly into my own home, for example, which I would not have been able to do as spontaneously—and maybe not at all—if I had not been single.

Moreover, celibate gay Christians can offer proof that friendship can be real love, and deserves the same honor as any other form of lovingkindness, caretaking and devotion. While nobody wants every friendship to be a deep, committed “spiritual friendship” of the kind championed by St. Aelred, many of us—including single straight people, and married people of every orientation—long for deeper and more lasting friendships. The cultural changes which would better nourish celibate gay Christians, then, would be good for everyone else as well.

Collin Hansen at TGC:

Indeed, even if we disagree with Hall’s prescription, we can agree we need better thinking about marriage in a rapidly changing society. Whether or not the Supreme Court will decide this summer to legalize same-sex marriage across the nation, democratic momentum points toward a future where these unions take their place alongside other new norms, such as unmarried cohabitation and bearing children out of wedlock. A Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday revealed that in 2011, 44 percent of single mothers had never been married, up from 4 percent in 1960.

Long before same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce and birth control drastically shaped attitudes about marriage by eroding social stigmas against unmarried parenting, cohabitation, and sex outside marriage. Gay marriage may be a big step, but it’s only the next step in a staircase that doesn’t end here. And with each new step, we see that you can’t change the definition of marriage for some but not others. No-fault divorce, as we can see from history, didn’t force anyone to get divorced. But it removed permanence from the definition of marriage and pressured everyone, including churches, to rethink their views on biblical teaching. Likewise, gay marriage does not force anyone to become gay. But it cements the already popular belief that marriage has nothing to do with creation or procreation.

You need not claim Christian faith to understand what’s at stake in the debate over gay marriage. Harvard University professor of government Michael J. Sandel, writing in his bestselling book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do, questions whether we can welcome gay marriage on purely libertarian, nonjudgmental criteria.

“In order to decide who should qualify for marriage, we have to think through the purpose of marriage and the virtues it honors,” Sandel writes. “And this carries us onto contested moral terrain, where we can’t remain neutral toward competing conceptions of the good life.”

To be sure, every Christian will be forced to choose sides. And we’ll need the courage to stand by God’s vision for marriage. So when asked about the purpose of marriage, our vision of the good life, let us point to Genesis 2:24, cited in Ephesians 5:31: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In Ephesians 5:32, the apostle Paul explains, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” So for all the other good purposes of marriage—affection, support, stability, child-rearing, among them—ultimately Christian marriage points to the gospel. Specifically, Christian marriage reflects God as husbands love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:25).

Few children today will grow up and see this love in action. Nearly half have parents who aren’t even married. So we cannot be surprised they have little idea what marriage should be. Yet we respond with hope that when they meet a Christian couple, they see the difference and hear the hope of the gospel. Broken homes are a mission field. They call us first to compassion, not judgment.

Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family responds at First Things:

The author, Liza Mundy, highlights some of the most important research on same-sex marriage, presenting much of its critical findings. What’s curious is how she spins the evidence she presents. A more honest reading would give us reservations about viewing same-sex marriage as a model.

Mundy admits that studies have found “higher dissolution rates among [legally registered] same-sex couples” in Scandinavia than among married heterosexual couples. This study, published in Demography, found that even though same-sex couples enter their legal unions at older ages—a marker related to greater relational stability—male same-sex marriages break up at twice the rate of heterosexual marriages.

And the break-up rate for lesbians? It is a stunning 77 percent higher than that of same-sex male unions. When controlling for possible confounding factors, the “risk of divorce for female partnerships actually is more than twice that for male unions.” Mundy mentions this, but only as evidence that “gay marriage can function as a controlled experiment, helping us see which aspects of marital difficulty are truly rooted in gender and which are not.”


In the face of all this negative evidence, Mundy bases her case for the superiority of same-sex marriages on the pure assumption that such relationships are better because they are not clouded by stifling gender stereotypes. They are absent the gender power games that are rumored to exist in natural marriages. But her piece is shot through with the recognition of such gender stereotypes, such as lesbians investing more emotional energy in their relationships and gay men seeking more sexual diversity. She also admits that (as research shows) when two men decide one should stay home with a child, the argument is not about who gets to stay home, but who has to. The lesbian couples were far more interested in child care than the men, to the degree that it tended to threaten the health and longevity of their relationships.

No doubt some same-sex couples are happy, but the kinds of social science lessons Mundy seeks to draw are a matter of unforgiving averages. With more relational instability and divorce, less sex in marriage and more sex outside it, it would appear that same-sex couples do have something to teach us, if only by counterexample.