The difference between plural and same sex marriage.

My friend Dan Kimball recently asked a question on his blog that I thought was pretty interesting:

“If someone is voting for and believes in defining marriage beyond one man and one woman, then why wouldn’t they also believe in the allowance of polygamous marriages provided those wanting to get married also love each other and are committed to each other?”

First let me say that I think the world of Dan and consider him an extremely wise voice in the greater Christian community. I’ve had to chance to hang out with on a few occasions and I have a great respect for the man. Additionally, I don’t want to assume Dan’s position on SSM as it relates to Prop 8 or civil rights. I’m just addressing this question and not Dan’s overall position, whatever that may be…..and I’ll leave that up to him to communicate.

So with that said, and before I try to answer Dan’s questions, I want to point out that I think the question leaves some pretty big stones unturned. First, our society as a whole (Christians included) has already accepted that marriage today is not the same as marriage was when the bible was written. For example, we’ve already discarded polygamy as a valid form of marriage, which was not prohibited, across the board, for all members of the church in the NT. Another example would be that divorce has become commonplace and increasingly accepted, even within the Christian community. So if one is to say that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman, forever, they have come to that conclusion while relying largely on their own rationale derived from experience and cultural understanding, not from a strict adherence to what the scriptures say on these various matters. If this isn’t the case, then why aren’t proponents of this view doing all they can to legislate an end to the entire concept of divorce, along with banning same-sex marriage. If one shares the view of “one man, one woman” but doesn’t fight to eliminate any kind of marital practice that deviates from that formula, then “definitions” obviously don’t matter a whole lot…..at least when it comes to heterosexual, post-biblical marriage practices. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s as simple as gay sexual relations being perceived as inherently “naughtier” than heterosexuals who commits adultery by entering into multiple marriages (or the more snappier name, “polygamy in intervals”). If definitions were that important, that battle would have been fought a long time ago.

Another issue this question doesn’t consider is the way in which consensus forms our understandings of what constitutes valid marriage practices. Polygamy as an issue has been around a very long time. We’ve come to the place we are today because of a consensus that has been built over thousands of years. As the status of women in the world has risen, the practice of polygamy has plummeted. There has been a pretty overwhelming sense that polygamy is not a healthy marital practice and that consensus has maintained itself for hundreds of years, proving to be very sturdy. On the other hand, it seems that the consensus on same-sex marriage is in serious trouble, and I don’t think it’s shakiness is any kind of fluke. Even within the different generations of Christians today, we can find pretty significant differences on the various perspectives with the younger generations being more affirming than their elders.

So to answer Dan’s question, in my opinion, it’s very reasonable to deny the validity of polygamy while affirming the validity of SSM. Polygamy, as it stands in the mainstream culture of marriage, is already dead and buried and it’s not coming back. You can put together the most effective and convincing argument for polygamy and spend billions of dollars promoting your argument and it wouldn’t change a damn thing. It’s been rejected because whatever argument you come up with can’t breakthrough the negative, demeaning experiences of human beings that polygamy has left in its wake. On the other hand, SSM isn’t facing the same stiff opposition. Yeah, it confronts the dogma and certainty of many, but those certainties are sinking in the face of experience and empathy for our gay brothers and sisters who want to be accepted and have their relationships honored like everyone elses. The success of the opponents to SSM won’t hinge on whether they can convince you it’s inherently wrong. Their success will come from the ability to show that the overwhelming majority of experiences of those involved in or touched by SSM have proven to be hurtful and devaluing.

(Update: It seems that Dan’s post that I referenced has been taken down. Sorry for the dead link.)

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8 thoughts on “The difference between plural and same sex marriage.

  1. Great response, Dan definitely seemed to use some faulty logic here and you called him out on it.

    However, in reading your response, you seem to be arguing that we should support SSM because if we don’t, then we need to fight for all the other arenas, regarding marriage, that are wrong.

    So is it a valid option, in your opinion, to vote against SSM and then also fight to outlaw divorce, and the re-marrying of those who have been divorced and truly get back to one man, one woman?

    In other words, is your beef the fact that Kimball is inconsistent or that he doesn’t support SSM? Or both?

  2. i am with you but i have to ask you this: You talk about polygamy being from a long time ago and was partly acceptable in in the NT. But it is dead today. So, i am reading a book called “Same Sex Unions In Pre-Modern Europe” by John Boswell. So with your reasoning, should we not fight for SSM? i am playing devil’s advocate for the sake of discussion. Of course we need to fight for the rights of me and my community to marry! Your thoughts?

  3. For the record, I am affirming of same sex marriage and I believe its in the best interest for our society to promote monogamy, faithful relationships, stable families in any circumstance.

    RSJM, if you want to fight SSM on the basis that it is not what God intended, then you have to also fight all the other marital deviations our society has already seemed to embrace, and that primarily includes divorce. that would be the only credible way, in my view, to fight that battle. otherwise it’s seen as an inconsistent position that doesn’t really carry much weight.

    I don’t have a beef with Dan at all. I am just answering his question. We probably do disagree on the issue, but I don’t begrudge him for his view.

  4. As a believer, a thought that has been rumbling in my brain lately:

    What is sin? Why does God not want us to do it? I think what it boils down to, ultimately, is that God wants what’s best for us. He knows that sin will wind up hurting us or some one else in the end (even if its fun at first). That’s why lying, stealing, cheating, lusting, murdering, etc. is wrong. It hurts us or someone else.

    When it comes to SSM, how is that hurtful? Two people who choose to be in a loving, committed relationship doesn’t harm themselves or others. That’s why I don’t believe its a sin. Whereas polygamy can be very harmful to the people who have to share spouses (lack of attentivness, connection, etc.) I think that is the main difference between SSM and plural marriages.

  5. Lewis…I couldn’t agree more. That would be my defense of SSM. I think when looking at biblical principles you have to look at the intention not necessarily at the specific rule. I think there is always some level of reason or intent behind the “rules” in scripture. God doesn’t just make shit up for the sake of it.

    For example, I grew up with the “rule”.. don’t have sex outside of marriage. While I do think there is a value in that principle when you are young, does that mean that if you are 30 and in a comitted relationship you can’t have “sex outside of marriage”. to many of my old conservative friends, yes that is exactly what it means.

    But what is the intent of that “rule”. The intent I believe (and this would make literalists have a mental breakdown) was to protect us from meaningless sexual relationships. To redeem sexuality as something that is more than just a “hook up” . I don’t think that God was saying for all time, in all circumstances, sex is only “good” when you are legally married by a civil institution. I think it is good, when it is in his will or his intention. Between 2 loving, comitted people, who care deeply for each other and are seeking a physical and natural expression of that love.

    now I can hear my friends saying…well you are making it up as you go along….and that fundementally is the problem with fundementalism. It is a profound lack of trust for our abilility to find our own way with God (and God’s ability to find us)…to allow for the grey areas…and the exploration…we like rules/judgement/control.

    So maybe the same is true for SSM. I have heard that the prohibitions in the bible were more about specific cultural issues…such as men using young boys (that was common in Roman society)…or the use of sodomy as a degrading act (which was also common as a way to show dominance between conquer/conquered)….

    I have never posted before…but enjoy the blog.

  6. Lewis & brushlo,

    you both are so elegant in what you say and in my opinion, make really good arguments. i have a couple of Christian friends who are european and live with their girlfriends. Heck, i live with my girlfriend because there is not ssm in most states! Yet, we love and cherish each other, are committed to one another, care for each other, challenge each other, and our love is not hurting us or anybody else.

    brushlo you said, “now I can hear my friends saying…well you are making it up as you go along….and that fundementally is the problem with fundementalism. It is a profound lack of trust for our abilility to find our own way with God (and God’s ability to find us)…to allow for the grey areas…and the exploration…we like rules/judgement/control.”

    It is about control and not using our brains. Boundaries are good in as much as we do not box ourselves in.

    Lewis you said, “When it comes to SSM, how is that hurtful? Two people who choose to be in a loving, committed relationship doesn’t harm themselves or others. That’s why I don’t believe its a sin. Whereas polygamy can be very harmful to the people who have to share spouses (lack of attentivness, connection, etc.) I think that is the main difference between SSM and plural marriages.”

    i love the distinction you make her b/w ssm and polygamous relationships. i love the HBO series “Big Love”. It’s about Mormons who live in polygamous relationships. At 1st it weirded me out, but then i got to like it. Yet, i still wonder how each wife, in a situation like that, does not feel some insecurity and lack of attention you speak about.

    THANKS for your insights. i feel enlightened from your comments.

    Warm Regards,

    Adele

  7. you bring up a lot of really valid points and holes in the arguements that I hear continuously agains same sex marriage. If you don´t identify the holes in the original questions, they just don´t hold up in my opinion.

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