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Marriage maybes

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 4 years, 3 months ago Saved with comment

A page on sexual issues and Theology


Recently I sang at a church that is very welcoming to gay and lesbian couples, in fact several members of the music and technical team were in such relationships.


And that's not a problem for me.


But I know it is for others, and frankly I'm sick of hearing judgemental comments from the GLB faction criticising those who are uncomfortable with their choices. Because I think it is a difficult issue, and it does neither side credit when both sides pretend otherwise. As most often happens.


Harsh words? Hang on...


Some thought experiments. But first...


Full disclosure


As I said above, I have some reservations about both factions. As on so many issues, I find myself in the position of the double skeptic.


I've been told that in my home state of New South Wales, the law for many years specified a far lesser penalty for homosexual rape than for consenting acts. Whether that's true or not, I'm convinced that the churches of the time would have happily supported such penalties. And that was wrong. We need to take our heads out of the sand and repent of this before true healing can be possible.


And we need to stop selectively invading bedrooms. If we're to forbid (verbally at least, there seems little else left) certain sexual acts on the part of same-sex partners, we need to be prepared to take a stand on heterosexual partners too (and many, many married women wish fervently that the silent church would wake up on this). And similarly for singles. Yes, the big M. And if we drop our opposition to that, we may even need to rethink our attitudes to pornography too. Strong stuff.


On the other hand, I think we are writing monogamous, heterosexual marriage off far too easily. I think we need to affirm it as an ideal. Not the only option, celibacy probably rates equally. But not without enormous advantages, for both genders, either. Again, we need to take our heads out of the sand and affirm these advantages.


And now to the promised thought experiments... 


Thought experiment #1: Who's for a threesome


Suppose we accept same sex marriage. Why stop there?


Suppose a gay couple come to the church and say, we'd like you to meet our fiancee. She's hetero but we've all decided we're in love and we can all three of us be comfortable and fulfilled and satisfied in a three-way, bisexual relationship. And that way, we can give our children a natural and loving relationship with both of their biological parents.


So, please marry us. The affirmation of the church is important to us, and we have the right to be affirmed.


Polygamy! But how can we say no?


Or perhaps more traditionally, suppose a lesbian couple want to add a heterosexual male to their household. Again, how can we say no, if all three of the parties are firmly in favour?


I'm not saying that many such cases will occur. I don't have the data to make even a good guess on that, either way. The polygynous threesome may be popular with men, it even seems very like a male fantasy. Of course traditional polygyny didn't include sexual relationships between the wives... or did it? Would we even know? And does that make any difference? What I'm exploring above may not (or may) be traditional polygyny or polyandry, but they are clearly forms of polygamy.


And both have occurred in literature, the polyandrous threesome for example in the 1969 film Paint Your Wagon. In both cases, it takes three to tango. I do say there will be some, in each category, and that both justice and commonsense demand an answer. Gay couples waited far too long for both justice and commonsense. Are we going to again put our heads in the sand and now deny them to polygamous unions? Probably, yes...


And of course there are many Biblical precedents for polgynous households. I recommend Anita Diamant's novel The Red Tent if you'd like to explore a few of these, with some clear overtones of bisexuality.


And it does raise a few questions. For example, is there any limit to the number of wives and husbands? Kings David and Solomon had many hundreds of wives and concubines. Why shouldn't we give Playboy millionaire Hugh Hefner the same rights?


But it gets much more challenging...


Thought experiment #2: Who's not for a threesome


Suppose then, having accepted the validity of a threesome marriage, we are confronted by a couple who arrive and say, we want to get married, we're in love, he's already married but he doesn't want to end that marriage, we just want to add a third person, a second wife, to the existing marriage.


And it's a logical enough request. If the three of them had come together in the first place, we'd have married them (or that's the assumption here), so it seems a bit strange to say that OK, but first two of you need to get divorced from each other, and then all three of you can get married and/or remarried.


But we of course say, is the first wife agreeable to this?


Oh yes, they say, she doesn't want the first marriage to end either. She's quite determined about that.


Then where is she?


Oh, right now she's at her parents' house crying her eyes out. But she'll get over it, she's promised us both that. She doesn't want a threesome at all, but she'd prefer it to a divorce. And that's the only real choice we've got now, isn't it? We're in love, but we both love her too and we want to accept her and her children into our new family, and she's just got to stop being so selfish, for everyone's sake. And she's promised to do that, and to keep her opposition quiet for her children's sake.


She might even be willing to be part of the ceremony... but we're not sure that's appropriate. What does the church teach on that? Does she need to be there? Would it be good if she was there, or is it better that she stays away?


And if you think such things won't happen, they already do happen, regularly, in some Islamic societies. Try Everyday Life in the Harem by Babs Rule or Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody (the book, the film doesn't have time to go into such things at any depth) for some insights into such matters.


But how can we possibly bless such a union? And how can we not bless it?


What advice do we give the happy couple? What advice do we give the grieving first bride? What ceremonies do we offer them all?




What's this thing called, love?


Let's grasp another nettle. Might as well. What do we mean by marriage, anyway?


I grew up using the word to mean something that was permanent and exclusive. Used figuratively, it meant a bond between two things that was so close that it was no longer practical to separate them.


(And it did also mean two different things, but I wouldn't want to push that point too far. Two people of the same sex are still two individuals, and that's quite different and difficult enough for the term marriage to be valid, in my opinion.)


Does it still mean that? I think it does. But we've tampered badly with this meaning in its original context. In New South Wales, in practice you're limited to one marriage every two years. That's lost a lot of the assumption of permanence, hasn't it?


If same-sex couples want to call themselves married, then they need to look closely at what this means. Exclusive and permanent? My observation is that although many do intend this, and have realistic expectations of the commitment and sacrifice that this means, most don't.


And that in many couples, both hetero and otherwise, one partner takes these commitments and sacrifices a lot more seriously than the other. And this is not all their fault, when all around them society has abandoned those ideals. And that's not good.


Exclusive and permanent relationships have a special place in society, with or without children, but especially in the context of raising a family. We need to affirm that. Is it too late to save the term marriage?



Rights and wrongs, and repentance


Correta Scott King supported same sex marriage as a civil rights issue. if you don't agree with her then read her autobiography, because I think then you will.


But this is not only a GLB issue. If you live in Israel and want to get married and aren't both Jewish, you can't. It doesn't matter whether you're gay or straight, if you want to get married and one or both of you isn't Jewish, you have to do it somewhere outside of Israel. Cairo is popular.


Marriage should be a human right. The church should be defending defenceless people everywhere those whose rights are trampled, whether gays in Australia or Baptists in Israel. Let's be consistent.


God can use our past blunders. But we need to repent of them. We need to say "sorry" to gays in Australia.





As I said above, i think we need to affirm exclusive, permanent, heterosexual marriage as an ideal. In particular but probably not only as an ideal way of raising children.


I'm not sure exactly how, but just to decide to do so is itself an affirmation.


I also think we need to affirm other arrangements that incorporate some but not all of the positives of traditional marriage. Again, not entirely sure of the details. I think we need to admit that it's a challenging thing to affirm both!


And as part of that, we need to repent of much of the churches' past actions and attitudes.


And even worse, we need to affirm partnerless sexuality. Which may prove the biggest challenge of all.




More to follow... 


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