Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Gay Marriage Far Removed From Civil Rights Movement

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

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Does the movement to sanction gay marriage bear any resemblance to the long struggle which ended segregation for black Americans? Does the restriction against same-sex marriage discriminate against homosexuals in the way that segregated lunch counters discriminated against blacks? Is it fair to equate homosexual dissatisfaction with the hardships blacks endured?

Civil Rights was foremost a movement of moral reform. Preaching and politics worked hand in hand, but without the preaching there would have been no politics. The Supreme Court decision against the Birmingham bus company that struck down the laws requiring blacks to sit at the back of the bus, for example, was a huge victory in the civil rights struggle. The legal victory however, grew out of the leadership of Martin Luther King and other like-minded Christians who first clarified the moral rightness of the cause and inspired the boycotters to hold firm.

Segregation laws stood because the prevailing opinion of white America held black Americans to be inferior. This attitude was held with little self-reflection and was part of the everyday routines of everyday life. In hindsight, this injustice is apparent to any clear thinking person. But in earlier decades it was not always so clear. The attitudes shifted when the courage and leadership of black America awakened the conscience of the nation. It shows that moral appeals can shape culture for the better.

King repeatedly invoked the moral teaching that the Creator endowed all people with dignity and promised them life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. King's preaching echoed the familiar truths of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (to which he frequently referred). Yet he reached further, drawing deeply from the moral tradition that informed not only these documents but also shaped the moral values of many Americans at the time.

Drawing from this reservoir, King's appeal took on great clarity and power. He recalled and strengthened the shared notions of justice, fairness, opportunity, virtue, and other qualities found in American culture. White America, although not perfectly and not without conflict, embraced his message and segregation was eventually repealed.

When homosexual activists argue that restricting marriage to one man and one woman violates their civil rights, they invoke the memory of the civil rights movement and position themselves as disenfranchised Americans. The problem is that the moral tradition that informed the civil rights movement prohibits same-sex marriages. The association between the two movements is illegitimate.

The prohibition against homosexual marriage arises from the prohibition against any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage. Obviously, many people have ignored this prohibition in the past and many do today.

Yet our cultural failure to obey this standard (or even teach it) does not diminish its authority. Sexual discipline is essential for creating stable relationships between men and women. It is crucial for keeping families intact. Even a cursory glance at the cultural fallout that came out of the sexual revolution of the 1960s should make the wisdom of the prohibition crystal clear.

It's clever politics to frame same-sex unions in the context of marriage and civil rights. It creates an appearance of moral legitimacy by implicitly affirming the sanctity of marriage, but disallows criticism of the activist since that would be tantamount to discrimination. But the appearance is disingenuous. Defining a homosexual union as a legal marriage in effect jettisons the same moral tradition they ostensibly invoke, since the tradition clearly does not sanction homosexual relationships.

Marriage is first the creation of family, particularly as the family exists to create and nurture children. Yet same-sex partners are biologically closed to creating new life. The fact that some gays acquire children through adoption or insemination, or that some heterosexual couples never have children or are incapable of conception, or that even a gay couple might make better parents than some heterosexual couples, does not obviate this rule. Nature is very clear here.

Biology alone however, cannot elucidate a moral vision, even though the vision must correspond and incorporate biological reality. Western culture draws the understanding of the meaning, direction, and purpose of human existence from other sources, chiefly the founding narratives of Western culture.

Genesis portrays the family as the primary and foundational social relationship, and family consists of a male and female parent. It's an elementary point replicated in almost every society known to man (including non-Christian cultures), and supported by thousands of years of experience. That God "created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," speaks volumes here.

Gay activists can't have it both ways. The Civil Rights movement was successful because it was faithful to the moral tradition. Same-sex activists cannot invoke this great movement of moral reform while working to undermine and ultimately replace the moral precepts that inform it.

This article was published on the Breakpoint website.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is a Greek Orthodox priest and edits the website www.orthodoxytoday.org.

Posted: 5/1/04

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