Friday 17 June 2011

Employing the politics of fear ...

It could lead to polygamy and incest!

Such was the cry from Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney when he spoke against gay marriage last week.

Such is the politics of fear which conservatives are now deploying in a desperate attempt to oppose same-sex marriage.

Others have used different prophecies of doom.  One writer to the Church of England Newspaper recently claimed that research has shown that only 1% of LGBT people choose faithful relationships, and that accepting same-sex marriage would introduce a kind of institutionalised adultery into marriage which would destroy it from within.  (As if there are no heterosexuals who engage in adultery, swinging, or shagging around!)

Of course conservatives have a vested interest...

For many years the most straightforward argument against same-sex sex was that marriage is the only appropriate place for sex to take place.  As long as marriage is only be open to heterosexuals, this is a cast iron reason why sex between 2 men or 2 women could never be right in God's eyes.  Put simply, the churches conservative voice has said to homosexuals,

"If you can't get married, you can't have sex - and, oh dear - you can't get married!" 

You get the circular argument...

So the spectre of same-sex marriage is quite a threat, because it would remove this prohibition at a single stroke.  This is why the big guns of fear are being rolled out onto the church lawn.

But what would really change if people of the same sex were allowed to get married?

Would the church's marriage vows change?   Would the promise to 'love, comfort, honour and protect' each other disappear? 

Would we have to leave out the promise, 'forsaking all others, be faithful as long as you both shall live'?

Would 'for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health'  have to be watered down with something less demanding?

The answer is clearly 'No' because these are the promises which are at the heart of Christian marriage vows, and those coming to be married are not given the option to pick & choose which bits they want & which bits they don't.

It may be that the number of 'open relationships' among homosexuals is higher than for heterosexuals (although nowhere near as high as the scaremongers claim) but that is no reason to stop those who want to promise faithfulness through good times and bad.  Indeed it is arguable that providing the opportunity to make such vows would go some way to reversing the moral and ethical vacuum that our blanket condemnation has created.

As for polygamy and incest, Christian conservatives and fundamentalists would do well to remember that a literal interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve leaves little alternative to incest as the way the earth was populated - and there is a strong and consistent message in the Old Testament of male success being measured by the number of wives (not to mention concubines) that they had.

The truth is that our concept of marriage has moved on since Biblical times.  Brothers are no longer required to marry the widow of their deceased sibling to provide for her.  Abraham today would not have the choice of which wife to sleep with tonight.  Jacob would not have to work for another 7 years to add the wife he really wanted to the wife he was given by deceit!   King David would not have the option of coving up his adultery by marrying Bathsheba.

In the same way, the provision of same-sex marriage would be a step forward - not a step back - and would no more undermine marriage that the recognition of interracial marriage (which  was only fully legalised in the USA in 1967).

 So take your tanks off the church lawn, Dr Jensen, because they really do look out of place.


  1. Hi Benny,

    Could you clarify something for me, since I am not totally clear on everything you have said here. You rightly point out that part of the marriage vows are:

    "... forsaking all others, be faithful for so long as you both shall live."

    This rightly demands faithful, monogomous, life-long relationships.

    How do bi-sexual people do this? Do they deny one part of their desires, and only have one partner for life? Or do they have two partners, and "faithfulness" then means "faithful toward two different people at the same time", and so is redefining "faithful" to mean "not monogomous"?

    How does this work? I'm not clear.

    Thanks. Nathan

  2. I feel I am pushing in a bit here! It is a common misunderstanding that bisexual people have to (or indeed wish to) simultaneously have a partner of each sex in order to feel fulfilled. A heterosexual person may be simultaneously very much attracted to very different body types (for example slight small breasted women and curvaceous women), but as long as someone is sexually and emotionally happy in the relationship they are in then it doesn't folow they will be unfaithful or feel the need to be - although, of course, many heterosexuals do...

    It is just the same for bisexual people who usually settle with one partner, either opposite or same sex, rather than being in some sort of multiple set up. Sometimes bisexuals are faithful, sometimes not - just like gay people and straight people.

  3. Hello Suem,

    I appreciate your response. Maybe Benny will add more detail, but again can I then clarify a point?

    Are you saying that, for example, a Christian bi-sexual man married to a woman, we would expect to be sexually exclusively faithful to that one single woman for life, and any relationship with anybody else would be straight and simple adultery and unfaithfulness which broke the marriage vows?


  4. Hi Nathan,
    I don't know what you mean by "we"- I am not part of any authority or "system" policing other people's behaviour.

    But, for what it is worth, I would personally think that a bisexual man (married to a woman) who had sex with another man would be committing adultery. I think if you marry someone, that entails sexual faithfulness on both sides. I think this should be the Church's advice for gay, straight and bisexual.

    I also recognise that people fall short of that ideal and believe the Church is more tolerant of that nowadays( ie remarriage after divorce.) It is a more difficult matter if both parties in a relationship have an "open marriage" and they feel that is not unfaithfulness for them. I have grave reservations about that, but ultimately it is a private matter between those individuals.

  5. Thank you Benny for a straightforward and sensible piece. The irony is that if we took the Bible as unthinkingly literally as Peter Jensen would have us do then incest, as in the family of Adam and Eve, and polygamy, as in great swathes of the Old Testament, would be the Biblical standard. Could one be forgiven for thinking that the anti-gay rants we hear from conservative christians really have nothing to do with the Bible but are simply prejudice dressed up to look like Biblical theology?

  6. Hello Suem,

    I think we are on a similar wavelength re:faithfulness. That's good to know! I also understand how divorce is a sad and unwanted outcome for some - it is not the ideal, but a sad reality of life.

    As for an open-marriage, while I understand how that could be viewed as OK from a secular/humanist position, I cannot see how open-marriage squares with the marriage vows a Christian would take in church (as Benny listed them). I not think Christians have authority to re-interpret "faithful" or "monogomous" to mean "consenting adults can do as they choose, and the Church must accept this." Open-marriage is not an option for Christians.

    Faithful and monogomous have one meaning - as I think we agree. Open marriage, while something a couple can choose, contradicts this meaning - the two are incompatible, I feel.


  7. Hi everyone - sorry I have been off line for a day, but it sounds like a good discussion has been going on.

    @Nathan and Suem:
    I would agree with everything that Suem has said. The word 'Bisexual' refers to orientation rather than any particular domestic arrangement. Bisexual people are attracted to both men and women but for almost all the bisexuals I know (including my wife) they do not seek to use this as a license to have 2 partners (one of each sex). My wife and I are equally committed to being faithful to each other.

    In this whole debate, we focus too much on sex, and too little on love. Bisexual people can fall in love with either a man or a woman. Like Suem, I believe that God's ideal is monogomous faithful realationships.

    Unfortunately however, such a Christian commitment (ie marriage) is not available to bisexuals or homosexuals who fall in love with someone of the same sex.

    It is arguable that making Christian marriage a possibility for people in same-sex relationships will encourage more LGB's to embrace a positive Christian ethic.

    God Bless

  8. @Simon:
    Thanks for your comment and I am glad you found the post helpful. I do think that prejudice has a lot to do with it, but I also think that my fellow evangelicals need to more Bilical, rather than picking and choosing which scriptures to enphasise and which to forget.