January 11, 2005
Who's making an idol?
There's more I could say about free will, but frankly I'm getting tired of the subject, so I'll give it a rest. But before I move back to book blogging I wanted to address something that came up in the comments to this post. Christopher said that the gay-marriage argument has gotten so out of hand because "we've made an idol of sexuality in our culture, and a lot of the blame falls on the Church and our appointed leaders." To which some more conservative commenters answered that it's gay-marriage advocates who've made sex into an idol, because they've made a change in the traditional teaching such a church-splitting issue.
Well, here's my position: I think they're both right. I think that both the "traditional family values" people and their sexual-revolutionary opponents have made an idol of Eros, but they've done it in different ways.
As I've said before, the initial sex-related cult the church had to deal with was the cult of family. Celibacy, Hauerwas has pointed out, was not just a control of fleshly urges but a statement of trust in God and the Church, because in those pre-Social Security days not having children was taking a major risk with your future. However, as time wore on and the Second Coming failed to happen, the need to propagate once again reasserted itself. There was, of course, always a place for celibate communities in the Church, but their original meaning was increasingly lost. Once the Church became its own political hierarchy, powerful families placed their children in it regardless of whether they felt a calling; and monastic communities became convenient places to dump undesirables such as old mistresses, unmarriageable offspring and illegitimate children. So when the Reformation came along, one of the few things that nearly all the new churches had in common was their lack of celibate roles.
But in the modern era the urgent need to reproduce has receded and a new god has appeared, that of romantic love. As I mentioned before, it's only in the last century or so that this became a birthright, and became the main theme of song and story. And part of the mythology of True Love was that following it would lead you naturally to a Christian-approved relationship, i.e. lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage. If it doesn't lead to that, it must not be True Love.
Of course, this has the little problem of not really being true. Not only does it underestimate the difficulties of marriage, it also underestimates the extent to which love in illicit relationships, such as homosexual or adulterous ones, can actually resemble married love. I think that's why so many conservative Christians have argued so strenuously that gay love is inherently hugely different from straight love, to the point of using bogus statistics to paint gay people as perenially promiscuous and self-destructive, and producing warped children.
The more sophisticated conservatives out there know that you can't make a real argument for the sinfulness of homosexuality without challenging these blithe assumptions about romantic love. Eve Tushnet, for instance, remarked:
He spoke movingly about 50-year-long loving homosexual relationships that have lasted through thick and thin. I found myself wondering whether Guerrerro really thinks that nobody is ever really in love with his mistress. IOW "but they love each other" is not really the end of the argument, you know?
My own problem with the cult of Eros isn't really that it allows non-traditional relationships. It's that it hogs all of love to itself. When I read about the attributes of marriage -- love, sharing, self-giving, commitment, duty -- I often think to myself, "But aren't Christians supposed to do that with everybody?" Especially since I've been immersed in Anabaptist ecclesiology lately, I can't help noticing that describing those as special features of marriage tacitly assumes that no other relationships have them.
Back in my college Family Sociology course, one point we discussed was how in the industrial era, the family came to be viewed as a "haven in a heartless world." Previously most families had doubled as economic units, running the family farm or the family shop. But from the 19th century onward the husband would go out into the competitive, impersonal capitalist machine and then want to come back to a haven of love and peace overseen by a domestic angel of a wife. Interestingly, this view continued in a much more recent study of female abortion activists. Many pro-life women felt they were defending nurturant motherhood against a ruthless achievement culture -- the very culture pro-choice women usually wanted the right to participate in.
But both those viewpoints tacitly accept the "heartless world." Surely Christians should not do that. The call to love neighbor and enemy alike was a call to love beyond the bounds of family. Isn't Jesus supposed to transform the cruel world, and not just create a hideout from it?
This is what I think the sexual revolution, in its muddle-headed way, was saying. For one, it pointed out that love doesn't really follow those neat socially approved pathways that the mythology would have you believe. More to the point, it criticized the clannishness and selfishness that monogamy had come to defend, by withholding the highest love for your romantic partner. Therefore, it followed the logic of the age that a social-justice movement was also a sexual-promiscuity movement.
But the sexual revolution failed partly because it was still beholden to the cult of Eros. It still held to the old belief that wherever True Love leads you must be all right. And it also accepted the feminine, emotive and sexual definition of love that had emerged in the Victorian era. So the flower children tried to haul into the public sphere a love that by definition fit only in the private realm, and liberally spread it all over.
So the reason I can't get on the "gay marriage is a social-justice issue" bandwagon is that it accepts pretty much unquestioningly the idea that the most just way to decide who should marry whom is to let Eros sort it out. And in my admittedly rather jaded experience, Eros isn't particularly just. While Jesus preached that the last shall be first, sexual attraction has a way of advantaging the already advantaged: the young, beautiful, healthy, successful etc. I mean, obviously that doesn't apply to every single person, but if you look at the averages it's impossible to miss the trend. There's a reason why arrogant high-school jocks tend to get laid early, while my good, Christian, but extremely geeky friend John couldn't get a girlfriend until he was 36.
So I tend to agree with the conservative Catholic faction that out erotic desires are tainted with sin, even if they are not inherently bad. What I'm less in agreement about is where sin is measured by how far it strays from reproduction. In fact, during our discussion about how the Darwinian struggle for survival compels sin, I recalled that natural selection actually favors not the survival of a particular organism, but of its gene pool. The whole family-values thing always smelled a bit too much like the old Darwinian imperative in the guise of sanctity.
For that reason, I don't think that it helps to ridicule celibacy as warped. It's worth remembering that the high esteem for celibates in the early church inverted the older order in which celibates were mostly society's losers. (Think of Solomon and his gazillion wives, and the lame beggars who were left alone.) I have to admit I take this somewhat personally because I'm an unmarried 33-year-old, and I may never marry even though I'm "allowed" to. What does it mean that Eros has passed me by?
I don't really know how to resolve all this. But maybe rather than trying to figure whether marrieds are better than celibates or vice versa, we should consider that both of them are shadows of what is to come. One of the more interesting articles I've read about celibacy was one by a Byzantine monk explaining that in Eastern Christianity all believers are called to celibacy -- not as a physical thing so much as an attitude:
Celibacy in Eastern Christianity is viewed primarily as a form of asceticism. Asceticism means, in essence, to live at the same time on earth and in heaven. It means to understand that everything we see in this life, everything we touch, taste, think, and feel, is in some way a revelation of the life to come. This means far more than an understanding that this life will come to an end and be replaced by another one. It means that the life we live right now and the life we will live for eternity are in some mysterious way one and the same. ...
Posted by Camassia at January 11, 2005 06:51 PM
For an ascetic, all human relationships—even the sexual act itself—reveal divine love. Hidden beneath the surface of all smaller loves lies the immeasurable abyss of God’s love. The ascetic realizes that what other people give him by way of love finds its true and deeper meaning in the One who is the source of all love. Celibacy is the practical recognition of the reality that lies behind the image, of the prototype behind the icon. Human love without celibacy is at best mere sentiment, at worst a form of idolatry. ...
The tragedy of love and death can only be overcome by the communion of humanity and divinity in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Only when two become three, when a couple becomes a trinity, the third being God, only then can the triumph of death be trampled down in the resurrection.
One of the online communities I've been involved with, now and then, is slash fanfiction: writing stories about fictional characters in popular media, but in gay relationships. But while I'm still pro-gay, over the years I've become uncomfortable with how slash writers tend to read rivalry as Eros, friendship as Eros, loyalty as Eros, hatred as Eros... what room does that leave for familial love, the love of deep platonic friendships, etc? We let romantic/sexual love become the be-all and end-all of relationships, when in this era it's one of the least reliable packages for love to come in.
I think your observations about the wrong-headed emphasis of "Eros" as the be-all, end-all are generally right (or, at least, I agree with them).
But, as a gay Christian (also 33, BTW), I wonder what you therefore think about the concept of "sexual orientation"? That is, does such a thing exist? Is it irrelevant?
See, I agree with the idea that there is an "idolatry" of exclusiveness and romance that overwhelms modern relationships (gay and straight) and casts shadows over deeper virtues or stands in the way of higher love and community. But, after stripping that away (or taming it in some way) -- as I think we should, what's left? Is there are room for comitted gay relationships? Comitted non-gay relationships? The answer to the latter would seem to be yes if, again, the only purpose of marriage is procreation and the raising of children, but I am uncomfortable with that singular definition and purpose, although I understand that the argument in favor is thorough and consistent.
I guess one of my points is this -- as a gay male, the content of my relationship or marriage to a woman who would be very different than that of a non-gay male (at least I assume it would be; I've never been a non-gay male). It might be different for the woman involved also. Are those differences unimportant or do they require someone like me to avoid marriage (defined as male-female relationship) altogether? I'm certainly not trying to start a debate with anyone else here. I'm just trying to understand. (We'll see how civil folks can be!)
Anyway, good thoughts. Thanks again.
I am a relative newcomer to your blog and I really appreciate your perspective on the idea of Eros. I've often thought that the heterosexual focus on romantic and sexual love as the basis for marriage has led directly to the struggle for gay marriage rights. I also think this unhealthy focus on Eros has contributed to the sad divorce rate and increasing co-habitation trend in our society. When we allow the sentiments and erotic desires of two individuals to become the most important thing about marriage (rather than considering a marriage in the larger context of community, and society), I think the institution is inevitably undermined.
Oh, Camassia. Just as soon as I leave the Mennonites, you remind me of what drew me there in the first place. This is your finest post -- absolutely magnificent, and I'm going to send folks your way promptly.
Amen, sister, amen.
That's very deep. I'm going to have to read this over a few times. You've really got something here.
Robert, you're right that I left that question hanging. It's not that I don't care, it's just that it's outside the point I wanted to make here. And honestly, I'm not really sure of the answer. As I said, I'm not that enthusiastic about defining procreation as the ruling purpose of marriage, not only because it's Darwinian but because it actually doesn't seem that biblical. When Jesus preached against divorce, he didn't say it's because it's bad for the kids, but because spouses are "one flesh." Paul recommended marriage as a way to avoid sin, not as a way of making more little Christians. Gay marriage might fit into either of those biblical mandates (though honestly, I'm not sure what the "one flesh" image means). On the other hand, it's also entirely possible that the procreative function of marriage was so obvious to them they didn't think it needed belaboring. The theology of childbearing is a whole different subject that I've only begun to think about.
Thanks for your kind words, all.
Wow. There's a lot here! (oh yeah....Hugo sent me. Does that mean I don't hafta pay a cover charge? ;-)
Points I'm considering while I digest this well-thought out post: The safe-haven: for many women, the home was/is not the safe haven, the public sphere was/is. And I think it speaks to the destruction of community that here in the U.S., where we overdose on "individualism", people seek individual solutions rather than community solutions. It's far easier to swim through the detritus of the status quo and hope for the best than to form a community from scratch.
Christianity was born in and spread initially through Mediterranean culture, a lot of which was intensely pagan and matriarchal at the root. That's part of why we have differing interpretations of Christianity, and why my eyes start to glaze over when the subject comes up...I immediately jump to "whose Christianity?", so I really dug it when you quoted a Byzantine monk for a subject that is, well, byzantine! I tend to take a negative view of asceticism, and a positive view of "romantic love" (although I have my own reasons for wanting to kick the shit out of Eros), because "romantic love" includes agency for women. Many interpretations of Christianity don't include much if any agency for women; it's almost as if we're an afterthought (certainly not the view or practice of Jesus, but hey....).
I do believe gay marriage is a social justice issue. I can't think of any reason why my lesbian aunt should be denied marriage. When I think of "gay", that's what comes to mind---not some abstract ideology, but individual people, with all the same blessings and foibles as anyone else. It is not justice to deny marriage to these people, any more than it would be justice to dole out marriage on the basis of eye color, or some other irrelevant trait.
And aren't asceticism and hedonism polar ends of the same continuum? Why should one trump the other? Why shouldn't our spirituality be focused in the middle, where most of us live?
I'll keep thinking....
There's lots to agree with here. I think your point that sexual/romantic love is overvalued in our culture (including the churches) is well-nigh irrefutable! In Protestant churches of my experience single adults seem to have a status just above lepers. It would nice to recover a way of valuing the celibate life that didn't result in a bifurcation between two classes of Christians.
And yet - does Christian love demand that we forsake particular loves and attachments? Don't we (or at least can't we) learn the virtues of self-giving love in the context of marriage and family (and elsewhere)? Even Jesus had those who he called friends (including the beloved disciple).
These concrete specific loves can become idolatrous of course (just like a healthy patriotism (i.e. love of home) can become an ugly and militaristic nationalism). I guess what I'm saying is that there is a tension between love for those near and dear to us and love for the wider world. Augustine said that we are providentially placed such that we should care for those at hand. But this can become an excuse for ignoring the needs of the distant and the different. On the other hand, we're all familiar with the "humanitarian" who loves people who are millions of miles away but neglects his own kids.
But more fundamentally, I wonder if the distinction between Eros and Agape is sustainable. I'm inclined to think it's not as clear as we might like (then again, I'm a fan of Plato!).
Also, I wonder if our society is as Eros-obsessed as it once was. There seems to me to have been a subtle shift to an instrumentalist notion of "relationships" that are valuable just to the extent that they're conducive to "self-fulfillment." At least Eros has an element of ecstasy where we're carried out of concern for ourselves.
Sorry for the ramble.
And to think, all I wanted to do was "check-in" before I sat down to read a bit before going to bed. But, then I read this post and had to respond! :)
As others have noted, this post is packed with a lot of interesting and though-provoking thoughts. Here are some of my own disparate responses:
You quote Eve Tushnet. I disagree with her analogy because, as some conservatives tend to do, she equates a relationship between two adults based on trust (who happen to be of the same sex) to a relationship that is based on deceit and a breaking of trust. She's right to point out that romantic love can be a part of the latter. However, I view the basis of these two relationships as being fundamentally different from each other.
I appreciate how you remind us that the value of celibacy in the early church was an inversion of the social order of the day. It seems that this particular "social order" is fully back in swing these days only now those individuals who are consistently single and even choose to be celebate are seen as inferior, as immature, as people who must must be unhappy, and who invariably want to hear all the romantic and domestic details of their partnered friends. Clearly, those who are married or at least in some sort of long-term relationship, are seen as being more valued than those who are not.
While Jesus preached that the last shall be first, sexual attraction has a way of advantaging the already advantaged: the young, beautiful, healthy, successful etc. I mean, obviously that doesn't apply to every single person, but if you look at the averages it's impossible to miss the trend. There's a reason why arrogant high-school jocks tend to get laid early, while my good, Christian, but extremely geeky friend John couldn't get a girlfriend until he was 36.
Exactly! I find this to be just as true in the gay male community as in the mainstream heterosexual community. Yes, I agree that many kinds of people are in relationships. But, those who are healthy, considered attractive, active & outgoing, are seen to have money and social importance tend to be in relationships more often than those, for whatever reasons, are not.
An interesting post, addressing some of the concerns I was trying to raise though not well I'm afraid as I'm not a philosopher. Your exposition of romantic love touches on part of my concern. A preacher a couple of years back preached that the greatest love was heterosexual married love on Coming Out Day in the seminary chapel, even having all receive communion under a Kopah (Jewish wedding tent). The whole time, I kept thinking what bs. What about Mother Teresa? The last 30 years of my great grandmother's life?
I think Lee makes some good points, however, that Eros and Agape are perhaps not so separable. Personally, I don't understand Eros as just about romantic love--this seems too simplistic--and that the particular is often the only way we have to the universal. The danger is getting so stuck on the particular that we don't move outward toward any others or recognize the Other at Who is at the heart of it all. Even the celibate often comes to this through particular communities, animal companions, etc.
Eros in my opinion gets much deeper to creativity and generativity than mere romantic love crap we see on tv and hear on radio (pardon the language). I'm inclined to agree with Lee that we've moved to needs-based relationships in society, and when the other no longer meets our needs we dump him/her. Unlike La Lubu, I'm also inclined to see ascesis not as a negative but as discipline (the literal meaning of the word), and committed relationships can be one way of disciplining ones passions.
I've noticed many of the tendencies Joe points out as well, and I abhor them as much as he does. But looking around the village here in Germany, it seems to me that a variety of folks are in relationships ugly and beautiful, fat and thin, young and old, and some who are would rather not be but the culture dictates getting married and having children as the norm. This raises questions for me about discerning with a good spiritual elder (not necessarily the pastor or priest) again about both living fruitfully in the state we find ourselves at any given time and discerning our direction in life.
I don't see celibacy or the single life as inferior in any way. I hope I did not imply this in my post. These can be quite creative ways of living. I do think, however, having come near to joining a rather well-known monastery, that I later learned is highly neurotic, that celibacy does not in and of itself lead to holiness--I think of too many RC friends of mine who suffered various forms abuse at the hands of nuns and monks. Like all states of life, idolatry can arise there as well...and much of Christian history to the Reformation demonstrates a wrong tendency in my opinion to value religious life over all other ways of life in which Christ may be lived out.
The question or main point in my original post at least as I saw it was about generativity or fruitfulness. Do we see these in a celibate, religious, single, or relationship? Is a relationship moving beyond the merely romantic to substance and growth and self-giving and embracing beyond the smaller community to become an ikon of wider community--church, society, world? The same goes for the single and religious? This gets back to the deeper meaning of celibacy you end with, which is excellent in my opinion.
Thanks for this post!
I must admit that I clenched my teenth when I read Eve Tushnet's quote. However, despite the provocative nature of the analogy, I think it still works (i.e., two contoversial relationships -- same-sex and adulterous -- noting that we wouldn't accept "but they love each other" as the ultimate justification for one and maybe we shouldn't for the other). If that's all that was intended, then I accept it. However, I can't help but suspect that maybe more was intended to be conflated.
I, too, liked this post very much, and want to thank you for it. I've always seen a connection between the rise of Eros and the rise of divorce. But I never saw the connection you draw between the rise of Eros and the fight over same-sex marriage. Now I do. So thanks.
Three other thoughts:
1. I've always understood Christ's reference to "one flesh" as, in part, a reference to children, who share their parents' flesh.
2. Sometimes creating a hideout from the world is the best way to transform it. Think of St. Benedict, and of how monks kept the best of Western thought alive after Rome fell. The key, I think, is not to think of your hideout as a hideout, but as a garden.
3. I think you overstate the extent to which medieval Catholics lost sight of the purpose of celibacy. My very imperfect sense of the era is that pre-Reformation, those parts of Europe that eventually became Protestant still had a visible minority of healthy and holy abbeys (including Luther's!). The problem was that the more visible majority were lax.
My quoting Eve didn't mean that I think adultery and homosexuality are the same, though I can't speak for what she thinks. As I said in framing the quote, I was contrasting her point of view (as an SSM critic) with someone like Paul Cameron who's bent on proving that homosexuals can't love at all.
Her remark does remind me, though, that I do know of several adulteries that turned into long and happy marriages. Love, in fact, can turn up in relationships that started under extremely dubious circumstances, such as arranged, underage or even forced marriages. This fact says to me that even though it would be nice if we could sort all relationships into 'good' and 'bad' (not to mention the good and bad people having the relationships), in reality they all have some of both. Probably any human interaction with any affection in it at all 'reveals divine love', as Brother Maximos put it, while at the same time even your most straight-arrow lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage is shot through with sin. I think the unwillingness to deal with this fact is driving a lot of the acrimony today.
Also Christopher, I didn't take your remark as opposing celibacy (I know you appreciate asceticism); it was actually Nathan's comment after yours that I was thinking of. I've heard that attitude about those ancient Church celibates quite a bit, so I wanted to address it.
Lots of other good points here, which I'll need another post to address.
I also want to thank you for your post. I don't have the same philosophical background to bring to your cultural analysis but I feel the truth of it. Also as a single person, I feel sideswiped by the wake of arguments that are meant to condemn SSM. There is such a rush to defend the exclusive place of heterosexual marriage that there is no room left for anything else.
I recently was asked to sign a standard-of-conduct policy in connection to my work (trying to affiliate with an evangelical institution). In the section on sexual and marital conduct the thrust was clearly aimed at infidelity and same sex unions but so offended me as a single person I refused to sign. I'm sure no one considered what the statement looked like from a single person's point of view. The quote that pushed my buttons: "God wills that healthy marriages be pivotal supports for all other human relationships. God wills that a wife and husband model together the whole mind of Christ for human community." Well thank God that I have married friends who will tell me what God is really like so I am not mired in my single blindness.
I agree that any one person can not have the full perspective on God, but I tend to think that community has just as much right to model the mind of Christ to a married couple as they have the right to model Christ to me. Just my humble opinion.
Lots of food for thought in this excellent post. Thanks!
You noted: "When I read about the attributes of marriage -- love, sharing, self-giving, commitment, duty -- I often think to myself, 'But aren't Christians supposed to do that with everybody?'"
I find it easier to come at this differently, i.e., what it means to be part of a body, a system. What is the relationship of microcosm to macrocosm?
It's impossible to truly be in deep relationship with all -- I have to start in my own little corner of the world, with my family, which is the microcosm within the church. I come into contact with many other microcosms, and I relate to them, but I don’t necessarily join the orbit of that other.
How does a cell keep its integrity? Cells do have membranes -- boundaries. What bonds its components? If a marriage forms a cell (I have to take that as a given), what makes for bonds that keep the cell (family) together, while still allowing it to relate to other cells? A number of family rituals help (which differ greatly from culture to culture), but sex is one of the most powerful bonding rituals, common to most (maybe all?). And it’s powerful regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It seems to work that way for anyone who doesn’t take it lightly.
So the church also has bonding rituals: sacraments, and working together on common causes. Which, I believe, is how the macrocosm can reflect the microcosm.
What with humans being human, any number of idols can interfere with the function of a cell (a family), causing its deterioration, including the worship of Eros.
I don’t see sexual orientation as a factor in forming a cell; behavior and activities of a cell’s components are what make for the integrity of a cell. Someone will no doubt note that various cells have limits on how much of each kind of component they can have. But I don’t think gender is a quality of component: what matters in family is that you need at least two humans for a relationship.
Sorry if I keep on mixing metaphors here --I’d need a lot more time to work this out properly -- perhaps as a post of my own some day.
Wow, cracking post! Thanks.
There's a point in Graham Greene's novel _The Heart of the Matter_, where the hero is thinking about whether to confess his adulterous affair to his priest, and reflects that he'd have to avoid his mistress altogether as "an occasion of sin," but he can't reduce his relation with her to such a thing. Of course, he should really confess to his priest, break it off with his mistress, avoid her altogether, and so forth.
Even though I really don't see homosexuality and adultery as comparable at all (though I, in fact, think the one is acceptable and the other isn't), I do find myself sometimes thinking of this passage of Greene's when I see Paul Cameron like stuff which pretends that gay relationships don't have anything to do with love at all. Because, how people can imagine that even wrong and broken sexual relationships are just sheer lust and devoid of love is beyond me.
You're right on the mark about all kinds of relationships being a tangled mix of good and bad (as, I suppose, Greene had plenty of occasion to know from his messy personal life).
Correction to my earlier comment: I realized my characterization of sex as a bonding ritual might sound as though I were advocating for participation by the entire family. I'm not! Different rituals apply to different units, and this one I do reserve entirely for consenting adults. No child molestation in the name of religion or anything else.
Sorry for any confusion or offense.
Wow. To start off with, is this how all your posts/comments are? Rarely have I seen so thoughtful a comment section on a blog.
1) The Cult of Eros: I never thought of this way, but I suspect that you are correct. At least, that there does seem to be a Cult of Eros. For my own opinion, I would suggest that it is a result from the attempt by many to demonize Eros. By saying that sex is a sin, is something to be hidden, society made it mysterious and alluring. Sex was made into something for the weak in the society to look upon as a method of rebellion. Therefore, when the '60s came around and the Flower Children sought to tear down the old order, Eros quickly could become one of their Champions. "Sex, Drugs, and Rock-n-Roll!"
The Sexual Revolution did not fully fail. It succeeded in shattering the hold the old ideas of sex had on society. We just have yet to figure out what the new thinking of sex will be.
In my opinion, the Cult of Eros may actually be good for us as a society, for a while at least. Because it allows us to examine the concept. The more we do, the more we discuss sexuality and love, the more we poke and prod it, the more we will come to understand it, and the more we will eventually see that it is not the sole path to "salvation."
Sex is. It's as simple as that. Sex is a natural part of life that, unless done badly, is enjoyable. But so is eating, especially sugar and fats. Should we spend all our time stuffing sweetened lard into our bodies? I do not think so. But we never understood that until we had done it for a while and realized that it actually was a bad thing.
Simply put, the Cult of Eros will never go away until we realize that sex simply is, and is not by nature sinful or evil. It is only the way we use it that makes it so.
2) Same Sex Marriage as a Civil Right:
Before we get into this, we must ask ourselves the question as to what exactly "marriage" means. Presently, "marriage" is a civil entity, handled by a government that is designed to seperate temporal powers from spiritual ones. Priests, ministers, rabbis, etc., may grant blessings upon a marriage by the power given them by God, but they also MUST say that they make a marriage by the powers vested upon them by the state. In fact, there need be no religion what so ever for a marriage to be granted. It is, in a very real sense, a legally binding contract between two people.
At the same time, "marriage" is also a term frought with religious meaning. It was only recently that marriage law was taken outside the Church and given to the State. Thus when people speak of marriage, they feel free to use terms, concepts, and words that come from scripture.
For me, I think we should acknowledge this problem and codify the split. So long as we are keeping Church and State seperated, lets split up marriage. Let word "marriage" revert to a religious term, regulated by churches, synagogues, mosques, what have you, while the legal protections of what we presently call marriage stays firmly in the hands of the state, and let them get a phrase of their own.
Is Same Sex Marriage a civil right? Yes, if by "marriage" you mean the official sanctioning of a relationship by the State. So long as the State issues "marriage licences," then the denial of them to homosexual couples is clear violation of their rights, stating categorically that these people (the homosexuals) are forbidden to enter into a contract based on their gender and the gender of who they wish to enter this contract with.
I hope that wasn't too rambling...
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