Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Withholding Approval and Same Sex Marriage

I've been over at AVI's commenting on a post of his about Same Sex Marriage.

A couple of people made the point that SSM is about the gay community wanting validation and affirmation more than it is about obtaining specific marital rights.

I don't think that's a necessarily incorrect assessment. And, I think withholding that validation is a serious motive for opponents to gay marriage, who are comfortable tolerating gay people and acknowledging their existence, but don't want to be required to put their stamp of approval on gay relationships, elevating the status of gay relationships to those of heterosexual relationships.

Full disclosure. I don't know how comfortable I am, personally, with Same Sex Marriage. That's to say, while I don't harbor ill will towards homosexuals, I can also say that I have a hard time understanding homosexuality simply because I can't identify with it personally. I don't know or understand what it would be like to be attracted to the same sex, and because of that I can't un-self-consciously accept it in the same way that I would any other straight relationship. I actually have to consciously work on not making value judgements.

Those statements are not meant to be used as ammunition against me.  I am merely trying to be honest about the thought process I have. Because I don't identify with or understand homosexuality in the same way that I understand heterosexuality....I am limited in my abilities to be as instinctively OK with it as I would be with other relationships. As such, I have to take what gay people say about themselves and their relationships at face value to some extent. If most of them feel as if this is something they were born with or something they have no power to change, then I have to accept that.

I have no basis to argue otherwise.

How valuable is this validation of SSM and what do opponents gain by not giving it?

For the gay population, I think the validation is extremely valuable. Having governmental recognition of  SSM would allow them to feel accepted and as if their relationships were equal to heterosexual marriages and all that it entails. Living in a society that doesn't purposely and consciously exclude you and that doesn't merely tolerate you is definitely more appealing and freeing than living in a society in which you feel slighted.

Is it the government's responsibility to make sure that everyone feel more accepted and free? Is the government supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy about all of our choices? Is the government supposed to be a hippie love-in organization making sure that everyone gets a hug and a flower in their hair?

Well....not exactly. However, the government isn't a separate entity that operates outside and independent of society. It is a representation of society and serves to enact laws that society considers just and good. Those laws are adjusted and added to as society adjusts and adds to its conception of "just" and "good".

Validating SSM is a way of declaring that society thinks it is more just and good to honor consensual, binding, relational agreements between two gay people than it is to not honor those agreements. While it is about making homosexuals feel openly accepted and equal, it is also about honoring the wills of individuals to live peacefully, according to their own consciences, without government impediments, a principle which is entirely American.

Very conservative Christians will never accept homosexuals in any way. The only option in their eyes is a fundamental denial of same sex attraction. Homosexuals are expected to repent and live as heterosexuals. The problem is that after many years of this approach, it doesn't seem widely viable or workable. Some of the founders of various ex-gay movements, after many years of working in those movements, have given up on the idea of thinking it's even possible to be "ex-gay".

Conservative Christians will characterize these people as giving up on God, or the faith, or surrendering to the devil and their lusts.

On the other hand, if someone so desperately wants not to be gay, founds an organization for ex-gays, and dedicates themselves to that movement for many years, and after all that discovers that their life's work hasn't been very effective and openly admits it...then I think Christians need to listen to what they have to say.

The average evangelical christian has historically taken the path of "loving the sinner, hating the sin" when it comes to homosexuality. I once thought this was a workable spiritual solution; tell homosexuals that we love them and think God loves them, but that their actions are not pleasing to God and we can't condone their behavior. In theory, the idea is that acting on homosexual desires is equivalent to acting on heterosexual desires outside of marriage. People make mistakes. God offers forgiveness. We simply can't condone the mistakes.

The problem is that it never really works that way in evangelical churches. No matter how open and loving an evangelical church can be, or how insistent that homosexuals are welcome to attend, they are not treated in the same way that heterosexuals are because an attraction to the same sex is not viewed equivalently to an attraction to the opposite sex, in the eyes of the church. Attraction to the opposite sex is seen as inherently natural and if heterosexuals stray then it is a matter of right desire, wrong timing or wrong relationship. With homosexuals there is never a right time, place, or relationship to express their sexual orientation.

What remains is the option of lifelong celibacy in an evangelical church. However, even if an openly gay person chooses to be celibate, there is always a lingering suspicion towards them and they will most likely not be given any visible leadership positions within the church.

Withholding approval/validation effectively keeps acknowledged homosexuals out of evangelical churches. It's not hard to see why. If desires that you have always had, desires that you can't get rid of, and desires that are an integral part of the framework of your self-conception are considered twisted and unnatural, even if you don't act on them, it would be difficult to feel loved, accepted and part of that community.

When a person latches onto the idea of withholding validation or approval from someone as a means of influencing them, they are operating on several assumptions.

Assumption #1 --They are in a superior position.  Validation is theirs to give or withhold by fiat and natural authority.

Assumption #2--Their purposeful withholding of validation will influence the subject of it to submit and agree to the authority's position and discourage them from the subject's own position

Assumption #3--Giving validation to someone who lives and believes differently than they do is as bad as living and believing in the same way as that person. Validation=participation.

#1 is hard for anyone to prove.  Justifying hierarchies and inherent authority is incredibly difficult when people begin to critically examine that hierarchy and the basis for the authority given to it.

#2 isn't effective.  When you don't validate people they typically don't change, they simply continue being the way they are in a different location.

#3 Validation is not equal to participation.

I may write more about this when time permits.

8 comments:

DH said...

My views in this area have changed significantly over the years as well. While I too still find it hard to "understand" homosexuality, I also know that there's a lot that I don't understand in life, and rejecting or condemning someone or something because I don't understand it or them or can't relate to them is pointless and self-defeating.

Personally I've become more and more open to SSM to the point that I think it's a good idea. Society, or at least a large portion of it, wants same sex relationships to be recognized. This can be seen in the laws in certain states and in the benefits policies of many companies (i.e., providing health benefits for same sex partners). The problem is it's a half solution that causes more confusion and problems.

Giving SSM the same recognition as opposite sex marriage would not only acknowledge the right of people to live their lives in peace and harmony as they see fit and without undue governmental intrusion, it would also give individuals in same sex marriages the same protection that those in opposite sex marriages have.

For example, if two people in a SSM sought a divorce, they'd have to legally dissolve their estate and split their assets. Similarly, if a same sex couple had a child and then later got a divorce, both would have a legal recourse to seek parental rights and involvement in the life of their child.

I may not "understand" homosexuality, but I don't want to be the person saying that one person is somehow less than another and therefore shouldn't receive the same respect, protection, and freedom. Sounds a bit too much like the sordid past that I thought we, as a nation, had moved on from.

Sabio Lantz said...

Great post, well stated.

On the blog Naked Pastor, he addresses this issue in his cartoons -- as you know. In a recent comment thread, a conservative Christian attacked a homosexual Christian and the other Christians did not stand up for her. It took atheists to stand up.

You said, If desires that you have always had, desires that you can't get rid of, and desires that are an integral part of the framework of your self-conception are considered twisted and unnatural, even if you don't act on them, it would be difficult to feel loved, accepted and part of that community.

Many versions of Christianity are full of this -- "Atheists" are seen as twisted and unnatural too. Because they can't buy into the Christian's world, or the Muslim's world. If "love and acceptance" was a priority, religions would not look at all as they do today. The gay issue makes the religion game clear. And many people are realizing that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There are desires I have always had that are evil and cruel. I work with deeply pathological people who have desires that are evil and cruel.

That doesn't make homosexual desires evil and cruel, but it does mean that the argument "but I've always been this way, I can't help it, God made me this way" is completely empty.

However, the weight the "that's just the way I am" argument carries with people is the center of why gay activists have to contend that their preference is no matter of choice, but entirely ordained from their genes. They need to believe it and need to maintain it to others. Interestingly, lesbians are less adamant about the issue, and many will estimate that only 40-60% of them were lesbians from birth. Gay men and transgenedered insist on 100%.

The evidence for that proposition is weak, and epigenetic phenomenon are rising up as better explanations, but the science doesn't matter.

Sabio, I read the Gay Thursday posts and comments a ways back - don't know if I caught the one you mean. But a lot of folks, including the blogger, quite winsomely take the "oh we're not the haters, they are" route and are sweetly quite vicious. "Attack" and "defend" are loaded words that may not have clear meanings there.

terri said...

AVI,

A few things. I think sexuality occurs along a spectrum. There are most definitely people who feel that they choose to gay, or bi-sexual, there are those who feel that they have always been gay, from their earliest impulses, and there are those who feel more like they "discovered" that they were really gay.

There is some flexibility there, but I think that the majority of those who identify themselves as gay view themselves as always having been that way.

The problem with equating sexual desires with being evil or cruel, or at the very least something that can be evil or cruel if not used in the right setting and circumstances....is that for someone who is homosexual there is never a "right" time or place for them to have a romantic/sexual relationship, in the evangelical/conservative christian view.

Can people survive without sex? Sure. Should we ask them to for their entire lives? I think that's a recommendation that comes easily from people who always have the promise for, hope to, and ability to have a loving sexual relationship.

What evangelicals easily require of homosexuals is really quite a daunting request. Humans are hard-wired to have relationships. They are hard-wired to have sexual urges. To tell someone that they must control those urges...not just at certain times and in certain conditions....but for their entire lives with no exceptions...well, that is unrealistic and not very merciful.

That thought, more than anything, has changed my mind on this issue.

Does that mean that any sexual urge and desire should be accepted by society? No.

Child molestation is never going to be approved of no matter how much sexual predators declare that they can't help their desires and that they were just born that way. We recognize that sexual relationships with children are harmful to children, physically and psychologically, and non-consensual by their very nature.

I think people too easily move the line of argumentation to the,"Well, if we approve of homosexuality, what's going to stop us from approving of child molestation or bestiality?"

I think its a false equation. Those are very different things.

A lot of conservatives are chagrined by the promiscuity of the gay community. I do wonder if allowing SSM and normalizing gay relationships would help stem some of that stuff. If the option of socially accepted, recognized, normative relationships becomes more prominent...maybe some of that would settle down...although straight people sure can be just as promiscuous in their behaviors.

Epigenetic explanations don't dismiss the "born that way" sentiment. Epigenetic simply means that something has altered the genes which are turned off or on in an individual. And...as far as I know, we don't know how to turn genes on or off or what the consequences would be if we did.

What's the difference between someone who was "born that way" and someone whose genes became turned off or on by age 5, or 10, or 15?

Either way that person's unconscious genes are driving behavior that is biological, not mental.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ AVI
Sorry, I need more direct talk. I would have to read your comment 3 times to figure out what you are saying, but I won't. I read your "blogger profile" where you tell us how smart you are, so was glad I did not read twice.

@ terri
Your points were clear and well said. I agree.

terri said...

Sabio,

Why is it that on the rare occasion when you and AVI comment on the same post you annoy each other so much?

I understood AVI's comments. I believe he's referring to nakedpastor and his various pro-gay cartoons, which you referenced in your comment. His point is that some people are comfortable being hateful towards the people they perceive as being in the wrong on issues in an I'm-defending-the-oppressed-against-their-evil-hateful-bigoted-critics kind of way.

You don't have to agree with him....but I think that's where he's coming from.

Sabio Lantz said...

Really, I don't actually remember him. But then, I don't have a fantastic memory.

And interestingly, I still don't understand your summary of his position. I must be particularly dense tonight.

:-)

Tyler said...

Nice blog. A couple critical disagreements:

T5.1 "If most of them feel as if this is something they were born with or something they have no power to change, then I have to accept that. I have no basis to argue otherwise." The Bible makes a statement about human nature, and further is the standard for Christian living. Am I wrong in saying that I can empathize with them? What is the difference between 30 years and 75 years of celibacy?
.....
T5.2 "Homosexuals are expected to repent and live as heterosexuals. The problem is that after many years of this approach, it doesn't seem widely viable or workable." Exactly. Conquering sin never seems viable or workable. This is why we praise The Spirit, when we, not just overcome sin, but come to hate it.
.....
T5.3a "Even if an openly gay person chooses to be celibate, there is always a lingering suspicion towards them and they will most likely not be given any visible leadership positions within the church." I would have the utmost respect for a "valid candidate" who has chosen celibacy.

and,

T5.3b "No matter how open and loving an evangelical church can be, or how insistent that homosexuals are welcome to attend, they are not treated in the same way that heterosexuals are". Your response to "love the sinner, hate the sin", reveals a possible failure of the church in action, not in principle.

T5.3c Let me just say how I would react to a homosexual (who has accepted Jesus as his savior) in the two polar church situations:

i) (He feels guilty and powerless). "I am gay." "Hey, watch this cool 116 clique video" about "making war" with sin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=poF4QsiPwtM

ii) (He comes but feels judged). "I am gay." "Uh-huh, that's nice, wanna do some evangelism with me?" What this does: Treats him like a normal person with normal struggles. Puts him on my team. Implicitly acknowledges the simplicity of salvation (He does not need to do anything else). Focuses on sharing that simple truth with others (again, instead of obsessing with our own salvation). Gives him in an active role in the church that will inevitably call him to higher and higher standards. Keeps him around so that maybe one day I can share my 116 clique video with him. Fulfills the great commission (what else are we doing here?!)...