Gene Robinson’s Straight Talk about Gay Marriage

G Jeffrey McDonald interviewed Bishop Gene Robinson about his new book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage for Publishers Weekly. Here is some of what they said:

Q. You seem to argue that one can be inspired by religious convictions to influence public policy, but one must make his or her case on secular grounds.

A. That’s exactly right. Stability is why society has an interest in marriage. Opponents of gay marriage have to be able to argue that it undermines stability. But all the studies show, and reason shows, that gay marriage supports stability in the culture.

Q. The church in many corners has long considered celibacy to be the faithful option for those not called to marriage, but you suggest celibacy is not an option. Why not?

A. The truly longstanding tradition in the church is that some are called to celibacy. Some feel called to it. But the church has never supported that celibacy be mandated for someone not called to it. It’s never imposed on someone.

Q. If everyone should be free to marry whomever they choose, should three consenting adults be allowed to get married?

A. The state’s interest in marriage is stability. Generally speaking, polygamy does not work for stability. Inherent in the whole polygamous movement is a deep and abiding misogyny and denigration of women. So polygamy is objectionable on lots of grounds.

Category : The Lead

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15 Comments
  1. Bill Dilworth

    The polygamy answer seems a little disingenuous.The question wasn’t about polygamy (much less the polygamist movement), but plural marriage, and yes, there’s a difference. Misogyny wouldn’t necessarily enter into a polyandrous marriage, or a same-sex plural marriage.

  2. Peter Pearson

    Bill, your use of the word “disingenuous” feels a great deal like when others use the term “agenda” when speaking about GLBT people’s right to equality under the law. I hope I am wrong.

  3. mumcat

    Bp. Robinson answered the question put to him. I think he gave a good answer to one of the typical questions asked of anyone who states they support same-sex marriage. It seems to me his point about stability in a marriage is well taken. Where is the stability among heterosexual marrigages that last 72 hours or between people who have each been married sequentially multiple times? They are allowed to be married, yet stable, committed same-sex couples are refused?

    The more I hear and read Bp. Robinson’s words, the more I realize what a blessing he is to the whole church, not just to the LBGTQ community. He’s probably answered these and questions like these a thousand times, yet each time he answers with grace, without heat and with respect for his questioner.

    Linda Ryan (added by ~ed.)

  4. Murdoch Matthew

    Robinson’s criterion was stability, and two people’s achieving a stabile relationship is rare enough (under 50%?). I’ve read about long-term triads, but they seem uncommon and prone to breaking down into duos. (Perhaps successful ones are not out of the closet.) Interestingly, though, a form of triad is being recognized legally — two parents and a donor or surrogate, all with parental rights. Marriage isn’t about procreation, but the big drive for marriage equality has been to protect gay families.

  5. Bill Dilworth

    @Linda The only way you can think that +Robinson answered the question posed to him is if you think that polygamy and plural marriage are synonymous. At best he passed off a partial answer as a if he had given a decisive answer to the entire topic. He did not.

    @Peter With all due respect, WTF?

    I think it was an answer that attempted to disarm the slippery slope argument by invoking the specter of women-hating polygamist Mormon sects (“the polygamous movement,” as +Robinson put it). It is based on the idea that that misogyny and plural marriage are irrevocably linked, which I suspect is not absolutely true even for polygamy and is completely besides the point for other forms of plural marriage. It’s not a very convincing answer to the question as asked. Unless, of course, you’re inclined to be convinced by every word that proceeds from the mouth of +Robinson.

    He started off well enough by invoking stability. He would have done much better have stressed the inherent instability of any group relationship and to leave polygamy and misogyny out of the picture.

  6. David Allen

    As far as the question, it was about three folks marrying one another. What is practiced by Mormon sects is not three people marrying one another. Only two people are married in what Mormons call plural marriage, one man and one woman. However, the man enters into multiple one man plus one woman marriages. None of the women are married to one another. It would be more accurate to label it as plural or multiple marriages.

    But it’s a straw man question anyway, just as the bestiality, pedophilia, etc questions are as well. The topic is two folks of the same gender entering legally into a mutual, monogamous, committed marriage relationship. The other questions are distractions to associate same gender marriage with the ickiness of the other topics. Ir’s best to avoid the pitfall of the straw man altogether.

    Bro David

  7. Bill Dilworth

    David, that sort of marriage – where one man has multiple wives, but the wives are not married to each other, is the precise definition of polygamy.

    I’m not sure that the plural marriage question is as much of a straw man as the ones about pedophilia, bestiality, and so forth. For one thing, plural marriage in its various heterosexual forms is undeniably already part of human culture and history, whereas man-dog marriage is not. Many jurisdictions (mostly, if not all, Muslim) have legal polygamy. Theoretically the only thing that separates plural marriage from the form of marriage we would like to see take shape in the US is it’s monogamous aspect. Lack of mutuality and commitment don’t enter into it any more than misogyny.

    I just think we ought to have a better answer to the question either “Don’t be ridiculous – we’re talking about marriage! Marriage is always about two people!” or “Look! Misogynistic polygamy!” The first isn’t much better than the answer given by opponents to marriage equality, “Don’t be ridiculous – marriage is always about a man and a woman!” and the second is, as I said, disingenuous.

  8. Bill Dilworth

    Correction: the sort of plural marriage practiced by fundamentalist Mormons is polygyny (but at least here in the US the two terms are often used interchangeably). +Robinson’s invocation of misogyny makes itclear that it is the sort of plural marriage he had in mind.

  9. Tenorbruin

    Sorry..Did I miss the part about “man-dog marrisge”? I know we’ve beeen accused of it, but I missed that part of the dissertations here, perhaps it was deleted.

    Lan Green (added by ~ed.)

  10. Americans may like to know that on November 23, 2011, Chief Justice Robert Bauman of BC Supreme Court, ruled that S.293 CC, proscribing polygamy, was constitutional and did not contravene religious rights. (The question had been raised regarding whether banning polygamy contravened Fundamentalist Mormon’s religious rights). The judge took 4 months to read submissions by both pro and con polygamy groups, and issued a 354 page report. His conclusion was that polygamy harmed all society in that it contravened women’s equality rights, impoverished children, and because the sexes are alsmost equal in number (there aren’t even 2 women for every 1 man) robbed young, poorer men of the opportunity to have a wife and family of their own. He concluded polygamy is an anti-social act. Canadians are now looking forward to the arrest of Winston Blackmore of the polygamous cult of Bountiful, who has more than 130 children by a large harem of concubines. Polygamy stems from the dark ages when women were considered chattels and had no rights. However, the year is 2012 AD, not 2012 BC, and it’s way past time that polygamy was kicked into the garbage can of history.

    Jancisa – please sign your name when you comment – thanks ~ed.

  11. Sorry, Editor, for not signing my name at the end of my comment regarding polygamy, and the decision of British Columbia’s Supreme Court that polygamy should remain banned because of its harmful effects on society. My name is:

    Jancis M. Andrews

    (thanks ~ed.)

  12. Bill Dilworth

    @Lan – the “man/dog” line was in reply to a reference to bestiality in a comment of David’s

  13. Bill Dilworth

    @Jancis – All marriage has its origin in systems that treated women like chattel. An institution’s origins are not what define it.

    Let me be very clear: I’m for the rights of same sex couples to get married. I’m not in favor of polygamy. But my reasons for opposing polygamy are religious in nature. I have yet to read convincing secular arguments for limiting marriage to two people. All I’ve read is that the sort of polygyny practiced by various misogynistic religious groups shouldn’t be allowed, as if it were the only conceivable kind. But the sort of polygyny found among fundamentalist Mormons, or Muslims or (until recently) Yemeni Jews is not the only sort of polygamy possible. It shouldn’t really strain the imagination to imagine non-monogamous marriages that don’t fit the harem scenario.

  14. Sridgcw

    Anybody who has grown up in families with more than two children knows the inherent instabilities that arise. With two, they may either get along or not, but it’s always one with one or one against one. Add more, and it gets way more complicated and unstable, as alliances inevitably form and shift, creating adversarial relationships. Even if the number of kids is an even number, it’s not always the same two against two (for example), and there will be betrayals and plots and all sorts of underhanded activity. I don’t mean to equate the spats among children to marriage, even if sometimes kids are far more civilized than adults. But if you have a multiple-partner “marriage” — whether all are “married” to each other or one is “married” to the others, and totally leaving misogyny out of the equation — you will almost certainly have situations where some are taking advantage or discounting or ganging up on one. That is not going to be healthy. And that is my secular reason for not being in favor of multiple-partner marriages, and I think it fits with Bishop Robinson’s interest in stability.

    I also see no reason to jump on his answer, even if was slightly tone-deaf. It’s a sound-bite, a quick answer to a question that was almost certainly fishing for a controversial answer. And he’s not speaking for all of us, by any means.

    Sarah Ridgway

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