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Op-ed in NY Times on faith & marriage for same-sex couples

Op-ed in NY Times on faith & marriage for same-sex couples

William Eskridge, professor at Yale Law and author, writes about the many churches supporting the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, who are asking the Supreme Court to legally recognize their marriages.

Eskridge notes that support is broad, including a former Republican National Committee chairman, a football player, church denominations, and nearly 2,000 theologians. He contrasts the increasing support for LGBT couples and marriage as a relationship between two committed adults with the churches support for other civil rights issues, showing how change has come about even in churches that traditionally supported slavery.

Eskridge also highlights changing attitudes towards divorce, noting that few Christians and few churches hold firm to the traditional view of re-marriage and divorce as a form of adultery.

From the op-ed:

Assume that I am wrong and that the Bible unequivocally demands that marriage be defined as one man, one woman. Does that require people of faith to disrespect and exclude gay couples? No, it doesn’t. A recent example is telling.

Why do you think so many people have a hard time seeing the church evolution on LGBT relationships as appropriate? Widespread acceptance, even in conservative denominations, exists for permitting second marriages, and divorce, and it would be hard to find a Christian who thought slavery was an acceptable practice. If people can follow a broader interpretation of the Bible on these topics, why are LGBT relationships such an apparent stumbling block?

Do you think the Supreme Court is going to find in favor of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges?


Posted by David Streever


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Anand Gnanadesikan


You make a fair point. The complication comes when someone is aspiring to leadership which is then endorsed by the church at large- this convolves the individual with “what the church stands for”.


You are correct that the evidence is that in “high conflict” marriages the kids are better off in the net if the parents divorce. But in “low conflict” marriages the reverse is true.

A final point, before I get back to work… There is an undercurrent to the arguments here that asserts that being happy will make us be good. But this is the reverse of what Jesus teaches- and with good reason.


John Chilton

Actually, it’s bad social science that shows divorce is bad for kids (correlation, not causation). It’s bad marriages that are bad for kids; they’d end up worse if we somehow make impossible, for example, for women to break off a marriage with an abusive spouse.

I will grant that divorce can be a symptom of larger societal ills. It starts with the injustice of growing up poor in neighborhoods that the rest of society has abandoned.

Anand Gnanadesikan

I’d also add that there are those of us who are okay with gay marriage, but think that divorce is a societal catastrophe.

As someone who has changed my mind on this issue, a major barrier for me was the Bp. Spong argument that one had a right to sexual self-expression. As long as I saw gay marriage as being backed as part of a sexual Prosperity Gospel, I found it difficult to support. Once I saw it as means of honoring fidelity and self-control, and of protecting Christians whose faith I found inspiring I found it much easier.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Tobias, thank you, you’ve provided a great perspective.

Anand, I am listening, deeply, to your call to find a way to engage with conservatives compassionately. It’s difficult, as I’ve been hurt deeply by homophobia. Also, when one looks at the fruits, there’s bullying and teen suicide, etc., a lot of hurt that is caused by the homophobic position and rhetoric.

For better or for worse, I’m on the cutting edge of a generation that has little tolerance for intolerance. How we “include the excluders without including their excluding agenda” is a problem worthy of Solomon. Especially when they insist on telling me and gay teens that we are an abomination and not created in the Image of God and worthy of the same treatment and dignity as everyone else. Ideas?

Anand Gnanadesikan


I appreciate and honor your desire to treat those who have treated you poorly in ways that honor the image of God in them. A couple of thoughts.

There are some folks who are just bullies and will turn to whatever is the dominant meme in their subculture as a justification for their bullying. In the Bible Belt, they’ll bully gay people. In Nazi Germany they were the ones rushing to join the SS- in communist Russia the NKVD. These are the ones who you rightly accuse of being all about power.

I don’t see that there is much to be done about such folks other than calling them out when they are part of one’s own camp (and any camp that looks like it’s “winning” draws these folks like flies). The key Christian insight here is recognizing that being “right” doesn’t imply being “righteous”.

Additionally, it can be helpful to ask where people actually have either been hurt or whether they are trying to speak for some virtue which you can also affirm.

I can’t speak to homophobia, but I can to racism- which I was raised to think was the great dividing line between good and evil. I’ve come to realize, however, that as I was raised, being “good on race” meant that one could ignore class. And basically respond to poor whites the way conservatives do to poor blacks (“Sucks to be you. Pull up your pants and get to work!”). This in an era where social mobility is decreasing. Also, being in an Indian community helped me realize that for some folks, wanting kids to marry within their ethnic group meant that their grandchildren would be able to talk to their great-grandparents. That doesn’t mean that I think racism is okay, but it does mean that I recognize that people may hold racist attitudes because they have genuine concerns and fears, which can be acknowledged without giving up one’s principles.


Tobias Haller

This is an excellent point that often gets lost in concerns about “gay sex.” The issue before us is not whether “gay sex” is always and in every circumstance morally wrong. That battle of the culture war was lost some time ago. The issue is, “In what circumstances is it o.k.?” And the answer is the same as the answer for heterosexual “expression” — marriage.

We lost somewhere about the mid-20th century the fact that the principle biblical reason for marriage is not procreation, but as a “remedy for fornication.” Marriage is what “domesticates” sex into fidelity — or ought to. Sex in and of itself is neither moral nor immoral: it all depends on the relationship of the couple. Fornication (understood as sex without commitment) is remedied by commitment and fidelity. Those are recognizable moral values.

Anand Gnanadesikan


I completely agree with you.


Anand Gnanadesikan

I think there is a view here that is sometimes ignored. It’s “motivated reasoning” driven the fear of moral chaos- the idea that it is so important to hold back the forces of disorder that any deviation from the rules must be stamped out.

In the conservative churches I’ve been in, the folks who felt this way most strongly had often come from chaotic backgrounds, abusive families, addiction, etc. For these folks having a clear rule to follow was an anchor to hold on to. So the idea of “the Bible” as that rule becomes more important than the content of the rule itself. Pointing out that it isn’t “the Bible” but a culturally mediated version of the Bible that they were actually following wouldn’t have been helpful because it undermined the need for certainty.

I find myself deeply ambivalent about this. On the one hand, it seems like biblioatry. But if someone really believes that obeying “the word of God” as they understand it is so key to keeping their sobriety, job and family… what is the most compassionate way to engage with them?

Cynthia Katsarelis

Thanks JC. Also, that passage in Matthew was addressing divorce. In addition to the obvious hypocrisy, Jesus was protecting women. Any woman who wasn’t under the protection of the household of a man was incredibly vulnerable to poverty and abuse.

But by all means, let’s take this story about divorce and protection for the vulnerable and turn it into an excuse for anti-gay hate. As I said, it’s more about power than theological integrity, or compassion.

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