Monday, December 9, 2013

Is the Social Conservative Fight Against Gay Marriage Worthwhile?

Last year, Minnesotans opposed to legalized same sex marriage spent $200,000 in a little over five months.  Those donations went towards a campaign to preserve state laws prohibiting legal recognition of gay marriage.  Social conservatives complained that gay marriage supporters had "10 times more" funds to fight.  One said "it's proof that if you spend enough money, you can get legislators to do almost anything."   Despite the tens of millions spent by opponents, legislatures continue to void anti- gay marriage laws.  Sixteen states have taken such laws from the books, eleven by political action instead of through the courts.

Social conservatives argue that legalized gay marriage represents a threat to traditional marriage.  If a state allows a man to marry a man, or a woman to marry a woman, they argue that what is to stop legal recognition of polygamy, or human marriage to animals.  

American marriages certainly face threats to stability.  According to the Centers For Disease Control, from 2004 to 2011, between 840,000 and 880,000 couples divorced every year.  At the same time, the marriage rate per 1,000 people declined by one seventh.  Fewer couples marry and divorces remain constant.

Is gay marriage part of the problem?  It is hard to see how it could be, either logically or statistically.  The statistics came from years that predate the legalized gay marriage surge.  Marriage as an institution was already in trouble.  Also, the social impact of gay marriage simply is not that profound.  A Huffington Post writer in 2011 cited a study that pegged the gay population of the US at around 4 million.  

To put that number in perspective, there are more divorces every four and a half years than there are gay people.  

What has happened to marriage then?  Focus on the Family's Glenn Lutjens puts some of the blame on unrealistic expectations.  Most people's most thorough experience with relationships comes from first hand experience with their parents or parent.  Dysfunctional upbringings could conceive poor or even abusive interpersonal skills.  Or they could lead to a crusade to manufacture a perfect relationship.  Dating, according to Lutjens, creates a false reality.  It has "escape valves" such as ones own home, finances, etc. that are not there during marriage.  

Another problem is cultural.  At least one writer speculates that American romantic comedies have as bad, or an even worse effect on marriage than pornography.  Matt Lewis of Daily Caller writes that individuals instinctively need a deity to reach self-fulfillment.  When modern society has abandoned God, or at least set Him aside, it placed the perfect relationship on that deified pedestal. 

"And popular culture only reinforces this notion, via movies and music.  Unlike porn, this fantasy is not discourages by polite society, and is, in fact, even celebrated."

The counterpart of the romantic comedy fantasy relationship is the one and done ideal.  One mistake leads to a break.  In many movies, television shows, and popular songs, divorce follows a serious violation of the marriage.  It even follows a cooling of feelings of love and commitment between the spouses.  Most marriages require work and forgiveness.  Long marriages rarely escape at least one of the following:  financial problems, cheating, the ebb and flow of feelings of love or attraction, substance abuse issues, etc.  

Again, the abandonment of the Christian ethic may be part of the problem.  The Judeo-Christian ideal of original sin was not meant as a negation of the goodness of humanity, but as a powerful reminder that nobody is perfect.  People can be good and still hurt others, either purposefully, incidentally, or accidentally.  Christ commands forgiveness, which is the only was to ensure a lasting marriage. 

Of course the Bible also teaches self-respect, self-preservation, and free will.  Staying with an abusive, dangerous, or contemptible person who refuses to change is not part of the marriage vow contract.  

If bad cultural perceptions of marriage are not the biggest problem, they certainly rank at the forefront.  But these can be changed.

In California alone, supporters of a gay marriage ban raised over $28 million according to the Christian Coalition. What if part of that $28 million went toward establishing and promoting more pre-marriage counseling?  This used to be done in many churches as a matter of course and is certainly still an option.  Some may want a more secular based venue, and that should be available.  Certainly at the very least, some group seminars that got partners to think about their commitment before making the plunge would help.  

On the popular culture front, realistic marriage must make a comeback.  Breaking Bad's characterization of Hank Schrader took the old Clint Eastwood style rough around the edges hero and put him into a modern marriage.  Schrader started off as an unintentionally condescending, yet very capable and fast rising, DEA agent in a strong marriage.  As the series continues, he grows obsessed with finding a drug kingpin who, unbeknownst to him, happens to be his brother in law.  Schrader suffers a temporarily debilitating physical injury that throws him into a serious depression.  He does, eventually, recover physically and mentally.  Schrader's character is usually annoyed with, but always loves his wife.  No hint of sexual misconduct ever happens.  But both spouses have to grow and deal with each other's flaws and problems.  The final season of the series finds them in their most difficult and isolating situation.  Their love and commitment forged over all the previous struggles binds them together to face their biggest adversary.

Schrader's marriage is a perfect portrait of a successful one.  Lots of struggle, much forgiveness, and standing together in the toughest times.  Why don't more authors, screenwriters, and songwriters celebrate this kind of bond?  

Marriage is an essential element in the fabric of society.  It needs support and it would benefit from more honest portrayals.  The tens of millions of dollars spent now to fight a potentially very rare occurrence would be better spent in the cause of saving traditional marriage from that which truly threatens it.

Full disclosure, I am for civil unions for all couples and getting government out of marriage entirely.

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