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Bishop Gene Robinson: MARRIAGE EQUALITY: 10 Q&Rs


Bishop Gene Robinson, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, Knopf, 2012.

Gene Robinson is the world’s first openly gay bishop elected to the historic episcopate (2003).

He was also the first and only duly elected and consecrated bishop to be excluded – in 2008 – by the Archbishop of Canterbury from the Lambeth Conference  (a worldwide, very influential assembly of Anglican bishops held about every ten years).

His thesis: Marriage is a sacrament (‘a sacrament is one of the places God promises to show up!’) and nothing in Scripture or orthodox theology precludes our opening the institution of marriage to same-gender couples. The legal marriage of two same-gender people – like the rather recent opening of legal marriage to interracial couples – retains the traditional meaning of marriage while expanding the number of people whom it may benefit.

His ten questions, and (my summary of) his responses:

1. Why Gay Marriage Now? Perhaps no other shift in public opinion and policy has occurred in such a short time, historically speaking. We’ve seen the end of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ in the U.S. military.  It’s time for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be treated with the same dignity and afforded the same responsibilities and rights as their heterosexual fellow citizens.

2.  Why Should You Care About Gay Marriage If You’re Straight? Well, there’s Jesus’ Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It’s about every moral human being thinking, not, ‘If I were gay I would understand that God doesn’t hold that against me, as long as I don’t act on it’ but ‘If that were me, what would I want?’ Pulpits are full of preaching about ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ but to gay men and lesbians it still feels like ‘hate the person’. The civil rights movement of the 1960s gained momentum when white people also began to own the issue of justice for African-Americans, and listen  – truly listen – to a minority people’s stories.

3. What’s Wrong with Civil Unions? For a start, ‘homosexuality’ was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders back in 1973. Heterosexual (males, mostly) have trouble with the word ‘gay’ – and also certain physical acts. In all sorts of situations (like hospital emergency rooms, for example) ‘we are married’ removes any confusion, and guarantees a partner’s rights. Above all the term ‘marriage’ removes any hint of second-class status.

4. Doesn’t the Bible Condemn Homosexuality? The Bible isn’t taken ‘literally’ even by literalists (otherwise they’d be giving everything to the poor and redistributing all the land every 50 years!). Polygamy and slavery were OK in biblical times, but not (generally) now. The Holiness Code in Leviticus is about an ancient people’s definition of what’s ‘normal’. Everyone was thought to be ‘heterosexual’ (even though the word wasn’t used until the late 19th century): so if people engaged in same-sex activity that wasn’t normal. It was normal for ancient peoples to believe in a flat earth, and that mental illnesses were caused by demons etc. The Sodom story (Genesis 19) is about same-sex rape. Jesus doesn’t mention the subject of homosexuality (strange for something important enough to cause so many of his churches to split). Paul’s words in Romans 1 are addressed to people presumed to be heterosexual, and their idolatrous practices. We don’t know what malakoi (the Greeks used this word for ‘soft’) and arsenokoitai (1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1) really mean, and any translation is speculative. Summary: the Bible doesn’t address issues about men and women who are affectionately oriented toward people of the same gender; and nowhere in Scripture is there a wholesale condemnation of the loving relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

5. What Would Jesus Do? Jesus was the perfect revelation of God. He was champion of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Jesus was critical of the moral arbiters of his time, and like the Hebrew prophets before him, ‘spoke truth to power’. His culture believed in ‘extended’ rather than ‘nuclear’ families: but he redefined ‘family’ to refer not to biology primarily, but to shared interests and values (Matthew12:47-50). He fought the dominant patriarchal notion that women and children were ‘second-class’. For him human need trumped rules and centuries of tradition. People came first.

6. Doesn’t Gay Marriage Change the Definition of Marriage That’s Been in Place for Thousands of Years?  First, note: one man and one woman, united in marriage for life, and joined because of their love for each other, is a relatively modern notion of marriage. Polygamy (or, rather, polygyny) seemed to be a common practice in ancient Hebrew culture. Divorce was initiated by husbands: wives had few or no rights in this regard. Males must marry their deceased brother’s wives.

Martin Luther reckoned marriage was ‘worldly… belonging to the realm of government’. Even to this day, in most of Western Europe, marriage is a civil matter: the church may offer a blessing only after the State has ratified the marriage. Until relatively recently interracial marriage (miscegenation) was forbidden in America, Nazi Germany, South Africaand elsewhere. President Barack Obama’s parents could not have been married in 16 U.S.states prior to 1967. So let us note: the definition of marriage was not changed by the recent opening of access to it for African-Americans.

7. Doesn’t Gay Marriage Undermine Marriage?  An experienced priest said: ‘Gay couples take the sacrament of marriage so much more seriously, and go about it with so much more intentionality, than heterosexual couples.’ Gene: ‘Wouldn’t it be ironic if instead of undermining marriage, as it often is alleged, gay marriage was its salvation?’ Married-couple households are now a minority in theU.S. – 49.7 percent. There are plenty of reasons why marriages are stressful and end in divorce. None of them relate to the idea of gay marriage. For one thing, if it were easier for gay people to come out, the pressure to enter into a dishonest relationship with a person of the opposite gender would be lessened. Maybe far from undermining marriage gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage for themselves are perhaps the institution’s best friends.

8. What If My Religion Doesn’t Believe in Gay Marriage? In the U.S. marriage is both a religious and a civil institution: the State marries and the Church blesses. And no clergyperson or religious body is forced to bless or sanctify any marriage if it is against their policy. Actually, religious opposition to same-gender marriage is an example of the violation of the separation of church and state: the Church is trying to meddle in the rightful business of the State.  This religious argument against the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples is simply bogus. And unconstitutional.

9. Don’t Children Need a Mother and a Father? The Church, in the liturgical act of marrying a couple, does not state anything about who physically procreates children, and how. Hopefully would-be parents of adopted children really want them: this is as true for gay or lesbian couples as it is for straight people. Research by sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz (Journal of Marriage and Family, Feb. 2010) concluded: ‘No research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being… Children being raised by same-gender parents, [in terms of] self-esteem, school performance, social adjustment… in most cases are indistinguishable from kids raised by married moms and dads on these measures’. Sociologist Michael Rosenfeld (Demography, Aug. 2010): ‘The census data show that having parents who are the same gender is not in itself any disadvantage to children.’ Gene: ‘Just as gay and lesbian couples are intentional (by necessity) about having children in the first place, they tend to be intentional about bringing role models of the opposite gender into their children’s lives, especially if the child’s gender is opposite that of his or her gay parents.’ If children discover they’re gay in these situations, there’ll be much less danger of rejection. But a 2006 report titled Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: an Epidemic of Homelessness found that 26% of teens who come out to their parent(s) are thrown out of their homes; and 20-40% of homeless youth identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. One last argument concerns the right to divorce: they are then – with any children involved – legally protected in many ways.

10. Is This About Civil Rights or Getting Approval for Questionable Behavior?  Expecting tyrannous majorities to perceive the discrimination perpetrated against minorities is like asking fish to understand the concept of water! So African-Americans had to take to the streets in the 1960s; women voiced their concerns in the 1970s; disabled people banded together in the 1980s to promote the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990. In terms of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people ‘we are not talking about homophobia,’ writes Gene. ‘”Homophobia” is a word I almost never use, because it’s a conversation stopper.’ Teachable moments don’t follow when you call someone a bigot! The question is: why is our system set up to benefit heterosexuals at the expense of homosexual people? Is such a discrepancy legitimate, defensible, and constitutional? Most American states have absolutely no protections against discrimination against gay people who want to rent an apartment, eat a meal, or hold a job. In most states any person can get a one-day license to officiate at a wedding, and there is no law which says vows have to be taken at all! And what about sex? Anal intercourse is practiced in straight relationships – 10% of them have anal sex on a regular basis! The struggle is not about certain sexual practices: they can be practiced by both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Homosexuality is a problem, mostly, for heterosexual men, not heterosexual women…

So to our text: ‘Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God’ ( 1 John 4:7b – 8).

‘The opportunity to love one person and to have that love sanctioned and supported by the culture in which we live is a right denied gay and lesbian people for countless centuries. It’s time to open that opportunity to all of us. Because in the end, God believes in love.’

Bishop Gene Robinson is a gentle, intelligent man. His small book – of 196 pages – is too short to answer all of our questions exhaustively. But it’s certainly readable. And inexpensive – $15 U.S. or less if you shop around online, or $9.99 for the Kindle version.

Bishop Gene Robinson will be visiting Australia the last two weeks of May 2013.  The movie about his rejection by the Lambeth Conference (see lovefreeordiemovie.com) is highly recommended viewing. 

(Rev. Dr.) Rowland Croucher (jmm.org.au) is national chaplain to the Australia-wide Freedom2B LGBTI community.


Gene Robinson sermon:


A new Film https://www.facebook.com/LoveFreeOrDie)



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