Monday, August 4, 2008


My Pastor’s View of Gay Marriage and the Recent California Supreme Court Decision—Part Two

This is the second part in a two-part series in response to the recent California Supreme Court decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. It is written by the Rev. Dr. Mark S. Bollwinkel, Senior Pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, California.

Public opinion polls suggest that the majority of Californians are willing to confer equal legal status to homosexual unions but want to reserve the word “marriage” for heterosexual couples alone.

A marriage license has always and only been a legal contract regulated by the state to ensure fiscal, property and lineage rights between two adults. The issuance of a marriage license by the state and county has never “sanctified” anything. Was the state of Nevada “sanctifying” Britney Spears’ 48-hour marriage to her boyfriend when it issued them a piece of paper?

Government, especially under a constitution separating church and state, has no business defining what is sacred about anything, let alone the relationship between two consenting adults. Political rhetoric insisting that the government must protect the “sanctity of marriage” by openly discriminating against the rights of a minority in our society is hypocritical and un-American.

Religious bodies should have the right to determine who and how they will celebrate a marriage, including my own United Methodist denomination, which prohibits the ordination of self-avowed gays and lesbians and their holy unions. But government has no business legislating discrimination against any law-abiding, consenting adult.

The heterosexual majority may find homosexual behavior and culture strange or repulsive. That is no basis for social discrimination. We’ve been down this road too many times before in America when religious and political bias has been used to justify the majority’s fears by restricting the rights of others – people of color and women in general know that reality all-too-well.

Half of the marriage licenses in our society will be revoked by divorce. We flock to be entertained by movies, TV, books and music that presume if not promote fornication and adultery. To suggest that gay marriage threatens the “sanctity” of heterosexual relationships is absurd.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are more than 800,000 same-gender households in our country. My wife and I will celebrate our 35th anniversary this year and have never once been threatened in the blessing of our relationship knowing that some families are just different from ours.

Many will argue that the natural ability of biological procreation between a man and a woman is what makes a heterosexual union “sacred,” as God is a life-affirming and life-generating spirit. Adoption, in vitro fertilization and surrogate pregnancies have allowed both heterosexual and nonheterosexual families to have children outside of God-given procreation. To reserve the sacred label for heterosexual families alone makes the procreation argument hollow indeed.

It is difficult at best to project 21st century ethics regarding sexual orientation onto Jesus or the leaders of the early church. They faced an entirely different worldview and context. However, Jesus’ vision of the “reign of God” in which all are included to experience God’s grace, forgiveness, peace and justice has inspired two millennia of the faithful and still does so today.

Jesus would be the first to honor sacred scripture and use it to encounter the living God. By teaching and example, he suggests biblical literalism and manipulation cuts the community off from the living word (Matthew 5:17-18, 21-45, 12:1-8, 15:10-20; Mark 2:23-28, 7:1-23; Luke 6:1-5; John 9; Acts 10:9-16; Galatians 5:1-12, 6:11-16).

To use the Bible as justification to discriminate against a minority within our society is wrong. God may be speaking a new word to us today as we once again wrestle with our prejudices regarding gay marriage.

I am one of a minority of United Methodist clergy who yearn for the day when gay, bisexual, transgender and lesbian people are fully included in the life of our church and honored as full citizens in their nation. I also understand that such a day is in the future due to the fear and prejudice our society has for these children of God. It took centuries for the church and society to change its policies toward slavery, people of color and the role and status of women – all social concerns in which we still have a long way to go. Upholding the California Supreme Court decision for marriage equality is an essential step toward that hopeful day.

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