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ISSUE 117 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/9/2004

Questions Rise, Answers Fall; Professor writes on gay marriage issue

By Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 9, 2004

Common questions about gay and lesbian marriage: 1. I'm worried about the decline of the family. Won't recognition of gay and lesbian marriage be the final blow? About half of our marriages (heterosexual) break up, and even evangelical Christians have comparable divorce rates. Over a third of our babies are born out of wedlock. The reasons are many: unwillingness to stay in an unhappy marriage, poverty, the distractions of television, work, and shopping, failure to nurture family skills, and anti-family social policies.

But such problems are not about homosexuality, and banning gay and lesbian marriages won't solve them. In fact, recognition of gay and lesbian marriage could actually affirm our support for what we really value about families: love, commitment, and showing up for the hard work of daily life, whether these families are gay or straight. 2. What about kids--how are we going to have children if two people of the same sex get married? We'll only run out of children if enough heterosexual people choose not to have them. Some European countries are shrinking, but it's because heterosexuals are having fewer children. Homosexuality is not to blame. In fact, gay and lesbian couples are having more children of their own. It's one of the main reasons they want the protections of legal marriage. Many are adopting children, or having birth children through modern medical techniques. Providing support for gay marriages would encourage gay and lesbian couples to have the children they want. 3. Isn't having children the basic purpose of marriage? Won't gay and lesbian parents raise their children to be gay? Don't children need both a mom and a dad to flourish?

Most people who marry want children. But many couples decide not to have children, and others can't. Are they less married? Children growing up in gay and lesbian families aren't more likely to be gay or lesbian themselves. Remember that nearly all gays and lesbians grow up in heterosexual families.

Children can benefit from having two adult parents rather than one: the children get more adult time, parents are less stressed, and there are more resources. But having a man and a woman as parents isn't necessarily better than two same-sex parents. And gay or lesbian families can always choose to have opposite-sex friends involved with their children as role models.

4. I'm a Christian, and the Bible seems to condemn homosexuality. How can I recognize marriage between two people whose lifestyle the Bible regards as sin?

This is such a tough, emotional issue for Christians. Many churches still do not accept gays or lesbians as clergy, nor bless their marriages, though more are welcoming them as members. But other denominations both accept homosexuals as clergy and perform religious marriages for same-sex couples.

There is disagreement about what the Bible says about homosexuality. A number of Bible scholars argue that what is condemned in scripture is not the long-term, loving, committed, covenantal same-sex relationships which legal marriage for gays and lesbians would encourage and support, and which those who seek to marry value.

State laws forbidding interracial marriage, still in effect when I was in college, were justified as God's will for the races. Gospel passages kept women from the ministry. Much has changed, and we need the humility to remember that we have sometimes been wrong in our interpretation of scripture, and that we may be wrong again.

Scores of students whom I've taught here have turned out to be gay or lesbian or bisexual. I've gone to their weddings and held their babies, receiving a gift when they took the risk to be openly gay or lesbian. I've been changed, and those reading this may be changed too. Keep asking questions, and approach these difficult issues with an open heart.

Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb is a professor of sociology and anthropology.

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