Religious conservatives are fierce defenders of the idea that gay marriage must be absolutely prohibited to "save" traditional marriage. They even argue that anything remotely resembling marriage, like civil unions, must be banned as well. If we ignore how most of this position is tied inextricably to religious ideology, and focus solely on the claim that traditional marriage is in danger, what do we find? Inconsistency and hypocrisy.
The arguments being used by the Christian Right today against gay marriage are not unique, nor did they appear out of nowhere. These arguments are an integral part of how the Christian Right views the world, and they have used the same arguments in the past to oppose the liberalization of divorce laws. Thus the problems with both the Christian Right's rhetoric and agenda on gay marriage can be revealed most readily by comparing gay marriage with divorce.
Those who attack legalizing gay marriage say they are defending the institution of marriage, but if that were really true, why aren't they spending at least as much time and vigor attacking divorce? After all, more divorces mean fewer marriages, so isn't divorce more of a threat than gay marriage? For a long time, divorce was impossible or very difficult to obtain in America. Most religious groups opposed divorce in all but the most extreme circumstances even if a woman was beaten regularly by her husband, clergy would counsel her to stay with him and learn how to better submit to him in order to avoid the abuse. Conservative Christians attacked divorce and the liberalization of divorce laws in the same way they attack gay marriage
today. They argued that divorce laws should be tightened, not relaxed; they argued that marriage was a religious rather than a legal issue, and that the law should be used to defend religious tradition as they defined it; they argued that divorced people should be treated like criminals; and they argued for greater social censure and ostracism for those who get divorced anyway.
Did civilization collapse on itself, as conservative Christians claimed it would in the wake of liberal divorce laws? No; and while most religious groups continue to at least disapprove of divorce, they have learned to accept its presence even the Catholic Church authorizes more annulments in America than anywhere else in the world. American culture changed and conservative Christians had to change with it, though few would admit this openly.
Why Not Ban Divorce?
The Christian Right's arguments about the need to protect and preserve traditional marriage work equally well in support of banning divorce as they do in support of banning gay marriage.
Here is the text of the 2004 Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment:
- Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.
- Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.
What if that were changed:
- Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the permanent union of a man and a woman.
- Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the permanent union of a man and a woman.
This should eliminate divorce by defining marriage as something that cannot be dissolved. It should also prohibit recognition of remarriage after divorce when performed abroad, just as it would prohibit recognition of gay marriages performed abroad. How many would support this alteration? Very few, I expect but those who think that gay marriage should be banned are hypocrites for not adopting a similar line when it comes to divorce. Opposition to divorce, both as a threat to marriage and as contrary to Christian scripture, is supported both by the history of America's Christian Right as well as the logic of their own arguments against gay marriage.
Few Americans would accept banning divorce, though. Today divorce is easier than it was in the past because society has decided that divorce is a civil matter, subject to civil laws voted on by elected representatives not religious laws subject to the interpretation of unelected religious leaders in a sharia-style situation.
Its unfortunate that similar arguments are being made once again in the context of gay marriage, but its not surprising because the Christian Right subscribes to an absolutist religion which allows no compromises. The existence of a civil, secular sphere of life where one can escape religion is unacceptable to them and thats why, in the end, their most basic goal is to eliminate that sphere by any means necessary.