Traditional Marriage Supporter: Redefining marriage will reshape society in ways we don't yet know; we do know that the idea of biological parenthood as a quality of marriage will probably disappear altogether, and kids get hurt when that happens.And on and on and on.
Gay Marriage Supporter: Only bigots oppose gay marriage.
TMS: Do we really want the law to say that children don't need a mother and a father?
GMS: You just hate me and my spouse.
TMS: When something has formed a part of social reality for hundreds if not thousands of years, undoing it may have destructive and harmful consequences.
GMS: You must not know any gay people.
TMS: The point is, why is marriage a social good? Why should the law be involved in people's relationships at all? If the point isn't to encourage people to take care of the children who are the natural and expected biological result of the relationship, what is the law's compelling interest to be involved in marriage in the first place?
GMS: You just don't want my partner to be able to visit me in the hospital.
TMS: Doesn't it concern you at all that we're taking words like "marriage" and "family" and completely altering what they mean, then imposing those new definitions on a society that overwhelmingly votes against gay marriage whenever the opportunity presents itself? Don't you think that's overstepping the bounds of democracy?
GMS: Quit imposing your religion on me. You obviously don't have any secular reasons to continue to deny me the fundamental human right to marry anyone of any gender which every civilization until ours has been too bigoted and backward to recognize as the zenith of human existence.
Why do it? Why get involved in these conversations at all? Why not just step back, ignore the issue, and take comfort in the notion that most Americans are still sane enough to recognize that you can't throw gender out the window and still have a coherent definition of marriage?
Because that's increasingly not true:
Two mainline Protestant denominations, after decades of wrestling over the place of homosexuality in the church, are considering allowing local congregations to select pastors who are in long-term, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
The church council of the largest Lutheran body in the US, the 5-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), decided this week to send such a recommendation to its national assembly. The proposal would take effect if supported by majority vote at the assembly's biennial meeting in August.
The 2.3-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) approved the idea at its national assembly last summer, but a majority of the church's 173 district bodies, called presbyteries, must vote in favor by June for it to become church policy.
While it's not clear that either denomination will embrace the change, their actions reflect the shifting views on homosexuality in society, as well as an acknowledgement that the old consensus in the churches has broken down and a new one is not likely to arise soon. The churches are seeking to accommodate differing views and avoid a denominational split.
"There is no question that attitudes have shifted in the church in the way in which this issue has been interpreted theologically," says the Rev. Peter Strommen, chairman of the ELCA task force for studies on sexuality, which developed the recommendation.
"People of sincere faith are coming to different, strongly held conclusions" based on different interpretations of scripture and tradition, he said during a Tuesday teleconference with reporters. "It's hard to imagine that as being possible 15 years ago."
The task force has spent eight years developing a new "social statement" on human sexuality to serve as a theological and teaching document of the church, and in the process, it held more than 100 public hearings. In 2007, the national assembly asked the group to also recommend changes to any policies "precluding homosexual persons" from church leadership.
As society has grappled with the hot-button issues of civil unions and gay marriage, some mainline pastors and churches, such as the United Church of Christ, have moved to support gay unions and gays in church leadership. But most churches have been wracked with controversy, often spurring losses in membership.
I think future historians of the United States (assuming it's still around) will someday be able to identify some development like one of these as the gay-marriage equivalent of the 1930 Lambeth Conference. Within a half a century of Lambeth, nearly every mainstream Protestant denomination was fine with contraceptive use, and society had gone from approving it for the married to handing it out to the unmarried; just a short time later it would begin to be handed out in the schools.
Once the Protestant churches in America (except, perhaps, for a few fundamentalist holdouts) approve gay marriage or gay civil unions or openly gay pastors or some other aspect of gay identity, it won't take long for society to decide that gay marriage is inevitable, and that it is a good thing, too. Opposition will be swept away or marginalized as mere religous disapproval from a handful of hidebound traditional churches.
And we can see the lessons from contraception here, too: many Catholics defy the Church's teachings in this area, Catholic organizations and even dioceses are being forced to supply contraceptive coverage to their insured employees in some states, and there is growing clamor for Catholic doctors and other healthcare workers to be forced, not only to distribute contraception, but to perform or assist at abortions, as well. Gay rights activists will use the law to force Catholics to "participate" with gay marriage in myriad ways, all while claiming that so long as no Catholic priest is being forced to marry a gay couple there's no religious discrimination going on.
If there is ever a day when it becomes impossible to be both Catholic and American, it will be gay marriage that has brought that day into being. I hope that we, or our children, or our grandchildren, will not see that day. But if we do, I hope we will have the courage of our ancestors, many of whom came to this new world because it was no longer possible to be Catholic and a citizen of their homelands, and who decided that it was more important to remain Catholic than to bow to their oppressors.