Sex, Marriage, and Sexuality: December 2008 Archives

I recently found this interview with Richard Rodriguez, which raises some interesting suppositions about why social conservatives oppose same-sex marriage, tying it to a desire to maintain a traditional view of the family. On one level, this seems right. Much of the actual rhetoric from socially conservative groups, e.g. the Family Research Council, links same-sex marriage to the breakdown of the family, a claim that on the face of it seems absurd. How does the ability of two gay men to call their union a marriage somehow make my heterosexual marriage more likely to break down? One common argument for same-sex marriage is that it will actually strength the institution of marriage by promoting long-term relationships among a demographic that has a much higher tendency to avoid them.

In some ways the level of vitriol and forcefulness of resistance to same-sex marriage does seem to me to reflect a misplaced set of priorities when there are much more immediate problems within the very communities that oppose same-sex marriage. Evangelicals (as traditionally defined by the media, anyway) have as much of a problem with divorce as the country at large (although if you look at the stricter criteria of George Barna to define evangelicalism, the gap widens considerably). Roman Catholicism still hasn't responded in a way that has satisfied enough people to the priest sex abuse scandal. Mormons still endorse polygamy as in principle perfectly fine and the right way to do things during certain periods. Given their opposition to same-sex marriage on grounds of supporting the traditional family, black Americans have a  disturbingly high rate of single parenthood and, for that matter, abortion with respect to the general population. While we certainly shouldn't assume individual cases are all a result of hypocrisy, Rodriguez is at least prima facie right to raise that spectre as a worry.

Nevertheless, when it comes down to the details, some of Rodriguez's claims seem to me to be so off-base that I find it amazing that someone could put them forward seriously. Is the resistance to same-sex marriage based fundamentally in a desire to prevent women from becoming too dominant in society? After recognizing that society is now at a place where we hardly even wonder where someone's father is when only his mother shows up at the Olympics to see him win medal after medal, he goes on to offer a sweeping generalization to explain the opposition to same-sex marriage:

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.
It's certainly true that some churches want to reassert the view that authority should be primarily in the hands of men. Some extend this to society as a whole, but far more limit it (as the Bible does) to leadership in the family and authoritative teaching and leading in the church. But is that the explanation for opposition to same-sex marriage? It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that a lot of people think same-sex sexual relationships are morally wrong? Rodriguez just seems to me to be confusing two separate issues that don't actually have much in common theoretically. It's true that one argument against homosexuality has to do with how the Bible treats a marriage relationship as reflective of role relations within the Trinity. But if you listen to Rodriguez, you get the sense that all the outrage against gay couples wanting to call their relationships marriages stems from some visceral desire to prevent women from becoming too uppity, which just sounds crazy. I know several people (although it's actually a pretty small percentage of people I know who think same-sex sexual relationships are wrong) who seem to base their opposition on a visceral disgust at the idea of two men having sex with each other. That has nothing to do with women and authority. The more common reason comes from simple observation of biblical texts as traditionally interpreted, and the basis of those interpretations doesn't lie in one's attitude toward women.

Along the way, he gives a similar argument with respect to abortion:
 
Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people -- it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.
It's completely crazy to try to explain opposition to abortion entirely in terms of preventing women from being in control. It's certainly true that arguments within pro-choice feminism see the abortion issue that way, but there's no way that's the important issue for pro-lifers. If Rodriguez doesn't understand that the main reason so many people oppose abortion is because they think it's despicable to take an innocent life for reasons that usually amount to lesser importance than the life issue, then he's living in a bubble. Since Rodriguez is Catholic, he should know better.

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