Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tradition transitioning…

A phrase used by many proponents of last week’s Supreme Court decision opening marriage to same-gendered couples was Love Wins. I have mixed feelings about that. Let me explain.

Firstly, you already know I’m one of those proponents. Yet I don’t consider most opponents unloving people. Some, unfortunately, are motivated by bigotry and hate, though not the majority, I hope. Certainly many I know who don’t share my open and affirming values don’t intend un-loving attitudes toward LGBTQ neighbors. They simply struggle to reconcile their sincere faith with gay marriage. Fair enough. In other words, I consider them loving Christians. Who I disagree with. And would like to persuade otherwise. Nevertheless, I don’t want to speak like they’re on Love’s losing side. They’re not.

But here’s a deeper reason I question that phrase. Many claim this decision redefined marriage. I suppose that’s legally true. But consider an argument I read several years ago: “Traditional” marriage was redefined before the gay rights movement even began. Marriage traditions, of course, have been evolving since civilization emerged (remember Abraham’s several wives?!). But the most recent version of “traditional” marriage began changing as women’s roles in culture expanded

After all, the one-man/one-woman marriage definition traditionally assumed men earned paychecks while women organized homes. Alternative economic activities were often pursued (Tupperware parties!!!), but that was the basic financial arrangement. Thus, a future spouse’s ability to effectively play his/her role was paramount. And since extended family were often affected, parents were heavily involved in the wife/husband selection process.

Put simply: It used to be that other things were more important to marriage than love.

Then around the late 1800s, women began volunteering and working more outside the home, received voting rights, better education, increased prestige and earning power. Suddenly, the “traditional” economic foundation of marriage shifted. Relationship qualities like tenderness, respect and mutual admiration grew in importance, compared with a woman’s cooking, cleaning and childrearing. Love became the quality valued most. Not that every marriage expectation changed for everyone. Nor were “traditional” marriages always unloving. But a real, and transformative, shift occurred in Marriage, The Institution.

Fast forward to when LGBTQ citizens began demanding society no longer consider them immoral, sick or deranged, but as people, proudly beautiful as anyone. It was natural to ask, “Why not us,” since straight couples were marrying based on love. Why not, indeed! Marriage, The Institution had changed. Rigid male/female divisions of labor were no longer assumed. Love won already. What mattered now was whose love gets counted as “proper.” To me, love is love and, therefore, divine.

But if that argument’s right – that traditional marriage changed decades ago and we’re now simply playing catching up – are we losing something in this transition? Possibly. But I don’t think the critical threat is either same-gender relationships or changed gender roles. Rather, I worry about our culture’s shallow understanding of love.

I mean, if we’re now basing one of THE fundamental relationships- marriage- on love, we’d better appreciate love in its fullness, right?! We’d best not consistently mistake lust or convenience for love. We mustn’t sentimentalize or overly romanticize it. Have you heard how large the pornography industry has grown? Sickeningly so. Instead, we need to celebrate that real “love is patient…kind…not boastful…arrogant…rude…It believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13).” If that’s our standard for marriage, then by God, let’s get as many involved as have the desire! But if we’re defined by fleeting infatuations of Hollywood-style “love”, then we’ve got bigger concerns than who’s with whom at the altar.

Ultimately, though, this speaks to why I’m most excited about last week’s decision. By seeking inclusion in Marriage, The Institution, the LGBTQ community did society a favor. We’ve hopefully reconsidered why we value marriage, what creates an effective marriage, how love’s greatest aim is lifelong commitment. If so, that’s wonderful! Which isn’t to say we should now resurrect prohibitions to divorce. Marriage’s evolution into a less oppressive institution remains a great blessing. I simply believe that we’re all better if more people have the chance to love better.
In other words, love didn’t win. We all did.

Grace and Peace,

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