Welcome back, R2Ders! We’re heading into the Unequally Yoked Club today. One thing I was taught from my earliest years as a Christian–and see stressed even more nowadays–is this idea that Christian couples should base their relationship with each other on a shared faith in Jesus. So I want to talk about why that’s a terrible idea, using a recent court decision allowing equal marriage in two more states.
But first: Hooray for Nevada and Idaho! The court system struck down those states’ bigoted, hateful anti-LGBTQ laws. Okay, so they’re a little late, but better late than never, I reckon. (I know some people who are actively betting on which state will be *cough*Missouri*cough last.) As with all the other legal smackdowns, the court’s writeup of the case is really good reading and I heartily recommend it if you’re into legal smackdowns half as much as I am. Interestingly, the smackdown does touch on the reasons people get married, which ties into what I wanted to talk about today (see how smooth that was? I’m getting better at this).
The argument presented by the Christian bigots opposing equal marriage in this legal case is a sham and a pretense even to non-legally-trained ears, but it’s a familiar one by this time to us all. Sing along with the bouncing red dot: marriage’s explicit function is to get children born into this world and raised into good little taxpayers and drones, and marriage should be kept sooooper speshul for straight people so they’ll feel compelled to marry should any unexpected pregnancies result from their irresponsible and probably drunken bonking. Gay people can’t have unexpected pregnancies and never, ever have children ever, so obviously they don’t need to be forced into marriage because of that, so DUH. Also, children always do better with straight parents than with gay parents, and single parenthood and divorce will become less common if gay people are denied the right to marry. Also also, if gay people are allowed to marry then straight people will get all snotty and refuse to marry each other out of spite even after having irresponsible babies and fathers will totally abandon their children because LESBIANS. People’s rights are decided by lawmakers on the basis of what benefits those rights will confer to society, not on what the right thing is to do, and gay people marrying will cause mayhem and havoc in the streets and possibly meteor strikes so obviously that’s a serious problem for society which necessitates the denial of this right.
Every single sentence in that argument is either a hamfisted, baldfaced lie set forth by truly desperate lawyers throwing whatever they can at the wall to see what sticks, or an absolute mockery of the whole idea of human rights as set forth in the American Constitution (or, I ask in a little-girl voice with a little-girl shrug of my little-girl hands, “why not both?”). But this pile of horseshit is what they’re going with: that the ban on equal marriage needs to be maintained because they’re not really discriminating on the basis of gender or orientation, but rather on “procreative capacity” and “tradition” alone. The fact that it effectively bars same-sex couples from marriage is just a bug of the laws they’re defending, not its feature, like its proponents throw up their hands and giggle, “Whoopsie! I guess it totally does exclude same-sex couples from marriage! How’d that ever happen?” The folks writing the smackdown are just as dumbfounded as I am by this blatant hypocrisy and deception, if not more so.
But it’s important to note here what the excuse is for the bigotry. Idaho and Nevada are not really discriminating against same-sex couples, they say. They’re just declaring that marriage’s function, as dictated by long tradition, is 100% about procreation and parenthood. Oh, oh no, before you ask, these states don’t actually ask opposite-sex couples if they plan to procreate or test them for their “procreative capacity.” Bigots let opposite-sex couples marry no matter what. If a couple is too old to procreate or otherwise biologically incapable of doing so, or else both state categorically on public record that they have no intention of procreating, they still get to marry if they want and none but the very worst of bigots will even give them side-eye or shade for doing it much less ever accuse them of destroying the “sanctity” of marriage.
The real fear is that people might get married because they just love each other and want to commit to a lifetime together–not because they were forced into it with an unplanned pregnancy or because they were horny and wanted to bonk legally. The idea that people can marry out of love and stay together out of love seems entirely alien to them; it makes me wonder what their own marriages look like when they are this convinced that without strong-arming force that people just aren’t capable of staying together. Meanwhile, over in reality-land, most of the weddings I’ve ever heard of revolve around whether the couple truly loves each other. The smart ones at least try to figure out if they’re truly compatible before plunging into the theme park of marriage, but most of ’em don’t even get that far and still muddle along about as well as anybody else who at least tried to figure that out beforehand.
It’s also worth noting that Idaho, whose governor seems the most terrified of a shift to a “consent-based, personal relationship model of marriage” (p. 21 of that smackdown, which we’ll be quoting more of at the end here because if the phrase QFT was ever devised for anything, it was for this), doesn’t even ask its marriage-license applicants if they plan to procreate, nor does it demand physical examinations to ensure that applicants are capable of procreation. It’s downright startling how few questions get asked. In fact, what I got asked when I eloped in Idaho was “Do you two know each other?” (because at the time there was a bit of a problem with sham green-card marriages in the area). Oh, and “do you want to recite your own vows or is this handout script going to work for you, and are you exchanging rings?” So I guess that’s two questions, three if you count my alarming overuse of compound sentences. They didn’t even want to know if our parents approved or if banns had been properly said around town. I mean really, what kind of hippie ashram is this place turning into? I want my country back! Grawr!
It may seem a little strange to tie this court case to the topic at hand today–Christ-centered marriage–but I see a great many similarities between the standard-issue fundagelical take on marriage and what the defendants in this court case were trying to say about marriage, namely that it has a genuine purpose and isn’t just some silly emotional relationship entered into out of love all willy-nilly by superficial, starry-eyed lovers. Certainly when I was Christian I felt the same fear of the idea of marriage without divine commands behind it. I married Biff because I thought it was a god’s handed-down purpose for me to be married to him, not because I was totally into the idea. I mean for real, people, I tried to dump him the night before the wedding, and he only talked me out of the idea by stressing that the that this marriage was “God’s will” for us. I walked by obedience and faith, and yeah, you know how well that worked out.
The idea of getting married just for love, just because the couple wants to marry, that’s dangerous. It’s almost as if one is plunging into the North Sea without even a life-jacket or a submarine nearby. There’s got to be some purpose to everything, even to where a Christian eats lunch–so a marriage obviously needs to have an even greater purpose behind it. And in a Christian marriage, that purpose is Jesus.
I’ve mentioned that teen dating seminar I attended as a bright-eyed Southern Baptist lass in the 1980s, “Love/Life Principles,” which devotes most of its runtime to dating, sex, and love. In this seminar I was taught the following, and I’m quoting from the binder my mother inexplicably saved all these years from that seminar (p. 33; bold emphases are the author’s own; underlines indicate words I wrote into the book at the presenter’s instruction, and oh wow my handwriting was SO GIRLIE):
The main purpose of dating is to unite two people spiritually. Because this is the main purpose of dating – God must be very much involved in your love life.
Later on, after informing attendees that we weren’t old enough to date till our parents said we were, the author goes on to tell us that “You are not old enough to date until you have read God’s standards in scripture for dating and will not compromise.”
I know a lot of Biblical scholars and Scripture buffs alike will wonder just where the Bible discusses modern American-style dating, but the author breathlessly tells attendees that “You can’t go wrong!” in trying their best to “give (their) sexual-social needs to Him.” It goes on to assure young people that “spiritual oneness must precede sexual attraction” (p. 35).
And this was the same sort of stuff I was taught in the Pentecostal church I later attended, which is why I’m quoting it. Nothing I’m saying here is very different from what most evangelical churches teach, with the exception of some of the hardcore fundie churches going into “courtship” cultism because they weren’t already hardcore and extremist enough about sex and sexism. This idea that relationships are based on Jesus is one that is so ingrained in church culture nowadays that even questioning it is unthinkable. Jesus is the glue that binds a couple and the foundation upon which the family is built. The exact mechanism for this centrality is not often discussed, but usually it centers on frequent family prayer and Bible study, adherence to Christian cultural mores, regular church attendance, and the participation in social functions with the congregation. A perceptive eye will note that none of these things is actually “Jesus,” but rather a drilling-down on standard-issue Christian practices, but forget it, they’re rolling.
In the dating seminar binder thingie, in the section about how to decide who to date, attendees wrote down the following as requirements in potential partners: “Interest in God, 2) Growing in God, 3) Not Critical of Christians, and 4) Sensitivity to a woman’s needs.” I know, I gagged a little too seeing that years later. Young women are told to seek partners who have “a heart for God” (p. 38). Somehow the author quotes 1 Timothy 5:2 (“Treat the older women as mothers, and young women as sisters, in all purity”) and decides that means that men always set the pace sexually in relationships, so women are told to let men do that–within the boundaries that the women have set, of course, because nothing says “letting men set the pace sexually” better than forcing men to adhere to women’s boundaries.
(Young men, if you’re wondering, are told to seek female partners who are “beautiful inside as well as outside” and who don’t flirt too damned much or dress all sexy-like, calling such women “a gold ring in a pig’s snout”–with a helpful illustration of the same to make the point. Men’s appearance inside or out, their dress, and their flirting aren’t mentioned at all to young women as red flags. Ain’t that some nice slut-shaming and double standards?)
The really terrible part about this insistence on a shared religious focus is that it just isn’t true that couples need to have one. Lots of relationships do just fine without going through that pretense. And a great many relationships withstand one partner’s deconversion just fine as well. After years of hearing from people in mixed-faith marriages/relationships, I’m forced to conclude that the only real reason churches teach such a patently untrue thing is that they really want it to be true–for marriage to have this huge cosmic purpose and reason and focus–and think that saying it over and over again makes that lie into the truth. The truth is, most folks marry because they fell in love, and Christians are no exception to that rule. They dress their desire to marry in fancy words like “God’s will,” but really they’re just in love with each other and wanted to marry the person they chose. Except for those courtship weirdos and the odd fervent fundagelical like I was, you don’t often hear a couple saying that they weren’t into the idea at all but decided that, based on their parents’ opinions or their own procreative capability, or even a studied examination of their deity’s desires, they should take one for the team and marry anyway and hope it all works out for the best. Most Christians know better than to take this drivel about “God’s will” as far as I did; though they’re happy to pay the idea lip service at least, when push comes to shove they prove themselves just as “worldly” as those nasty worldly couples they think marry for superficial reasons.
And I think it makes Christian leaders nervous as hell to imagine that they’re no longer the ones setting the tone for discussions about relationships. As that court case smackdown relates so beautifully, for many years marriage has already been about an individual couple’s love and desire to marry, not about economic or legal considerations, not about what the family wants or what churches approve. The fight over “traditional marriage” isn’t about truly traditional marriage at all–because truly traditional marriage would involve women having no legal rights whatsoever or a single bit of ownership over their own bodies. It would involve women being slaves in the truest sense of the word, with their bodies, their time, and their labor belonging wholly to their
masters husbands. I seriously doubt any but the most toxic of Christians like that idea.
No, what they’re really arguing for here isn’t the archaic and truly horrific view of marriage that “tradition” actually would involve, but rather the idea of marriage having the significance and purpose that they want it to have. That’s why twits like Rick Santorum can whine and wring their little hands about how marriage has “devolved” into just “a romantic relationship between two people.” They want it to mean more than just love, which to them is nonessential in the abstract because Jesus said there wasn’t marriage in heaven. They want it to have a higher focus, some compelling force behind it, but more than that, they want it to have the focus and force that they themselves affix to it and enforce on society as a whole.
In the light of their true goals, I find this wide-eyed, innocent insistence on “procreative capability” and “traditional marriage” to be beyond deceptive. All they’re doing is using terminology that isn’t quite as offensive as the language they really want to use, much like how Creationists would dearly love for us all to use “intelligent design” to describe their nonsensical ideas. In the same way that Creationists are aware that they simply can’t use specific Christian words like “Creationism” and expect to get away with sneaking their ideas into public schools, anti-equality bigots are perfectly aware that stating their real purpose–trying to force America back to their own revisionist vision of 1950s America, when Christians dominated everything, LGBTQ people and minorities were marginalized to within an inch of their lives, and people were forced by law to observe rigid gender roles–would get them laughed right out of court, so they’re using terms that will at least get them a hearing in front of a judge. Even most Christians wouldn’t want to return to the days of truly traditional marriage when wives could be legally raped by their husbands and couldn’t own property in their own names, if they even know in the first place that that’s what traditional marriage even involved in the past. Nor would they actually want to make procreation the sole focus of who is and isn’t allowed to marry; that’d take the right to marry away from quite a few straight Christians! This nonsense they blather about procreation and tradition is just that: blather. Neither focus is their real focus and neither actually advances their real goal.
And we will briefly mention here that “procreative capability” is also Christian zealots’ dog-whistle term for their particular brand of sexism. In Christian thinking, one can find this idea of “complementarianism,” a gender-essentialist way of saying that men are all meant to behave and do certain things, while women are all meant to behave and do certain other things–all of which combine to form a glorious whole that operates smoothly and efficiently (as an old speech I read once went, the boys farm the wheat and then the girls bake it into pies). In that mindset, when men or women refuse to perform their proper roles, chaos results. Similarly, there’s just one successful blueprint for a marriage which involves men and women doing particular things and behaving in particular ways unique to their genders, and if people don’t adhere to that blueprint, then society itself will suffer in some huge way–though normally the specifics of this suffering are either not described at all or else are asserted as true without or even contrary to existing evidence.
This thinking totally ignores that there are as many successful blueprints for marriage as there are couples–but such heresy threatens the entire evangelical mindset in a lot of ways. That’s why this court case recounts their constant bleating about how marriage has become “genderless” and their terror of marriages that don’t revolve around the correct roles being performed the correct way. The whole mindset relies on a strict hierarchical vision of society where every individual member has a role and a part to play. If their sexism turns out to be wrong, if couples function just fine without adhering to the blueprint, then what other blueprints are they shoving onto society that will also turn out to be wrong? (Hint: all of them.) The very last thing Christian leaders want to see are happy relationships and low divorce rates resulting from a rejection of the mores and values they are trying to inject into marriage. They don’t care about what works to improve marriages and lower divorce rates; they just care about what advances–or at least maintains–Christianist dominance and privilege.
And Christian couples’ misery and divorces are the fallout and collateral damage from that goal. When they fail, they will think that the problem is that they misinterpreted their god’s will for their lives, not that building a marriage around a shared hobby or passion is a really bad idea. They will blame themselves or each other for not adhering to the correct gender roles instead of questioning the inherently unfair and sexist paradigm to which they subscribe, and they will go on to form new marriages that have similar flaws built right into its foundation. They’ll never even realize what happened to them.
So to sum up, this court case illustrates the big major reasons why I think Christians fear and tremble at the sight of equal marriage. First, equal marriage illustrates that marriage is about love and consent at its very core, not about gender roles, not about Jesus, and certainly not about bearing or raising children, and while Christians themselves are free to make it mean whatever else they themselves want it to mean and give it whatever additional baggage they want it to have among their own selves, they’re not allowed to try to force their view of it onto others. Second, this cultural development laughs in the face of Christian sexism and clearly rejects it.
The really scary part about the Unequally Yoked Club, for Christians, is just how truly non-essential Jesus is to a relationship. After the initial shock has passed, most couples discover that things work about the same way with a non-Christian spouse as they did with both spouses being Christian. Some of the superficial stuff changes, of course; how the couple spends their time is obviously one of the first changes the newly-unequally-yoked couple will weather. But after that, it’s almost a letdown realizing just how little really changes in day-to-day life; most of these couples figure out what’s really important and continue on their merry ways. And we’re seeing that same anti-climactic letdown happening in Christian culture with equal marriage; what’s really going to threaten Christian doomsayers the most is just how little will really change in their own marriages (and their own culture, most likely) as a result of people getting to marry same-sex spouses. All that’s happening is that we’re all figuring out what’s really important in marriage and what we really value most, and since both of those things run contrary to modern Christian mythology around marriage, of course Christians will feel threatened and challenged about where our culture is heading.
Their reaction is going to involve more-and-more outrageous, hilarious, and preposterous threats to Americans about what will happen if we continue in our destructive and dangerous course, but as time goes on we’ll soon see the lie of those threats (reminds me of that South Park episode about the kids’ parents hiring skeevy adults to pose as the kids-from-the-future to scare them out of doing weed because an honest dialogue won’t terrorize them enough into compliance). I think that’s what is worrying Christians the most: that we’ll see that their threats are empty and ridiculous.
And it damned well should worry them.
Speaking of laughing at Christianists’ empty and ridiculous threats (p. 21):
(Governor Butch Otter of Idaho) also states, in conclusory fashion, that allowing same-sex marriage will lead opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies. We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.
Seriously, how can you read that and not want to high-five that judge? Chicken-dance and electric-slide along with me to our next post, wherein we’ll talk a little more about what’s really important.