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Uploaded:2012-05-15
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In which John discusses marriage equality, what a traditional marriage actually is, and what role (if any) theological understandings of marriage play in the legal definition of marriage. Let's continue this conversation in comments, but in doing so, let's remember that nerdfighteria is about respect and generosity. Thanks.


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.

I really liked your video about marriage equality on Friday but today I wanted to approach the question of gay marriage from a specifically religious perspective.

But to do that we have to first figure out what exactly marriage is, which turns out to be incredibly complicated. All right. So, to illustrate this I'm gonna make yellow Sing-a-ma-jigs men and blue whoosey-whats women.

Let's begin with the idea that so-called "traditional marriage" is a union between one man and one woman. Well, that's simply not accurate, there are some very traditional marriages that did not feature just one man and one woman. For instance in the Bible, King David was married to eighteen women and Solomon, who is known for his good judgment, was married to seven hundred. Which is not even to mention his three hundred concubines. Frankly, it just seems greedy.

In fact, Hank, all most everything we associate with traditional marriages, from white dresses to monogamy, to scripture reading to saying "I do", is not very traditional.

For the vast majority of Christian history - until the 16th century - it was uncommon for Christian marriages to happen in churches or to be overseen by clergy or even to feature witnesses. People were getting married by agreeing to be married and then honoring that commitment. It was just: "I marry you" - "I marry you" Mmmmmmmmmarried! And then often - although not always - they'd go to church to note that they got married because the church kept the records.

Furthermore, the idea that marriages always occur between one man and one woman implies that everyone is either a man or a woman - which is simply not the case and it never has been. A significant portion of the human population - somewhere around .5% - has always been intersex. Intersex people may be chromosomally XXY or XYY have Androgen insensitivity syndrome, you know, all that conditions that make them neither unambiguously male nor unambiguously female. Historically, many of these people have gotten married without the social order falling apart and many of them still get married today. But laws like the one just voted onto North Carolina make it unclear whether intersex people are allowed to marry anyone.

Right, so marriages and sex turns out to be very complicated. Well, I'm about to make it more complicated.

So, to many religious people, including many Christians, Jews and Muslims, marriage is not just a legal agreement but a covenant. You're making a promise to God that you will stick together for life. And for many religious people, marriage is only really marriage if that covenant is involved. And that means that for lots of those people gay marriage is impossible because homosexual relationships are inherently sinful, which means that God cannot be present in and bless that union.

Now, Hank, I should add that lots of religious people and institutions don't believe that, but some do and I'm not going to try to convince those people or those institutions that they are wrong because 1. it won't work and 2. I read the comments from your last video; it was a little discouraging.

But, Hank, if we're gonna say that the legal benefits of marriage should only be extended to people who have made this covenant with God then we get ourselves into a huuuuuge problem. Like, you and the Katherine got married in a field; does that mean that you're not really married? Like, should you be allowed to visit the Katherine in the hospital or share custody of kids you adopt or file taxes together? Or should those privileges only be extended to people who got married in a church, like me? And do all church weddings count or only people who get married in certain kinds of churches? Because then I might be in trouble.

Hank, that line of thinking does not lead to a good legal definition of marriage. The truth is, marriages are intensely personal, and they're defined not by courts or by voters but by the people who live inside of them. That's traditional marriage: people making a private, daily, lifelong commitment.

We can't make gay marriage illegal, because gay marriage is already happening. It has been happening, in fact, for as long as human beings have been pledging themselves to each other.

But tragically, in most of the world we deny gay people the rights and obligations that are associated with their marriages. And that is just discrimination.

There are going to be marriages you don't like, and married people who do things that you don't think married people should do. But whether they're getting married, or they're getting married, or they're getting married, those marriages won't affect yours.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.