FIRST-PERSON: What should be called marriage: a modest proposal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- The issue of whether Americans should approve same-sex marriage continues to be debated heatedly in the 2012 election cycle. President Obama has "evolved" on the issue to the place where he supports same-sex marriage, making no distinction between the time-honored institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman and a relationship between two people of the same sex.
The issue emerged recently in a Sept. 20 debate in the U.S. senatorial contest in Virginia between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine. Former Gov. Kaine, when asked about the issue, couched his answer in terms of civil rights and equality, stating "that relationships should be treated equally."
Marriage has been defined in Western civilization for at least two millennia now as being a sexual relationship between one man and one woman. Christianity has defined it so historically, most often coupling it with life-long permanence and monogamy. As an evangelical Christian, I certainly embrace that definition.
However, how do we deal with those who would choose to extend some of the legal privileges our society has accorded marriage to same-sex relationships without shattering the definition of marriage or discriminating against people outside the heterosexual definition of marriage? How do we protect society against those who would extend the special status of marriage to homosexual, lesbian or polygamous relationships? How do we protect time-honored titles, like "husband" and "wife," from being attacked as homophobic or sexist terms to be replaced by spouse No. 1 and spouse No. 2 or "Mom" and "Dad" from being reduced legally to caregiver No. 1 and caregiver No. 2? Such legal assaults on these time-honored family terms seem inevitable if same-sex marriage becomes equal with heterosexual marriage.
I propose that as Americans we declare heterosexual marriage as the only relationship in our society that is to be defined by its sexual nature and that it will continue to be defined as a legal relationship between one man and one woman consummated by sexual intercourse.
If two men or two women are living together in a relationship and they want to ask the state legislature in their state to grant some of the special legal privileges accorded marriage to their relationship, the state legislature should respond in the following fashion: "We will consider your request, but the sexual nature of your relationship will be irrelevant to our discussions because marriage is the only relationship in our society that is defined by its sexual nature. Why should other people who are living in committed relationships that do not involve sexual activity be discriminated against or left out?"
In other words, the state legislature should not discriminate against two maiden or widowed sisters who are living together or a mother and a devoted son or daughter who are living together, each in a non-sexual relationship. Why should these households and relationships be left behind the door or in the closet when legal privileges and recognition are being passed out to those in homosexual relationships?
If the peoples' elected representatives in the various states were to undertake such legislation, it would certainly do much to protect marriage as the unique institution that it is in our society, while according all other relationships that equality that former Gov. Kaine so desires.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).