The Gay Marriage Acceptance Reverse-Foxhole Conversion Problem

Atheists in trenchesThe New York Times sported a front page story extolling the actions and familial love of Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, whose son Tim, now 30, had been raised  in his father’s conservative church in West Germany, Pennsylvania, where sermons, policy and the congregation embodied the belief that homosexuality was a sin, and gay marriage a monstrosity.  Then, after he had contemplated suicide, Tim told his father he was gay, and later that he wanted to wed his same-sex partner. The loving father accepted his son and presided over the wedding, causing him to become a target of criticism in his church, and the defendant in a church trial. To the Times reporter, Michael Paulson, he is an unequivocal hero.

He did the right thing, no question, just as Dick Cheney and Republican Senator Rob Portman did the right thing by changing their position on gay marriage when their children showed them the human side of the issue. I also agree that it takes courage to admit you are wrong, and that being able to change one’s ethical analysis is an essential ability for all of us. Indeed, in this post, I designated as an Ethics Hero an outspoken gay marriage opponent for changing his position after he became friends with gay men and women, leading him to realize, as he put it, that

“…as friendships develop, empathy becomes at least possible, no longer kept at bay by a wall of fixed belief. Put simply, becoming friends with gay people who were married or wanted to get married led me to realize that I couldn’t in good conscience continue to oppose it.”

Absolutely. My attitude toward figures like Schaefer and Portman, however, is different. They are in positions of leadership, they knew their organizations were causing pain and suffering by rejecting the needs and rights of other human beings, yet apparently were incapable of examining the consequences of their own conduct for ethical flaws until someone close to them was adversely affected. I don’t see anything admirable in that at all. As I wrote in the case of Portman,

“…Portman firmly, strongly, extensively and consistently declared in public forums, to interviewers and in op-ed pieces that the sanctity of the institution of marriage as well as the moral fiber of the nation depended on withholding the right to marry from millions of law-abiding American citizens, but that the minute one such citizen, someone he actually gave a damn about, risked being adversely affected by his supposedly heart-felt and principled position, he changed his “principles” like he was changing his socks…”

In Rev. Schaefer’s case, I feel even more strongly about this foxhole conversion. Prior to his son’s revelation, Schaefer would have explained to a gay man trying to gain acceptance in his church that this was God’s decision, not his church’s. God says that homosexuality is a sin, and that gay marriage is an abomination, and as God’s servant bound absolutely by morality—God’s immutable moral code, he couldn’t change his vies or his church’s opposition to gay marriage, just as he couldn’t change how the earth spins on its axis.

Oh…my son’s the gay individual involved? Never mind then…hey, want me to handle the service?

There is only one explanation for that flip-flop: Schaefer never bothered to challenge the beliefs and moral code that he was teaching others, even though those beliefs had significant consequences on people’s lives, psyches, and society itself.

Every opponent of gay marriage whose opposition is based in faith and morality should look at themselves in the mirror, and ask if they would hold on to that position if it was their own child seeking acceptance. If such opponents  cannot conclude that their view would change and that they would support their child, then it isn’t morality that drives their opposition, but something else—bigotry, intellectual laziness, or simply a preference for the path of least resistance.

______________________

Source: New York Times

38 thoughts on “The Gay Marriage Acceptance Reverse-Foxhole Conversion Problem

  1. Yup. In a cold-ass (or hot-ass, in this case) minute. Wrong is wrong, and it does not matter who is doing the wrong. I would not defend my son if he committed a crime, I would not change my position on an issue of morality just because it was him involved in the muddy fun.

  2. He did the right thing, no question, just as Dick Cheney and Republican Senator Rob Portman did the right thing by changing their position on gay marriage when their children showed them the human side of the issue.

    Actually, there is indeed a question, and even to frame matters that way is wrong (engineering wrong, that is).

    What if – even stipulating the result – that was wrongly arrived at, “… the greatest treason, doing the right thing for the wrong reason”? (Quoting from memory.) What if “changing their position on gay marriage when their children showed them the human side of the issue” did not work by causing them to revisit the issue, think it through, and genuinely change their views; what if, rather, it caused them to flip so as to avoid cognitive dissonance? That is, if they could not hang on to both their affections and their principles, did they just abandon their principles or did they genuinely change those after a proper and diligent process? If the former, they are likely to have a similarly … easy … grasp of matters in other areas.

    That suggests the reverse of your conclusion. If such opponents cannot conclude that their view would change and that they would support their child, then it is morality that drives their opposition, because they would find themselves unwillingly facing doing something they would rather not do but doing it anyway despite their personal wishes. If such opponents can conclude that their view would change and that they would support their child, then it is a case of Barney Barnato’s “well, gentlemen, those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others”. (I am not talking here of someone who when asked genuinely forms the view that he would sincerely change, because he would then – if sincere – change there and then, and it is no longer a hypothetical that could come up contingently.)

    It is worth noting that your conclusion only allows two answers: your explicit one, that not switching means bigotry; and, implicitly, that switching means acceptance. Either way, it does not permit any principled objections, not even mistakes in good conscience let alone the possibility that the other position might be right. Right or wrong, that should be determined soundly and not by ruling it in or out without that.

  3. God says that homosexuality is a sin, and that gay marriage is an abomination,

    if that is what Schaefer actually believed, then his belief was not precise. The precise thing that is prohibited are certain, vile, abhorrent, and detestable sexual acts. Nothing in the Bible condemns companionship or emotional intimacy with members of the same sex. To call the sin “homosexuality” would be to equate vile, abhorrent, detestable sexual acts with the mere desire for same sex companionship.

    As for marriage, read Mark 10:6-7

    • Have to agree, Mike, it’s homosexual acts, not anything else, that are condemned, and the catechism follows the same principle. However, it’s still a long way from “homosexual people are essentially ok but homosexual sex isn’t” to “we’ll bless a union that will certainly result in homosexual acts just like we’ll bless a hetero one.”

      • One of the earliest writings that explained why same-sex unions were not considered marriages was published in 1852.

        http://books.google.com/books?id=vrsDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=%22marriage+between+two+persons+of+one+sex%22&source=bl&ots=HG2DOuxthq&sig=vwyC9kE6FNj17fVq7SzYw6-jOKk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=G-vDU4TOD87YoATcp4GgCQ&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22marriage%20between%20two%20persons%20of%20one%20sex%22&f=false

        It simply states that the ends of matrimony could not be accomplished by such a union. The “principal inquiry has been as to the ability to copulate”. Two of the same sex obviously can not do that.

        • 1) Marriage is quite simply two components coming together who’s relationship creates a functioning whole, in which the whole is more beneficial than the separate actions of the parts. When you marry a music composition with a dance routine, you get a greater whole. When you marry Heavy Metal with a Classical Orchestra you get Metallica S&M. When you marry chocolate syrup with milk you get a delicious concoction. When you marry Jack and his wife you get a stable, mutually beneficial relationship, in which Jack can alleviate some of his worries to focus his efforts to advance other things more, his wife can alleviate some of her worries to focus her efforts to advance other things more, and therefore greater advancement occurs across the board. This BINARY stability is effective because there is scant little room for worry about balancing other equal party’s concerns. If Fred and Joe have struck up a relationship in which they form a far more beneficial whole, then whether you like it or not, they are married.

          2) Since marriage is a relationship between two individuals, inevitably those individuals define its purpose and are free to choose what constraints or forms it takes. Those forms come in many flavors… Christian marriage, Hindu marriage, Buddhist marriage, Islamic marriage, Jewish marriage, and others, often unnamed because they don’t fall under religious cultural definitions. Certainly past cultures have learned that the Binary is, to a tee, the most stable and protective of the individuals inside of it.

          3) Because each culture has it’s own version of marriage, I would fully expect a Christian to not see a Buddhist marriage in the same light as a Christian one. I would not expect a Hindu to see a Muslim marriage in the same light as a Hindu one. So what? That’s a matter of conscience (if their particular version of marriage expects exclusivity).

          4) However, I do expect that Hindu to not actively mistreat the Muslims in a Muslim marriage and the Christian to actively mistreat the Buddhists in a Buddhist marriage.

          5) Christians – we may have a monopoly on Christian marriage, but not on marriage itself.

          6) If the government so chooses to confer benefits on particular individual relationships – as it has done so with marriage… it cannot deny those benefits to other relationships that fit the bare essentials of marriage (as described in line 1). Equal Protection.

          7) If this argument boils down to “gays can’t make children with each other, heteroes can”, then your issue isn’t homosexual marriage and its cost/benefit to society, your issue is with conferring benefits to those who produce children. Arguments could be made on that topic in either direction. Although, as a quick side bar – I don’t think one wants to promote the simple production of children, lest we get welfare chasing baby mills like we seem to be doing – rather – we’d want to promote the production of effective and balanced adults. That would be a far more difficult standard to promote and evaluate.

          8) If this argument boils down to “gays like poking each other in the butt but I don’t like that”, then get over it. I’m sure someone down the street doesn’t like the fact that you look at pictures or videos of naked women for a thrill. I’m sure someone down the street doesn’t like the fact that you love eating some pork. I’m sure someone down the street could get virulently livid that you choose to eat during the day during Ramadan. I’m sure someone down the street doesn’t like that you play violent video games. They can get over it too.

          9) Theology check, Christians. God doesn’t like sin – if that includes poking each other in the butt – then God doesn’t like that. I have yet to see however the Commandment compelling you to go into someone’s home to stop all their sins. If God doesn’t like men having at each other, he’ll sort it out later. You have every right to let someone know you think their eternal soul is in danger of hell fire, but you don’t have a right to compel them to stop behaving in private in the ways you think endanger their souls. Because if that were the case, there’s about 10,000 more acts we need to get crushing, in addition to homosexual acts.

          Within the confines of the Church, you are free, in fact exhorted to refine each other and set each other back on course. If a Homosexual did join your Church, I’d assume they joined it knowing full well the belief that homosexual urges fall in with all other of man’s urges which drive him towards certain conduct, then I’d assume that Homosexual, within the confines of that church, would know there’d be a pressure to stop engaging in conduct associated with the lifestyle.

          10) Political check, Lefties: You don’t get to bitch about religions that do have certain well defined personal standards nor when they vocalize those. Just like you want them to tolerate peaceful expressions, then you’d better tolerate theirs.

          • If the government so chooses to confer benefits on particular individual relationships – as it has done so with marriage… it cannot deny those benefits to other relationships that fit the bare essentials of marriage (as described in line 1). Equal Protection.

            According to Joel Prentiss Bishop, one of the essentials of marriage is the ability to consummate the relationship, which of course can not be done with two of the same sex.

            • Without a doubt I’d rely on him for an evangelical Protestant view of marriage, and a good view it is.

              May not be good for Muslims though… Or Hindus. Or Homosexuals…

            • According to Joel Prentiss Bishop, one of the essentials of marriage is the ability to consummate the relationship

              So if I can provide you with one example of a legal civil marriage between two people who were not able to consummate together, will you acknowledge that you are, in fact, wrong?

              Or will you just double down and engage in tortured logic and magical thinking to explain why some couples who cannot procreate together are different from other couples who cannot procreate together, even though procreation is essential.

              I’d love to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that there’s a chance that you’ll acknowledge that you’re wrong.

                • And where does it say in any civil law that consummation is a legal requirement for marriage? Last I checked, it’s perfectly acceptable for a straight couple to get married and never once have procreative sex, or any sex at all for that matter. What about paralyzed people? Should all men whose physical handicaps prevent them from getting an erection also be prevented from marrying because they cannot consummate? Why the double-standard for gay people? If consummation is a prerequisite for gays, why wouldn’t it similarly be for straight people, even setting aside the fact that I don’t think any states require proof of consummation for a marriage to be legally recognized.

                  The thought of the state somehow ensuring that people have consummated after their marriage ceremony is chilling indeed. Talk about governmental overreach…

                    • All of the arguments around procreation would logically require some absolutely abhorrent behavior on behalf of the state giving you the marriage license. Procreation a requirements? Are we going to prevent straight couples who are sterile, or where the women are past the age of menarche, from marrying? Once the children are out of the house, do we rescind the marriage license and its benefits?

                      The supreme court decided the case Griswold V. the state of Connecticut in 1965, finding that a married woman had a constitutional right to use birth control. In what way can procreation be a necessary and central purpose of marriage in this country if a married woman has a constitutional right to birth control, thereby preventing any possible pregnancies that would result from her union?

                    • All of the arguments around procreation would logically require some absolutely abhorrent behavior on behalf of the state giving you the marriage license.

                      Not so.

                      http://caselaw.findlaw.com/az-court-of-appeals/1346614.html

                      Allowing all opposite-sex couples to enter marriage under Arizona law, regardless of their willingness or ability to procreate, does not defeat the reasonableness of the link between opposite-sex marriage, procreation, and child-rearing.   First, if the State excluded opposite-sex couples from marriage based on their intention or ability to procreate, the State would have to inquire about that subject before issuing a license, thereby implicating constitutionally rooted privacy concerns.   See Griswold, 381 U.S. at 485-86, 85 S.Ct. 1678;  Eisenstadt, 405 U.S. at 453-54, 92 S.Ct. 1029;  Adams, 486 F.Supp. at 1124-25 (recognizing government inquiry about couples’ procreation plans or requiring sterility tests before issuing marriage licenses would “raise serious constitutional questions”).   Second, in light of medical advances affecting sterility, the ability to adopt, and the fact that intentionally childless couples may eventually choose to have a child or have an unplanned pregnancy, the State would have a difficult, if not impossible, task in identifying couples who will never bear and/or raise children.   Third, because opposite-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, Loving, 388 U.S. at 12, 87 S.Ct. 1817, excluding such couples from marriage could only be justified by a compelling state interest, narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, Glucksberg, 521 U.S. at 721, 117 S.Ct. 2258, which is not readily apparent.

                      ¶ 37 For these reasons, the State’s decision to permit all qualified opposite-sex couples to marry does not defeat the reasonableness of the link between opposite-sex marriage, procreation, and child-rearing.   See Adams, 486 F.Supp. at 1124-25 (rejecting challenge to same-sex marriage prohibition on basis that opposite-sex couples not required to prove or declare willingness to procreate in order to marry);  Baker, 291 Minn. at 313-14, 191 N.W.2d at 187 (same).

          • Well done. I had a couple of strong objections in mind before you even started — the biological basis of marriage, in particular, as one that people always conveniently ignore — but you addressed the issue very thoroughly. And got right to the point.

            One problem still remains: “When you marry Heavy Metal with a Classical Orchestra you get Metallica S&M.” More than the sum of Metallica’s wildly overrated parts, sure, but the orchestra? Sorry, but no. Until you find a better example than that, a hole remains in your argument. 🙂

            • Well… I would have mentioned “Power Ballads” as a marriage of hard rock and another quality. But I didn’t want to go into the detailed explanation of that other quality. So I had to settle on something I could mention quickly.

              At least I didn’t say that marry quirky comedy to music and you get Weird Al Yankovich…

          • “You don’t get to bitch about religions that do have certain well defined personal standards nor when they vocalize those. ”

            I want everyone to voice their opinions. The law is another thing entirely.

  4. If someone changes their belief on something merely because they are exposed to a loved one who has desires contrary to that belief, then they did not have a principled objection to that thing in the first place. And if not principled, what then? What shall we suppose of any of Schaefer’s beliefs?

  5. Christians do not universally believe that a couple must be able to have babies to be married. That is at best an oversimplification. The belief is then men and women are complementary, and the ability to procreate is the most obvious example of this, but not the only. It is the complementary natures that allow marriage.

    To address only the childbearing, but not the underlying assumption of complementary natures, does not fully address the issues of concern to Christians.

  6. To the Times reporter, Michael Paulson, he is an unequivocal hero.

    I wonder why Paulson would think such a thing heroic.

    If a pator who preached that idolatry was a sin had a son who confessed to habitually worshipping the Lady of Fatima , would it be heroic for the pastor to preside over a worship service dedicated to Fatima?

    • “I wonder why Paulson would think such a thing heroic.”
      Not trying to be snarky here Michael.
      It could be because Paulson has created his God in Paulson’s image.

  7. Lots of people compromise on completely logical and wise moral principles in order not to create tension with those close to them.

    Gay marriage is going to go the way of cohabitation among American Christians…still wrong, still harmful to the culture at large, but common enough that no one will be shocked. The wholesome church-types will come to just roll with it, silently dissent, and clean up the likely fallout the same way they generally do with loved ones who shack up, smoke weed, etc.

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