Ethics and Religion Talk: What’s the difference between gay marriages and civil unions?

mlive.com | by Matt Vande Bunte | August 14th, 2012

Michael Woerner, left, and David Battjes, both of Grand Rapids, gathered on Calder Plaza last year to promote gay marriage in Michigan. The same-sex couple got legally married outside the state. (Image- Mlive.com File)

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – At a meeting in Detroit last weekend, a committee endorsed gay marriage as part of the national Democratic Party’s election platform and called for repeal of a federal law that recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman.

One committee member called the issue “a defining moral question of our time.” So what do leaders of some local faith communities think? Below is this week’s edition of Ethics and Religion Talk.

By Rabbi David Krishef

Some people support gay marriage. Other people oppose gay marriage, but would support a civil union giving a same-sex couple the same rights and obligations as an opposite-sex couple. Is there a difference between supporting gay marriage and supporting gay commitment ceremonies?

In Jewish tradition, the binding act of the marriage ceremony is called Kiddushin, which is related to the word for sanctification. Some Jews argue that Kiddushin can only take place between a man and a woman, but that there can and should be an alternative ceremony to solemnize a same-sex union. They argue that Kiddushin has a long and rich history of creating binding heterosexual unions, and its model does not fit homosexual unions. Others argue that egalitarianism is the overriding principle – that, in order to achieve full equality, one must use the same language to describe both types of ceremonies.

I would apply the same two arguments to the gay “marriage” versus “commitment ceremony” debate. Those who say that marriage is only for one man and one woman are taking the semantic position that the word “marriage” should not apply to gays and lesbians. Those who argue for gay “marriage” say the only way to achieve the goal of full equality under the law is to use the same legal mechanism and language to join a same-sex couple as an opposite-sex couple.

I don’t think there is a clear answer one way or another. But I lean toward the position that the essential meaning of Kiddushin, or marriage, is to sanctify a union of two people, excluding all others. Therefore, I would call a gay union a “marriage,” or Kiddushin.

Here are some other religious perspectives:

The Rev. David Christian, associate pastor of Resurrection Life Church in Grandville

“Marriage begins with God, who designed it and gave it to mankind. A wedding is an event where vows are spoken before witnesses, and marriage is the lifelong institution that follows. There is, therefore, no real difference between supporting a gay wedding and supporting a gay marriage.
We can all observe that God created mankind as male and female. He designed the union between them to be a covenant of promises, not a contract. From this, he provided for godly offspring, to be reared by parents of each gender to love and obey God. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus settled the issue by taking us back to the first two chapters of the Bible, in which we find God’s intended pattern for marriage between one man and one woman.

Scripture doesn’t justify any sinful behaviors – many are singled out, not just homosexuality. For example, adultery, murder and bearing false witness are never presented in a positive light. If a person intends to be a follower of Christ, they will receive his word on any subject including marriage and family. Modernity does not change God’s word, nor the means of following Christ. Nowhere in nature do we see two creatures of the same gender developing family relationship or procreating. Thus nature teaches us as well as Scripture.”

 

The Rev. Fred Wooden, senior minister of Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids

“There is a difference between supporting gay marriage and supporting gay commitment ceremonies. Just as Jews and Muslims will not eat pork, but do not insist that non-Jews and non-Muslims share their commitment, so we can honor religious ideas of marriage that are heterosexual and still support gay commitments – even legal marriage – for those who are not part of our religious communities. The problem arises when we earnestly believe our own religious values should be everyone’s values whether they share our faith or not.
Clearly, there are some principles all religions and cultures uphold. But it is their commonality that makes them powerful, not their particularity. When many religions agree that murder is wrong or that theft is wrong (choosing two of the 10 Commandments), we can infer that there is something universal at work that is larger than any faith. That these ideas can be affirmed even by non-religious people strengthens this idea. But when one religion believes its principles should be the law for everyone, even if others stoutly disagree, the burden falls on that religion to persuade us it is so. Until that persuasion is complete, not only can we affirm one standard for people of one faith and those outside it, we absolutely must.”

 

A summary

This is clearly a question that people of serious faith disagree about. David Christian believes that same-sex relationships are wrong, no matter what we call them. I believe that what we call them is not as important as ensuring full equality under the law. Fred Wooden believes that marriage may be defined by the religious community, but one community’s definition should not affect another community’s ability to define it differently. In effect, he is arguing that all civil ceremonies, same sex or opposite sex, should be considered ceremonies of commitment, not marriage.

Would a society in which same-sex relationships were given equality under the law necessarily be an immoral society? Would doing so do irreparable harm to traditional marriage? Is it possible to logically distinguish between universal religious values that should be codified into our civil law codes (murder, theft and rape, for example) and particular religious values, like same-sex marriage and abortion, that should be left up to the individual? What do you think?

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