Guest post from my dear friend Jacob Ruff, as published by the Bethel Clarion. A compassionate and thought provoking articulation for voting down Minnesota’s Marriage Amendment.
Come November, four states will be voting on marriage equality. While three of them — Maine, Maryland and Washington — will be voting on bills that would legalize same-sex marriage within their borders, Minnesota is the lone state whose ballot will include a proposition to legislate against it. If the “Yes” votes form the majority, our state’s Constitution will be amended to provide that marriage will only be recognized between one man and one woman. If the “No” votes win out, the amendment will not be ratified; no laws permitting homosexual people to marry will be put into effect.
For the last 15 years, a state statute has banned marriage between same-sex couples in Minnesota, and it is still intact today. Why, then, is there now a need to elevate the ban upon same-sex marriage into the highest order of state law? Advocates for the amendment claim that its purpose is to ensure that children are brought up in a family with a mother and a father.
This idea purports that heterosexual parents provide the healthiest environment for children, implying that same-sex parents provide an unhealthy one. A considerable amount of support also comes from Christians wanting to protect “traditional marriage.” Some traditional definitions of marriage in biblical and extra-biblical history were exceedingly crude, even by today’s standards, but we’ll assume that they are referring to the monogamous union of one man and one woman as taught in the Bible.
All of this sounds well and good, but it raises an important question: If we want to amend the Constitution to ensure children are brought up in a nurturing family and to protect the sanctity of biblical marriage, why aren’t we trying to legislate against divorce? The division of a marriage is certainly detrimental to a child’s upbringing. In fact, studies by the American Psychological Association show that children coming from divorce “are at a higher risk for adjustment problems than children from intact families,” but the development and adjustment of children with lesbian and gay parents “do not differ markedly” from that of children with heterosexual parents. Concerning the protection of biblical marriage, Jesus teaches that divorce is adulterous behavior, but he has nothing to say about homosexuality altogether. It seems that divorce is the most egregious among threats to “traditional marriage,” so why aren’t we attempting to prohibit that, too?
Further calling the motives of the amendment into question is the fact that conservatives, the primary supporters of the amendment, strive for less government regulation in nearly all areas, yet want the government to create barriers in this particular area. The logic of this marriage amendment is specious, and the motives are suspect. There must be something more at play here, and I suspect that it’s our nasty, old oppressive tendencies.
Though we desperately wish it didn’t, oppression exists in our country. Because we have such a deep lineage of oppressing people outside of the privileged elite — eradicating Native Americans to “manifest destiny,” suppressing women’s rights and freedoms, enslaving and segregating African Americans — we have deeply internalized the value of subjugation, and have come to love feeling superior to others. But this is not how it ought to be. Although allowing women to vote or letting an interracial couple to marry may have seemed uncomfortable at the time, our commitment to “liberty and justice for all” demanded it. And so it does with gays and lesbians. Some may think that what they do is perverse, but we nonetheless have no right to deny them equality.
If this amendment does pass, what does this communicate to our gay Minnesotans, especially to the youngest of them who have most recently come to the sometimes painful realization that they are not the same as their friends and classmates? We will be telling them that they are inferior, that something about who they are makes them worthy of only second-best treatment. We also will be declaring to straight people that somehow they — though they, too, inherited their sexual preference without choice — are superior to gay people. Imagine a gay child’s vulnerability when their internalized inferiority collides with superior sentiments held by a straight child. It is no wonder that American LGBT teens are much more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
We must remember that this amendment will dramatically impact the lives of real human beings. Not only are these people dear friends, relatives and loved ones to many, but they are the social outcasts of our generation. They are the people Jesus spent His life with, relentlessly affirming their dignity as Children of God. In the midst of all of the politicking and logistical clashing that’s done over this issue, I’m afraid we often lose sight of the humanity of it all. The source of my passion in the arena of gay rights and gay marriage comes from my privilege of having grown up in a church with many LGBT members.
Shortly before I was born, a surge of gay and lesbian folks began to join our church, causing many members to leave. Believe me, they missed out. The men and women from my church who nurtured me as an infant and taught my Sunday school classes as I grew up are some of the most compassionate, warmhearted people I’ve ever met. Some of them have spouses, and some have partners, but that makes no difference. I learned about love by the words and actions of gay people — love within a committed relationship, love between neighbors and love of God.
My pastor, a man who has guided me as I matured physically and spiritually, is gay.
As a straight man, I can tell you this: There isn’t one thing that makes any gay or lesbian person different from a straight person. Growing up around gay and lesbian folks didn’t disadvantage me in any way, it only made me see them as regular people. They weep and laugh, they have trials and triumphs and they love, just the same as you and me. If these men and women have found love in one another, who am I to say anything except, “Wonderful!”?
I don’t write this in hopes that every reader will adopt my outlook. Everyone is entitled to their views, be them similar to mine or vastly different. My hope is rather to invite careful consideration as to whether this amendment is truly needed. From a strong desire to abide by Jesus’ call to love my neighbor as myself and to support the freedom and dignity of all gay and lesbian Minnesotans, my vote will be an emphatic “No.”