“Same sex marriage, the constitution and the church,” the topic of this year’s Constitution Day, brought together a diverse panel of professors to discuss and debate the Church’s proper response to same-sex marriage.
Chair of the history, philosophy and social sciences department Geoffrey Bowden, associate professor of sociology Malcolm Gold and associate professor of philosophy Shawn Floyd, comprised the panel moderated by professor of international politics Scott Waalkes.
“On the one hand, we had the Soulforce visit in the spring, and so we wanted to talk about the issue of same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian relationships generally in light of that visit…Secondly, I think the timing of this federal district court decision [Proposition 8] coming down this summer makes the issue of same-sex marriage a constitutional issue,” said Waalkes.
Bowden took no direct stance on the issue during his presentation, but instead examined the political history of marriage, ranging from issues of interracial marriage to California’s Proposition 8, which modified California’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Constitutionally, Bowden said, there is nothing that explicitly forbids same-sex marriage.
Recently, Proposition 8 was overturned by a federal judge, making the case a federal issue instead of a state one.
“If a lawyer stood up and quoted a passage from Leviticus and a passage from Romans in a courtroom and said ‘There, that’s it. That’s what God thinks about it,’ I suspect that everyone would be respectful and ignore what that person had said,” said Bowden. “We don’t use that discourse to talk about what we can do civilly.”
Gold tackled the issue from a sociological angle, citing sociologist George Murdock’s four purposes of marriage: sex, economy, reproduction, and rearing of children. He noted that, with technological advancements, same-sex couples are now able to meet these criteria—adoption, surrogacy or other means replacing reproduction.
Floyd presented a view of marriage rooted in traditional Christian philosophy and theology.
“If you reject the view of marriage as a right, then matters become much more difficult,” said Floyd, adding that as a Catholic he views marriage as a sacrament.
“Apart from this natural desire to procreate, marriage would be very difficult to understand,” Floyd said. “The notion that gender is somehow extrinsic to marriage is problematic.” This, he says, ignores marriage’s teleology or “natural end.”
Floyd noted that this perspective posed “serious moral questions” for different-sex couples that choose not to have children.
“This strongly Catholic view of marriage that Dr. Floyd articulated is something that every student should be wrestling with,” Waalkes said.
Gold highlighted the differences between Protestant and Catholic theology.
“I’m not at all sure whether the ultimate end of marriage is to procreate,” Gold stated in response to Floyd’s position. “Many marry who can’t have children. Many marry who are past the age of having children. Yet we realize and understand and accept the value of that relationship.”
“How do we actually avoid discrimination without championing some sort of gay rights?” Gold asked.
The panel didn’t use scripture in their presentations. Floyd said to do so without the necessary context and explanation would likely further prejudices against LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans gender, queer) people.
“They have been a socially-disadvantaged lot,” said Floyd. “They have been subject to a lot of abuses.”
Waalkes also commented on the disparity between the Constitutional debate and the debate within the Church.
“I think the Christian Church will hold on to this traditional view and the state probably will go eventually to ratifying same-sex marriage as a valid partnership,“ Waalkes said. “I guess the real question is will more and more churches grow to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. And I’ll say, frankly, I hope not.”
All four professors agreed that the event was a tremendous teaching opportunity.
“I think when you meet people of different views, different perspectives, it builds up empathy,” Gold said. “I think those two things, in and of themselves, are absolutely vital for an institution such as Malone and also simply as Christians seeking to sympathize, empathize and understand.”
Stephanie Morton A&E editor and Nick Skiles copy editor for the Aviso