The U.S. national gay-rights movement suffered a crushing defeat at the ballot box in Maine on Tuesday (November 3) as voters decided to repeal the state’s new law allowing same-sex marriage. The referendum was held in conjunction with an array of gubernatorial and mayoral races in major American cities. Had the vote upheld the civil marriage bill, Maine would have been the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage at the ballot box. So far, five states have sanctioned gay marriage through court or legislative action, while Maine joins 30 other states that have overturned similar political decisions in their home territory through a popular vote.
The decision is all the more significant given the fact that gay-rights supporters considered this to be their best opportunity to capture public opinion. Maine was viewed as the most open to same-sex marriage and is also one of the least religious states in the US. Despite gay leaders blaming their loss on their opponent’s TV advertisements, they had in fact raised and spent much more on their campaign than supporters of the repeal.
However, Dr Robert Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, questions whether the strategy adopted by those who pushed for the repeal was the right one. In an open letter to the leaders of ‘Stand for Marriage Maine’, Gagnon asks if the movement’s support for certain ‘domestic partnerships’ and sexual orientation laws in fact represent a concession that will ultimately undermine their intention to preserve traditional marriage. Gagnon is the associate professor of the New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and one of the most well-respected Christian authors on the topic of Homosexuality. His letter is also relevant for Christians in New Zealand, given the Civil Union Act (passed here in 2004 and supposedly supported by many Christians), which recognizes same-sex relationships as marriages in almost everything but the name.
To Frank Schubert and other Stand for Marriage Maine leaders,
I’m glad that you helped to overturn the gay marriage law in Maine but am very disappointed to discover today that you had supported homosexual “domestic partnership” and “sexual orientation” laws in your most recent television ad (here). In that ad you say:
“Abandoning traditional marriage entails real consequences, yet we want to be tolerant of gays. Maine’s Domestic Partnership laws provide substantial legal protection for gay couples. Any problems remaining can be addressed without dismantling traditional marriage. It’s possible to support the civil rights of all citizens and protect traditional marriage at the same time.”
Such a concession provokes the following questions: Why don’t you go all the way and support domestic partnerships and special civil rights protections for adult-committed polyamorous unions and adult-committed incestuous unions? Why shouldn’t these unions have the same protections as homosexual unions? Intrinsic measurable harm cannot be demonstrated for any of these three groups, only disproportionately high rates of harm.
Moreover, polyamory and incest (adult-committed) are analogically or foundationally related to homosexual practice. It is the twoness of the sexes, designed by God in creation for sexual pairing, that led Jesus to conclude that there ought to be only two persons in a sexual union, whether at any one time or serially (Mark 10; Matthew 19). A male-female prerequisite is thus the foundation for absolute opposition to sexual unions comprising three or more partners. Incest and same-sex intercourse are alike rejected because they constitute attempted sexual unions between persons who, as far as embodied existence is concerned, are too much “same” and not enough “other,” whether on the level of kinship or the more essential characteristic of sex or gender.
Once the benefits of marriage are granted to homosexual unions, so that only the name “marriage” is denied, it is sheer hypocrisy not to go all the way and grant the name (as the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognized, refusing to stop at homosexual domestic partnerships). In addition, “sexual orientation” laws enable the state, private employers, and academic institutions to take the view that persons critical of homosexual unions are the moral equivalent of racists, motivated by blind prejudice. Support for these laws makes “gay marriage” inevitable, if not today then sometime very soon. Why would you support measures that establish your opposition to homosexual practice as rooted in prejudice and bigotry?
You won the battle yesterday but you may have lost the war. Your support for homosexual “domestic partnership” laws and “sexual orientation” laws may insure the defeat of your cause in the near future. Or, to switch metaphors, you didn’t lose the store yesterday but you did so mortgage it to the hilt as to make its long-term retention nigh impossible.
I urge you to take a new look at this self-defeating strategy that you have adopted. Please read my online articles for further elaboration of the points that I raise above:
Unless society can be persuaded that adult-committed homosexual unions are more like adult-committed incestuous and polyamorous unions than heterosexual unions, both in terms of violation of a nature argument and disproportionately high rates of measurable harm, there is little likelihood of long-term victory in this struggle.
Sincerely, Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Author of: The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon) and co-author, Homosexuality and the Bible (Fortress)