During a recent radio show appearance, a conservative pastor told the audience that gays and lesbians are unfit for marriage because "it takes discipline," which is apparently something gays and lesbians don't have.
The pastor recounted his trips to the gym where plenty of delicious women work out their amazing bodies, sorely tempting this man of God to stray from his wife. But, this pastor insisted, he had "the discipline to go home" to his wife every night, despite the comely distractions at his favorite workout spot.
When I finally got a chance to talk, I told the pastor I agreed with him that marriage can be demanding. I had just spent five hours on a cross-country flight sitting next to two beautiful women with amazing bodies. I occupied the aisle seat and when they wanted to walk the aisle or use the bathroom, they each insisted on leaning into me and stepping over me instead of allowing me to get out of my seat and let them exit the row. I got to see just about every inch of them during the flight.
The one thing I did not need, however, was discipline. Why? Because neither of these women was my wife. You see, I am in love with one woman, and while there are other, fine-looking women in this world, it takes absolutely no discipline for me to not lust after them or think of them in any other way as simply beautiful women -- who I have no sexual interest in whatsoever. Perhaps this pastor needs discipline to go home to his wife. All I need to do is think of my wife, and I immediately smile and want to go home to her, and only her.
Perhaps this is the problem with straight people -- they don't understand the definition of same-sex marriage. My devotion to my wife of ten years is so complete that other women hold no interest for me beyond an esoteric appreciation of their beauty. Besides, my wife and I are like most people I know, gay or straight, who have been married a decade. We spend a lot more time cuddling and talking in bed than we do getting the sheets all sweaty -- and we like it that way.
"You want to get rid of gay sex," I told the pastor and his host, "give us marriage equality."
Because, you see, marriage is about more than sex. It's sad that I have to explain this to a straight pastor who has to "discipline" himself to pass up strangers at the gym to go home to his wife. Who needs discipline when you have love and commitment? That's what marriage is about -- love and commitment, living a life together, dreaming together, working together, playing together, laughing together, and occasionally crying together, or struggling together, when things get tough. The operative word is "together."
My mother told me a long time ago not to rely on a physical relationship to make a marriage last. "You've got to get to a mature love to make a marriage work," she told me. That mature love has little, if anything, to do with sex. I have said many times before that if my wife and I were unable, for some reason, to ever have sex with one another again, I would stay with her -- because my love for her has nothing to do with some manner of sexual discipline -- and everything to do with my love and devotion to her. To boil a marriage down to a sexual act is to debase and demean marriage, and if this straight pastor believes he needs "discipline" to keep himself in his marriage, then he's missed the entire point of this venerable institution.
But, he's not alone. Many on the religious right have missed this point, even though conservative pastors like San Diego's Dr. Jim Garlow, insist that they know "how God feels" about marriage.
Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church, was one of five rightwing Christian leaders invited to speak on James Dobson's "FamilyTalk" radio show recently about the looming issue of marriage equality. The Christian Post reported that Garlow, who worked to pass Prop 8 in California, said marriage equality "will result in 'enormous loss of personal freedoms' to people who do not agree with such unions. '[There] is tremendous loss of personal freedom. You cannot operate in this world negating the notion of homosexual marriage without being accused of being a discriminator, intolerant,' said Garlow."
Replace the words "homosexual marriage" with "interracial marriage" and you'll see that being accused of "being a discriminator, intolerant," is exactly what one should be considered when you oppose the civil rights of a minority group -- no matter how many Bible verses you quote to justify that opposition.
Garlow then trotted out the old favorite of the anti-marriage equality crowd -- the threat to their "religious freedom" to be bigoted against gays and lesbians. If gays and lesbians are accepted as the human beings they are and granted actual human rights, then "discrimination against people who hold the biblical view on marriage is so intense in some areas of the world that pastors either impose self-censorship or cannot speak out on the subject without getting in trouble with the law."
Again, imagine he's talking about interracial marriage, or the repeal of Jim Crow laws, or equal rights for women. Indeed, some self-restraint of bigoted points of view and avoiding illegal acts of bigotry would be called for in this area. Laws are most often enacted to protect the minority from the tyranny -- and the bigoted actions -- of the majority. Many people had plenty of Bible verses to back up their bigotry and discrimination and they felt pretty sure they knew "how God feels" about interracial marriage, segregation, and misogyny. Turns out they were all wrong -- and now it's their bigotry that must remain in the closet.
Of course, that won't stop the religious right remnant from fighting marriage equality to the very bitter end, with whatever biblical distortion they can dream up. Garlow contends that "if we grasp how much value God places on the institution of marriage, we would be much more faithful in defending it and being able to articulate its value."
I guess that's why God's two most prominent mouthpieces in Christian history were married men. Oh, wait. Jesus never married. Neither did Paul. In fact, Paul so abhorred the idea of marriage that he advised people to stay single and to marry only if they couldn't control their lust (1 Corinthians 7:9).
And we're back to that old issue of discipline, aren't we? Perhaps that conservative preacher has it right after all -- biblical marriage, according to Paul, really is only for those who can't control their lust -- those who need to "discipline" themselves with a marriage contract to ensure that their body parts don't wind up in the wrong woman.
If that's their definition of marriage, then their opposition to marriage equality suddenly makes perfect sense. I can see why the idea of marriage being a generous, devoted, and loving commitment between two equals -- whatever the gender mix -- would be such a terrible and terrifying threat.
Follow Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revtheodyke