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Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D.

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What About Love?: Why Judge Walker's Proposition 8 Ruling Is Theologically Correct

Posted: 08/05/10 12:43 AM ET

Much ink will be spilled over the next few days -- and, most likely, over the next few years -- about the legal correctness of Judge Vaughn Walker's Proposition 8 ruling. That ruling struck down the referendum passed in 2008 that stripped same-sex couples in California of their existing civil right to marry under state law.

I will leave the discussion of the technical legal issues to others. Instead, I want to focus on the theological correctness of Judge Walker's ruling. Despite the angry protests of many anti-gay Christian groups, I believe that Judge Walker's ruling is actually rooted in a profound theological truth articulated by St. Paul in Romans 13: "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

In other words, Judge Walker's Proposition 8 ruling is theologically correct because it recognizes that same-sex marriage is all about love. The ruling notes that the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are in loving relationships. One couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, have been together for 10 years and are raising four children together. The other couple, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, have been together for nine years.

Judge Walker describes the connection between same-sex marriage and love in several places. First, he notes that "marriage is widely regarded as the definitive expression of love and commitment in the United States." Second, he notes that the "standardized measures" of love "do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex." Third, he notes that same-sex love and intimacy are in fact "well-documented in human history."

By contrast, anti-gay religious opponents of same-sex marriage fail to recognize that same-sex marriage is ultimately about love. Hiding behind their motherhood-and-apple-pie rhetoric that marriage between a man and a woman is the "bedrock of society" (as the once-polygamous Mormon Church stated) or "civilization's longstanding public policy" (as the pedophile-sheltering Catholic Church stated), these opponents have a bizarre theological obsession with needing to legitimize sexual pleasure through biological procreation alone.

In my view, the obsession that anti-gay Christians have with the mechanics of sexual acts (that is, tab A can only be inserted into slot B) without any regard to the loving quality of the underlying relationships -- whether homosexual or heterosexual -- is profoundly wrong from a theological, ethical, and biblical perspective. For example, the Bible refers to same-sex acts six times. However, it refers to love nearly 800 times. What do you think is more important from God's perspective?

Ironically, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) responded to Judge Walker's ruling in a most uncharitable and unloving way. In its press release (which incorrectly described Judge Walker as a "Circuit Court Judge"), NOM accused the federal district court judge of conducting the trial in a "biased way," and it called the plaintiffs' lawyers -- Ted Olson and David Boies -- "egomaniacal." In a separate statement, NOM tried to distance itself from an individual who had attended a recent NOM marriage rally in Indianapolis and who held a sign with a picture of two nooses that quoted Leviticus 20:13 and implied that the "solution" for same-sex marriage was executing gay people.

NOM also released a statement by Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., who called the ruling a "travesty of justice." Bishop Jackson said that Judge Walker's comparison between racism and marriage was a "slur" and "particularly offensive" to those who "remember the reality of Jim Crow." Sadly, however, Bishop Jackson failed to acknowledge the incredible pain and suffering experienced by numerous faithful lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) African Americans and other LGBT people of color who are rejected and treated as pariahs by their own pastors and religious leaders.

It is disturbing to me that anti-gay Christians so easily forget that love is at the very heart of the gospel message. The Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4). Jesus teaches that the two great commandments are to love God with all of one's heart, soul, and mind; and to love one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22). Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment at the Last Supper -- to love each other as Jesus loved them (John 15). According to St. Paul, the greatest virtue is love (1 Corinthians 13) and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God (Romans 8). And, as noted above, anyone who loves another person has fulfilled the law (Romans 13).

Even St. Augustine of Hippo, who is not exactly known for his progressive views about sexual ethics, wrote in his seventh homily on the First Letter of St. John that dilige et quod vis fac, or "love, and do what you will." In other words, love one another and you cannot do wrong in the sight of God.

Same-sex marriage is all about love. Recently, my husband Michael and I celebrated 19 years together. We've lived through blizzards, earthquakes, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Manhattan. We've celebrated births of nieces and nephews, and we've mourned the deaths of family members. We've been through career changes, aging parents, and both economic joys and challenges. We've moved from one coast to another and back again. We've experienced for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer. And yet, after nearly two decades together, we still can't marry each other in the vast majority of states simply because one of us is not the "right" sex.

As Judge Walker's Proposition 8 ruling winds its way through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, there will be lots of debate about legal concepts like equal protection and the proper standards of judicial review. But for me, it all boils down to a simple theological truth expressed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: Love is the greatest virtue of all. In fact, love trumps even faith and hope! Or, for those who prefer the secular version, "Love conquers all." And that's why, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Judge Walker's ruling is theologically correct.

 
 
 

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