Gay Marriage in the Manhattan Declaration: The Same Dull Edge as Before

About a month ago, a group of conservative Christian leaders penned a document identifying three main issues of concern to modern Christians: abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty. The document, called “The Manhattan Declaration,” has been publicized and disseminated through conservative news and opinion media, and supporters are urged to sign on for what is hoped will be a massive display of resolve and solidarity.   

It will come as no surprise that the declaration opposes same-sex marriage. But one might expect that, after years of intense debate over this issue, opponents would finally have honed their arguments to the point of maximal clarity and persuasiveness. Instead, their case has the same dull edge as before. The only thing that has been perfected in this document is its sickening and insidious “love the sinner, hate the sin” veneer. 

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum has been urging his site visitors to sign the declaration. “Read its carefully written and quite sober defense of traditional moral and social realities,” he writes.

I would emphatically disagree that the Manhattan Declaration is “carefully written.” In particular, the key paragraph justifying the privileging of heterosexual marriage is verbose and nearly incomprehensible. I believe it could be reduced to a single sentence. Here’s the unreduced version:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit. This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person, but truly part of the personal reality of the human being. Human beings are not merely centers of consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting non-personal bodies. The human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being–the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation. That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility, even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic orientation to the great good of procreation.

In the first sentence, we read that “marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman…” This highly subjective opinion is presented as a “given,” and the authors quickly move on, apparently in the belief that no clarification is needed. But we are entitled to point out that sexual complementarity does not always occur between men and women, and so the authors’ generalization is unwarranted. Sex is about much more than gender. It is driven by a host of psychological and hormonal factors. Therefore, any gender combination (M-F, M-M, or F-F) can experience sexual complementarity—a mutual experience of attraction that is expressed sexually. The authors are plainly wrong to assert that sexual complementarity can be experienced by only one of these combinations.

But wait, there’s more. The clause also asserts that this particular sexual complementarity (between some men and women) makes marriage possible. Well, no, it doesn’t, unless we redefine marriage to include only recognized unions between men and women who experience sexual complementarity. But marriage is not universally defined that way. Same-sex marriage is legal in many locales, including five European countries and Canada, with more to follow before long. The definition of marriage has already broadened to include same-sex unions.

The author (Chuck Colson, perhaps) appears to be expressing a belief rather than presenting an argument. His belief is that marriage should be reserved for male-female couples.

But let’s read the entire sentence to see where it takes us:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit.

So, in his view, marriage might include procreation. That’s fine. I can agree with that. (I hope he’s not suggesting that marriage must include procreation. A lot of childless couples might bristle at the suggestion that their marriage is sub-standard or inauthentic!)

And then, about mid-paragraph, there’s this gem of verbosity:

Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.

The spouses become one flesh by fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation. Is that clear? They can only become one flesh when there’s some kind of underlying biological, procreative…potential? Or mimicry of procreativity? (Going through the motions? Acting “as if…”?) No, that couldn’t be it. Whatever it is, I’ve lost it. I really don’t grasp the concept.

Okay. I think I’ve got it. He seems to be saying that males and female produce babies, so only sex between males and females is good.

Again, if that’s what he’s saying, he’s not producing an argument but stating a purely subjective belief, and the entire tedious paragraph could have been reduced to a single sentence:

Marriage should be reserved for male-female couples because only males and females can make babies together.

He is of course entitled to that belief, but reader beware: If you came to the Manhattan Declaration looking for reasons, justifications, or clarification about the mysteries of matrimony, you won’t find them here. As Alice B. Toklas said of the city of Oakland, “There’s no there there.”

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