Part 2 in my series of questions Christians ask about gay people.
(The image is of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the first same-sex couple to legally marry in San Francisco. At the time of their civil marriage, they had been together for more than 50 years.)
First, let’s get four things out of the way, because I know people will bring them up.
- There’s a difference between civil marriage and church marriage. C.S. Lewis famously said that Christians shouldn’t try to make the government’s definition of marriage match the Christian definition of marriage, because not everyone is a Christian.
- Marriage, as a civil institution, has been defined many different ways. Adam and Eve had no wedding ceremony. King Solomon had hundreds of wives. Until 1967, many states outlawed interracial marriage. To this day, different parts of the world define marriage differently. (This doesn’t mean that all those definitions are equally valid in a Christian sense, of course. I think some of them are pretty terrible.)
- Not all gay people are in favor of marriage for same-sex couples. Some gay Christians, for instance, believe gay people are called to celibacy. Other gay people view marriage as an outdated or heterosexist institution. Some think the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.
- Many of my readers have a moral objection to gay relationships. But they still ask me to explain why civil marriage is so important to gay couples. That’s what this post is about.
For the sake of today’s post, let’s consider a gay couple who do want to get married. (Let’s call them, oh, Adam and Steve. Why not.) Furthermore, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Adam and Steve aren’t Christians, and that their primary interest is in having a legally recognized civil marriage, not a church marriage.
Our question today is: Why? Why do they want to get married? Why isn’t it enough for them to just have their relationship as it is?
Well, the easiest way I can answer that question is by showing you a quick video about a real-life gay couple, whose names are actually David and Jason. Take a look:
Seriously, give it a watch before you read the rest. It’s short, and I promise, it’s worth it if you really want to understand.
Did you watch it? Powerful, right? I can’t make it through the last half without tearing up. You don’t have to agree with these guys in order to understand their pain.
Let me tell you another true story.
Years ago, a friend of mine (I’ll call him John) met the love of his life (I’ll call him Ricky). The two of them dated, fell in love, and decided to get married. Because legal marriage wasn’t an option for them and because neither of their families supported their decision, they made a promise between the two of them, moved in together, and began their life together, lovingly and selflessly supporting one another.
Put aside whatever images you may have of the stereotypical toned, young, sex-obsessed gay guys who spend all their time clubbing and partying. No, these guys were just real people—one legally blind, the other an overweight diabetic—who lived quiet lives and were there for each other in ways no one else could be. This was love, not lust.
Sadly, Ricky (the diabetic) had some severe heart problems, and John came home one day to find Ricky unconscious. He called 911, and the ambulance came to rush Ricky to the hospital. But at the hospital, as Ricky lay dying, John wasn’t allowed into the room to see him, because their marriage wasn’t legally recognized, and he wasn’t considered “family.” Ricky had given John legal power of attorney for making his medical decisions, but John didn’t have the paperwork handy, and when Ricky’s biological family arrived, they kept John out of the room even though he had been Ricky’s only real family for quite some time.
John wasn’t able to be in the room when the love of his life passed away. He was only allowed in later, after Ricky’s death, once the biological family had left. Ricky’s body was covered in a sheet, with his feet left uncovered.
“I didn’t know what to do,” John told me later through sobs. “I wasn’t able to be there when he died. And I hated seeing him like that, with his feet uncovered. He had bad circulation and had always complained about his feet being cold, and I was the only one he ever let touch his feet. So I sat there by his body and rubbed his feet for a while and talked to him, as if he were still there. Then I took the sheet and covered up his feet. I didn’t know what else to do.”
The family didn’t allow John to attend the service at the gravesite, and they laid claim to Ricky’s belongings. In the end, it didn’t matter that Ricky had chosen to spend his years with John; in the eyes of the law, he was just “a friend.”
Why do some gay people want civil marriage rights so badly? Because of stories like these. It’s not just a symbol or a political maneuver or an “agenda.” It’s about keeping their families together, in life and in death, just as it is for straight couples.
So when the Supreme Court decision is made this month, whatever it may be, think about Ricky and John, and David and Jason, and all the other same-sex couples out there, and you may understand a little more about why this decision matters so much to them.
You might also have a hint of why, when American Christians are so vocally opposed to granting them those civil protections on the basis of our religious beliefs, it makes many gay people even less interested in hearing anything Christians have to say.