A Response to Dr. Sider…

Editor’s note: Dr. Ronald Sider is a professor at Palmer Theological Seminary, the seminary of Eastern University. Dr. Sider is also the Founder and President of “Evangelicals for Social Action”. Over the course of its history, ESA has made troubling statements and has affirmed troubling positions in regards to sexual minorities (see “The Manhattan Declaration”). ESA publishes a bi-monthly magazine, “Prism”. The current November/December is almost entirely focused on sexuality with many disturbing articles, including an article written by Dr. Sider (Dr. Sider’s article- here; the full issue- here). It is disappointing that these attitudes emerge out of Eastern University.

However we know there are other voices that speak for justice within Eastern, and one of those voices is Dr. Yolanda Turner, co-chair of the Psychology department at Eastern University. Please welcome Dr. Turner as she shares with us her response to Dr. Sider’s article, adapted from a presentation she gave earlier this year. OneEastern is deeply thankful for Dr. Turner’s response. A brief bio for Dr. Turner is found at the end of this post.

Separation of Church and State:

Let me begin by stating that for me this is not simply a question of being for or against same-sex marriage. The question is larger than that: by what criteria do we want our government to make legal decisions?

This is not simply about whether homosexual relationships are biblical or holy. It is about what should be affirmed in a pluralistic society – in a democratic republic that promotes religious freedom, as well as other types of freedom and privacy.

Yes, my Christian worldview informs how I think about marriage equality and my political perspective in general, and I will address that. But I’d first like to focus on the political, social and legal issues here.

We live in a democracy not a theocracy, and a fundamental function of a successful democratic government is to ensure justice for all within the nation; laws must be fair, unbiased, and logical.

The question before us should not be whether one is for or against same sex marriage as a religious right – that is up to each individual community of faith. The question is whether all citizens of this country deserve to be treated equally under the law.

Marriage in the United States, is both a civil and religious event. Couples must always undergo a civil marriage in order for their marriage to be considered legal. Civil and religious marriages are two separate institutions. The marriage is not legal until the papers are signed and registered with the state.

By legalizing same-sex marriage, states and countries are establishing laws that allow same-sex civil marriages. Marriage by the state is a secular activity, and it sets a dangerous precedent when any religious organization can establish and/or legislate laws by one faith tradition. That’s why, although Christians consider it a breaking of a commandment to take the Lord’s name in vain, we no longer make doing so a criminal offence, as when blasphemy laws were in place.

The First Amendment of the Constitution clearly states that all person’s religious views or lack thereof must be protected. Everyone should be allowed a civil marriage. After which, it should up to each church to determine which unions will be sanctions by that community.

Faith communities should be allowed to decide which unions they bless and decide whether or not same-sex unions are acceptable within their doctrine and established beliefs. The state should not be held to the beliefs of any particular religion.

The issue of Tradition:

Dr. Sider argues that same-sex marriage violates tradition. However, tradition is a mixed bag. It includes slavery and grotesque exploitation of workers, the denial of rights to women and the execution of those who committed thought and property crimes.

And, what exactly does Dr. Sider mean by traditional marriage? At one time the laws preventing couples of different races from marrying were based in tradition – biblical and secular. And, in actuality, given the prevalence of modern and ancient examples of family arrangements based on polygamy, communal child-rearing, the use of concubines and mistresses and the commonality of prostitution… heterosexual monogamy can be considered least traditional in historical terms.

Dr. Sider’s implication is that if same-sex couples were to marry, we would be affirming their “sexual behavior”, which he believes is against Biblical principles. However, assuming to know what occurs in the bedroom of any couple is preposterous. If we could legislate how heterosexual couples behave according to what we believe the Bible says, we would have very few couples marrying.

Marriage in the US is a dynamic institution that has under gone several major transformations. Interracial marriage was illegal in many US states until a 1967 Supreme Court decision confirmed that marriage is “one of the basic civil rights”. In 19th century America, a woman’s legal rights and economic identity were subsumed by her husband upon marriage. Integrating a society, and expanding human rights, has always shattered tradition, and we have consistently been better off for it.

However, Marriage is more than a legal status. It affects many things in society such as tax filing status, joint ownership of property, insurance benefits, and agency law. It affects critical medical decisions.

Only as recently as 2010 did laws start changing so that all hospitals that receive Medicaid/Medicare money must allow the patient to decide who can visit, and who can make medical decisions on his/her behalf; but not ALL hospitals allow for this. So for some unlucky couples, say a same-sex couple that has been together for 20 years, visitation may not be allowed since the other isn’t considered a “spouse or immediate family member”. Everyone has the right to die with dignity, and when ill be surrounded by love ones. Many same-sex partners do not have that right.

While civil unions may grant certain state level benefits, no federal protections exist for them. This is, perhaps, the most predominant legally implicated rationale behind the need for same-sex marriage. Spousal benefits are where civil union and same-sex marriage begin to separate. A civil union has minimal legal implications behind it. Unmarried partners cannot make medical decisions out of their home state.

Marriage features 1138 federal benefits and privileges that are denied to same-sex couples. Civil unions feature only around 300 state level benefits with no federal implications. And, a 2009 analysis by the New York Times estimated that the costs of replicating protections privately (life insurance, taxes, etc.) is astronomical. A same-sex couple denied marriage benefits will incur between 40,000 and 400,000 dollars in additional expenses over their lifetime compared to a married heterosexual couple.

Marriage benefits such as joint ownership, and medical decision-making capacity should be available to all couples. Allowing same-sex couples to marry will give them access to basic rights such as hospital visitation during an illness, taxation and inheritance rights, access to family health coverage, and protection in the event of the relationship ending.

Reproduction/Parenting/Family issues:

Dr Sider argues against same-sex marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, and he states that marriage is a reflection of the biological necessity of a one-to-one heterosexual union for procreation.

Ability or desire to create offspring has never been a qualification for marriage, which is why the law generally allows prisoners to marry even when they’re likely never to be released, and has no ban against elderly couples getting married, imposes no fertility requirements on prospective marriage partners and considers long-term childless marriages equal to others.

Dr. Sider believes that allowing infertile or older couples to marry encourages the view that that sex should be limited to married persons who are characteristically of the type that produce children. However, if the government is in the business of determining which consenting, un-related adults may and may not marry another issue arises: the recognition that people do not always fall along the binary distinctions of male and female.

One in every 2,000 births is an intersexed child, where the sex of the child cannot be determined by looking at their genitalia. If marriage is only between “a man and a woman”, what is the state to do about people who cannot identify as either? Should they be allowed to only marry other intersexed people?

Like any heterosexual couple relationship, a same-sex marriage may fuel the desire for a family. Given that most same-sex couples can not reproduce….The number of child adoptions should increase. And…In the US, 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted. These are families who would benefit from the legal framework of marriage.

Dr. Sider claims, “Many gay partners argue that their home is just as good for children as that of a married man and woman. We do not have the careful, longitudinal comparative studies to demonstrate empirically whether they are right or wrong…” Unfortunately, Dr. Sider is incorrect. The American Academy of Pediatrics in July 2006, stated that “There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents.” More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and any measure of a child’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more homosexual parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families. Overlooking this research does strengthen Dr. Sider’s argument, however it then bases that same argument of false information.

So, studies show little developmental or social difference between children raised by heterosexual parents and children raised by homosexual parents.

But…Even if it were true, for the sake of discussion, that a stable, loving male-female couple is the gold standard for parenting, it would be offensive to deny those who fall short of the gold standard the right to marry. For instance, even if data-mining researchers could demonstrate a strong probability that certain pairings would produce suboptimal parents — couples without high school diplomas, say, or couples with a 30-year gap in their ages or couples with three or more divorces between them — we would never think of denying such couples marriage licenses.

It is also argued that the purpose of marriage is for the sustaining and supporting of children. We know that legalizing same-sex marriage won’t create more same-sex relationships or co-habitation, those are occurring without the benefit of marriage. What it will do is provide a protection and support to those families.

Denying same-sex couples the right to marry stigmatizes gay and lesbian headed families as inferior and sends the message that it is acceptable to discriminate against them. The Massachusetts Supreme Court wrote in an opinion to the state Senate on Feb. 3, 2004 that offering civil unions was not an acceptable alternative to same-sex marriage because “…it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status.”

Marriage provides both physical and psychological health benefits and recent research suggests that refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry has resulted in harmful psychological effects. The American Psychological Association, with the American Psychiatric Association and others, wrote in Sep. 2007 that “…allowing same-sex couples to marry would give them access to the social support that already facilitates and strengthens heterosexual marriages, with all of the psychological and physical health benefits associated with that support.”

Legalizing same-sex marriage will put us on the slippery slope toward legalizing polygamy.

Same-sex marriage does not fundamentally alter the basic idea of two people agreeing to unite for life and taking on the responsibilities and privileges of that agreement.

Proposals to legalize multiple-partner marriages, should they ever seriously arise in the legislatures and the courts, would be considered separately from laws regarding single-partner marriages, just as the law now considers alcohol separately from crack cocaine, and hasn’t slid helplessly down the slope to legalize them both.

So what about Same sex marriage and Christian worldview?

I do not believe that it is our place to sort out who should be denied a bond with God and the Holy Spirit of the kind that we find through marriage. I trust that the flooding love of the Holy Spirit will flow where it will.
This will apply whether we see homosexuality as a sin or not. And… the question before us now is not whether homosexuality is a sin, but whether being homosexual should be a bar to civil marriage. What might be a Biblical response that differs from Dr. Siders? The answer is not found by arguing about how to interpret specific passages – as that is a circular exercise. It is Jesus who offers a strikingly inclusive response in the form of love and engagement. Jesus holds out the symbols of Gods’ love to all. It is Jesus who always sides with the oppressed and marginalized.

The early Christians strove to embody what they understood the kingdom of God to be about – to go where people are made “less than”. Pagan philosophers mocked Christians for treating slaves, the poor, and orphans the same as the rich and powerful.

When Christians accompany those who have no power or voice in society, we are standing in the presence of the kingdom, because we are standing in the presence of God. As the front cover of November issue of Prism states, we are to find our identity in Christ, not sexual orientation.

Dr. Yolanda Turner is an Associate Professor and co-chair of the Psychology department at Eastern University where she has taught since 1996. She is on the board of directors for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and presents regularly at national conferences in her field. Dr. Turner is the recipient of the 2012 Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching, and specializes in clinical psychology with a focus on the intersection of faith and sexuality.

One thought on “A Response to Dr. Sider…

  1. As an alum of Eastern College (1995) and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (1999) and now ordained clergy in the ABCUSA and staff at American Baptist Home Mission Societies (who is married to a fellow EC alum who happens to be bisexual), I am delighted to read such a detailed and considered response to Dr. Sider. Thank you for addressing the big-picture issues of separation of church and state as well as providing a constructive critique of Dr. Sider’s argument. Well done!