Some Personal Reflections on Same-Sex Marriage
Published on: February 9, 2011
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  • Jim Ream

    A very well reasoned and reasonable approach to a contentious problem. Both my wife and I agree with you that no real good comes from the ostentatious displays demonstrated by the gay rights activists. Those opposed dig in their heels and those for know full well they are shoving the stick into the cage just to antagonize the tenant. I must say I didn’t give a lot of thought to the children of these unions even though I have a gay nephew who has 4 surrogate children with his partner. As far as I can tell they love them and care for them as responsible biological parents do. What would happen should they break up is a mystery and a tragedy at the same time, but I don’t see why this would be any different than a heterosexual couple that decided on divorce with 4 children. Lord knows, traditional marriage doesn’t have the best track record for stability so why would homosexual unions (marriages?) require special restrictions or considerations?

  • Patton

    What do you think of “Don’t ask don’t tell”? I thought it shouldn’t have been repelled but on the other hand I think it wasn’t a sincere policy, quite a schizophrenic one in fact: “okay, but don’t tell anyone”. That doesn’t sound right.

  • pacificus

    Dr Berger, your reasonable, anodyne postions here seem to point a way around the moral and political impass we face with regard to marriage and to whom the institutional imprimatur applies. But I think you have elided the full biblical picture of marriage. The ancient social perspectives you presented are true; women disrespected, looked on as property, etc. But you disregard what you might think of as the fly in the ointment, ie, the vast presence of marriage as a symbol of God’s relation to his people, both in the Old Testament and the New, beginning with Adam and Eve. Their physical union is a picture of their spiritual union. Space constraints here do not allow a rehersal of the large number of biblical texts which use the marriage analogy between God and his people.

    Thoughtful American Christians still have a conundrum to face even after considering your arguments here. There is more to marriage from a theological perspective than you are granting here, and this is the sticking point for those like me who have no animus against any particular gay person, seeing them as no worse sinners than anyone else, but who know that Christ describing the church as his bride, to be presented without spot or wrinkle on That Day, is not an empty symbol, any more than the Lord’s supper is an empty symbol. The physical elements, like the physical union of man and woman, are not incidental or accidental. To cite the Lutheran accommadation of civil and ecclesial authority on marriage is well and good, but it does not lessen the value the scriptures, and therefor God, places on the marital union. That sticking point prevents me from favoring same sex marriage; however, political and jursprudential considerations should allow civil unions and the basic human protections and dignities they allow, along the liberal/libertarian lines you suggest.
    Thank you for your always insightful writing.

  • A. Hill

    As was the case with your initial essay entitled “Virginity, Polyamory and the Limits of Pluralism,” a well thought out and measured argument. My main exception to the arguments against SSM is the legal, not religious exclusion of homosexuals when it comes, in essence, a state enforced contract. I would never imagine advocating recognition of SSM by the Catholic Church, Methodist church, or any other private religious institution. Also, I take no exception to the remarks about a two parent household being the most stable environment to raise children (this coming from a guy raised in a single mother household).

    Still though, if the ability and/or desire to have children puts a couple in Category B, and thus makes them worthy of the privileged status coined “traditional marriage,” should we re-label all elderly individual’s relationships as “civil unions?” How about young individuals who do not want to have children, or who have gone through surgical procedures to ensure they cannot have children? Any of these types of couples could be of the opposite sex, but would still be allowed the privileged status under our current system.

    Also, while raising children with two parents is preferable, I cannot conceive of how giving legal status or title to homosexuals will affect the outcomes of opposite sex bourgeois marriages. The decline of traditional, opposite sex marriage is likely more a product of expanded wealth, brought about by free markets (and admittedly the expanded safety net they can afford). Liberals and conservatives alike look back romantically at the 1950s (although conservatives would prefer to live there, and liberals would prefer to work there), and while I cannot say I’ve experienced those times, let us not pretend like marriage rates remained higher simply because of love or traditional values. Far fewer economic opportunities were afforded to women at the time. Changing economics, educational opportunities, and the mechanization of household work previously requiring near full time employment by an individual got the ball rolling on evolving social norms some decades ago.

    Enough typing since our positions really are not that far apart in the first place. In my last comment I made reference to the good work by you folks at AI, keeping Burkean conservatism alive. Your being “skeptical of rapid change, because such change is frequently for the worse, and it is doubly skeptical of all utopian visions of a perfect society, which are very likely to lead to tyrannies” is a testament to that. If the 2012 GOP standard bearer spoke like that, I might actually vote for him/her.

  • You seem to take a very casual view of scripture as the Word of God. Scripture holds man-woman marriage to be part of the revelation of God in nature, and deviations from his moral precepts in this regard are a big deal not just for whatever social problems they cause, but because they desecrate something that is holy. Paul, whose writings you seem to discount, held that the rise of homosexual behavior in society is not as much a sin as it was God’s judgement on the sin of abandoning the knowledge of God. That picture seems to fit us today very well.

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  • Adam Garfinkle

    Peter, I am enlightened concerning the Lutheran view of marriage as falling under the domain of law and not sanctity. As you know, in Rabbinic Judaism this is not the case–the Rabbinic term for marriage is kedushin, which comes from the word for holiness. This does not change much in practical terms, except perhaps in a Jewish state, which America is obviously not. This allows me to agree with you in total, and I want to note that my agreement antedates my reading your post by many years. Indeed, in my presidential platform (I run every four years, whether I need to or not, which contains ten planks, my attitude toward all the culture war issues is argued in plank 4. And here it is:

    “The abortion issue and issues concerning marriage for homosexuals can never be settled in American national politics. These are issues that raise absolutist claims that, by their very natures, are resistant to compromise. The result is a source of permanent divisiveness that has driven our political parties into the hands of extremists on both sides. This is bad for everyone, and it is arguably getting worse.
    Happily, there are such things in the United States as regional and local sensibilities and differences. That’s natural in a country as large and with social origins as diverse as ours. Following from the principle of subsidiarity, judgments about abortion and homosexual rights should be rendered at the state level, and perhaps, in some cases, at the municipal or local level.
    My own view is that decisions on abortion and homosexual marriage are inherently religious decisions, and that these decisions should be made among interested family members and their respective clergy. Where decisions are matters of consent and no living person can be construed as a victim of any judgment, government should have as little a role as possible in them. That is what liberty is all about, after all.
    But of course, not everyone has a religious tradition or community to turn to, and some communal standards are certainly necessary at the outer limits of potential human behavior, not least to protect the interests of children. If, say, a group of cultists whose members stood for the public execution of adulterers moved into your town, the larger community would have a natural right to prevent that if, as one would hope, it so desired. But it is clear that local communities, at a maximum individual states, have a much better chance of reaching working compromises on sensitive moral issues than the country as a whole. And if minorities within a community or state disagree with the local consensus reached on issues like abortion and homosexual marriage, they can always go someplace where the consensus is more to their liking. It’s a free, as well as a diverse, country.
    Therefore, the two main parties should agree not to use the Congress as a platform from which to wage culture war against each other. We need to stop beating ourselves up in a battle no one can ever win at the national level. The party leaderships should also agree that, at the level of the states, every effort should be made to cooperate to define standards acceptable to the majority. That’s the best we can do, and it’s the least we should do.”

  • Falcon 78 in N Virginia

    So, Peter Berger, describes himself as basically a “smorgasboard” Lutheran–e.g., I’ll take a little of this, I reject that, that sounds O.K., I’m OK with this, but not that.Etc. Etc. Does his denomination not provide him with clear guidance about homosexuality? Is there any doubt about that guidance?

    People today–I’ll pick on the liberals–would not be comfortable with the Garden of Eden and God’s command to Adam and Eve to not eat of the fruit of that tree. You can hear liberals today if they were given that command. “How can eating an apple be bad for you? That’s a Jonathan, not a MacIntosh, or a Pink Lady. He didn’t specify that we couldn’t eat Pink Ladies. That apple fell to the ground. He didn’t say that we couldn’t pick up fruit off the ground and eat it. He just said, don’t eat from that tree. And on, and on, and on …

  • Divorce and Remarriage aren’t a threat?

    All these debates about gay marriage and positing it as a proverbial Pandora’s box ignore the issues of serial polygamy and no fault divorces. It would appear that the right of men, because it is mostly promiscuous men who benefit from this situation, to shuffle through multiple partners. More so than Bohemian enclaves or homosexuals it is this tacit acceptance of heterosexual, normalized hedonism and guilt free divorces that pose a threat to cultural standards and marriage

    It is their right, that is, provided they aren’t too brazen. In this regard most Protestants are far more hypocritical than Catholics.

  • Jim.

    “Commentary, especially if undertaken by a social scientist, is essentially value-neutral”


    Also — the fact is that there is a high correlation between societies that have “innovated” beyond bourgeois marriage, and societies that are incapable of reproducing themselves. Europe is, demographically, dying. Some of the lowest birthrates are in countries where bestiality is also legal. Yes, these exist. “Cassandra” is an overstatement, I think. Honoring heterosexual marriage incentivizes it, which incentivizes reproduction at replacement rates.

    There is also the consideration that the outlook most likely to replace the family-values outlook is one that equates principled opposition to gay “marriage” with racism. Consider for a moment what it is legal to do to the livelihood of someone convicted by a Human Resources department of “racism”. If you want to see what the future holds for those who speak up about their religion (even in the most pitifully apologetic terms), look at what Perez Hilton did to Carrie PreJean. That would be the law of the land. A victory for freedom? Hardly.

    “Innovating” beyond bourgeois marriage is an intellectual fad, and a destructive one at that.

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  • Daniel Kennelly

    I would sign up for your policy petition; myself have said as much in print in the past. I also agree with you, however, that it’s not very likely to be accepted by either party in the dispute. Why would the pro-SSM side accept half a loaf when they’re about to take the whole thing? (And, to a lesser but still significant degree, I doubt the anti-SSM side would be wholly comfortable with a de-sanctification of marriage when its santification was a big part of the issue in the first place.)

    “Civil unions for all” also raises a whole host of questions from a pragmatic perspective. Exactly what public good are we encouraging by means of the policy (the same question remains for SSM, of course)? Given the host of qualifications and loopholes on the marriage contract that already exist (pre-nups, no-fault divorce, etc.), aren’t we perhaps already dealing with an institution that no longer serves either the old purposes it was once meant to serve or any new purposes that aren’t already covered by a less specialized or less complicated forms of contract law?

    (As an aside, it’s interesting that you single out “category B” civil unions, involving children, as necessitating more restrictions with regard to dissolution. Isn’t it already the case in all jurisdictions in the U.S. that divorce is “no fault”, whether there are kids or not? I doubt that state of affairs could ever be rolled back.)

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  • Airborne All The Way

    Mr. Berger,

    As noted by Tetlock, experts can have a very poor track record in predicting future events. See

    Thus, one could conclude that you have no way to predict the ill effects on society of the position you advocate.

    Again, I am not sure where you say that evidence does not exist on the ill effects on society. As Professor Hendershott has reported that academics wish to suppress their findings, if they would show an evidence that contradicts liberal statements. See

    As noted by Senator Moynihan, we don’t want to support the politics of deviance as does Mr. Berger.


    Airborne All The Way

  • Dominica

    The largest problem I have with gay marriage is the attack on liberty that it will cause. If a church is opposed to homosexuality and refused to perform homosexual marriages, it would run the risk of being sued for discrimination. I don’t have a problem with gay civil unions, because our country does not have a state religion. However, I don’t believe that we should take the name of marriage and re-write it’s definition to appease those who just don’t like the term civil union.

  • N.P.

    My independently reached conclusion some time ago:

    Marriage is between the partners and God.

    Civil union is between the partners and the State.

    [To be more accurate but less punchy in the first one: “… between the partners and God, gods, or …”

    In any case, the state should not be able to trespass on religion, so should not be involved in marriage, only civil unions.

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  • JGK

    There is much compelling in your argument. The law is of the civil realm and marriages (straight or gay) should be seen in that context. It might salve some wounds to opt for civil unions for this status across the board, but it will certainly strike many non-religious heterosexual couples to be something other than married.
    Marriage is not a term (or concept) which belongs to the Jewish, Catholic, or Christian community alone. I fail to see why the term should be ceded to their use (and understandings) alone.

  • Terry

    This is one of most objective articles on Same Sex Marriage I have read!

    Thank you for your insight and thoughtful contributions to the debate.

  • John Wickey

    As a young, largely naive psychologist, I participated in a court hearing that freed a male homosexual pedophile from a 15 year prison sentence. The court’s decision in the early 1970’s seemed to hinge on the idea that such activity was largely harmless. This was a faddish idea at the time that was used by the public defender. I am retired now, but believe that my testimony was a grave mistake, in that I have come to believe that such activity can be very damaging. I also believe that the state, in the form of local states or the federal government, would do well to enact laws that encourage a stable male and female wife family structure, rather than to encourage liberals fads that further undermine the stability of the family and the future of children growing up in such families.

  • Gregory

    One might well ask how, in light of the First Amendment, any church could be empowered to act as an agent of the state. ‘Marriage’ is a binding contract — just try getting un-married without a court and lawyer.

    Churches should not be allowed to ‘marry’ anyone. That is a matter for government, or what Lutherans would call The Kingdom of the Left Hand.

    What churches do about those legally joined by government is a matter to each church body to sort out.

  • Alex

    I’m also interested in this idea of how male and female role models affect a child’s development.

    As a queer male brought up by his mother from age 12 and on, I have often wondered how my relationships with my parents and my household structure affected my gendered and sexual behaviors. I am pretty certain that it has a significant correlation, not to say that I’m queer because my parents split.

  • João Paulo de Paula Silveira

    Hello! Dr. Berger, I’ am Brazilian and today we are watching in Brazil the transformation of our laws about the homosexual union. On the another hand, we are watching the reaction of the Evangelicalism’moviments (called here Neopentecostalismo) against this situation. Maybe, and it’s only a hypothesis, this is the most visible example of the counter-secularization or, as you said 10 years ago, desecularization. Do you agree?

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