I was recently invited, by the website deeyoon.com, to debate Pastor Ted Haggard regarding whether a state should allow same-sex marriages or not. As the debate would be limited to 10 minutes, I could not realistically expect there to be a full investigation and discussion of the issue -- yet the chance to participate still interested me greatly. Both myself and Pastor Haggard could not be considered dogmatic, hard-lined advocates of either position so I expected there to be an opportunity for some thoughtful reflections. What occurred in the debate did not disappoint
Given the turbulent life of Pastor Haggard and his own personal, theological and public challenges connected to this issue, I knew that his position would be the result of much self-contemplation. He would be asserting the affirmative, that a state should allow same-sex marriages. And given that over the course of his life his view on this subject has changed, this present conclusion must inherently be the result of much introspection and thought.
Nevertheless, as a Christian evangelical minister, he still has to consider his theological beliefs and subsequent acceptance of the Biblical prohibition regarding homosexual relations. I was most interested to hear how he would approach this multi-layered issue. Ultimately, his position actually went beyond the matter of same-sex marriage and engulfed the entire question of the role of religion in the political structure of a state. His argument was determinedly that the state should not be involved in marriage at all.
My position in the debate also went beyond the topic of same-sex marriage to touch upon the entire issue of religion in society, albeit from a different perspective. Being an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and, as such, clearly a member of a faith system that views homosexual behaviour as contrary to its religious teachings, my adoption of the negative stance would seem to have been the expected one. I am, though, most sensitive to the subsequent dilemma these teachings may place on one with same-sex attraction and, as such, many who know me have found it strange that I would not be more open to secular same-sex marriages.
As one who, furthermore, recognizes that he has benefited from the tolerance embedded in the modern secular state, the question clearly exists as to why I would favour the imposition of a religious standard in this case. The simple answer is that I actually do not. I nevertheless do believe that if there is wisdom within my faith system that I can share with others, I have a responsibility to do so. My perception that same-sex marriages should not be so sanctioned by the state is one such idea -- and it is offered not as an imposition but exactly as that: a thought for consideration.
The value of tolerance clearly was the initial assertion of Pastor Haggard's opening statements. He advocated for allowing same-sex marriages because it was wrong, he insists, for a state to impose religious positions upon its populace. The state's role should be to protect the individual, and the laws regarding same-sex marriages should further reflect this value. This was a theme that he maintained throughout.
My response was not in disagreement with this. Indeed, I was in full agreement with Pastor Haggard in regard to the state's responsibility to the individual -- which would include the duty to protect people from the imposition of religious norms. I further maintained that even if the state does not allow same-sex marriages, the personal rights of individuals within such relationships still must be fully protected. To me, however, the issue of same-sex marriage is not one of individual rights but, rather, involves the fine and detailed structure of society. The marital unit is the building block of society and its re-classification to include the same-sex couple is not just a matter of a simple change of definition. Such consideration would actually call for a re-evaluation of what we understand marriage to be and its very role within society. Any call, as such, to accept same-sex marriage without this broader investigation and study, in my opinion, is simply foolhardy.
I agreed with Pastor Haggard that it is not our duty -- in fact it would be wrong -- to impose one's religious perspectives on others. I contended, however, that an adherent of any faith system still has a responsibility to study and understand the values that are being promoted by this system and, then, in the interest of all and for the benefit of all, to share these ideas with others. It is then for these ideas to convince, if they do, based on their merit, not their origin. This is my view here.
My position against same-sex marriages does not arise, as such, from a desire to impose my beliefs upon others. Rather, it is presented, regardless of its origins, as an idea to be considered within the discussion of this broad issue. The greater issue is the need for the state to be involved in the entire issue of marriage in itself. This involvement actually reflects upon the assessment of marriage as the necessary basic component of community.
It is in this regard that I would contend the monogamous, heterosexual nature of a married couple has specific significance. It is within this context that I express my reservations concerning the state's acceptance of same-sex marital couples. The underlying question, as we involve the state, is whether marriage is simply a personal statement between two individuals or whether it must also be seen within this broader societal context. It is within this latter perspective that, I believe, without further study, we should move hesitantly on any change lest it impacts negatively within this context.
The debate between myself and Pastor Haggard thus ensued within these parameters. His focus was on the individual and the need for the state not to impose. My focus was on the society and the value of the heterosexual marital unit in this regard, ensuring, of course, that the rights of individuals as individuals are still maintained. One can in fact see the full debate here and I would invite you to do so and comment.