Saturday, July 16, 2005

Same-sex marriages? Civil unions? A gay theologian thinks they're only the beginning

By: RICHARD OSTLING - Associated Press
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
from North Carolina Times

Americans are starting to seriously ponder gay marriage, legalized by Massachusetts' highest court, and civil unions, enacted in Howard Dean's Vermont and several cities. The issue of same-sex couples could affect the 2004 elections and is part of the Episcopal Church's ongoing split.

But those moral innovations may be only the beginning. Why not legitimize threesomes and foursomes? What about bisexuals, who are attracted to both genders? And why not abolish marriage altogether?

Such eyebrow-raisers are posed by Marvin Ellison, the ethics professor at the United Church of Christ's Bangor (Maine) Theological Seminary, in "Same-Sex Marriage?: A Christian Ethical Analysis," published by the United Church's Pilgrim Press.

Ellison was married to a woman but didn't find that estate "particularly user-friendly" and now lives openly with a gay partner. He's a clergyman in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and was appointed to the panel that wrote its 1991 sex study, which was rejected as too liberal.

His rather superficial and repetitious book is perhaps significant in signaling a new strategy among liberal Protestants seeking to topple traditional sexual rules. Ellison no longer ponders the Bible passages that have been cited for centuries to forbid same-sex behavior and exalt heterosexual monogamy. He simply ignores them.

The headline news is Ellison's leap beyond the current nationwide discussion to pursue long-term implications.

He thinks "a lively debate is needed," for instance, on whether marriage should now be redefined to recognize "polyamorous" people, those involved with "multiple partners."

He wonders, "How exactly does the number of partners affect the moral quality of a relationship? ... Could it be that limiting intimate partnerships to only two people at a time is no guarantee of avoiding exploitation?"

Besides pondering marriage for bisexuals, he protests that the narrowly "bipolar" definition of marriage excludes "intersexuality, transgenderism, transsexuality and other sexualities."

Many of his fellow homosexuals doubt marriage is worth seeking or supporting, Ellison reports, because the institution has been so oppressive and so heterosexual. He, for one, has no intention of marrying his male partner if that becomes possible.

Ellison notes that some Christian liberals who advocate gay marriage hope to stem "gay male cruising and experimentation with multiple anonymous sex partners" and to foster monogamous commitment. He finds it "troubling" that ethicists would see "marriage is a necessary social control mechanism to tame men's sexuality."

In his view, strong defense of gay sexuality "requires critiquing the notion that the only moral (and legal) sex is marital sex," because old sexual categories and moral norms should be reconsidered.

In particular, marriage is based on monogamy, which is "limiting and does not reflect the different ways in which couples structure their partnerships."

Like other gay writers, Ellison wonders whether government should abolish marriage altogether rather than redefine it to include gays.

He is upset that "marriage has been privileged" by both the church and secular law, which denigrates such adult relationships as "domestic partnerships" and "long-term cohabitation."

Ellison suggests that civil law recognize that "the marital family is only one way to construct a family," arguing that "a variety of family models deserves the community's support" and that "non-married persons who bond together are quite successful at fulfilling family functions."

If lesbian and gay marriage is legalized, pressure for all types of couples to marry is likely to increase. He fears that will reinforce marriage as "the exclusive conduit for state subsidies and social respectability," stigmatizing homosexual and heterosexual couples who choose not to marry.

For now, he reports, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders are "deeply divided" on whether marriage is desirable, and "few queer people are yet persuaded that marriage can be a school for love or justice."

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