Regarding Marriage Equality: Who’s on God’s Team?
by Anya Cordell
What if there were a rationale for marriage equality that could not be refuted by law, religion or doctrine; which would persuade those against it to shift, reasonably and compassionately—a rationale that has not been part of the public discourse?
Consider this premise:
A person born with any physical anomaly should never marry or have any romantic or sexual life. To do so would be immoral and un-Godly. The person should become resigned to this situation, yet remain compassionate, joyful, loving, patient and good—even if viewed derisively.
What God would decree such injustice? What religion or law would ascribe to it?
A percentage of people are born with so-called “ambiguous” genitalia and gender. They don’t choose this reality (or often, this terminology). Previously, doctors assigned a gender, sometimes surgically, and suggested raising children accordingly. Many suffered from these assignments, and now they, and medical experts, advocate the rights of humans to the sanctity of their particular biology, to claim their own gender.
Should intersex people never marry or have any romantic or sexual life, and accept this as a life sentence?
Intersex people represent one to two percent of the population, roughly the same percentage as those with red hair. In other words, people with whom we are in contact. And just as “red” hair is not a delineated category but rather verges on gradations we call “brown” or “blonde,” intersex also is not perfectly definable. Science reveals that factors beyond genitalia and appearance relate to gender—hormones, androgen insensitivity, etc. Thus, Olympic committees have sometimes struggled to determine the gender of athletes.
Would God consider these persons “sub-humans” who do not qualify for the “human” team or the fully human experience?
These questions encapsulate the rationale for all humans to have equal rights to their sexuality as they experience it. We now agree that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth. Even staunchly held views evolve as reality is acknowledged. Since medicine acknowledges challenges in determining gender and reveals gender as a continuum, how can religion or law anachronistically cling to decreeing which gender one ought to love?
These questions should be put to clerics, pundits, individuals, and institutions who deign to judge who is right in their sexual or gender identity, or orientation, and thereby accorded the blessings of being sexual beings and the rights to loving partnerships and marriage. Intersex people are people—human beings—who must be included in the conversation regarding marriage equality, which necessarily reconfigures the whole conversation, thus overriding discussion of gay marriage, same-sex marriage and so on.
Should Masculinity and Femininity Be Certified?
Where we cannot establish gender, we cannot define opposite gender. If intersex people should not be denied the right to choose partners of any gender, how can we exclude anyone from this right? We would, otherwise, require boards certifying marriage partners as either clearly ambiguous or strictly male or strictly female—physiologically, hormonally, behaviorally and otherwise. This would create endless opportunities for bias and prejudice.
We don’t assess appearance or measure body parts or hormone levels before issuing marriage licenses. In so-called “traditional” marriages, some partners cheat, pursue extramarital relations (both hetero and homosexual), enter marriage on a pretense of heterosexuality, act aggressively toward their spouse or children, and so on. While gender is irrelevant to values, marriage is available to a huge spectrum of people behaving in what many would consider non-ideal ways.
The argument that people choose their sexual orientation, and can choose differently, is also irrelevant, unless we enact policies or laws based on ranking all nuanced behaviors as sufficiently masculine or feminine choices. It is absurd to imagine a strictly enforced requirement for indefinable characteristics. (Who is assertive, nurturing, graceful, aggressive, strong, or demur enough to be deemed “properly” masculine or feminine?) This point, too, should settle the issue of marriage equality.
Issues of Supremacy, Choice, Compassion and Religion
Meanwhile, heterosexuals who speak against others enjoying the joys and rights they reserve exhibit something like white supremacy—an innate superiority and lack of compassion, as if deserving credit for their privileged orientation while those “others” deserve their unfortunate state. Heterosexuals didn’t choose their state and wouldn’t/couldn’t choose an alternative one, just as LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) people don’t choose theirs and cannot simply switch.
Those who teach, preach or rail against LGBTI equality should ask themselves what they are contributing to the culture of hatred, teasing, bullying, depression, assault and suicide, which disproportionately impacts these groups. Can’t we all better apportion our energy and righteous indignation toward critical issues such as war, poverty or environmental degradation, rather than fixating on whom one loves?
Some cite religious scriptures to justify their views. But, multitudes of varied textual interpretations of scriptures exist, mostly favoring differing views of the interpreters. A single example is how, or whether, the commandment to keep Sabbath, is observed by avowed religious folk who prefer to work or shop all week.
I’ve recently tried to understand an Islamic view of homosexuality. While I’m not Muslim nor a religious scholar, from what I understand, little in the Quran pertains to this issue except a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, which also speaks to Jews and Christians.
The actual, deplorable practices of these degraded towns are not described. What is clear is that men acted forcibly upon male guests. Any rape is despicable. Yet, the existence of heterosexual rape has no bearing on the goodness of heterosexual love and sexuality overall. What bearing, then, have these verses on loving, committed homosexual relationships?
Ancient scriptures acknowledge the existence of those whose attraction is for the same gender and those who present as an alternate gender. Many indigenous and other cultures and religions have historically acknowledged, even esteemed, gender variation, including in persons sometimes designated as “two spirits.”
We don’t choose the biology, religions and ethnicities into which we are born. The full humanity of some is not inherently inferior to others by virtue of their birth. Can we imagine Mohammad or Jesus, whose teachings emphasized compassion, condemning those with physical or biological anomalies to lives of isolation and exclusion?
Attacking or Allying with Others
I’ve worked passionately against bias and the designation of any group as “other.” Although Jewish, I’ve combated Islamophobia, which I consider a dangerous, chilling, current scourge. Islamophobes accuse Muslims of particular homophobia (while not themselves contesting homophobia with anything like their zeal in fomenting Islamophobia). But Muslims don’t own the rights to homophobia, and there are LGBTI Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Baha’i and other groups all addressing the biases they face within their religions and the culture at large. Poignantly, some individuals seek “marriages of convenience” as strategies to hold their truths, while hoping to maintain connection to their families, religions and cultures.
As a heterosexual, and someone whose gender identity matches my gender presentation, I am an ally for those who differ from me in this respect. As a Spirit of Anne Frank Award recipient, I’ve repeatedly extolled the heroic non-Jewish friends who supported Anne’s family in hiding, at tremendous risk. They were allies, caring more for common humanity than concerned about differences.
Would we do the same? Should we exclude persons born with traits, the complexities of which science is now illuminating, from the rights and joys we hold sacred? Should we condemn some to life sentences of isolation? If we agree that we cannot bully, beat, pray or wish away heterosexual dispositions, we must also acknowledge the failure of such tactics to change other sexual natures.
Who would God exclude?
I’m often in the presence of deeply religious people. But I don’t believe humans can perfectly describe God, nor believe God would create some to be inherently “Other.”
Supposedly, we—with the full panoply of human attributes—are created, by God, in God’s image. But which of us is “It”? Or does a presumption of God and Godliness shine through us all? And is not Love, above all, God’s essential truth, deeply rooted in thelove, commitment, and family to which everyone is entitled?
A Final Note from the Author
Following 9/11, I reached out to the families of innocent Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus murdered in Islamophobic and xenophobic attacks. In writing and programs, I ardently combat these biases, as well as all intolerance, stereotyping and what I call “appearance-ism” (appearance-based judging of ourselves and others).
I’ve become closely connected to various religious communities, often speaking on podiums with esteemed religious scholars and luminaries. Repeatedly, I’m overwhelmed by the warmth, compassion and humanity of deeply religious people, as well as secular folks. I’m Jewish, and (despite the cliché) some of my best friends really are Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Catholic, Baha’i, Buddhist and other faiths.
My care and concern for LGBTI people (including a friend who committed suicide) has also galvanized my sense of a personal imperative to work against the polarization of some religious people toward those who are LGBTI. I believe the argument above needs to be part of the public discourse. I believe this rationale underscores an imperative for everyone to care for the human rights, dignity, and marriage equality of all people, wherever they are on the continuum of gender, identity, or sexual orientation.
Anya Cordell is a writer, speaker, presenter, and recipient of the Spirit of Anne Frank Award. She is the author of the article “Where the Anti-Muslim Path Leads” and the book RACE: An OPEN & SHUT Case. This article also appeared on Patheos.