This week's announcement that Fort Wayne's Tom Henry and a dozen other mayors oppose Indiana's proposed constitution ban on same-sex marriage was a classic example of mixed messages, implied insults and faulty logic.
Maybe that's because the issue itself can fill even black-and-white people like me with a profound sense of ambivalence.
As a Christian who actually believes what the Bible unambiguously teaches about homosexual behavior, I can't personally endorse gay marriage. But I also know that sin afflicts us all, and that heterosexual irresponsibility has contributed to some of society's most vexing and tragic problems (the dysfunctional families fueling violence in Fort Wayne's central city being one obvious example).
On the other hand, as a conservative and quasi-libertarian, I support personal freedom and generally believe that government – which has authority over crimes, not sins û should leave people alone unless their actions threaten others.
The problem with the mayors' statements, and much of the opposition to the legislation that if passed would place the issue before voters next November, is that they often misrepresent the issue, the motives of many people on both sides and the debate's inevitable future consequences.
For one thing, it is strange to hear Angola Mayor Richard Hickman and others talk about the danger of “taking rights away” from gays and lesbians when, as news stories have made clear, same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana. That is, in fact, precisely the point: Supporters fear activist judges will overturn Indiana law unless it is written into the state Constitution.
Since there is no right to gay marriage, it is no more discriminatory to defend the traditional definition of marriage than it is to support the dictionary definition of dog or cat. Definitions reflect consensus, and when a majority of the public has accepted a more elastic description of matrimony, no amount of hyperbolic lobbying will be necessary to achieve the desired result.
Not even majority opinion can trump legitimate constitutional rights, of course, so Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard no doubt spoke for many when he said that “government is not the institution that should decide who is allowed to marry.” But that is self-evident nonsense: Government issues marriage licenses, even for ceremonies performed by the church. If Ballard is right, ironically, conservatives who have been ridiculed for warning of a “slippery slope” will have been vindicated.
It's already happening. USA Today reported in June that the growing acceptance of gay marriage is boosting efforts to legalize polygamy among Mormon fundamentalists and others. “As consenting adults, we have the right to form our own families as we see fit,” sand Anne Wilde, a Mormon and spokeswoman for the Principle Rights Coalition.
Some are also working to make pedophilia just another accepted form of sexual orientation. Maryland group B4U-ACT is working with mental health to “consider the effects of stereotyping, stigma and fear” on so-called “minor-attracted” people. It hopes to achieve for pedophiles what gays achieved in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
That doesn't mean acceptance of same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to adult-child marriage. But if not, won't we have simply removed one form of discrimination and reinforced another? Government shouldn't decide who can and cannot marry, remember.
Because the proposed legislation would simply reinforce the status quo, opposition reflects one of two things: outright support for gay marriage or a more subtle desire simply to avoid controversy for the sake of economics, politics or something else. It's almost “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” all over again.
But gay activists rejected “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” precisely because they seek affirmation, not mere acceptance. As an American, I can accept gay marriage in the public sphere. But as a Christian I cannot in good conscience affirm the concept in my mind or with my vote. This is an inherently divisive issue, but if the church-state distinction means anything it means the two realms and the people in them should be able to define marriage on their own terms, without resorting to name calling or threats.
In some countries, however, simply quoting Scripture can now get you accused of an anti-gay hate crime. And with Washington already telling Christian institutions that their employee health plans must provide for birth control and abortion, the government neutrality Ballard suggests may not last long, if it truly exists at all.
And that may be the slipperiest slope of all.