Gay Marriage And Public Policy: Personal Reflection, Apology

When it comes to gay marriage as a public policy issue, I was once very outspoken on the topic. From the 2003 to 2008 I lobbied for marriage amendments in Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey, California, and on other national media platforms (interviews.) I went to Washington DC more than a few times and lobbied for the Federal Marriage Amendment on Capitol Hill. I also visited the Bush White House a couple of times and sat 20 feet away from when President Bush made a statement in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Because those experiences are not something I enjoy reflecting on lately, I have avoided writing this post. However, I can’t get away from it. If I was passionately willing to lobby for banning gay marriage at one point, I feel I should speak up on the topic if my views have changed.

To be clear, my view of marriage in a spiritual context has not changed. I believe the wedding union of husband and wife bears the image of God uniquely. Individually they bear His image equally and beautifully. Together they bear His image in a way that neither can do alone. I believe marriage between a husband and wife is transcendent; that Christ refers to the church as His Bride is stunning. One of my favorite meditations is to consider Christ and His Church in the symbolism of marriage.

What I am also trying to learn is how I can state my beliefs without being a jerk about it. I don’t have to contextualize my personal belief by insulting gay couples who have married or gay people wanting to get married. The beliefs that guide and direct my life also compel me to seek to be a blessing and friend to gay couples; to see God’s presence in their lives as individuals and as a couple.

I have also come to believe that trying to make our secular government impose my spiritual beliefs in this matter is not helpful or appropriate. Let me explain …

The night that Prop 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida (both banning gay marriage) passed I was jubilant. I truly believed what we had done was right and good. In the following days, and for a while afterwards, I repeated the talking points I had willingly adopted. I truly believed what I was saying. What I didn’t make widely known was how heart-broken I was when I saw the gay community in California take to the streets. Their protests that night and in the days afterwards tugged at me. When I saw their grief-stricken faces my heart twisted in my chest. It was the first time in a long time I remember thinking, “did we do something wrong?” I quickly shoved that thought out of my mind as I joined my fellow religious activists celebrating the marriage “wins.”

Yet, the gay community with their protesting and sorrow filled faces would come back to haunt me over the years. Eventually the doubt over what we had done would get louder in my mind and change from a question to a conviction; a conviction that indeed we had done something terribly wrong.

The following may seem like a rabbit trail but hang in there. It does come to a point relevant to my conclusions.

When I went to meetings in DC, I would often hear DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) cited as the best example to “preserve traditional marriage” in our country. It was the pinnacle of “wins” when it came to the culture war over gay marriage. DOMA was signed in 1996 by President Clinton as the law of the land and officially/legally disenfranchised gay couples from marriage benefits and protections under the law. I heard DOMA repeatedly used as an example of how to craft laws and state amendment language to “preserve” marriage in this country.

However consider this, in order for a bill to become law it has to pass both the House of Representatives, the Senate, and then sent to the President to be signed into law. Meaning that at the time, Newt Gingrich and the President of the Senate (also the Vice President) Al Gore both presided over the passing of the bill in their respective chambers. They along with President Clinton had to oversee and sign off on passing DOMA. Now also consider this, two of these men were in the middle of having adulterous affairs at the same time that they were defending and touting the need for DOMA (Clinton with Monica Lewinsky and Gingrich with Callista Bisek.) Not only did DOMA completely fail at having any effect on two of the men who were personally invested in its passing, DOMA also failed to affect the people at large in any way to “preserve” marriage in a culturally Christian context between the years of 1996 and when it was ruled unconstitutional in 2013.

Can anyone say that “traditional” marriage improved as a result of DOMA during those 17 years? I don’t think so. Instead of touting it as an example to follow, perhaps we could have considered how ineffective it was to change the state of marriage in our culture and how hurtful of a wedge issue it had become.

I don’t say that to shame President Clinton or Newt Gingrich, or anyone really. I bring this up to show that using public policy battles to raise money, manipulate wedge issues in election cycles, and make ourselves feel like we had done something important is to place our focus on something other than what the Great Commission calls/compels us to do. At the time, I and many people I know truly thought what we were doing was the right thing to do. I met some great people during that season who remain friends today. Even so, I now believe the marriage battles were hurtful and not helpful

The part that breaks my heart, is that the night that Prop 8 (and other marriage bans) passed, we made it very clear to the gay community that policy was more important than they are. We made it clear that we thought that investing in rules was more important than sacrificially serving in honest relationship. We communicated that we valued the letter of the law more than the authentic expression of grace in the context of humbly living our lives and loving our neighbor. The message we sent was deeply damaging to our relationships with our gay neighbors and family members.

For my part in this, I deeply apologize.

Today, I can honestly say that I am glad that the courts are striking down all the marriage bans across the country. It is my hope that we (Christians) can learn from the past, make the appropriate amends, and rebuild dialog and relationships with the LGBT community.