By Jonathan Decker (Clinical Director, LMFT)
I got an email recently from a Christian newsletter I subscribe to. While I share their enthusiasm for Christ and for families, this particular message was disturbing. They wanted me to join them in trying to overturn the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. They want to put things back the way they used to be.
As a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving proponent of religious freedom, I think this is a terrible idea. Why? Because denying LGBT couples the right to marry actually jeopardizes religious freedom. It makes everyone less free.
What's more, as a marriage counselor who works with plenty of traditional couples, I can tell you that returning things to the status quo will not protect traditional marriage from the issues that threaten it.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM OR MARRIAGE FREEDOM? (THEY'RE ONE AND THE SAME, ACTUALLY)
Traditional marriage advocates often express feeling misunderstood and “misrepresented as bigots.” They don’t hate the LGBT community, they explain. Rather, they deeply believe that marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental for solid individuals, families, and communities. These beliefs are often founded in strong religious convictions.
Having been raised by a happily married mother and father, I agree that this kind of marriage is a great thing for society. But the best way to support traditional marriages is by…you know… actually supporting traditional marriages, not by opposing gay ones.
Many who would deny gay couples the right to marry cite religious freedom in their quest to do so. But what about those churches that believe in LGBT marriage? Do we not infringe on their religious freedom if we deny them the right to perform these rites? I believe that we do.
And what about the guarantee in the Declaration of Independence to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Are we really going to deny adults in America the pursuit of happiness simply because we may disagree with how they go about it? To quote Steve Rogers “this isn't freedom. This is fear.”
What about our religious freedom? Do we really want to set the precedent that others can tell us what we can and cannot believe? Do we want to set the precedent that others can tell us what rites we can and cannot perform within our own houses of worship?
This isn't what the Founding Fathers wanted. This isn't what revolutionaries died for. It's true, gay marriage was not on anyone's radar in 1776. But freedom was, and freedom for one is freedom for all. Otherwise, we're left with tyranny of the majority.
A key figure in my church said “if it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.”
To that I add that I am as willing to die for an LGBT person's right to marry as I am a straight person's. I'm willing to die for a nonbeliever's right to pursue happiness as they see fit, as well as for a religious person's right to worship and practice what they believe, including gay marriage. It has nothing to do with whether or not I believe gay marriage is right. That's irrelevant. It has everything to with my belief in freedom and what America represents.
If you're a person of faith, then what you believe regarding gay marriage is part of your own spiritual journey and the teachings of your faith. Some of you believe it's wrong. Others believe its acceptable before the Lord. But can we at least agree that all of us are God's children, and God created America to be free?
And please, let's not have any of this nonsense that changing the definition of marriage opens the door for an adult to marry a child or a barnyard animal. The brains of children and teens are still developing; they scientifically don't exercise sound judgment, which is why they are protected by law from adult exploitation. They always will be protected by law, so as long as any common sense remains. As for animals, they cannot give consent. Comparing either of these heinous practices to consenting adults getting married is apples and oranges.
IS THERE A WAR ON TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE?
I’ve no interest here in entering the debate over whether gay marriage is right or wrong. People have strong views and beliefs on the subject, and I respect that. That said, the LGBT community is not, in fact, waging a war on traditional marriage. No one is trying to prevent men from marrying women or to keep them from raising families together. So if you’re passionate about heterosexual marriages and parenting, it’s time to take the fight where it belongs.
There IS a war on traditional marriages. But it's not being being waged by gay couples. It's being waged by straight ones.
I’ve seen hundreds of straight couples as a marriage counselor. What rips them apart is not gay marriage, but selfishness, poor accountability, lack of humility and compassion, unwillingness to forgive, infidelity, dishonesty, addiction, uncontrolled anger, violence, and difficulty seeing things from each others’ perspective.
These traits and behaviors—in one or both partners—do far more harm to traditional marriages and families than anything else ever could. If you want to protect marriages between men and women, pick your battles wisely and protect them from the actual threats.
If you take issue with gay marriage because it prevents some children from being raised by both a mother and a father, consider the fact that far more children are deprived of that experience because their straight parents divorce. I hasten to add that the battle isn’t against divorce per se (sometimes it really is for the best); rather, it’s against those problems that lead to the death of marriages on a large scale.
“Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate” is a popular phrase these days. Traditional marriage advocates, you may not hate gays or gay marriage, but I would ask, are you wasting time and energy opposing something you disagree with instead of promoting something you believe in?
If you believe strongly in marriage between a man and a woman, suit up, because the institution can use all the help it can get. If you’re married, work on being a better husband, wife, father, or mother. Take a marriage class and invite your friends. Read books on successful parenting, loving sexuality, and managing finances. Find a good family therapist to help you if you’re struggling (or to help you prepare if you’re not). If you’re single, learn about smart dating practices. Everyone can share articles or personal insights on healthy relationships and self-improvement.
If you believe strongly in traditional marriage, there’s so much that you can do to support it. If you’re not going to help the LGBT community out, then at least leave them alone. They’re literally doing nothing to you, and your efforts are needed elsewhere.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.