Thoughts on the ELCA decision
On Friday, the ELCA voted in favor of allowing gay and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy. Without favoring or opposing the ELCA’s decision (which would be meaningless, given that I am not a Lutheran), here are a few comments.
First, I am not the least bit surprised by the ELCA’s decision, and fully expect the trend toward marriage equality to continue, both in terms of the acceptance of gay clergy within religious denominations and the legalization of gay marriage in individual states. In part, this trend is a matter of demographics. There is a strong link between age and support for gay marriage, as the following chart from Andrew Gelman and Daniel Lee at Columbia University indicates:
Second, in gauging the correlation between age and support for gay marriage, it seems to me that young people have come to realize what some of their parents and most of their grandparents will not admit: that the argument against gay marriage depends on assumptions that relatively few people hold today.
In a culture in which divorce, birth control, and cohabitation have become normative, it is simply incoherent to argue that gays should not marry. For better or worse, the ancient bond between sex and procreation has been loosened, and the theological conception of marriage as an unbreakable vow between people has given way to a legal one, in which marriage has come to mean different things to different people. Along with sex, marriage has, in other words, already been repeatedly redefined, with the result that gay marriage is an extension of what we already have (pluralism), and not a departure.
The Catholic who argues that sex is intended by God to be procreative, and marriage an institution for child rearing, can coherently make a case against gay marriage (although gay adoption poses a bit of a challenge, as does separation of church and state). The Episcopalian who casually accepts birth control and divorce, but argues that gay marriage runs counter to natural law or some passage from scripture, will not be able to convince many for long: for, if the traditional understanding of human sexuality presupposes order and purpose where there is none, homosexuality is no more of an “aberration” than birth control or cohabitation. From a secular standpoint, attaching ontological meaning to sex and marriage is a losing proposition from the start: for who or what is there to determine such meaning?