When my home state of Maryland updated its benefits policy for state employees last month, it became the 18th state (plus the District of Columbia) to cover same-sex spouses who possess a valid marriage certificate. Depending on your point of view, this marked a great advance in the quest for equal rights, or another step downward as society abandons traditional marriage and values.
The issue has been particularly contentious among Christians, with some fighting strenuously for gay rights and the ability for gays to be themselves—openly—in the church. Others, particularly many African-American Christians, provide some of the loudest and sustained dissent whenever the subject is broached.
As a straight man, I have only recently come to a clear position myself, which must be balanced against my Christian faith, my "agape" love for all mankind, and the number of my friends and relatives who are gay. With my newfound clarity, I can remain true to all of the above. I credit Leonard Pitts, the nation's best columnist in my opinion, for helping me find peace on the issue. In one of his typically brilliant columns earlier this year, after former Democratic Rep. Eric Massa resigned from Congress, Pitts lamented gays' inability to admit their preferences publically.
He wrote: "So you have to wonder: how many Massas and Ashburns, how many James Wests, Ted Haggards, Mark Foleys and Larry Craigs do we have to see, how many shocked spouses and embarrassed children do we have to endure, how many lies, alibis and justifications do we need to hear, before we accept the obvious: Gay is not a choice, gay is not a sin, gay is not a shame."
That column helped me find clarity, but as a Christian, I do have to disagree with him on that middle clause. If we're going to be true to the faith, there are sins (lying, stealing and killing). And homosexuality is a sin, too, specifically, a sexual sin. Just like fornication and adultery are sins, too; specifically, they are sexual sins.
That's right, I just lumped in a whole bunch of heterosexuals with their gay fellow beings. When homosexuality is seen in its proper place from a Christian viewpoint, the comparison should prevent heterosexuals from feeling "holier-than-thou" while they have sex outside of marriage and/or sleep with other people's spouses.
Just like we show Christian love to those fornicators and adulterers, the same should apply to gays. And regardless of whether society recognizes common-law marriages, domestic benefits for unmarried heterosexuals or gay marriages, the individuals involved have to answer to God for their behavior.
That said, I believe that consenting adults—straight or gay—should enjoy the benefits of civil unions or "marriages," if that's the term you insist upon. Semantics is where Christians often get hung up, pushing for "Defense of Marriage" or "Definition of Marriage" legislation. They claim that the institution of marriage, and thereby families, are threatened when same-sex couples gain acceptance.
Because as far as the state is concerned, marriage is a legal issue, not a religious issue.
So, yes, if a pair of committed, loving and caring adults decide not to marry for whatever reason (or are forbidden because they're of the same gender), I have a problem with them being denied "spousal benefits" that would allow visitation rights, joint health care, end-of-life rights, joint credit, inheritance rights, etc. Ignoring the bond between such adults, restricting their ability to invest in and benefit from their mutual love, is borderline cruelty.
If more straight Christians reflected on their own sexual sins and the sexual sins of their fellow so-called believers, they wouldn't be so quick to condemn gay people and hold them to a higher standard. Fornicators and adulterers aren't constantly belittled, disparaged, criticized, ostracized or sometimes terrorized, and gays shouldn't be subjected to such treatment either. They're no worse and no better than the singles sleeping around, the couples shacking up, or the spouses with side pieces. Either way, Christians are called to love our brothers and sisters, saints and sinners alike.
We can hate the sexual sin but love the sexual sinner—whether they're straight or gay.
We don't have to feel threatened if they choose to engage sexually, outside of God's word. That's on them. Just like our decisions and behaviors are on us, and we'll all have to answer for them.
When the time comes for me, having denied rights to loving couples who might be non-believers isn't something I want on my ledger.
Deron Snyder is a regular contributor to The Root.