The second panel of the morning, "Gay Marriage, Civil Rights, and Public Policy," addressed the question of what position Seventh-day Adventists should take in the debate over homosexual marriage.
Scot Zentner opened by analyzing the underlying morality that founds society and argued that in the United States this does not rest on a specific religious tradition. He argued that the fundamental view of morality that the founding fathers incorporated into this country was to maximize freedom except for those behaviors that are harmful to others. Because marriage is the core of the natural family, in which children are raised to be moral individuals, we are not at liberty to redefine it. For Zenter, disgust, popular jokes, and the pejorative nature of the word "gay" are evidence of the inherent difference of the sexes and immorality of homosexuality. He argues that homosexual marriage is predicated on the notion that there is no essential difference between the sexes.
Gary Wood began by asserting that it is impossible to separate politics and morality, because at its core politics is about justice. So the question for religious liberty is Can unassisted human reason apart from revelation provide a moral foundation for society? He argues that this can be found in the philosophy of natural rights (i.e. rights grounded in the nature of human being) and that these rights come along with natural duties as well as pointing us to natural ends. And because reason can't point us all the way to our purpose, we have a natural right to religious liberty. He proceeded to argue that homosexuality is not a natural right, because it does not follow from the natural end of sex--procreation. He implied that a government that could restrict homosexual sex would be too powerful to control, yet he argued that such a practical consideration would not justify legalizing homosexual marriage.
Jason Hines outlined and rebutted three major categories of argument against homosexual marriage. The first is the religious argument, which is not only inappropriate on the basis of the establishment clause, but also for Christians on the basis of belief in God given freedom. The second is the sociological argument that homosexual marriages are not the optimal environment for raising children. However the fact that children in homosexual families have more problems than those in heterosexual families may be due to the stigma society places on their family and not due to the composition of their family itself. Also, there are studies showing that children raised in homosexual families have no more problems than children in heterosexual families. Hines thinks that the best arguments against homosexual marriage are the natural law arguments, such as those outlined by the previous two presenters. But Hines points out that the civil institution of marriage encompasses more than natural law is able to explain, that is, people get married for reasons other than having kids. He also points out the previous use of natural law in America to justify slavery and oppose women's suffrage, which are now considered unjust on the basis of natural law. Perhaps, he says, natural law can also be used to justify homosexual marriage.
Nicholas Miller, the panel chair, concluded the discussion. He asserted that we act both as citizens and Christians, and that the arguments used in one arena may not be used in the other. However, when the conclusions of the arguments in both arenas overlap, the church is justified in speaking out in the civil arena. The religious argument Miller proposes against homosexual marriage is the eschatological significance of marriage, which along with the Sabbath, is one of the two creation institutions that will be under attack in the end times. He argued that while the Sabbath along with the first four commandments should not be legislated, the last six commandments, which focus on our relationship with each other, have and can justifiably be the subject of civil legislation. Therefore, Miller believes that Adventists have a duty to argue against homosexual marriage in the civil arena on the basis of natural law and sociological studies. Against Hines' rebuttal he noted that tobacco legislation was introduced on the basis of correlation alone at a time when the causal mechanisms were not understood.
Disclaimer: I have summarized the views of the presenters to the best of my ability, however my summary should not be conflated with their actual views. For this reason, any attempt to debate the presenters views in the comments section will be deleted. Comments that seek clarification are welcome.
Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)