Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Til Sex Do Us Part

With the passing of the legislation in New York (and other places) it looks as if same-sex marriages becoming more common are on our horizon. I am not knowledgeable regarding the specifics of what this means legislatively going forward, whether this truly empowers this particular community or whether this accurately reflects where we are as a people. What I do believe is that I posses insight on is why this matter is such a “hot-button” topic on countless blogs, numerous forums, halls of congress, barber and beauty shops, and religious institutions around our nation; WE ARE OBSSESSED WITH SEX AND SEXUALITY!

Some may say the “issue” is not with a particular group’s sexuality but with the concept of marriage and the sanctity of the institution. I would respond to that premise with reference to what so many people from various communities see as the primary function of marriage – consensual and “consecrated” sexual activity. If we were to poll a target group and ask them why people get married, among many answers we would find the consistent response “to have sex.” Various biblical texts (where many of us have derived our conceptual understanding of marriage from) have been used to support the function of marriage as being PRIMARILY to conceive and bear children and we all know there is only ONE way this can take place; somebody (more like some bodies) has/have to have sex.

Therefore, my argument is that many people who are objecting to same-sex marriages are not necessarily in dispute for economic, social, or even psychological reasons but more so an indirect objection to homosexuality.

As a pastor, public theologian, and practicing faith believer, my stance towards homosexuality (although I believe it to be ultimately unimportant) is critical of it in practice because homosexuality violates the rule of complimentary. Under this theory, the function of any relationship between two entities ought to have the opportunity for full complementation. This implies that the entities are united to compliment each other and if there is no possibility of an element of the relationship being complimentary, the rule then becomes violated. Since homosexual relationships, independently, cannot procreate (there is no possibility) they thereby violate the rule. I say all of this while proclaiming an open and accepting position towards my homosexual brothers and sisters.

Truth is, it bothers me that my subsequent statements have to be prefaced by my underlying convictions, yet, in “hot-button” topics, there is too often a desire by some engaged in the discourse to label commentators and contributors based upon stereotypical biases. I believe the labeling of individuals and groups create mythical lines of demarcation that do not serve us well in public discourse and positive societal progression. I state this as a happily married, heterosexual, black-male pastor of the Christian religious tradition. The mere fact that I must make such a declaration informs one of the cultural biases deeply embedded in our discourse concerning homosexuality and homosexual marriages and unions. Too often objectors label those who advocate for inclusion of these minority groups into the fabric of society in a derogatory fashion.

Inclusion, however, may be mythical as well. Ultimately, I am unsure the issue is inclusion as much as it is exclusion. To presume that we can create or shape a society to be all-inclusive is rather vain (irrespective of what legislation is passed). What I believe we can do is be A LOT less exclusive (and SOME legislation serves this purpose).

Throughout our history, we have been a country that has endorsed the precepts of rich, white, protestant, heterosexual males while all but deliberately excluded all of the individuals that are “other.” In matters of same-sex marriage, again, the issue is around sexuality (homo vs. hetero) and whether or not the “other” or minority group out to be endorsed –by the dominant group – as equal.

If you still object to this as a foundational element of the broader issue of same-sex marriage being about more about sex/sexuality than it is marriage (as we understand it), consider this question: If two heterosexual males decided to marry for mutual economic advancement and knowingly planned to “cheat” with women because the purpose of their “wedlock” was purely economic and not sexual at all, would we object to them getting married (keep in mind how many marriages have cheating partners)? If so, why? Many of us have argued that the purpose of marriage (other than sex) is to provide economic stability for spouses. I am operating under the assumption that we do not collectively object to people making decisions to attempt to stabilize their financial futures. Therefore our fundamental objection is not to a violation of fiscal fortitude, but more so… we assume marriage couples are having sex! Most (if not all) of those in opposition to gay marriage are in opposition to the practice of homoSEXuality!

When we wrestle with the notion of sexuality, we are in a taboo area. I do not attempt to project that I have all of the answers to how we address this reality but I am willing to dialogue about it in religious and academic institutions (and other public spaced) in an attempt to address some of the forces at work that shed light on the broader issue. Objecting to individuals’ sexual practices boarders on desiring control of other people’s bodies. To control other people’s body is one of the most dehumanizing acts of oppression. This is what slave masters often did to control and psychologically abuse their slaves. In lieu of oppression being mentioned, I feel led to offer up ideas that could lead us towards liberation. I subscribe to the school of thought that liberation has a spiritual foundation. Since many of us express our spirituality in religious terms, I would like to highlight some comments regarding the religious conditioning many of us have been prescribing to for countless years.

Elaine Graham, in her article If the Church says 'No', does God say 'Yes!? — Theological Reflection on Sexuality in a Consumer Culture, suggests, “Sexuality is inescapably linked to the dynamics of wider human behavior…” Authors not limited to Randall Bailey, Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Kelly Brown-Douglas and others have all asserted that in most instances, both consciously and subconsciously (especially for minorities), our sexuality is an expression of our oppression. This is to say; that people’s bodies are usually objects to be conquered by an oppressor and therefore whoever has his/her body entered into or penetrated is somehow the lesser of two beings. This type of sexual dynamic reinforces stereotypes of male dominance of females but also male dominance of other males. When sexuality is expressed in ways that are symptomatic of domination and conquest, those sexual expressions and the support of them by the majority culture tilts people towards manifestations of exclusion. Those who are sexuality dominated are considered to be the lesser beings in society and excluded from the rights, privileges and other benefits “normal” citizens enjoy by default.

But what we have failed to realize is that sexual expression is one of many elements of conquest by any dominant hegemonic force which is why many oppressed peoples are sexually abused and raped by their oppressor. If sexual conquest was called into question, we would all have to do self-reflective critiques on how our sexual orientations privilege or exclude us from the broader culture. Then, we could see if other people who have different sexual practices are somehow deemed unworthy to receive these same privileges and why or why not.

In conclusion, I am by no means arguing for a standard-less society. What I am suggesting is that when viewed in the broader context of oppression and liberation, the standards are in need of review on a case-by-case basis. We should be entitled to “marital privileges?” We ought to do all we can to ensure that people are not discriminated against because they have different practices, beliefs, and convictions than we do. Speaking of standards, where do we draw the lines of the discrimination if we are endorsing exclusion? If we are all members of the human race, then society ought not (intentionally) exclude any of us. Sexuality, and how we choose to express, it should not be what parts us… not even death should do us part.

-Rev. Earle J. Fisher