If you ventured into the world of Facebook yesterday or today, you likely found yourself in a war zone.
Instead of profile pictures of faces, there was a sea of red equal signs and plus signs. Nearly every status included an opinion on what marriage is. Angry comments were left on nearly every status. Slogans were repeated. Memes and graphics were used to defend a point.
Earlier in the day yesterday, I found myself in the middle of the non-virtual warzone. I was standing in the street in between two sidewalks full of those who advocate for the redefinition of marriage. I was standing in a sea of people who advocate for the preservation of marriage as the lifelong union between one man and one woman.
No matter where one looked, there were signs representing both sides of the debate. There were people on both sides using their personal experiences to advocate for why things should be a certain way.
The fact that thousands of marriage-supporters had rallied at the National Mall and walked to the Supreme Court where they were then surrounded by those (albeit a smaller group) who supported “equality,” “love,” and “freedom” was a fairly accurate physical portrayal of the debate today.
Those of us who support marriage have been invited to discuss our opinions … only if the discussion is on the terms of those who disagree. So, the issue of what marriage is can no longer be about objective meaning, sacrifice, grace, gift, vocation and procreation. Now it’s about “love,” “equality,” “freedom,” “rights,” “fairness” and “tolerance.”
We can’t have these discussions if we don’t first define these terms. Those who advocate marriage and those who advocate its redefinition have very different understandings and definitions of love, gender, the human person, freedom, compassion and rights. If we’re invited to a discussion where those terms have already been implicitly defined, then our voice is already taken away.
You can’t meander onto facebook – or the public square – and say something that opposes a redefinition of marriage without being called a bigot, a hater, a mean-spirited Christian or some other ad hominem remark. We are unloving. We are uneducated. We are cruel. So they say.
And there’s the argument of, “But I have a friend …” or “My uncle is …” This implies that those who support marriage do not have friends or relatives who have same-sex attraction. That is a ridiculous claim. Having a friend or relative with same-sex attraction does not necessitate supporting the redefinition of marriage. Love must often say difficult things. Saying difficult things is often loving. Love and sacrifice, love and the difficult cannot be separated into their own corners, prohibited from being in the same room together. In fact, if you remove one from the room, then you remove them both.
Yesterday at the March for Marriage, I’ll admit that there were moments when I felt trapped. Trapped by misunderstood vocabulary. Trapped by the limits of sound bites and slogans. Trapped by the polarization that people believe that says we can either allow people to marry someone of the same-sex or we hate them.
It broke my heart yesterday to see signs from those seeking the redefinition of marriage talking about God not hating them. Whoever said God hated them? Sure, the Westboro Baptist Church says it all the time, but are we really taking our definition of Christianity from them? Anyone who says God hates people who have same-sex attraction clearly does not understand God or love.
I felt trapped on Monday because the beauty of marriage cannot be expressed in the confines that we have been handed. The truth is a delicate set of paradoxes:
- That God loves people regardless of their sexual proclivities … but God cares how we use our sexuality, and He has given us the Church to guide us in knowing how to best live our sexuality.
- That God wants every person to be happy … but happiness does not involve doing whatever we want whenever want. Happiness is fully becoming who we were created to be.
- That suffering is real, and surely those with same-sex attraction experience it in sometimes excruciating ways … but suffering can also bear fruit, and we are all invited to participate in Christ’s suffering by uniting our own. Without the cross, there is no resurrection.
- That freedom is important and we should all be free … but freedom is not doing whatever I want, but having the ability to choose the good.
- That we are all created for love … but love is willing the good of the other – the good of the whole person. Love is not just a matter of feelings and emotions. It is a matter of sacrificing and dying to self for the sake of another.
- That those who marry are not better than other people … but marriage remains a beautiful call, a vocation, and a path to holiness.
Standing in the sea of protestors on Tuesday morning, and watching the barrage of debate on facebook, I realized that my opportunity to articulate what marriage is and why it is so is becoming increasingly difficult.
Without words what is left?
Yes, we need to live the truth of love, the truth of freedom, the truth of gender, the truth of gift. We need to live the good of love, the good of freedom, the good of gender, the good of gift. We need to live the beauty of love, the beauty of freedom the beauty of gender, the beauty of gift.
If our words are taken from us – redefined, newly connoted, stripped of their meaning – our voice is not also taken. Witness speaks, even when it is silent. Perhaps it will be what we are left with, but perhaps we will be given the opportunity then to say more than ever.