Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DOMA Hearing & Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe toward Compromise

July 24, 2011, New York was the 6th state to approve same-sex marriage. Wednesday, July 20th I attended the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) repeal hearing. The DOMA Act was passed into law in September, 1996. This act sought to preserve and protect the institution of marriage. Section 3 of the act defines marriage as meaning “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Section 2 is just as important as defining marriage as it imparts the law, defining the rights of the states in which our constitution was formed to protect, ensuring that “no state, territory, or possession of the US, or Indian tribe shall be required to give effect to any public act, record or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.”

The DOMA hearing’s opening remarks by Chairman Leahy, described DOMA (which he voted for in 1996) as going against family dignity and applauded Obama’s endorsement of the Respect of Marriage Act. Senator Feinstein who introduced the Respect of Marriage Act defined the hearing as a “historic day.” The Respect of Marriage act repeals section 2 of DOMA and amends the definition of marriage and signifies “for the purposes of any federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the state where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any state, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a state.” It would also take out the definition of spouse as defined by DOMA.

The hearing consisted of emotional stirring stories about same-sex couples who had partners preceding them in death causing them to be in financial turmoil. Actually, most of the stories were about financial decline and less about actually reclaiming the “value” of marriage. According to same-sex marriage supporters this “value” of marriage should be afforded to all those that choose to marry because of, as Chairman Leahy says, it is “fundamental to people’s lives…the affect of DOMA goes well beyond the harm of family’s dignity.” That is what I thought the “big deal” was about? I think this also gives room to deconstruct same-sex marriage supporter’s primary argument. I will address this later on.

Although I will not exhaust the list of arguments for and against DOMA I will just touch on a few:

Those in support of DOMA repeal:

1. That it does not provide same-sex couples with financial benefits afforded to them by the federal government. This would include benefits like spousal benefits for federal employees, health insurance benefits, FMLA benefits, veteran benefits, tax benefits etc. In addition to these benefits, according to The Williams Institute same-sex couples “are treated as legal strangers” when it comes to inheritance tax.

2. Same-Sex Marriage should be socially accepted because it is a family value. According to The Williams Institute, “marriage is the social institution that largely governs intimate relations in the United States. As a result, they feel DOMA is perpetuating a stigma towards the LGBT community that further causes an emotional burden on couples and families. Finally, it has the likelihood to destroy families; those same sex couples who have children. It would send mixed messages to their children and would also create fear of financial tensions that would cause inability to raise their children well.

Those in defense of DOMA:

1. As one of the DOMA panelist asked, “why is government in the marriage business?” could best be a guiding question toward establishing those that are in support of DOMA. The repeal would not be representative of the American people’s values. Austin Nimmocks, Attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, cited a National Research Survey conducted in May that stated 62% of American people agree that a union should between one man and one woman. “It’s not a just a law or creature of statute but a social institution that has universally crossed all political, religious, sociological, geographical and historical lines” said Nimmocks. Repealing DOMA would mean that the states whose voters have defined marriage as a union between a man and woman would have to accept other definitions and benefits based on these definitions on other states. This seems unfair to the other states that have defined marriage as such and would be unconscionable.

2. The interest that Government has on marriage is because it has a return, an economic gain. More importantly, the outcome of opposite-married couples is procreation which same-sex couples cannot do. This is not an attack on same-sex couples, but is just as much a promotion of healthy, whole marriages. Studies have shown that those that have children in healthy married homes have the highest net worth, combat child poverty and promote emotionally stable children.

Senator Franken tried to break down the Christian ministry: “ Focus and the Family” Tom Minnery’s justification for the beneficial outcomes of children living in an opposite-sex, married couple’s home as opposed to a same-sex, married couple’s home, because of Minnery's use and interpretation of the concept “nuclear” in the research that he was using. Franken, claimed that the report did not define the family as having, one man and one woman and in fact the report could be in favor of same-sex couples. Those in opposition of DOMA use the very same argument as conservatives regarding children growing in a healthy, loving home. However, there is only small amount of same-sex couples who have children and not enough data to demonstrate any correlation to support their arguments. This was extremely debilitating for conservatives, but ADF attorney Nimmocks was there to get the ball back in the conservative court.


I think it is extremely counterintuitive to repeal DOMA on the grounds that it is against family values or strengthening the “value” of marriage. When all of the arguments in support of repeal are mostly about federal benefits? How far is really too far? What does having recognition of marriage between same-sex couples on state and federal levels have anything to do with “value?” It is because it has everything to do with agenda. I want to ask why this word is being loosely thrown around and where does this value come from? And once this is established where does this value leave marriage? Well, Susan Murray answered this question. Susan Murray was on the panel for the repeal of DOMA. What was interesting was her very testimony, could have in my opinion been used against the repeal. She talked about how she grew up in a “normal” home (implicating that her current lifestyle is not normal) where she had a mother and a father who were devoted to their children. Her parent’s marriage was deemed as a model of success and she desired to have that. Murray asserted that marriage is universal and the model of her parents caused her to believe in it more. Murray a family lawyer then used stories to show how DOMA could affect same-sex couples. Murray referred to a couple who had a child, Jane stayed at home while Cheryl worked. Cheryl was killed in a car accident. Following the death of her partner she was in financial devastation because she couldn’t receive parent social security benefits. Although this story is very touching and provides us with much sympathy, there is no distinction on what it means toward the “value” of marriage. Going back to her original story about the value placed between her parents. Now if we said “value” of marriage as money, then that is the case. However, we know it is not. Murray said it herself , “normal” for purposes of defining marriage, was between a father and mother who loved each other and stayed with one another, devoted to their children.

The value of marriage is not just accessing federal benefits and it should not be defined by government. That is what is missing from this debate. Additionally, all people face the same financial threats. If that were the case we should sign every bill that would potentially be a financial disadvantage to American people. If you do not want to tread on the religious waters of defining marriage you can tread on its social conception, I think. It has been defined by the sociological origin of humanity…to procreate, joining one man and one woman together creating families to contribute to a thriving society. Although religious liberty is said to not be threatened if the repeal of DOMA goes through, religious institutions do not have to formalize or perform same sex marriages in violations of its faith. And although religion does not command civil law, it does shape what I personally endorse and believe in.

Senator Coons exclaimed that he is married and a Christian and that his faith should not inform his politics or “empower him to have a monopoly on the interpretation of the will of God.” He further went on to say that when New York passed same-sex marriage bill, ‘his wedding ring and marriage did not magically dissolve or disappear…the bill is about restoring rights not taking away.”

Well Senator Coons, I am a Christian and I believe wholeheartedly in what the Bible says as it brings form to the Christian faith. One pivotal point in the Bible, the story of God’s redemptive plan, starts with God fashioning one man and one woman in his image for his unique and divine purposes. Creating a sacred relationship that emulates God being Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Although, I do not want to get in a theological conundrum it is important and I think is principal that our faith does inform our political and social worldviews. Just like Jesus was a great example and offered a unadulterated, moral witness, Christians are also called.

 Senator Schumer, (who is in support of the repeal) closed with this quote from Martin Luther King Jr., which was quoted wrongly and used for evocative purposes: “The ark of history is long it bends in the direction of justice.” Martin Luther King’s actual quote which was taken from Theodore Parker, was “ let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Let’s put this quote in context Senator Schumer and for all those that try to say that the gay agenda is akin to the civil rights movement. That is mockery and as a black person I cannot tolerate it.

What Martin Luther King also said in the speech that contained the aforementioned quote to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was this:
“If you will let me be a preacher just a little bit - One night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down in the kind of isolated approach of what he shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." HE didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic - that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down in one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again."

He said, in other words, "Your whole structure must be changed." A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them - make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!"

Finally, and I will not expound on this too much because it tells of itself about how this quote was used in context, shows that Martin Luther King Jr. would not agree with what a lot of gay rights leaders are using to provoke their movement:
Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: "Truth crushed to earth will rise again." Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: "Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow with a cosmic past tense, "We have overcome, we have overcome, deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome."

Justice: Having God suffer humanity, die on the cross for a sin-sick people so that we may be forgiven of our sins and not suffer the wrath that we imminently deserved. Loving us by sending his son Jesus as the atoning sacrifice and that through him we may be reconciled and receive eternal life. Now we remain hopeful and are strengthened by His Holy-Spirit while we await his return. That is justice and that is justice I seek to proclaim. I love my homosexual brothers and sisters but I would not be an advocate of justice if I didn’t stand for Jesus and that is in truth and LOVE.


  1. Ash,

    I am thankful and inspired by your conviction and courage to blog about this, especially as an African American women. Too often, those within the black community are silent or scared about speaking out about this, regardless of their stance on the issue.

    I will be honest in saying that my reflection on this topic has not gone beyond the first step of my position on homosexual lifestyle itself. Now I do hold a traditional, and might I add Orthodox, position that homosexual lifestyles are sinful.

    However, I have not taken the second step of trying to figure out how my particular, Christian conviction on this topic relates to law, society, ultimately, my neighbor. I think this second step is far more difficult and complex than the first step - I think that the Bible and Christian tradition is VERY clear that homosexual lifestyle is wrong. The relationship between Christ and Culture, the question of the common good, or in Reformed, specifically Kuyperian terms, the question of "common grace" are ideas that Christians have differed on since the beginning. What I am totally against (and this is a personal conviction) is being held captive to the evangelical-mainline/liberal dichotomy in which many of us Christians often find ourselves. this dichotomy's very foundations are thoroughly modern, full of propaganda and polarizing.

    So, in saying all this besides sharing your Christian conviction in the sinfulness of homosexual lifestyles, I would have to agree to disagree with most of the rest of what you have said. To be sure, this is not because I have a "slam dunk" alternative argument to counter your points. Rather, I am in process and quite honestly my understanding of justice and common grace orients me toward a GENERAL openness to civil unions/gay marriages. I recently read a blog series by a New Testament Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary that had some cogent, and convicting reflections on the issue. I think that it might be helpful for you to check them out.

    Here is the link:

    The series is six parts and is called "Gentiles and Homosexuals". Again, I understand that there are several ideological concerns that you have and I do not share because of your current context, but I still think that even if you do not end up "changing your position" you should know that you don't only have "enemies" outside the Christian faith but many within and these are not always liberal. Further, it would be helpful that at the end of the day the constituency which you are currently representing should at the least reflect on and ultimately develop a public/civic ethics of neighbor-loving toward homosexuals. In other words it should be one that is external to the church.

  2. B, Thanks for your response. As always I enjoy reading your perspective as well as the relevant material you bring to this discussion. If you read my other post on homosexuality and b/c of your personal relationship with me know my engagement/stance on a public civic ethic of neighbor-loving toward homosexuals...actually a public civic ethic toward anyone. This post is not even to condemn homosexuals, it is to demonstrate how certain postures within this debate and this particular issue (repeal of DOMA) alone are like the mesh material on that popular game growing up, "Don't Break the Ice."

    This post is more along the lines of a socio-political scope. Maybe I did not communicate that well enough, but my issue is with government using their methods of power in a way that pushes out American citizen's autonomy. And also the very propaganda that you spoke of to push agenda in away that's demagogic (whatever agenda that maybe). If we're gonna use concepts like "value" and "dignity" then you cannot omit the moral and ethical considerations that arise from such debate. In my case, it is a Christian ethic.

    We have the "freedom" as humans to do as we wish, if a homosexual couple would like to profess their love through a public display of their commitment to each other, that is there choice. Just like I feel that those that choose to practice another religion can/should do so, whatever religion they choose. However, I advocate from a point of reference that points back to the cross. I am less concerned with what my homosexual brother/sister does or identifies themselves with and more concerned about their soul. This post is not just for those that ascribe to my point of view but I aim towards providing those with true dignity and freedom...found in Jesus Christ. So in essence, "justice" is also advocating for the homosexual, the murderer, the fornicator, the liar, the fornicator, the thief, the hopeless, the motherless, the fatherless, the broken, the righteous, the beaten, the homeless...humanity.

    Finally, I would encourage us all to think of how our Christian ethic plays out in law, policy, civic engagement and society. Grudem, which you've probably heard of, has a comprehensive book on this topic titled, "Politics According to the Bible."

    Mark 9:50 " Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." This a common verse that helps me take the edge of or put the edge on when processing and reflecting on issues as such.

    Again, thank you.

  3. Ash,

    First, I didn't mean to imply that your post is condemning homosexuals. I would recommend, if you haven't already, to read the blog series by Prof. Kirk from Fuller to understand what I am after when I am pushing you to consider the ways in which your perspective offers a constructive/positive and public ethics for homosexuality. This post is also helpful with regards to your comment about American citizen's autonomy. Further, I agree with your belief that the use of language such as "value" and "dignity" necessitates moral, and thus theological discourse. And I do believe that your ethic is Christian, but the fact is that even among evangelicals Christian ethics is an unstable category.

    In any case, your comments about being concerned about your homosexual brother/sister's soul is precisely the point at which my theology of justice/ethics/Christ's relationship to culture is different from yours. I am concerned about their soul, but much, much more than that (and that is not to say that you aren't, I am talking about emhpasis here). The cross is a display of much more than Christ's concern for our immaterial souls or making us right with God the Father.

    Further, Christians have historically and in contemporary times occupied varied social and ethical spaces as witness or salt/light in the world. I commend your approach as one way. I mean your recommendation of Grudem as someone that I could use as a resource for developing Christian ethics is very telling in that he represents probably one of the most polemical and fundamentalist agendas among Christian thinkers. I am not against him, just laying the cards on the table.

    As one who is seeking to destabilize so much of the conservative-liberal divide, reconciling across such divides, I have to move beyond someone like Grudem for this discussion. To be sure, I am not against his conservatism but his fundamentalism.

  4. B,

    I didn't say your post implied that I was condemning. That is why I wanted to speak with you for sake of losing my tone from my response. And I understood your motivation for much of your comment and recommendations. I am just attempting to bring it back to the scope of my original intention and scope of the original post.

    As far as Grudem, I think its a great starting point for those that want to read about how that looks like. And for sake of those that do not know the variances of fundamentalism or other movements--that read this blog I do not want them walking away with a misguided conception because of the 'labels' that often go along with that categorization and use of the word "fundamentalism."

    As for me, seeking to see a model or discussion on how a christian view influences politics and civic engagement that is a starting point. And it sure doesn't mean that I am narrow-minded and will not engage other material or other works outside of Grudem that bring to life paradigms on how this works or looks like. This is said from a person who most often takes the posture as a student...seeking to learn more. I plan to start the Grudem's book soon as I've only read excerpts. "Christian Perspective on Politics" by J. Philip Wogaman was recommended to me, not sure if he's a 'fundamentalist' too. The Feinberg's "Ethics for A Brave New World" is a book that I read while at SE, captures ethical issues that confront society and brings them into a biblical discourse. My Professor would often times disagree with some stance but nevertheless it is also a good resource. I will ask the VP here if he has any other recommendations. This has given me an idea for another post maybe a bibliography around the topic of Christian conviction and how it relates to law, policy, and societal issues.

    : )

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  6. "The Naked Public Square" by Richard John Neuhas was a recommended to me also.

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  9. Ash,

    Again, I believe that Grudem is someone who should be read and reckoned with. However, to get to your broader concerns about homosexuality and gay unions' affects on black families, etc. I have read some other perspectives among Bible-believing, Jesus-loving folks that is provocative and non-traditional, but still very biblically persuasive. The blog I referenced in my first comment is the most recent example and he is coming at it as a Bible scholar and using various bible stories and parables to argue his case. His case is one that gets at the broader scope of what you refer to in your earlier comments on Christians ethics in the broader public sphere. Hope this is helfpul! LOVE YA!!!