Q & R: DOMA and the word “marriage”

Here’s the Q:

Recently read your book another kind of Christianity and it made me think a lot. Also challenged some of my traditional conservative beliefs.
One thing it did was show me that there were classes of people I just did not like. But Jesus loved everyone !
Another thing was love for gay people that I did not have before. It amazes me how God can Change or hearts.
I was wondering with all the DOMA court rulings that a compromise would be to let same sex couples get together calling it something besides marriage BUT with the same rights as opposite sex marriage.
To me there is some validity that for thousands of yrs marriage was opposite sex and changing that to me is like changing the meaning of the color red to blue.
I truly want to know your thoughts and if I am way off on this (still prejudging)

Here’s the R:
Thanks for your note. On the use of the word marriage, I think both sides have a point. Conservatives realize that if a word other than marriage were used, their fellow conservatives could more easily accept something that a few decades ago they never would have accepted. Progressives realize that if the word is withheld, it keeps gay couples in a second-class status.
While you’re right that “for thousands of years marriage was opposite sex,” the truth is for thousands of years polygamy was considered normative and acceptable. In fact, it was mandated in the Bible under certain circumstances. And it’s also true that many cultures had a respected place for gay and lesbian people.
The argument from tradition certainly has some value and lots of appeal. But it has been discredited pretty often in the past. For example …

For thousands of years, slavery was the bedrock of all “successful” large economies.
For thousands of years, women were considered inferior and were not granted equal rights to men – in family, community, church, business, or state.
For thousands of years in many cultures, domestic violence was considered acceptable and normative.
For thousands of years, mentally ill people were stigmatized, as were “the racially other.”
For hundreds (really, well over 1000) years, the Christian religion was strongly anti-Semitic.

Gregory of Nyssa said that sin is essentially a refusal to grow, and I think, in many ways, he is right. One narrative looks around and says that every day, in every way, the world is getting worse. Another narrative looks around and says that every day, in every way, the world is getting better. A wiser narrative might be – every day, and in every way, we are always negotiating between regression, stagnation, stability, and growth.
That’s why I would rather say that our strongest and best tradition is a willingness to learn, change, and grow. To be carefully and wisely progressive is – traditional in the best sense.