Defense-of-Marriage Laws as Religious Violence

On the progressive Christian website Religion Dispatches, John Pahl, a professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, makes some concise and cogent arguments that “defense of marriage” laws such as Proposition 8 are a form of religious violence. Laws restricting civil marriage to one man and one women, Pahl writes, “violate sacred texts, are idolatrous, and scapegoat a powerless group.” I particularly appreciated this argument, which I hadn’t heard before:

DOMA Laws perpetuate an association of sex with power, and thereby do damage to any sacramental sensibility that might remain in association with even heterosexual marriage. As Hendrik Hartog and other historians have shown, marriages have shifted in the modern era from patriarchal patterns of coverture to social contracts in which couples seek mutual fulfillment. Such contracts might be compatible with a sacramental sensibility, since they entail pledges of sexual fidelity and commitments to share social resources and responsibilities, along with (one might argue) other gifts of God. DOMA Laws associate sexual fidelity with legislated forms of coercive power, and inhibit the deep trust and mutuality intrinsic to modern (and sacramental) marriage. They establish hierarchies of relationships, and associate heterosexual unions (and sexual practices) with dominance.

Read the whole article here. Other recent articles of interest at Religion Dispatches include an overview of progressive Christianity’s diverse roots, and an investigation of the Christian Patriarchy movement.