Theologians know the danger of positing a “God of the gaps”–inserting God as an explanation of whatever phenomena we don’t yet understand. The problem with defining God in those terms is that as human knowledge proceeds, God shrinks. God used to be the cause of thunder (and thunder therefore a proof of God’s existence), until we understood what causes thunder. Then God was the cause of rainbows, until Newton came along and explained rainbows. But wait, God still created human beings by fiat–until we saw all the evidence that human beings arose via evolution. None of this means there is no God–just that, if you rely on a “God of the gaps” for your belief, you are standing on an ice floe in warming waters.
The lawyers defending Proposition 8 have a similar problem. Advocates of what people are now calling “traditional marriage” used to say that marriage had to give men rights over women, or it wasn’t marriage. They lost that when women’s right to control their own property and bodies was affirmed. Then came Loving v Virginia and they argued that a crucial purpose of marriage was to preserve the integrity of the races (just look it up!), but the Supreme Court said, no, that’s not what’s essential about marriage–any man and any woman can marry. Then they rested on that for a long time, until people started questioning the difference between a male-female relationship and a female-female or male-male one. “Ah,” the marriage-of-the-gaps people said, “It’s that men and women can procreate, and that’s what marriage is for: protecting procreation.” But so many people have argued the obvious point that we do allow male-female couples to marry who cannot, or state an intention never to, procreate, that they’ve had to change their definition of marriage again. Now, according to Charles Cooper (lead attorney for the Prop 8 defenders in the federal case), it has something to do with protecting people whose sexual relationship could lead to accidental pregnancy.
Of course, this has nothing to do with marriage; instead, they have searched for the one demonstrable difference between hetero and same-sex couples, and declared it the gap that must be filled by marriage. That’s a mighty small gap. I think they’re running out of gaps.
The divine, to many of us, including me, is not an explanation for the supernatural or inexplicable, but a name for the wondrous and good, so we don’t have the problem of our god diminishing as knowledge fills in the gaps. And marriage is not a bludgeon used against undesirable members of society, so we can affirm it for what it is today in our culture: the rights and responsibilities assigned to people who choose to be life companions, for whichever reasons they want, but usually because of mutual affection and the desire to share their lives.
Incidentally, readers of the Bible will note that that definition bears little resemblance to what marriage was in Biblical times and places–and a good thing, too.