COMMENTARY 888.1: The Ethics of Gay Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

by Michael Josephson on July 11, 2014

in Caring, Compassion, Choices, Commentaries, Parenting, Family, Relationships, The Good Life

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(This is one of those commentaries that evokes passionate response and, sadly, a few people will disagree so strongly that they decide to cut me out of their lives by cancelling their newsletter subscription or putting me on the “block sender” list. I realize the issue of same-sex marriage is only one aspect of the much broader issue of how we look at and treat gay men and women, but I think it is a very important issue of morality as well as civil rights.)

I have a strong personal opinion on the issue of gay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

If you’re a regular listener you may think you can predict my views based on your impression of me as either a conservative or liberal. Probably half of you will be wrong.

As a missionary of ethics and virtue with the hope of inspiring and encouraging everyone’s moral ambitions and instincts, I covet every mind and conscience I can reach, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Thus, I rarely comment on religious or politically controversial issues when it’s likely that my remarks will antagonize those who disagree with me.

Still, some issues involving deeply held political or religious convictions have such profound implications on my ethical principles that calculated silence to maintain popularity would be a form of cowardice. After all, my own definition of character is the willingness to do what you think is right even when it costs more than you want to pay.

With that preface, I boldly and unequivocally support the legal rights and full extension of not merely tolerance but true acceptance of and support for every son and daughter, brother and sister, friend and colleague, and complete stranger who loves and is committed to someone of the same gender.

I understand and respect the sincerity of those whose religious views lead them to a different conclusion, but I have the privilege of knowing, admiring and loving a number of extraordinarily kind, talented and highly ethical gay men and lesbian women, and I am distressed that they must bear insults, prejudice, condemnation, and legal discrimination. It’s more than an issue of civil rights; it’s a matter of respect and caring; it’s a matter of human compassion.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


Note: In preparing this commentary I did some research on various religious views of homosexuality and came to realize the irreconcilability of some perspectives, especially those of conservative Christians. I found the website  particularly helpful in differentiating between conservative and liberal Christian perspectives. Here’s an excerpt:

“Conservative Christian theologians … [believe] all homosexual behavior is sinful, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Homosexuality is a chosen, unnatural, abnormal, changeable, and perverted lifestyle, which is hated by God. Liberal Christian theologians tend to follow a wider variety of translations, and to be more concerned with instances of copying errors in the original Hebrew or Greek, of forgery, and of biases among the translators. They consider some passages (e.g., those referring to slavery, burning some hookers alive, raping female prisoners of war, etc.) as not being valid today, as immoral, and against the will of God. They differentiate among various homosexual and heterosexual sex practices, treating some (rape, prostitution, temple sex rituals) as immoral and some (within committed relationships) as positive. Homosexual orientation and behavior is seen as a normal human sexual expression among a minority of adults. It is not changeable or chosen. Like all sexual behavior, it can be a sin if it is exploitive or manipulative or not carried out safely within a committed relationship.”

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Patti June 26, 2013 at 10:20 am

I have no problem with persons of the same sex wishing to be united. That’s their business. I am all for them having all the same rights and privileges as everyone else. What I do object to is redefining Marriage. As with anything for which we have names, when you change the integral parts, you change the name. A table is a table and a chair is a chair. So I submit that same-sex unions should have their own name. The word Marriage is already taken and it means one man and one woman. Simple as that. Think of a new name for a union that is made up of different components.


Jennifer June 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Patti, with all due respect, isn’t marriage about the singular union of two people and not specifically about what equipment comes attached to the individual participants? If a family is made up of children, adopted children, and / or step-children, do you want a special name for that? Do you want the parents going through the intimate explanations of who biologically produced the children? Isn’t it just better to call them a family? I adore making up words and learning others’ made-up words, but I have to disagree with you on this one.


Liz July 2, 2013 at 10:21 am

I agree Jennifer. A family is a family is a family. Doesn’t matter if it is blood or not!!!


Katie July 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm


While evaluating the definition of Marriage, i turned to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary for assistance.

Definition of MARRIAGE

a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage
b : the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock
c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
: an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities

According to the above definitions, there is and will be absolutely no adjustment to the fundamental definition of marriage by including same-sex couples. Rather it is the decided interpretation of marriage that will be corrected to align with the pre-existing definition. Exclusion, differences, intolerance, inequality, profiling, injustice, and other forms of “no” were passed from generation to generation, and now we enter the age of tolerance, equality, justice, and global inclusion.


Brenda June 27, 2013 at 11:55 am

Michael, let me point out two things of what you write in support of your view.
First, you fail to mention that an organization has a right to uphold their values and convictions and BSA do not proactively inquire into a person’s sexual orientation. This gives the issue a fair balance.

Second, although you state you did research on various religious views and single out just one. Just as the IRS singled out just one group, of various. But because I belong to that group, let me clarify that no where in the Bible does it say God hates the homosexual behavior. It clearly states God does not tolerate sin. Conservative Christians believe the Bible. The “wider interpretations” that you attribute liberal christians follow, in no way means “correct” “true” or “consistent”. I agree with Patti, that marriage already has a definition, and that is the union of one man and one woman. I hope Michael, that is something you and I can agree on in this matter.


Jennifer June 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Hi, Brenda. Sorry, the media haven’t been very good at letting us know that the IRS scandal was not true. It was more fun for them when it was a naughty thing, I guess. Bad news, even when it’s neither news nor truth, sells more online subscriptions, maybe. (They could use an ethics lesson, eh!)


Linda June 27, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I would like to point out that, as a conservative Christian, I too know many extraordinarily kind, talented and highly ethical gay men and lesbian women. That is not the point. The point is that the term “marriage” has been defined by the voters of California. Now, we get slapped across our faces because of our beliefs. Don’t you think that is also insulting, prejudicial, condemning and legal discrimination against the voters of California?


Mike June 27, 2013 at 2:43 pm

NIV and ASV versions of the Bible have been judged to have been 99% accurate to translations that we have. There are several verses that clearly state that God hates sexual immorality of which same sex relations are clearly spelled out, (See Romans). However I do not go around asking people’s sexual orientation. I try to respect all people. But marriage is one man and one woman. Obama says this ruling will not affect churches who believe otherwise by the first amendment. Let’s see how long it will take until a church or church body is sued when they refuse to perform a same sex marriage. There is an agenda and it’s been going on for over 20 years.


James Middlebrook June 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I bear no animosity towards Gays nor Lesbians, and I feel they are entitled to the same rights and considerations that the rest of us share. I do however take exception with the hijacking of the term Marriage. No redefining should be allowed, by their group, the administration or the courts, seriously.


Jackie June 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I applaud you for having the courage to share your feelings on this with your readers. It’s very easy for some to sit back and judge others when they haven’t walked in their shoes. For those who believe being gay is a ‘choice’, I’m curious to know when they made the conscious ‘decision’ to be straight. I’d be willing to bet almost everyone’s answer would be that they never actually made a decision, they just always felt that way. It’s way past time for us to stop killing, hating, and judging others in the name of God.
‘C’mon people now…. smile on your brother… everybody get together try to love one another right now’ :)


Liz July 2, 2013 at 10:24 am

I agree Jackie – How many people would “choose to be gay” when they know the hate and condemnation that comes along with it? Not too many!


Roy M York June 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Civil marriage is instituted by man, and subject to man’s rules, not God’s. A rose, by any other name is still a rose. Conservative Christians can put any label they want on it, but marriage, by any other name, is still marriage.


Jose June 28, 2013 at 7:41 am

The bible/God offends everyone because everyone sins, everyone has offended God and is broken.
There are three basic types of people. There are those who strive to be moral/ethical and may or may not be religious, but many of them are at least nominally. Then there are the relativists/subjectivists who resist moral absolutes, at least in theory. Lastly, there are those who experience the gospel, God’s love and acceptance, his solution to our brokenness. We can all agree that everyone has a selfish bent and that we are broken in some way. Many of us have a bent toward greed, which has gotten us in trouble at times, others have a bent toward pleasure; some are sadly attracted to children. I know a lot of nice people, who have aspects of their character which are intolerant toward people who disagree with them. People can be nice, but still broken in other areas of their character. We can grow and mature but we cannot fix ourselves, which is also part of the message of the gospel.
The point is everyone is broken and human depravity is clearly evident throughout human history. The theme of adultery, bedrail, deceit, theft, greed, lust, pride etc, is a constant them in art and theater because we know it and are better at pointing it out in others. If at some point we refuse to call our sin and brokenness what it is and call it “good” then we are rejecting God’s love and acceptance. We are simply striving for more of what ails us, our bent towards autonomy. We want love without truth. We actually think we are sufficient in ourselves. The message of the bible is actually very simple. God is Holy, but we are ALL sinful and broken. Yet, he loves us, so he devised a way to meet us where we are that would not compromise his holiness and justice. The gospel is God’s “good news” (LOVE and TRUTH) and no one can bear the truth apart from his love and acceptance. Now broken and sinful people who wrongly judge God can see that he can be trusted and that he is good, loving, and true. I don’t need God or anyone else to be me. Gay marriage is not just about equal rights it’s about finding approval, it’s looking for legitimization (love WITHOUT truth).


Sandra July 1, 2013 at 8:16 pm

You forget Jose. We are in a country with freedom of religion. Just because this is your truth it doesn’t mean it is everyone’s. To believe that what u believe should be what everyone believes is self centered and dangerous.


Liz July 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Good point Sandra on freedom of religion! Just because I believe in God and follow the Christian faith, which I do, does not mean that everyone must…thus the meaning of “freedom”. If our country is going to force the Christian faith on its people then an amendment to the constitution is required and that sadly will go against what our forefathers would have wanted.


Michael and Janet June 28, 2013 at 10:02 am

I find this situation appalling; human beings, especially the highly religious ones, are really debating/arguing this? This subject matter reaches way beyond civil/legal rights, the right to marry is God given, people’s hearts are married to each other way before signing a piece of paper; this issue is so after the fact. Since they are already emotionally marred, is asking for the right to marry, asking for permission or forgiveness…“I fall in love, my bad, sorry I won’t do it again, I hope God forgives me!” People should not have to ask the government or any other entity for permission, as I recall, the right to pursue happiness is a right of all Americans.
Let’s give the Holyer–Than-Thou folks something to make them happy; over half of marriages end in divorce, now more gay people will be miserable… Wait, that will make them equal to heterosexuals, can’t have that!
This sums it up:
“it’s a matter of respect and caring; it’s a matter of human compassion”. I love this guy!


George June 28, 2013 at 10:43 am

Wow!!!!! I have to comment on Mr. York’s comment because I was floored by the first line (subject to man’s rules and not God’s) I cannot imagine a more arrogant comment for any man or woman to think that they have rules greater than God’s. In the book of Romans Paul says “how can the clay say to the potter,I don’t like the way you made me” see my point we have no rights except what the creator(potter) gives us for his glory and honestly for many; our free will given by God will be our demise if we continue to place ourselves above him society can change all it wants…….but he the creator does not.


Brenda June 28, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Good response George!


Bill Skocpol July 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm

CIVIL marriage is a creation of our legal system. It affects things like whether a pair of persons is eligible to file joint income tax returns, or stay with their spouse in the hospital after visiting hours are over. These laws are being challenged and broadened in many states, with the increasing approval of the majority of citizens nationwide. You are still able to marry the person of your choice, according to the broadened definition of civil marriage, unless your own God orders you to marry a corporation.

don’t have to marry someone like yourself. And if your God tells you


Roy M York June 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Marriage is actually a concept of man, not God. You may think God wrote the Bible, but He didn’t. Man did. Therefore, you only repeat the word of man, not the word of God, when you quote the Bible. Believe what you want, I choose to believe otherwise. There is no arrogance in my thinking, only in your blind belief that you and you alone are right. Two thousand years from now, man will look around and wonder who is this God that they were talking about two thousand years ago, much like you look upon Thor and Baal. Follow the will of others if you will, I will make my own decisions and follow my own dreams.


patricia miller July 1, 2013 at 4:09 am

As with most ethical choices, one size does not fit all. Personally, I feel that same sex marriage makes a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. Am sure I would disagree with that if I were on the oppostite side of the arguement. I, too, have homosexual and lesbian friends and family members. As for individual rights I feel that yours ends where mine begins. Your rights do not triumph over mine. Does the majority rule or the minority dictate? This is a very personal issue but it would seem the government can make these decisons for us.


Ron July 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm

There’s a great variety of attractions and couplings that happens among the GLBT community we see clamoring for this full, unquestioned equality and respect that Michael supports. Among those are bisexuals who are attracted to–and have “loving and committed” relationships with, partners of both sexes. So, what do we do when these groups want to legitimize their loving, committed 3-way relationships, into a group marriage? The arguments and moral reasoning applied to the acceptance and celebration of same-sex “marriage” are dangerously portable–they can just as easily be applied to bi-sexual group marriage, or any other kind of group marriage, with people claiming that it’s within their physiological endowment to have those attractions that have led to their “beautiful and loving arrangement,” therefore society cannot discriminate against their “natural” desire to form a union–we have to accept and bless it and call it marriage, because anything less would be discriminatory.

See what a slippery slope we’ve put ourselves on, when we go against millennia of history of honoring the natural attraction and coupling of man and woman, to form families and continue the species?


Patti Hardy July 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Ron, I’m so glad you brought up those points. I understand that most gay men have multiple relationships and many agree to have more partners along with their “marriage.” Unfortunately so do many heterosexuals also.

The hostility and animosity toward me as a conservative Christian is palpable. God offers His amazing love and people turn it upside down mischaracterizing it.
I can see people getting offended because I don’t accept homosexual sex as a viable alternative that doesn’t mean I hate anyone. I agree that you cannot always control what feelings you have but you can with God’s help control what you do with them. I believe that there is a line not to crossed from friendship into sensual activity is where it becomes sin. The same line is drawn for the heterosexual outside of marriage with the opposite sex…..and not with brothers or sisters. Emotional needs can be met without sinning. Of course in this climate what I just said is not accepted in some places. I for one want to live in God’s authorized boundaries for my own sake because I know that He loves us all!


Russell Sharp July 2, 2013 at 7:14 pm

I wish I read your words before I printed my own. I agree with you. Perfectly stated.


Sandra July 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Ignorance Ron! Bisexuality is not an ability to love a person either man or woman! It is not a group arrangement! I am a bisexual female that has loved both men exclusively and monogamously when in those relationships. All human relationships are that relationships. None is better than another. All have their ups and downs and communication pitfalls. Be informed before you speak!


Ron July 3, 2013 at 9:44 am

So Sandra, as a highly informed bisexual female, you speak for ALL Bisexuals? They’re all serially monogamous, like you?! Your chosen form of romantic expression as a bi-sexual, is THE singular orthodox pattern of expression for ALL “similarly-gifted” individuals?

Incredible! You see, I AM rather well informed, not from experience but from observation: I’ve known bisexuals who carry on simultaneous relationships with both male and female partners, some openly, others covertly. It’s not too big of a stretch to imagine a situation where all 3 decide they’re compatible and wish to become a committed three-way union rather than confront a separation resulting from those “communication pitfalls” you mention . . . like perhaps when the opposite-sex partner finds out about the same-sex partner in the shadows . . .

Yeah, you’re right, there ARE all kinds of human relationships, but not all are equal! Some are not born of honesty and integrity!


Sandra July 3, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I do not for all, I speak for myself but you were generalizing. You are right not all relationships are equal. Some relationships are based on honesty, some are not. This honesty you speak of is not determined by whether a relationship is heterosexual or homosexual it is determined by the integrity of the TWO people involved. Open and covert relationships exist in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. You mention choice, IT is not a choice!


Russell Sharp July 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm

If I am not mistaken, the point that Ron is making is that these “unions” between more than two persons (regardless of gender) might now have an argument that they, too, should be able to marry. Why can’t 3 (or more) individuals now get married together and raise a family. Can’t they use the same arguments that were used by gays and lesbians? That being: “It is discriminatory to restrict the marriage of people that love each other simply because (fill in the blank).” This is the slippery slope referred to above. Where will this end?

Sandra July 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm

It is not a slippery slope. A marriage is between two committed equals, regardless of gender. The other relationships, poly amorous, polygamist, and all others are not between equals. There is a power dominance in these relationships and therefore can not be compared to what lesbians and gays are asking for.


Ron July 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

You might have noted that I haven’t identified myself as a liberal OR conservative Christian! I hope I’m a compassionate Christian, but that doesn’t mean I’m a sucker for every argument for change. Here I’m merely commenting on the strength of the argumentation presented!

Despite the best of progressive feminist and PC-rhetoric, a mutually acceptible power imbalance certainly exists between most ALL established couples, whether married or not, heterosexual or homosexual! So I’m not sure of the relevance of your equality/power dominance assertion above, and how it legitimizes same sex marriage or de-legitimizes group marriage!

Does the argument for any marriage only hold if we’re talking even numbers?! I guess a group marriage of 2 females and 1 males, or 2 males and 1 female might be viewed as inherently inequal through that “power-dominance” issue you mention! If we remove the gender boundaries for marriage, logically that numbers-formula is next to go! Slippery slope indeed!

Thomas F. Coyle, M.D. July 1, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Issue of Civil Rights and Morality. Really? Is not an attempt at being “Politically Correct” more accurate? Even if one denies God and His Revelation, NATURAL LAW is appreciated by reason alone and it trumps CIVIL LAW without exception —for NATURAL LAW and TRUTH are immutable, despite how much man, for his own desires or convenience, might try to legislate his way around it or against it. When the natural law is thwarted it is nothing less than playing with fire and sooner or later the devastating effects will be manifest.


A Believer in Christ July 1, 2013 at 7:46 pm

I was so delighted to come across your website and resources. I found many of your resources very helpful for various work settings. In light of your views on same- sex relationships I will no longer be visiting your website or using any of your resources. My personal convictions surpass any wealth of ” good resources.” I chose GOD over any fade of the current culture. A closing thought, for the thousands who choose to not follow Biblical Principals, I guess at the end of this earthly life- many will discover what was TRUTH!

Amazed by God’s Grace~


Russell Sharp July 2, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Michael, you make this statement: “I am distressed that they must bear insults, prejudice, condemnation, and legal discrimination. It’s more than an issue of civil rights; it’s a matter of respect and caring; it’s a matter of human compassion.” Today you are describing gay and lesbian unions. What will it be tomorrow, Bigamists (Polygamy)? Precedent has been set last week. Now that we are altering the definition of “Marriage,” how can we re-draw the line without being discriminatory on someone else?


Sally Scheib July 3, 2013 at 9:32 am

I am often amazed by how some otherwise reasonable people insist on defining the difference between conservative and liberal Christians. For some of your readers, Conservatives “believe the Bible” but liberals apparently do not. Conservatives follow “God’s law” but liberals pick and choose. I am a Christian minister who has spent and continues to spend much time studying the Bible. I do not pick and choose, but I do try to understand the context in which laws were made. I also look at the meaning of language within that, and I believe that God continues to speak to us today. Being liberal is not some sort of easy way out. It requires hard work, just as being a conservative requires hard work. Let’s use some of that hard work to respect one another.


Tom March 6, 2014 at 8:59 am

Why does this issue always have to be black and white. Is it not possible that there are at least two categories of persons that are attracted to the same sex. The first is a person who has been born with a gene that predisposes them to be attracted to a person of the same sex. For these persons great tolerance, compassion, understanding and acceptance should certainly be the rule. But we would be naive to think that there are also those that are born without that gene and that those persons fall into subcategories. Those categories include: (a) persons who have low self esteem and who are lonely and cannot find a person of the opposite sex to care deeply and love them (b) persons who, for whatever reason, are a product of our society that includes the ready acceptance of a lifestyle that includes intimate relationships with persons of the same sex not only for those who are genetically predisposed but for those who choose this lifestyle for other reasons. Because we cannot know what category any of these persons fall into we should give all persons the benefit of the doubt and pray that those persons not genetically predisposed find their way.

Since we must give all the benefit of the doubt it is correct not to deny equal rights to all who claim (rightly or wrongly) to be genetically attracted to a member of the same sex


Karen July 18, 2014 at 9:09 am

I am genetically attracted to the Word of God. I was born with the gene that predisposes me to believe in and follow God. I cannot think or act any other way. It wasn’t my choice, it is just who I am. I cannot be discriminated against and hated because I was born this way and believe in God. God says that natural marriage is the only kind of marriage. I am not being sarcastic here – it is my truth! This is how I was born and this is what I will believe forever.


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