(The following is a slightly edited response to a question about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, sin, and the afterlife. I republish it here because I think the ideas are important and because I doubt that many folks peruse the "comments" section--where the original response is located.)
First of all I think it is important to say, as C. S. Lewis did in his popular book, Mere Christianity, that religious folks tend to focus inordinate attention on sexual flaws or faults but that their scriptures emphasize spiritual shortcomings—pride, selfishness, lust for power, heartlessness, etc. That comment is appropriately followed by the confession that immorality of this, and of the sexual variety, permeates all lives—including my own. We are all, to varying degrees, enmeshed in immorality.
Secondly, I think of most actions as being on a continuum or scale that terminates, at its apex, in an ideal. Nobody achieves the ideal, but it exists as the goal toward which individuals and societies strive and by which they judge their own moral circumstances. In my estimation (a view endorsed by the Judeo-Christian historical tradition) the “ideal” domestic relationship is a male-female marriage. And marriage, in my view, is an institution whose primary function is the creation of a loving, stable union of husband and wife within which children are raised.
Over the last half-century, however, marriage has been progressively redefined by feelings of affection. The inevitable consequence of that redefinition has been to undermine the child-rearing aspect of marriage. When heterosexual marriage is defined in this manner, there appears to be little to distinguish it from same-sex unions. But when one focuses on sexual fidelity for the sake of a family, it becomes clear that what applies to almost all heterosexual unions does not apply at all (biologically) when it comes to same-sex unions.
In concrete terms, however, not everyone is so constituted (or emotionally arranged as a result of social interaction) as to realize the ideal of marriage. In addition, some persons may be able to achieve non-marital ideals by virtue of the “gift of celibacy.” What I find positively destructive, however, is the insistence on making feelings of affection the basis for understanding marriage—and thus relegating sexual activity and reproduction to activities that, outside of marriage, are still ok. I think it is inevitable that the institutionalization of same-sex marriage will further lessen this vital linkage (since reproduction, by definition, is not part of same-sex intercourse).
On a more individual note, a rather unbiased study, done at a Vancouver hospital and published in 1997 in the Oxford University International Journal of Epidemiology, came up with these conclusions: “In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday. Under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban centre are now experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by all men in Canada in the year 1871.”
This conclusion coincides with others that are available to persons who want to discuss, honestly, the health impact of same-sex intercourse. Unfortunately, our society isn’t interested (in this and numerous other subjects) in having an honest discussion. Instead, vilification of individuals who don’t toe the line that social elites favor is the order of the day.
Do my observations and this medical data mean that same-sex intercourse is “immoral”? I think it indicates that it, like sex outside of marriage, doesn’t live up to the “ideal.” The same is true, I would assert, of my divorced state of affairs. Yet I don't justify myself by saying (as intellectuals like Constance Ahrons do) that “good divorces” are plentiful and that children aren’t regularly damaged by marital breakups. I don’t exhibit the ideal, but I try to do the best that I can under the circumstances. And, I continue to honor, rather than undermine, the ideal.
What I find most depressing is the tendency that all of us have to disparage ideals for the sake of justifying our own actions. When divorce began to be popular, intellectuals quickly began to declare that single parents could raise children just as well as a married couple and that “quality time” was all that mattered. People yearning to justify themselves ate it up. But it wasn’t true. (Patrick Moynihan discussed this topic a bit in his well-known essay, “Defining Deviancy Down.”) I think the same things are being said now about raising children in two-adult homes where the sex of the adults is inconsequential.
As to your question about the afterlife, I have only the inclination to believe that, if there is something like rewards and punishments, we will be judged by one who will be more merciful and understanding than myself. (And I say this with the thought that I myself am inclined to be understanding, seeing as I am acutely aware of my own faults.) In short, doing pretty well, given one’s circumstances, is what I tend to expect of folks—not perfection. I can’t see how a perfect judge would be less understanding.