On 4th August 2010, Proposition 8, a ballot initiative whereby the California Constitution would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman, was overturned. It was a triumph for those who…well, support same-sex marriage – i.e., those on the political left. I agree with many other leftist issues, such as environmentalism. But as a Muslim, I cannot support same-sex marriage.
I am neither a lawyer nor a religious scholar, so I will not write as if I am. However, I consider myself an ordinary practicing Muslim. Yes, religion is open to different interpretations – but at the end of the day, it boils down to being a conservative force that polices our nafs (ego/base desires), teaches us right from wrong, and reminds us that there is something larger out there than us humble mortals. God created us to worship Him and remember Him; additionally, while we are here in this short dunya (worldly) life, we can look for signs to remind us of Him. Abdal Hakim Murad from the United Kingdom sums it up best in this article when he writes: “The Quran and our entire theological tradition are rooted in the awareness that the two sexes are part of the inherent polarity of the cosmos.”
We can therefore remember the infinite wonders of God through the polarity of the cosmos. I don’t 100% agree with other aspects of the article, but I do think Abdal Hakim Murad is onto something. God did not create one gender, or three, or twelve. He created two genders, just as He created other opposing dualities such as day and night, expansion and contraction, the Seen and the Unseen. We can find dualities reconciled in God, like severity and gentleness. We can find dualities reconciled within ourselves, like fear of God’s wrath and hope for God’s mercy. And we can find the dualities of male and female virtue reconciled via the avenue of marriage. Call it yin and yang if you will. Heterosexual marriage is a practice that complements the human fitrah (innate disposition) by bringing together two opposites and, if God wills it for the couple, producing future generations, and hence continuity.
In a same-sex marriage, who is the yin and yang? Same-sex marriage makes a mockery of God’s dualities. What lessons will the children of gay parents take away? It’s not that gay parents won’t be kind and loving, or any more dysfunctional than heterosexual married couples (and there are plenty of those!) It’s the very principle that is troubling. Children of gay parents will not grow up seeing a man and woman learn to get along as a married couple. Suppose there are two married lesbians, one of whom decides to get pregnant via a sperm donor. What is that child supposed to think – that Daddy’s only function is to give to the sperm bank and go on his merry way? Who needs a father when you can have two mothers! (Or – who needs a mother when you can have two adoptive fathers!) I should add here that, to my knowledge, most Islamic scholars deem (non-husband) sperm donation to be impermissible.
Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College, writes:
“Heterosexuals were the upstarts who turned marriage into a voluntary love relationship rather than a mandatory economic and political institution…Gays and lesbians simply looked at the revolution heterosexuals had wrought and noticed that with its new norms, marriage could work for them, too. The first step down the road to gay and lesbian marriage took place 200 years ago, when Enlightenment thinkers raised the radical idea that parents and the state should not dictate who married whom, and when the American Revolution encouraged people to engage in ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ including marrying for love.”
Indeed. The very notion of gay marriage was founded on the modern conceptualization of marriage as an individualistic love relationship rather than a practicality, and we have straight people to thank for leading the way on that. I believe that basing marriage on secular love and romance does a great disservice to that which constitutes half our deen (religion.) If you think of (straight) marriage as a playground for pursuing romantic love, then you can’t blame gays and lesbians for wanting to do the same. But marriage is about so much more than “love,” and to base it primarily on love is to render it extremely fragile, burdened with tremendous expectations. If you can marry someone for love, you can also divorce them on the grounds of not being “in love” with them anymore. A key criterion should be compatibility in terms of deen. I believe there is a place for love in marriage – but it’s the kind of love that can only grow after you’ve considered all the logistics and practicalities, gone through with the nikkah (marriage), and lived together for many years as male and female polarities, united as a family, spawning future generations not with sperm donors or surrogate mothers, but the good old-fashioned way that it’s been done for millenia.
It is for these reasons that I believe Muslims should not support same-sex marriage. Having said that, I don’t believe that Muslims should devote all their time trying to stop same-sex marriage from being legally recognized. I just think that our energies, as Muslim Americans, would be better spent elsewhere, neither pushing for legal recognition of same-sex marriage nor actively opposing it.
This article was originally printed as part of The Goatmilk Debates at Wajahat Ali’s blog, Goatmilk. A counter-argument will be published here Monday.