June 30, 2016
Pointing to different biblical passages than conservatives, Eastmannotes Jesus challenged conventional family notions by saying "whoeverdoes the will of God in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" andtelling a disciple to be more concerned about his mission than theburial of a family member. "There are religious institutions today who are simply trying tobuild a better yesterday," he said. "They have an idealized idea of whatfamily was and try to retreat to some sanctuary where that's safe. Onthe other hand you have ... religious movements that see that the real,the ultimate definitions of relationship are rooted in love and if youcan look at where and how love is present in relationship, that is whereyou find true family." Evangelical Christian feminist Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen considersgay couples "households" and not families but she believes there mightbe less of a conservative/liberal divide if the discussion aboutbenefits for people outside heterosexual married relationships wasexpanded beyond same-sex situations. Van Leeuwen, resident scholar at the Center for Christian Women andLeadership at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pa., said if it was framedas a "public issue that has to do with being fair to women who arelooking after an aging parent, being fair to siblings who are running afarm, I think you'd find a lot of that divide collapsing." Eastman agrees that domestic partnerships might include far morethan gay couples, but said state benefits for partners might not extendover state lines in the same way that marital status does. Thus, he would prefer that Vermont legislators approve gay marriagerather than extending legal rights to homosexual domestic partnerships,the direction approved by a Vermont House committee. He also hopesCalifornia's March 7 ballot initiative that would define marriage asstrictly heterosexual will be defeated. A variety of religious groups long have grappled with what Jewishfeminist theologian Judith Plaskow calls the "changing reality" offamilies. Within Judaism, where synagogue membership has often been describedas "family membership," Plaskow said Reform rabbis now support same-sexcivil marriage while Orthodox congregations are working hard to bringsingles together to continue models of traditional marriage. "It's not as if the issue is being ignored," said Plaskow, professorof religious studies at Manhattan College. "It's just being treateddifferently across denominations." So, as the definition continues to evolve, what's ahead? Eastman predicts gay marriage will be approved by at least one statein the "next several years" while Van Leeuwen worries about childrengrowing up with gay couples and missing out on "stable adult role modelsin their lives of both sexes." Edgar, of the National Council of Churches, expects notions offamily to crystallize within the decade. "I think it's like a blurry television set with the Supreme Court,political forces, political candidates, case history, kind of turningthe knobs and I think five years from now we might see more clearly," hesaid.