When I wrote a recent article Why Christians Should Back Down on Gay Marriage, I addressed some of the fallacies underneath the biblical reasons that some Conservative Christians offer against same-sex marriage. Although I didn't address any social or political arguments directly, I did receive some feedback about why some Christians believe that their rights are being threatened in the gay marriage debate. The fear is essentially, "By seeking the right to marry, homosexuals are trying to take away our right to define marriage the way we want to."
Since I've seen and heard this kind of thinking in multiple places, I want to address it seriously. People everywhere have the freedom to believe whatever they want. There are limitations on how those beliefs can be legally expressed, but no one can take away your freedom to believe something. If I believe that Barry Manilow is the greatest singer in the world, no one can deprive me of that belief. I can listen to Barry in the privacy of my own home, on my iPod at the gym, and while I'm driving around town, and there's no problem. When I decide that I can play Barry at 2 a.m. loud enough for the whole neighborhood to enjoy him, suddenly there's a problem. Other people have rights and freedoms, too. I don't have the freedom to make other people listen to Barry Manilow just because I believe he's the greatest singer in the world. (This is all hypothetical, you understand.)
If I define marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman, that really only has an impact on my life. It informs what my relationships will look like, and it might inform the people with whom I form close friendships. But I don't get to decide what everyone else's marriage will look like. I may think everyone should eat 13 servings of vegetables a day, but that doesn't mean I get to weigh in on everyone else's diet. If someone else defines marriage or their ideal diet differently from me, what impact does that actually have on my life? As long as they aren't forcing me to live my life by a different set of beliefs, they don't actually threaten my beliefs at all.
There can still be an impact when I witness someone living out a different belief than I have. If I see someone eating a diet that I consider unhealthy, or when I see someone allowing their children to behave in a way that annoys me, or when I see someone in a different kind of relationship than what I have, my beliefs may be challenged. Beliefs can be challenged without actually being threatened. Vegans don't actually threaten the diets of carnivorous people, but they may present a challenge to people who don't give their food choices much thought. When beliefs are challenged, two things can happen: A person either develops deeper conviction or broadens their view of what is acceptable. Either result is growth. So challenge is a good thing.
No matter how deep one's conviction, though, one person's belief does not grant power over how another person lives. That really is alright. Vegans don't really threaten butchers, Atheists don't really threaten the church, and homosexuals who want to marry don't really threaten the heterosexual lifestyle. Everyone has the right to believe what they choose to believe, and the freedom to live out that belief in their own lives, as long as doing so doesn't harm anyone else.
Although I don't plan to make same-sex marriage a frequent issue for this venue, it's obviously a huge issue in the U.S. touching on religious freedom, tolerance, and human rights. Should you want to read up on it yourself, a profound amount of information on all sides of the argument is available at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_marr_menu.htm.