Tradition. Whenever I think of that word I imagine Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, with his booming voice, singing “Tradition!! Tradition!!”. In that great Broadway musical and subsequent film adaptation, Tevye was attempting to hold together his family structure and the traditions associated with Judaism in Tsarist Russia. The concept of Tradition has had far reaching consequences in my own life, from the trivial tradition of listening to a certain song while passing through certain cities, or to the greater tradition of the concept of marriage. Tradition binds us all together, in one shape or another, into a world that makes sense. Hence, why it is so important for people to feel as though they are upholding the “traditions” of their forefathers.
The concept of tradition has gained much notoriety over the past few decades in the debate over same-sex marriage. Organizations, such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, claim that tradition dictates that marriage be reserved for heterosexuals in one man one woman relationships. It has always been that way, countless cultures around the world have recognized the marriage relationship as such, God even defines it as such, why then should we change it? The concept of the “traditional” role of marriage must be addressed adequately by the gay community in order for those who hold to this view to see the light. In my thinking, we – the LGBT community – are losing the tradition argument. Yes, we have all the responses lined up, such as the history of marriage, how our current understanding of marriage is not traditional at all, etc. Yet we are losing this because we fail to understand why people hold to these traditions. This posts purpose is to attempt to understand why people hold to the “tradition” of one man one woman marriage even though all the arguments against them make sense.
Tradition gives us a sense of purpose and stability in the world. We think that because something has withstood the test of time that it is true and correct. Thus, if we enter into a sacrament or tradition such as marriage we feel as though our lives somehow have gained a greater form of stability. I know this feeling very well, for when I married my husband I felt as though we were “cementing” our relationship. No longer was our relationship "uncertain", for the idea of “marriage” expresses the notion of stability. Because of this special role that the marriage tradition has – giving us a sense of stability – people will attempt to protect the tradition at all costs. Because people have been told that marriage is a tradition that will be destroyed if gays are allowed to marry, they will fight against it tooth and nail. If they don’t, they subconsciously feel that their own marriages – and the security that it brings - will come crashing down. This is why, when we on the side of marriage equality ask how allowing us to get married will affect heterosexual marriages, those against marriage equality cannot give us a reasonable answer; to them it is deeply rooted in their subconscious. They assert that the tradition is in danger, because to them it truly is. Their life's stability is in danger; the way they have understood things for years will change.
But tradition does not only give us a sense of stability in the world, it gives us a sense of purpose. I remember growing up, looking forward to the day that I would be married and have kids. It gave me something to look forward to, something to aspire towards. I always dreamed that I would meet a great girl, fall in love, and have tons of little Kyle’s. All through elementary school and middle school I dreamed this dream, asking myself if the girl that I had met that previous Sunday at church was the one that I was supposed to be with. The tradition of marriage was my purpose; I knew where my life was going. Imagine my surprise when my world came “crashing down” as I realized that I would not be allowed to be married since I was gay. The argument for purpose in tradition is very similar to the argument for stability. Those who believe in the traditional institution of marriage cannot see it redefined because then it will again be “destroyed” in their understanding of it. To destroy an institution that they have aspired towards for most of their lives, will leave them feeling that those years spent aspiring towards marriage were wasted.
There is so much more that I would like to say on this topic, such as the way that we can win against those who claim to be protecting tradition. Next week I will deal with the largest impediment to change in this “tradition” mindset as I will call it – The Church. I will detail how the church must embrace a new sense of tradition and the passages on homosexuality, just as it has with slavery and women’s rights.