When President Obama announced his endorsement of homosexual marriage, he acknowledged that there were religious implications to his decision to endorse same-sex unions.
He admitted that certain traditions and beliefs were contrary to the favorable attitude he was expressing toward this newly fashionable living arrangement. Still, Obama was able to find some religious justification for his validation of same-sex marriage by explicitly citing the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This universal maxim, which Christians know from the Sermon on the Mount, has been called the Golden Rule since the 17th century. It is variably expressed in no less than 21 different religious traditions. Sometimes the rule is expressed positively: Wish for others what you would wish for yourself (Islam); Love your neighbor as yourself (Jewish); and sometimes negatively: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you (Hindu).
Philosophers classify the Golden Rule as an Ethic of Reciprocity: treat others as you would like to be treated. Emanuel Kant cited the limits of the Golden Rule when he cleverly placed it on the lips of a prisoner about to be sentenced to death by a judge: Do unto me as you would have me do unto you. George Bernard Shaw wryly scorned the Golden Rule when he alluded to differing tastes among persons. Treatment that appeals to one might be abhorrent to another. What gladdens you might distress me.
With all due respect to Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha, et al., what is missing from the Golden Rule is the element of objective truth. A man who is thrilled by the thought of a barroom fight at a downtown Providence lounge on a Saturday night has no right to inflict this negative behavior on his neighbor even though he himself might be delighted by the prospect. A woman who herself would seek an abortion as the answer to a difficult pregnancy has no business suggesting this solution to a neighbor in need. And President Obama has no business suggesting that same-sex couples enter into a marriage situation which they truthfully cannot fulfill. Obama might find his own marital union truthful and rewarding but he has no right to inflict the essential requirements of that state (loving complementarity, mutual reproduction) on couples who cannot achieve it. The president would not want an impossible task wished on him; neither should he wish it on other people - even if they desire it!
G. B. Shaw is wise in citing divergent tastes as the flaw in the Golden Rule. What appeals to me might not appeal to you. And what appeals to me might be completely objectionable! Just because a same-sex couple wants to live in a union devoid of the essentials of marital truth (complementarity, reproduction) does not mean they are entitled to live out that fantasy. Society and especially society's leaders have an obligation not to cater to people's tastes but, more so, to inform people of the truth.
Discomfort in the interest of truth is ultimately preferable to the pleasure of living a fiction. Contemporary men and women crave the endorsement of their own fantasies; they do not warm to the demands of the truth. “Who are you to judge me?” is the challenge leveled at every leader with the courage to speak the truth. Sentiment has triumphed over judgment in modern times.
Highlighting a theme found often the Scriptures, the Lord God promises in the Book of Isaiah, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The notion of enlightenment (rather than entitlement) is a core value in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Jesus is himself “the light of the world.” He is the embodiment of truth. Jesus was born and came into this world, “to bear witness to the truth.” World leaders continue to shrug their shoulders at the objective truth and cynically ask with Pilate, “What is truth?” The Christian world must be convinced that God has shared with believers, through Christ and through his church, the basic truths necessary for salvation. There is no greater act of kindness than to tell people what they should hear rather than what they merely want to hear. Christians should do unto others what God has already done for Christians: speak the truth, teach the truth, live the truth, challenge with the truth. Truth is the ultimate Golden Rule.