In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court “marriage equality” ruling, I have spent a little time thinking on the subject of marriage for the first time in a couple of years. As odd as it may sound, having been married to my wife since 2003 I don’t really think about marriage all that often these days.
I’m very pleased to see that the Supreme Court has taken the subject very seriously. Further, I hope that state legislatures will give it the additional attention it is due and add sexual orientation to their non-discrimination laws wherever applicable so as to ensure that discrimination as a result of that matter can be squelched (at least from the legal perspective) as much as possible in other areas.
I know there are many people voicing objections to the ruling — mostly on religious grounds. This is one of the occasions when I’ve felt very pleased to follow a spiritual teaching that has very little to say on the subject of sexual orientations that differ from my own (and very little to say on that either).
Most Buddhist traditions treat sexuality, regardless of it’s particular manner of expression, in the same way. Sexual relationships are a part of lay life and the determination of whether one’s sexual actions are considered improper or not is based on whether anyone (or one’s self) is harmed (emotionally/mentally or physically) by so doing. It is not the act itself that is the problem, but the selfish desire for sensual pleasure. It is only when one seeks ordination into the Sangha, the monastic community, when sexuality really presents itself as a major theme, and then only in so much as absolute celibacy is demanded regardless of one’s individual sexual proclivities. In lay life, however, sexual misconduct is on level footing with the other four precepts — injunctions against killing, stealing, false speech, and consumption of mind-altering substances — and is very loosely defined.
I believe it is safe to say that even polyamory would not be specifically condemned by at least Theravada Buddhism, given that the activities are consensual and legal. Even so, I can’t imagine most people are honestly capable of navigating the landscape of such an emotionally charged and potentially volatile web of relationships without hurting someone, and I expect that the Buddha would emphasize the underlying desire that might motivate one to take on such a lifestyle.
In lay life, the only thing that really seems to matter is that one has the opportunity to love another wholly and without reservation, and our society tends to symbolize that relationship with marriage. I am excited to see that more people will be able to take that mark if they choose, as well as utilize any legally mandated benefits that come with it.
In case you are interested, Bhante Sujato recently had a talk, posted to YouTube, titled “Striving for Equality,” which undoubtedly influenced some of my thoughts written above. It isn’t specifically about the marriage ruling in the U.S., but it’s relatedness to the subject should be apparent in the first 15 minutes.
Finally, should anyone disagree with my opinions, I welcome you to offer constructive commentary. Should the case be that I misrepresent the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha with my text (in this post or elsewhere), I do most sincerely apologize.
May you be well and at peace, friends.