Pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego lost his wife of 42 years, Carol, to cancer earlier this month. I grieve for anyone who has lost a loved one, especially a beloved spouse.
But it’s too bad Garlow would not be able to extend the same compassion to me if I should lose my beloved spouse of 12 years. You see, Garlow has used the death of his wife as an opportunity to do what he does best: bash gays and lesbians.
In an email he sent to supporters this past Sunday, Garlow wrote:
On occasion I would read phrases in newspapers or blogs to describe me as being “anti-gay” or “anti gay-marriage.” First, I am not against homosexual “marriage” because there is no such thing. I cannot be against something that does not exist according to God’s definition.
But I am adamantly pro authentic, historic marriage. And God’s Word on the subject, along with an indescribably spectacular 42 years with Carol, caused me to be so intensely pro (natural) marriage.
I was once asked by a secular news reporter, “Has your love for Carol and her cancer battle impacted your fight for marriage.” “Yes,” I responded. Why? Because I saw the wonder of covenantal one man-one woman marriage. I saw the sheer delight of authentic, biblical, natural, historic, God-defined marriage. The complimentary halves of humanity coming together is simply breathtaking.
Two things struck me as I read this odious message. First, what kind of blind hatred of other people would compel you to use the occasion of your wife’s death to make political hay? Rev. Garlow’s wife dies and the first thing he wants to do is write a letter to his supporters about how awful and sinful other people’s relationships are compared to his “real” relationship?
I really should not be shocked by this display of political grandstanding on his wife’s grave. Garlow is, after all, the pastor of Skyline Church in La Mesa, California, and helped lead the fight to pass Proposition 8 in the state, denying marriage equality for gays and lesbians. He’s also remarked that Satan is behind the marriage equality movement and that gay people don’t really want to get married, we want to destroy marriage. He even used the occasion of 9/11 to compare children who lost their parents that day with gay parents because “everybody who is under that redefined marriage will lack either a mommy or a daddy and that is morally wrong.”
But, using your wife’s death to score a few cheap political points against a group of people you hate isn’t “morally wrong”?
But wait, there’s more! Garlow also uses his dead wife to point out just how fake the relationships between living, loving gay and lesbian partners really are.
He talks about the delight he experienced being married to his wife, something gay and lesbian people certainly couldn’t have, right? But, I deeply resonated with this word: delight.
While my partner and I have had our ups and downs like every couple, being with her has been, and continues to be, a delight. I delight in her voice when she calls my name. I delight in her eyes—how they shine and narrow a bit when she smiles at me. I delight in her touch—whether it’s a simple hug or a more intimate embrace. I delight in our life together, the dreams we have both individually and collectively, and I delight knowing that she loves all those things about me. I delight knowing that whatever the future holds, she will be by my side, working tirelessly to see that our love is just as recognized, just as delighted in, as the love between Garlow and his wife, because it is just as real as any delight he and his wife have shared.
His appeal to the “complementary halves of humanity coming together” within his heterosexual marriage is most striking to me, though. Complementarity is something that the religious right appeals to when they can no longer defend procreation as the reason for excluding gays and lesbians from marriage. Complementarity posits that men go with women because “Tab A” is mean for “Slot B.” You can’t have two Tabs and two Slots together since there is no “natural” fit.
Duke University women’s studies professor Kathy Rudy has written in her book Sex and the Church that
the focus on complementarity makes sexuality the determining factor of a human being’s relationship with God. It means that our theology is dependent on our genitals and on finding and sharing sex with someone who has genitals codified as ‘opposite’ (despite the fact that science teaches us these things often exist in a range or continuum). In the ideology of complementarity, it is not that we understand ourselves as limited parts of the Body of Christ who only achieve wholeness with each other in community through the grace of God, but rather that each woman needs a man and each man needs a woman to ensure wholeness and relationship with God.
This is the crux of the religious right’s argument against marriage equality. They want to define our relationship with God by our genitals, not by our relationship with one another and God’s grace. As a lesbian, I get accused of thinking about sex all the time, but the religious right, with this kind of thinking about marriage, are the ones obsessed with sex.
They say that heterosexuality is the only way to get to God!
I want Jim Garlow to know this about my 12-year marriage: Sex may have been at the center of your “authentic, biblical, natural, historic, God-defined marriage,” but is not at the center of ours. If there ever came a time, God forbid, that my partner had cancer or some other illness that ended, or severely curtailed our sex life, I would stay by her side until the end—that is the vow I took and that is the vow I would keep.
Our marriage is based on love, commitment, and collaboration—not complementarity.
I, too, have experienced the delight of a godly marriage—one based in partnership, in grace, in love and commitment. I am so sorry for the loss of your wife, Rev. Garlow, but I what I grieve for more is your loss of a sense of humanity.