What Marriage is and Isn’t

There is a first rate article on the nature of marriage from a legal point of view on the CNN website. Here is the link—http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/20/opinion/george-gay-marriage/index.html?iref=allsearch

The article is written by three persons legally competent to analyze the legal pros and cons of legalizing gay marriage. Here is how the article begins…..

Editor’s note: Robert P. George is a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. Sherif Girgis, a recent Rhodes Scholar, is a philosophy Ph.D. candidate at Princeton and a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School. Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. They are authors of a new book, “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.”

(CNN) — “The attractive civil rights rhetoric of “marriage equality” masks a profound error about what marriage is.

Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.

But marriage is far more than your emotional bond with “your Number One person,” to quote same-sex marriage proponent John Corvino. Just as the act that makes marital love also makes new life, so marriage itself is a multilevel — bodily as well as emotional — union that would be fulfilled by procreation and family life. That is what justifies its distinctive norms — monogamy, exclusivity, permanence — and the concept of marital consummation by conjugal intercourse.”

They go on to argue….

“All human beings are equal in dignity and should be equal before the law. But equality only forbids arbitrary distinctions. And there is nothing arbitrary about maximizing the chances that children will know the love of their biological parents in a committed and exclusive bond. A strong marriage culture serves children, families and society by encouraging the ideal of giving kids both a mom and a dad.
Indeed, if that is not the public purpose of marriage law, then the “injustice” and “bigotry” charges comes back to bite most same-sex marriage supporters.

If marriage is just the emotional bond “that matters most” to you — in the revealing words of the circuit judge who struck down California Proposition 8 — then personal tastes or a couple’s subjective preferences aside, there is no reason of principle for marriage to be pledged to permanence. Or sexually exclusive rather than “open.” Or limited to two spouses. Or oriented to family life and shaped by its demands.

In that case, every argument for recognizing two men’s bond as marital –equality, destigmatization, extending economic benefits — would also apply to recognizing romantic triads (“throuples,” as they are now known). Refusing such recognition would be unfair — a violation of equality — if commitment based on emotional companionship is what makes a marriage.”

There is much more to their argument which you can peruse by going to the link listed at the top of this post.

I would just add several considerations from a Christian theological point of view. These points have to do with the definition of marriage, not the issue of civil unions sanctioned by state laws. I do not oppose the latter. What I oppose completely is the forced redefinition of the meaning of the word marriage, which up until recently referred to heterosexual monogamy in America law and society. This is precisely why there are anti-polygamy, anti-incest, anti-beastiality etc.laws on the books.

Here are my theological points: 1) Mt. 19 makes clear enough that Jesus only supports one definition of marriage— a case where ‘God has joined together one man and one woman, who can thereby share a one flesh union as man and wife, with the possibility of producing progeny; 2) the only alternative to this is said to be ‘being a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom’. Among other things this required in antiquity that: 1) the person who was a eunuch not marry, and 2) that the person remain chaste. In other words, Jesus’ view, which was also the view of Paul was that fidelity in heterosexual monogamy and celibacy in singleness were the only legitimate options for Jesus’ disciples.

Secondly, there is the matter that gender matters. It matters not only for the propagation of the human species, which requires both male and female, or the by products of male and female (sperm and egg). To suggest gender is irrelevant to marriage is illogical. This is like arguing that having two fathers or having two mothers is the same thing as having a father and a mother. Either gender matters, or it does not. Either gender makes a difference in human life and relationships, or it does not.

If gender does matter, then there is no logic to the argument that a child can do just as well with two moms or two dads, as with a mother and a father. No they cannot not. Every child, if humanly possible needs a father and a mother. Mothers cannot entirely assume all the roles of fathers, and fathers cannot entirely assume all the roles of mothers. There is always a deficiency, always something left out.

The Bible tells us in the creation story that what completed the man, was a woman. This was his cure for being ‘alone’, and nothing else would do. Only a woman could be ‘bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh’ in the case of the man. Indeed, some scholars have suggested that the whole point of Adam working through the lower animals and naming them was he was ruling out possible mates….until that is he came to Eve. The only ‘suitable companion’ as the Hebrew puts it.

There is a further theological problem with redefining marriage to include gay marriage. According to the Bible, God created us male and female in the divine image. There is something about this duality that is important when it comes to reflecting the divine image. It requires both men and women to reflect that image fully. And of course the account in Genesis says we were ‘made’ that way– male and female, an intentional and purposeful duality.

‘Marriage’ relationships that do not involve this duality do not adequately reflect the gamut of God’s image on earth. They reflect something else, something deficient. From a Biblical point of view only males can be husbands and fathers, and only females can be wives and mothers. And every child needs both such parents if it is possible. Of course they need both parents to be functional not dysfunctional, good parents not bad parents, and this also requires that the parents continue to love each other. Hence the warnings against divorce and remarriage, with Jesus even ratcheting up the rhetoric so far as to call some forms of remarriage an act of committing adultery! (see Mark 10).

For all these reasons and other good ones, I am not in favor of redefining the meaning of the word marriage, while I also do not oppose civil unions, because that does indeed touch on the issue of secular civil rights. No one should have an inalienable right to redefine the long time honored definition of marriage. And in my view, no Christian minister who knows his Biblical theology and ethics at all well and wants to stick to God’s Word on this subject, should be advocating or solemnizing non-marriages as if they were God-blessed marriages.

And that of course is what is happening in various States at this juncture. But marriage, as Christians understand it is not a RIGHT. It is a blessing, a privilege, a gift of God, but not a right. And furthermore, as Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 7, only some have the grace gift (charisma) to be married in the Lord, not everyone. Despite a rising tide that disagrees, I am sticking by my guns on this one. God gets to define what Biblical marriage is and isn’t. We do not.

  • Logan

    Having government define “marriage” would be like having government define “baptism”. It’s not the government’s role to redefine that which originated in religion (for lack of a better word). If the reason “gays” want to “marry” is to get legal status for inheritance rights, medical co-insurance coverage, shared homestead ownership, etc. then I’m fine for using “civil union” legal status to accomplish these things.

  • http://www.thinktheology.co.uk Andrew Wilson

    Superb, Ben. Thank you.

  • Dorfl

    “Of course they need both parents to be functional not dysfunctional, good parents not bad parents, and this also requires that the parents continue to love each other.”

    You say that this is ‘of course’, but do you have any actual research on child-rearing that demonstrates that this is true?

  • theologyarchaeology

    I have proposed a litmus test to examine this issue and to judge the merits of same sex marriage:

    same sex marriage is basically the homosexual community’s attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

  • Lauren Kelley

    Thank you for dealing honestly with the text and being willing to say what you think is right.

  • Steve Abbott

    Let all the people say: “Amen!”

  • http://insearchofthecity.com Joshua Lawson

    Thanks, Ben. Appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

  • Merv Olsen

    Well said, Dr Ben!

    It breaks my heart to see so many Christian evangelical leaders give way on this fundamentally clear and straight forward Biblical issue.

    Thanks again for being courageous and standing up for the truth. May your tribe increase.

  • Dave

    I don’t always agree with some things you write, but on this topic you hit it out of the park. Excellent post!

  • Dave

    Dr Ben, I’ve read some Christian authors lately who propose that a marriage isn’t truly biblical unless there are offspring. This seems far to simplistic to me, but I wondered what your thoughts are.

  • http://facebook.com/TheCultureRow Collins Aki

    If this, your definition of marriage, is so hallowed, why then is it not one that is eternal? Why is the only marriage that will be celebrated in the Eschaton, the marriage of Christ and the Church, the great mystery Paul writes about. To quote Schmemann, who is quoting Paul, “‘But I speak concerning Christ and the Church.’ We must understand that the real theme, ‘content’ and object of this sacrament is not ‘family’, but love…In this sense the sacrament of matrimony is wider than family. It is the sacrament of divine love, as the all-embracing mystery of being itself, and it is for this reason that it concerns the whole Church, and–through the Church–the whole world.” __For the Life of The World__

    The true definition of marriage, is Christ and the Church. All others (e.g., Adam and Eve) are just tropes (types and shadows) of its true fulfillment. The fulfillment we celebrate in the Eucharist.

    “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

  • Stephen

    With you all the way on this one!

  • Mallory

    Is there a difference between “biblical marriage” and marriage, in general? I don’t see why marriage should be a civil issue at all if it’s particular to the Bible.

  • Rodney

    Thanks for your legal insight and for treating The Homosexual Community with compassion. We need more compassionate dialog of this sort to progress. However, as someone brought up by two (gay) dads, I don’t think you are right about needing a mom and a dad. I believe I have grown up to be a responsible adult who is equally at home in homosexual associations and my local church. Compassion is also about getting stuck in with our evangelism and I think those of us from The Homoparental Community need to be heard more rather than cast out.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    “Either gender matters, or it does not. Either gender makes a difference in human life and relationships, or it does not.”

    Ben, I’m so glad to see you bring up this point. The inconsistency, it seems to me, starts to become most apparent when children come into play. On the one hand, we’re told that same-sex parenting is just as good as two-sex parenting which is the same thing as saying the genders are interchangeable. But for some reason, we’re told that this same interchangeability doesn’t apply when it comes to the romantic lives of adults. In the case of adults, some people simply can’t find it in themselves to love those of the opposite gender. But why not, if the genders are so easily interchanged? I haven’t seen any one make this point yet and I wonder what the other side would say.

  • http://alancassady.com Alan Cassady

    With respect to Mallory’s comment, it is an issue that is gaining ground especially in states like Florida where so many retired people are asking if they can be married “in God’s sight” and not in the eyes of the state. Some pastors are preforming “biblical or religious marriage ceremonies” so a couple may live together without the consequences of the state recognizing their union. Apparently there are Social Security issues they are trying to avoid.
    My immediate response is that that this knowingly perpetrates a fraud and therefore in morally wrong. I would appreciate your comments.

  • Patrick

    Ben’s view will be unpopular, even among many Christians today. That’s because our church is somewhat apostate. It’s a good place for Ben to be, IMO.

    Good stuff here, excellent theological logic.

  • jerry lynch

    Laws pertaining to the basic rights of a particular group and those ordering societal safety are of a differenet character. Restrictions on gay marriage is about infringement of liberties upon a class od people; beastiality, polygamy, and so forth fall in the protective nature of government over practices it deems of possible harm.

    It seems rather silly to have to address the gender issue: gender is genetic, not by appearences. The cited prohibitions against homosexuality in the Bible are about the indulgence of an impure desire, not marriage. If a person is actually–yes, actually–a male of female in a body that says the opposite in appearances, an unknown quanitity back then, their union falls within the Biblical standard. This is not a redefinition of the time-honored

    “No one should have an inalienable right to redefine the long time honored definition of marriage.”
    This article, like so many closed-minded pieces by Christians and the Right, fails to recognize genetic reality. These unions are not redefining “the long time-honored definition of marriage”: they are accomadating the deeper reality of genetic order, of which is in perfect compliance with God’s Law.

    Marraige between “one man and one woman” (odd phrasing, but I’ll let it go): This first marriage draws all of human existence into The Fall. What happens next in this ideal union? The older sibling kills the younger. This is our model? This should act as the cornerstone of scoiety?

    Please compare the many negative statistics of so-called “opposite sex” marriages with the supposed “same sex marriages”: in every category, by far, the children of supposed “same sex marriages” do better.

    Now for some fun.
    “And that[,] of course[,] is what is happening in various States at this juncture. But marriage, as Christians understand it[,] is not a RIGHT.” Yet they are very quick to insist on their gun rights and religious liberty rights. Self-cenetered pursuits of broadbased privileges for all.

  • jerry lynch

    “Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.”

    No wonder you guys keep repeating “a union betwen ONE MAN and ONE WOMAN.” The question is not about recognizing “bonds of affection,” as you would like to narrow it, but discrimination against a particular and defined group of people. Your reasoning here is so weak, and hobbled apparently by an innate prejudice, that you inadverntly argue in the favor of gay marriage. Are you conscious? Seriously!

  • jerry lynch

    Do you find the same natural extension of two, three, or more men and women happening in the approved heterosexual realtionships? If we allow these heteros congress, are we not inviting all manner of perversity?

  • Untouchable

    Robert P. George was well-known at Princeton for his hatred of gays. He argued that they shouldn’t be able to have their insurance pay for their medical treatments. That’s tantamount to telling his wife dying in childbirth that she could have kept her legs crossed so she doesn’t deserve medical treatment.