Ten Things I Believe About Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage

Ten Things I Believe About Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage November 30, 2012

Let me make several things clear, in response to all the conversation that’s erupted over my Question of the Week on Monday: Is it Time for Evangelicals to Stop Opposing Gay Marriage?:

  1. I believe that the sexual union for which we were created is the union of male and female in the context of the marital covenant.  This is not merely a moral but also a theological conviction, profoundly rooted not only in my understanding of human nature and the imago Dei but also — eo ipso — in my understanding of the Triune God and how we image God together in marital union.
  2. Other forms of sexual expression, including homosexual sex, I believe to be sinful.  I do not believe it sinful to experience homosexual desires or to possess an inclination (orientation) toward same-sex desires.  I believe it is sinful to act upon those desires.  I am not eager to come to that conclusion, knowing that it comes between me and gay friends I love and respect, but I am compelled to this conclusion by my understanding and interpretation of scripture.  However, I do not believe that acting on those desires is more sinful (which is not to say that it cannot have worse consequences) than when I act on my own sinful desires.  I also believe that Jesus Christ is God’s provision for reconciliation.
  3. I can go into a long excursus on (i) why I believe that we were created by God, (ii) why I believe that God communicated to humankind through Christ and the scriptures, (iii) why I believe those scriptures ought to be interpreted in certain ways, and (iv) why I believe the proper interpretation of the scriptures leads to this doctrine of marriage and human sexuality.  I am fully aware of the counter-arguments on (i) to (iv).  My present purpose, however, is to ask whether it might make sense for Christians who believe that homosexual behavior is sinful and who believe that marriage is the covenantal union of male and female to, nonetheless, no longer insist that the law express that belief.
  4. I am not suggesting now, nor would suggest ever, that we alter our theological convictions for the sake of social convenience, much less political expediency, or that we cease to declare those convictions as clearly and compellingly as possible.  I believe it is objectively true that marriage is the covenantal union of male and female and that individuals and society at large would best flourish if the law reflected this objective truth.
  5. I also believe, in light of survey data, demographic trends, and the recent election and its implications for the Supreme Court, that same-sex marriage is likely to be permitted in the United States as a federal matter — or at least in many states — within the next decade, and potentially within the next few years.  I wish that it were otherwise, because I do not believe that this is in the interest of the common good.
  6. I do not believe that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue.  Two persons of the same sex are free to bind themselves to one another for life and call it marriage or whatever they wish.  There is, however, no civil right requiring the state to sanction this relationship as a marriage.  There is also no civil right to have one course of action (marrying a person of the same gender) treated equally with another course of action (marrying a person of the opposite gender).  Gay individuals should have all the same rights as heterosexuals, and should therefore be equal before the law to heterosexual individuals; the law is not a respecter of persons, and Christians should stand against true anti-homosexual discrimination whenever they encounter it.  But the law does distinguish between different courses of action.
  7. I do not believe it’s necessarily “hateful” to oppose the legal enshrinement of gay marriage.  Certainly those who oppose gay marriage out of enmity toward homosexuals are rightly condemned as prejudiced. For myself, and I suspect for most, the opposition to same-sex marriage is simply due to a belief that marriage is divinely ordained for the covenantal union of male and female.  Beliefs may be correct or incorrect, justified or unjustified, but a belief cannot be hateful any more than a rock can be emotional.
  8. Since I am neither suggesting that we should alter our moral and theological convictions nor that we should cease confessing those beliefs publicly, responses along these lines — “Well then, why don’t we just give up the doctrine of hell since that’s unpopular too!” — are off point.  The question here, the only question I’m raising, is this: (P1) Should we hold fast to our convictions, profess those convictions publicly, and organize legally and politically to ensure that the laws reflect our convictions – OR (P2) should we hold fast to our convictions, profess those convictions publicly, and accept a legal definition of marriage that does not preclude same-sex marriage?  In my view, this need not be contradictory.  It would merely entail explaining that we believe homosexual behavior to be sinful, and we believe gay marriage is not really marriage, but we are not going to compel others legally to act in accordance with our convictions.
  9. I’m frequently told, “We’re not angry that you believe homosexuality is sinful, you can believe whatever you want.  We’re angry that you try to impose that viewpoint on everyone.”  The first statement is demonstrably false.  Even in contexts where same-sex marriage was not under discussion, I personally on many occasions have frequently received heaping mounds of scorn and animosity for the moral primitivity of believing that homosexual behavior is sinful.  So even if we merely pursue P1, evangelicals will remain scorned by some for their moral and theological convictions.  That’s fine.  It would not be courageous or loving or worthy of the example of Christ to betray or conceal the truth that God has revealed.  However, it’s also demonstrably true that there are many areas where Christians do not seek to enforce their moral and theological convictions legally.  I believe it is objectively wrong, and against the common good, for people to use the name of the Lord in vain, to drink to drunkenness, to scorn the Sabbath, to worship other gods, and so forth, but we do not compel other people to live according to our beliefs on those topics.  Or to take a more proximate example, I believe it is wrong, harmful for the individuals involved, and harmful for others and for society in general, when unmarried partners cohabitate, or when parents divorce without just cause, and yet our laws do not enforce Christian convictions on these points.
  10. I do not believe there’s anything necessarily wrong with the American people seeking to enshrine their collective moral convictions in the law.  While the rights of the individual must be protected, our laws frequently (and I would say inherently) represent not merely a kind of legal minimum needed to keep people from tearing one another apart, but our shared moral vision of the common good.  However, it is a prudential judgment for Christians on when they should and when they should not seek to enshrine their views in the law.  So I raised the prudential question of whether it might now or someday be better — more conducive to our most fundamental purposes — to stop insisting that American law reflect our vision of marriage (to the extent it even does so now).  This, I think, requires a cost/benefit analysis.

I would rather be despised for believing and professing the truth than for compelling a growing number of others in a secular democracy to live according to laws they find morally (and in many cases religiously) unconscionable.  Christians should always seek to shape the culture and impact the marketplace of ideas.  But I don’t think there’s anything inherently contradictory in Christians professing their convictions but understanding that we live in an increasingly secular society representing multiple moral and religious philosophies and accepting that our laws on marriage will reflect that diversity.  Also, if gay marriage is going to become the law of the land (which, I grant, is not a given), I would rather it come about through legislative than judicial means.  If it is framed judicially as a violation of civil rights to treat same-sex couples any differently from opposite-sex couples, then Christians will have very little ground to stand upon for religious conscience protections.  But if it is framed legislatively, and that legislation is fortified with safeguards for religious freedoms, then Christians may find themselves in a much better position in the long run.

Finally, as I said, I raised this question in good faith.  It’s an earnest question for me.  I have not settled on an answer.  I wanted to show that questions are permissible even amongst committed evangelicals and I wanted to show that we could hold a thoughtful conversation.  So I look forward to reading more as our discussion continues.

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  • Well said, and I support you on almost all points.

    I do, however, disagree with your statement that “our laws (inherently) represent… our shared moral vision of the common good.” That may have been the case in the past. It seems now, though, that modern liberal democracies are inherently incapable of and in fact militate against the notion that a moral vision of the common good is possible or even desirable.

    • kenneth

      Modern democracy holds that the coercive power of government should be employed sparingly and only as needed to safeguard life and property and civil order. It also holds that government should not be a referee or enforcer of any one religion over another.

      • “Modern democracy” is a pretty intangible and abstract noun to hold such a concrete notion, don’t you think?

        • kenneth

          It’s not all that abstract or intangible. It describes the concepts of limited and secular government that have been in play since the Enlightenment.

          • What does? “Representative democracy?” It’s an idea. An abstract noun. A total intangible. It doesn’t describe anything. People describe things.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I agree there’s a great tension between a moralistic view of laws and what you might call a libertarian view or a utilitarian minimalist view — we should only have those laws necessary to prevent one individual from harming another. I would say, though, that we still have an awful lot of moral sentiment represented in our legal system, and even the judgment that we should have laws preventing one individual from harming another — while it can be justified pragmatically as necessary for the functioning of society — is at root a moral judgment as well.

      • Pragmatic morality is still morality.

  • ostrachan

    This is a sharpening conversation, Tim. Appreciate your thoughtfulness.

    Still trying to wrap my head around your argument. Would we hold a similar position on abortion, seeking to uphold the defense of the unborn while allowing for their killing so as not to offend those who don’t agree with us? Pro-life convictions, after all, can be seen as a massive stumbling block to the gospel (working off your original post), if by stumbling block you mean “really contentious issue that people will dislike Christians for that is not the gospel itself.”

    I don’t think you will argue for this. But the logic of your post leads me to wonder: are we supposed to accommodate the culture wherever they disagree with us with the exception of the gospel? In other words, on science, marriage, euthanasia, health care, drugs, etc, should we avoid disagreement–or at the very least accommodate the views of the other side–so as not to create the “massive stumbling block” of which you spoke earlier?

    I see the difficulty of the evangelical position. I’m sensitive to the issues you’ve raised. It is a good thing that you want to be compassionate and viewed as such wherever possible by the culture. I guess I just wonder if the price on these issues is compromising our beliefs. The second solution you proposed requires that we accept a definition of marriage that is directly unbiblical. You’re a student of history–doesn’t the history of liberal Protestantism show us that acquiescing on such points will in fact NOT hold the fort but will help to give it away?

    Yes, maybe the fort is going to fall anyway (I know that you’re wrestling with this). But isn’t it worth it to go down with our convictions intact than to compromise them? After all, there are all kinds of matters on which we are trying to compel people to abide by a moral code, a moral code that in reality is not onerous to us but is truly freeing? Don’t we do this with murder? Euthanasia? Abortion?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I am not questioning the position on abortion, partly because of a very different cost/benefit analysis.

      The consequences of ceasing the legal/political fight against abortion are: more/continued deaths of millions of children. On the other hand, I do think one can make a prudential argument for permitting abortion in cases of rape and incest, in exchange for illegalizing abortion in all other cases. So I still think there’s a prudential element here. We stand on principle that abortion is wrong and we will not cease to teach that. But how we approach the legal system and where we want the legal system to reflect our beliefs is a prudential judgment. Also, in abortion we’re constraining the actions of one person in order to represent the interests of another person who has no choice in the matter and thus cannot be said to deserve the consequences.

      The consequences of allowing for the state to honor gay marriages are, I would argue, much less severe, and as I mentioned before the victim case is much harder to make. We typically say the victims are: (i) the individuals who marry, (ii) their children, and (iii) a broader society in which the strength of the family structure is disintegrating. And I basically agree. But with (i), we’re talking about “victims” of the consequences of their own adult actions, and there are plenty of biblical examples of God giving people over to the consequences of their actions; also, it’s not clear to me that they suffer that much more for having their relationship called “marriage” since the distorting effects come from the relationship primarily and not from what it’s called. With (ii), I do think it’s better to have a mother and a father, and I worry about what those children will be taught explicitly and implicitly about their created sexuality, but most children of gay couples are well loved — and in those cases where they’re adopted they’re often better off than they would be otherwise. Still, I think the most compelling case from victimhood comes from (ii), because here too you have someone with no choice in the matter. With (iii), I don’t think we’ve ever been able to mount an argument that’s compelling to those who do not already agree with us that allowing a small proportion (those who want to marry) of the small proportion of Americans who are gay to call their relationships a marriage would really lead to disastrous social consequences.

      Essentially, we believe same sex marriage is harmful because we believe God has revealed homosexual behavior to be wrong — and then we assume (reasonably, in my opinion) that condoning same sex marriage legally would be harmful for society. The origin of our belief is religious, even if we seek to make an empirical justification (please note the difference in terms there between origin of belief and justification of belief). We do not come to the conclusion that same sex marriage will be harmful to society on the basis of a thorough examination of the consequences to society if same sex marriage were legally sanctioned. And since we’re not able to make a compelling secular case against same-sex marriage, we’re left with “I oppose it because of my faith,” and that puts the gay couple in a very awkward position because they’re asked (or compelled) not to marry because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

      In the case of abortion, it’s much more clear-cut. If we outlaw abortion, *some* will still find ways but abortions will fall dramatically, which means hundreds of thousands of lives (and millions over the course of years) saved. And we can make a very compelling secular case.

      • Dan

        What about the secular arguement that says if we allow men to marry men, and women to marry women, then basically we are saying that gender is interchangeable. And aren’t there numerous studies, both scientific and antedotal, that indicate that males and females have very distinctive roles in society, and influence on their children. Could we not assume that a few decades from now when gender has lost some, if not most of its significance, we will have a generation of sexually and socially confused individuals which invariably would be harmful to society? I understand that this is speculation, but can’t we draw some conclusions from society today simply looking at the higher percentage of troubled young adults as a result of being under the care of a single parent (in other words without the influence of both sexes, but only one)?

        Your arguement is compelling, but at the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that we would be allowing this great nation to thumb its nose at God if we didn’t at least resist as much as possible (with grace) the urge to let this pass (legalizing gay marriage). Marriage was the first gift that God gave to mankind, and he designed it the way He did for a reason. Do we want to acquiesce just because, well, that’s the direction we’re going…far be it from us to push back.

    • Lisa

      When will you support legislation to outlaw remarriage? Unlike your fixation on gays, is something Jesus really did talk about. To me a former christian, current agnostic, it appears that you are so worked up about gay people because 90-95% of you aren’t gay. They are an easy target to distract you from the issues your community doesn’t talk about or try to legislate, ie,divorce, arrogance gluttony, libel and greed to name a few.

      • Lisa

        I meant to say remarriage after divorce.

        • Duffy

          I think he covers your question pretty thoroughly in points 2 and 9. It sounds to me like he agrees with you about not “fixating” on gays.

  • Henry Chambers

    Timothy, I think you hit the nail on his head. We constantly pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” but at the same time we know that God doesn’t use brute force to make us love and obey him. Even when the Church of Laodicea had locked out their Savior and Lord, he didn’t kick in the door, but knocked, and it was not at all sure that they would let him back in.

  • Suo

    Again I ask why, when a majority of states have banned sodomy-based marriage, you are asking this question as if you were part of a tiny minority? Even in the most liberal state of Maryland only a few points majority passed this unfortunate (and far-reaching) law by the way. Amazing. What if every state in the Union by a 75-25 margin banned sodomy-based marriage? The way I read you you would still be saying we should throw up the white flag. If you reply, why no of course not, then where is your magic line for democratic acceptance? It should be whoever has 50% plus one more vote right? Is the motivation for your article based on a particular familial strain that you have experienced? What about Christ’s words that He came to bring fire and division even between family members?

    While you state that man-woman marriage is for the common good and other forms will be destructive to it you don’t seem to really believe that. How far does the destructive proposed law have to go before you decide to “reengage” the world?

    But let’s take a more practical look. What about if SBM becomes the rule because of yours and others inexplicable decision to disengage. Do you think that people will be content with live and let live? What about efforts to legislate hate crimes against Catholics? You say that would never happen because of the First Amendment but this sort of thing is happening already: the Maryland law prohibits business owners from discriminating against SBM couples.

    • How come you say “man-woman marriage” and not “Vaginal Intercourse Based Marriage.”

      • Good point. Not sure if Lesbians are particularly ready for the requirements of SBM either and the sodomy comitting heterosuxual couples are very confused. Perhaps he means the original sin of Sodom which was lack of hospitality. Maybe no gay couples invited him to their wedding?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      No, no familial strains. And of course we’re not a part of a tiny minority. But the trend lines are very compelling. Trends can be reversed, of course, but it’s not a simple 51/49 question. There’s a more basic question about when we should insist that the laws for all people reflect our beliefs and when should we not.

      I really do believe that preserving the traditional definition of marriage would be best for society. But there may come a time where you say hey, we’ve lost the culture on this one, and even though it’s not for the best, I suppose we need to accept this is happening and society will suffer the consequences. Even after no-fault divorce laws were passed, however, Christians continued to teach against divorce (except under certain circumstances) and support all kinds of marriage ministries. So, accepting a change in the laws over marriage would not mean that we would stop teaching what marriage is and seeking to persuade the culture.

      • Suo

        Sounds like you have already ceded the battle on one important front: perceived trends.
        Think you that you have a better or worse chance in maintaining the majority view of the states on this subject by throwing up your hands and inviting other Christians to do the same? Think you that you owe Christ dedication to maintaining the majority view of the states until after such time that those alleged perceived trends becoming actual law? I know my answers to those questions: Worse. Yes.

        You remind me of a lieutenant leading his troops along a front in a battle line where the morale seems to be gaining on the enemy’s side but losses so far inflicted heavily favor you and you declare to your troops and your commander that you are giving up and invite others to do so and run for the safety of your homes.

        Peter did not fear the hostile Romans, nor any of the martyrs for that matter. They viewed their loyalty to Christ taking them to the depths of suffering and death, and yet you disengage from these battles without one real bruise ever being sustained, without one drop of blood ever being shed?

        I don’t think I have much more to say on this except to repeat what I believe firmly, namely, that it is naive to think that you can assure that your descendants will live the Christian life if your approach to these struggles is one of disengagement. Lot’s daughters were preserved because of his faith, but how much longer could they have without Divine anger? And what about those daughters’ daughters? Christians are not supposed to retire from the world but to be its leaven that by His grace all things may be made new again.

  • A Hermit

    When there a host of legal rights and obligations extended to heterosexual couples but which are denied to the forty year committed, loving relationship between my elderly aunt and her “lady friend” there is clearly a a civil rights issue here.
    You might like to pretend you are not being hateful when you advocate continuing to deny loving couples those legal rights, but the effect of your opposition is to marginalize and do harm to people who have dome no harm to you. That’s hateful in my books…

    • Suo

      Huh? I love my best friend John. I am a man. All of sudden I should get some rights? I love my father. Should we get special rights too? I love my brother? There too? What are you talking about?

    • It’s only a civil rights issue if one is unclear about the difference between rights and entitlements.

      • Any law that makes a legal or regulatory distinction between two kinds of people on any basis whatsoever implicates Civil Rights because it comes directuly under the purview of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment–“Civil Rights” is, in terms of constitutional law, synonymous with nondiscrimination. That’s it. That’s all. The right to not be discriminated against.

        But Civil Rights are not absolute and nobody ever said they were. And there’s a whole analysis that’s supposed to happen around (1) the kind of category that a discriminatory law discriminates based on (like say, race, or criminal history) and (2) how good the government’s justification for discriminating has to be (with race, it’s nearly impossible for the government to justify; with criminal history, it is very easy).

        Another way of putting it is: it’s only a NOT a civil rights issue if one is unclear about the difference between civil rights and civil liberties.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      So, if I give a person a horse with the intention of making that person happy, but the person falls off the horse and breaks her neck, the “effect” of my gift is horrible. Does that make me hateful? There are category mistakes all over the place here.

      You might say, well, you know the consequence of opposing same-sex marriage. Yes, and some believe those consequences are best for everyone, including the individuals who would like to marry. They may be wrong about that. But hatred is an passion and a motivation, not a belief or the effect of an action.

      • kenneth

        The element of hatred as a motivation behind SSM opposition is utterly immaterial. The end result is unjust and un-American. I think Christians are being naive or duplicitous when they deny the significant levels of homophobia and hatred within the ranks of the anti-SSM movement, but it’s neither here nor there when we weigh the public policy question.

  • E

    I agree with this argument. There are many things Christians believe are morally wrong, and yet we do not impose them legally upon others. Lying, for instance. Adultery, for instance. As society shifts, I suspect there will be more to put into this category.

    • There are many cases where lying is criminally punishable.

    • And depending on your circumstances, adultery may still be criminally punishable too. Just ask David Petraeus.

  • I’d be in favor of P1-lite. Stick to your theological guns but not spend a lot of political effort in it; I’m not sure if big ad campaigns are going to change people’s mind on the issue, but it will help make us look reactionary when we’d rather be spending effort expanding the Gospel rather than a minute subset of it.

  • MatthewS

    I think some people see issues like this primarily (for some, almost exclusively) through the lens of warfare. Like tragic heroic figures, if this be the hill on which we all die, we will all keep firing our weapons until they run dry. To do any less would be dereliction of duty. There is an emphasis on staying faithful no matter what.

    I think others see themselves in more of an ambassador role. They don’t dictate the rules of their home country nor is their primary purpose to control the rules of their host country. There is an emphasis on communicating well, including receiving input back on how they are being heard and seen by the intended audience. This does not require changing the message itself but it will require constant attention to the mode of the message.

  • I think it might become a moot question before we realize it. The Supreme Court might be poised to make a decision as early as this coming June. If they rule in favor of same-sex marriage, what do we do then?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yep, I was reading about it this morning in USA Today (I’m at a hotel).

      I think we’d be much better off to contribute to a legislative solution before we get a much less favorable situation from the SC. Or perhaps the SC can toss something to the legislature to solve.

      • Any legislative response that draws a distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex couples will be subject to the same 14th Amendment standard of review.

      • kenneth

        The issue will require both legislative and judicial handling. The SC usually wants the policy decision to be crafted and passed by a legislature, but there will simply be no way to avoid judicial involvement at some level. States will invariable come to different conclusions about SSM, as will local and appellate courts. One question that will surely rise at the state level is whether states must recognize a gay marriage performed elsewhere. Big constitutional questions underlie this whole thing, and the Court will have to weigh in at some point. They will probably resist doing so until the matter is unavoidable and until the right case comes along that affords them the right sort of proper access to those issues. That will almost certainly happen within the next five years, or 10 at most.

    • kenneth

      What do you do then? Continue living your life and do what Americans historically do best: leave each other to mind their own business.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    I’m not going to rehash our disagreement on point 6, but I’m curious about one thing. You say, “Christians should stand against true anti-homosexual discrimination whenever they encounter it.” Does that mean that not hiring someone because they are gay would be “true” discrimination but not hiring them because they are in a same-sex marriage would not be “true” discrimination? Or would that still count as “true” discrimination but denying the employee spousal benefits would not? If I’m understanding this correctly, the word “true” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here, but I’m not sure it’s enough to put same-sex couples in a unique legal category where discrimination laws are concerned.

    • What “unique legal category where discrimination laws are concerned” are you thinking of?

      • Kubrick’s Rube

        One where businesses would get religious exemptions from discrimination laws when dealing with an individual or couple in a same-sex marriage despite no similar exemptions existing for any other religious objections (however wrong we might find them) related to any other type of legally recognized marriage.

        • (1) It’s not clear to me that “standing against true discrimination” means enacting laws against it.

          (2) I am unaware of any law that protects employees from employment discrimination based on marital status.

          (3) “Being gay” is one way of describing who you are; “marrying someone of the same sex” is something you do. I suspectthat the “heavy lifting” that Tim is having “true discrimination here” is in drawing the distinction between discrimination based on identity or personal or group attributes versus discrimination based on things a person does. I’m not sure that’s a unique legal situation at all.

          • Kubrick’s Rube

            I was thinking of businesses that provide spousal/family coverage for health and/or life insurance. Companies cannot legally offer such coverage to some employees and not others, no matter what the individuals running the company think of the race, religion or gender of a given employee’s spouse. (They can always drop spousal coverage altogether, as Catholic Charities did in Washington DC.)

            Also, 20 states plus DC do prohibit employment discrimination based on marital status.

          • Also, 20 states plus DC do prohibit employment discrimination based on marital status.

            Well there you go. I learn something every day.

  • Timothy,

    I appreciate how sophisticated and yet clear your points are on such an emotionally charged topic. I also find myself in a similar stance.

    I wonder if it might help you, if you haven’t already, to rethink the traditional American evangelical view of the relationship of Christianity to the state (perhaps using Augustine’s City of God or another the let’s paradigm as a guide).

    If the Church has the power to define marriage, and not the state, then all we are left with is a semantics problem. Marriage as defined by the state is something other than Christian marriage. Just because they share a word does not mean that they are the same meaning.

    If this is so (and I think it is), then fighting against the legality of same-sex marriage is a different conversation entirely than fighting to protect Christian marriage. I support legalizing same-sex state-marriage yet oppose same-sex marriage within the Church.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thank you, Bryce. I do think that’s the heart of the issue, the relationship between the church and the state, and I believe evangelicals need to think long and deeply about the entanglement of clerical and ecclesial structures in the state function of marriage and about when we do and when we do not fight tooth and nail to have our own moral and theological convictions embedded in the law.

      The question of “getting the state out of the marriage business” or of disentangling the church and state definitions of marriage is a very complex one. I think I’ll invite some people to write on that topic. The few times I’ve heard it discussed by knowledgeable people, I remember being very impressed by how enormously difficult it would be — which is not to say it may not be the best solution in the long run.

      Of course, as we say this, the Supreme Court is looking at no less than seven same-sex marriage cases. We may be running out of time to find a negotiated legislative solution and may find marriage redefined by judicial fiat.

      • kenneth

        The whole thing could be put to rest by recognizing the difference between religious marriage and state marriage in a plural secular system of government. Really what Christians are defending, your true absolute line in the sand, is the sacrament of marriage. That is properly the matter of whichever church administers that sacrament, and should be put beyond the reach of law (providing it does not fall foul of criminal statutes such as age limits etc., coercive practices). What gay Americans and those of us who support them are demanding is civil marriage. Nobody likes the term “civil union” because it has acquired a pejorative connotation as something lesser, but that’s all our government has ever licensed: civil unions. Our government does not administer sacraments and never will. For that reason, no notion of sacramental marriage should be allowed to retain some sort of exclusive right of definition of civil marriage. The proper division of these concepts has been in place since day one.

        What should happen now is the formalization of this wall, this demilitarized zone, between church and state. Build it high with watchtowers and razor wire and legal agreements which offer religious people the absolute right to define marriage within their sacraments while forever quashing their usurped power of veto over the terms of civil union. Call state marriage civil union, for everyone. People can then get a civil union, religious marriage, either, both or neither as they wish.

        • Holger

          The problem right now is that the secular part of marriage is often performed during a ceremony at a church with a minister signing the legal paperwork. Now many churches around the country offer already same sex wedding ceremonies. The fact that the Government does not recognize only some, but not all weddings performed at a church will sooner than later be rightfully construed as a violation of the first amendment of no government sponsored religion.

          • kenneth

            That ought to be disentangled completely. Do all of the legalities at a circuit court or clerks office or something and leave all the sacramentals, if any, to the ministers.

    • Scott

      I have a long history with being identified by the state as their agent who signifies that a marriage is legal, ie. more than 16 years of full time ministry as a Christian and pastor of several churches. I am uncomfortable in this role and I don’t like signing the paperwork for marriages. I would rather not be the signee — leave that up to a judge or Justice of the Peace like they have in Europe. Let any couple – see a judge first. Then, if they want a Blessing for their Christian Marriage – let them come to the Christian church of their choice and receive some counseling/ coaching/ mentoring and plan a worship service that includes a Christian Blessing for husband and wife and their life in submission to God and to each other.

  • Derrick

    I really like your discernment with this issue, Time. I’ve been asking myself the same questions for a while and trying to frame how I apply my beliefs to the politics, and it is exceedingly difficult. Your earlier piece about being a “hate-filled Christian” expressed the turmoil perfectly.

    I agree with the argument that we should not compromise our theology in the slightest, but we can let the legal/social battle go. I agree with that about 90%. But there’s a part of me that resonates with what my brother likes to say: that everything is theology. And it seems like this is partly a buying into the common delusion of our culture that religion is a personal, subjective experience that does not apply to anything other than an individual’s self-delusional search for meaning in a chaotic, uncaring universe (see http://theoatmeal.com/comics/religion). I would hate to give in to this notion. Scratch that: I would hate to see our actions interpreted in this way if Evangelicals gave in to the trend of our culture. It’s not that I think homosexuality will have a huge and terrible effect on our culture; It’s that the ever increasing and ever vocal opponents of religion will inevitably spin this as our acknowledgment of the subjectivity of religion.

    I don’t know if that makes sense. I don’t see how I can be consistent–saying that Christ is light and life and love and the reason for existence, and that this world is but a shadow, stooping and hiding a face. And then say that none of the hard truths of that belief system really matter in the “real” world.

    • Derrick

      Dammit! That should say “Tim” (obviously). Sorry.

  • Melinda Vasquez

    The problem with your premise is that we will never know who is right or wrong from a religious stand point in this lifetime. Furthermore, the consequences of being wrong are paid by others and not people who believe as you do. We are not a union of people who are just Evangelicals, but of all faiths (including those who do not practice a faith). Our laws must include all citizens, not just some. Making an argument against rights for gay people based in religion, is irrelevant. Religious beliefs belong in your church synagog, or temple. What is your civil reason against gay marriage?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Melinda, the very reason I’m raising the question of whether evangelicals should any longer insist on heterosexual marriage laws is, of course, because “we are not a union of people who are just Evangelicals.” Otherwise this would not be an issue. There is an important question here on when Christians should fight for the laws to reflect their own convictions and when they should allow for laws that permit a variety of different viewpoints.

      I do not, however, think that religious arguments against gay marriage are irrelevant, nor that religious belongs belong only in the church, synagogue or temple. It has always been the case that people’s voting behavior — and legislators’ legislating behavior — is shaped by their most fundamental convictions, including religious convictions, about the nature of the world, the nature of the human person, and the nature of right and wrong. There’s nothing wrong with Christians pressing for their own values in a secular democracy, just as people of other faiths and philosophies can press for theirs. But I do think there are times when it may be wiser to recognize that there is no longer an overwhelming consensus on a given moral issue, and that embedding our own moral convictions in the law in such a manner that it violates the moral convictions of others, may not be fruitful or wise for the long run.

  • Sus

    I think the time, energy and money fighting SSM based on theology is ridiculous. Of all the issues facing Christians, I just can’t believe this is the big one.

    Some people seem to think that these same sex couples are all about sex and sodomy. They are just like us. Working, paying bills, worrying about retirement and some are raising kids. If you put how you spend your time on a pie chart, the sex slice would probably be a sliver. It’s the same for homosexuals. Hermit’s aunt and her lady friend sound like a couple that should be celebrated. They certainly deserve the same benefits I receive as a married woman.

    Our children are the ones that will solve this. They are being taught in public schools that you shouldn’t despise anyone because of how they look, what religion they are and who they love. The kids are being taught that bullying is not acceptable. They aren’t going to buy the “love the sinner, hate the sin”. Kids are coming out younger and younger and are being accepted by their peers because they see no difference in their friend that is gay.

    • How our children will solve this is just the problem. If we tell them that homosexuality is normal and should be accepted, then what is the norm? How will they establish stable, happy fulfilling marriages if anyone can marry and no one has to marry in order to live together? Should we legalize polygamy? Prostitution? Should the legal institution of marriage be abolished altogether as a meaningless, obsolete concept? What exactly is society saying about marriage? That it doesn’t matter? Everyone should be free to do as he pleases?

      • Josh Lyman

        Again, you have to remember that this is not an abstract matter that we can only theorise about. Same gender marriage is real. It happens. And yet in the places where it happens, people are still establishing happy fulfilling marriages.

      • Sus

        I think it’s insulting to say legalizing gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy, incest and prostitution. You are implying that gay people are all about sex. That is not true. They are just like YOU. Now maybe you are a person whose marriage is only about having sex. If that is a fact, good for you. If it’s not, then stop implying that gay people are only about having sex.

        • The question is, if we legalize same sex marriage, why wouldn’t Mormon polygamists want to have polygamy legalized? And why wouldn’t the sex industry want to have prostitution legalized? They can both bring exactly the same arguments to the table as the gay community — they’re being discriminated against over consensual sex that is their own private business. The government, in effect, has lost any rationalize basis for regulating sexual relationships at all. And if that is the case, why not drop the pretense. If our intention is that people should be allowed to do whatever they want to do in their bedrooms, then abolish the institution of marriage. It no longer serves a usual purpose, and to the extent that it restricts anyone if discriminates against others. But are we prepared, as a society, to shoulder the burden of caring for the children in these chaotic homes?

          • Sus

            The people who want to marry more than one person, a person blood related, a child or their turtle, will have to have their own fight as to why they should be given the same rights as a married couple have. Those relationships have nothing to do with SSM. The idea that legalizing SSM will open the door to any of your fears isn’t rational.

            Has the United States suffered from giving women the same voting rights as men?

            Same sex marriage has nothing to do with the sex that happens behind closed doors. It has to do with TWO people wanting to have the same rights as TWO married people of the opposite gender. That’s all SSM about.

          • kenneth

            Prostitution has nothing to do with SSM. There is a fundamental distinction in law between private consensual acts and commercialized ones. That’s not to say there aren’t arguments for the legalization of prostitution, but it concerns a completely different set of issues. Nor is the issue about what people do in thier private bedrooms. The SSM debate has almost nothing to do with sex itself. Through Lawrence v Texas and other decisions related to privacy law, consenting adults in this country have an essentially unlimited right to whatever non-commercial sexual relations they like in the privacy of their own homes. Allowing or defeating SSM will not affect that in any way. The issue is whether same sex couples who want to live in long-term, potentially lifelong partnership should have the same rights before the law as hetero married couples. If the government does not have a sufficiently compelling reason to deny that, it may or may not have reasons to deny it in other cases.

        • Mr. X

          “I think it’s insulting to say legalizing gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy, incest and prostitution.”

          Perhaps worth pointing out here that Canada’s currently seeing efforts to legalise polygamy, which are using pretty similar arguments to those used by SSM campaigners.

          “You are implying that gay people are all about sex.”

          I think Bob was actually implying that, if the government can redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, there’s no good reason why it can’t also redefine it to include polygamous or incestuous ones. Legalising gay marriage and then stopping seems pretty arbitrary to me, and I don’t see any grounds for thinking that we will actually stop with SSM.

  • Donna

    I appreciate how you laid out your reasoning; I appreciate the wrestling going on, and I join you in it. One unintended consequence I wonder about–If the definition and laws regarding marriage change, will we also be moving toward acceptance of polygamy? At some future point are we going to question whether we should impose our view of marriage consisting of two adults? Will Muslims begin making the same arguments that homosexuals now make, while growing in number, with our children seeing no difference in the people with multiple spouses? Using your line of reasoning can you come up with reasons that opening the definition to homosexual marriage will not end up leading to acceptance of polygamy? Using Scripture in this case can get even murkier…. While I am in some agreement with you in thinking that spending a lot of energy opposing same sex marriage may not be very fruitful, I wonder if we will be horrified in a few years at what walked into the same open door because we were not careful to keep it shut.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, I wonder about that as well. Neo-Pagans argue that they (on the basis of their religious traditions) should be allowed to enjoy polygynous relationships, and there are others who argue that the taboo against consanguineous relationships (relationships between blood relatives) should be dropped too. The chances of genetic abnormalities in the offspring of cousins, they say, is lower than the chances in the offspring of women over forty. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but in any case I’m quite sensitive to the argument that compromising the very definition of marriage as male-female will only lead to further compromises down the line. This was one of the counter-arguments I imagined in my original post, and I think it’s one of the strongest.

      I’m hoping to find someone who will really lay out this argument carefully, so we can all consider it.

      • kenneth

        The slippery slope arguments are a blaring admission that one has no substantive and relevant objections to offer. SSM opponents would have us believe that they are the guardians of the last moral frontier of humanity. Any reconsideration or movement beyond their view would throw humanity into some region of chaos beyond time and space in which no ethical or moral reasoning is remotely possible. Because they cannot make distinctions between widely disparate phenomena, no one else must be able to either. Slippery slope arguments are also usually a thinly veiled way to liken homosexuals to practitioners of bestiality and child rape/incest. Those folks, we’re told, will be applying to marry their victims in droves if we allow gays any sort of legal protection at all in their relationships. We will be powerless to stop them, despite the fact that animals have no standing at all under the law as sentient persons able to execute contracts, and the fact that virtually all incestuous relationships are the product of felony predation of an underage person.

        The issue of polyamory/polygamy is at least an issue worth examining. As part of the pagan community, and as someone who has had extensive contact with various poly families/partnerships, I can tell you that polygamy is not in any way an inherent part of neopaganism. We tend to be open and accepting of these folks, and they are a visible presence in our communities, but there is no pagan tradition that I know of which commands or specifically encourages polygamy. The only folks who practice it as an extension of their theology are Christian sub-sects of Mormonism.

        The question of legalizing such relationships bears its own harm/benefit analysis. The reality is that a LOT of polyamory is going on in this country, though not all of it involves polygamy or full-time marriage-like arrangements. There are legitimate public concerns about these arrangements, especially concerns about whether participants are truly of the age of consent. The rights of children of these situations is also a legitimate concern. The question then becomes whether these women and children are better served by laws which force their situations underground, or some system of legal recognition (or at least decriminalization), in which they would have greater visibility and codified protections of law. Normalizing these situations in law would require considerable work in the areas of family and child welfare law, to be sure. Would legalizing such marriages prompt a flood of new people into those cultures? Evangelicals probably figure everyone else is poised on the edge of their seats waiting for another license for hedonism. I would dispute that. Poly relationships are exponentially more difficult than monogamous ones, and only those hardwired for it even attempt it.

        On a moral basis, I’ve no doubt evangelicals and many others disapprove, but you don’t have the natural law/procreation objection to stand on in this case. Poly relationships certainly do produce children, and more than a few prophets and other revered figures in Christian and other Abrahamic scriptures were polygamous.

    • Kubrick’s Rube

      In regard to the slippery slope to polygamy, the simplest difference is that recognizing same-sex marriage requires no greater change to current practice than gender-neutral licences, while recognizing polygamous marriages requires significant restructuring of all the things that make marriage so useful to the state in the first place. Every combination and permutation of family group- and every time that group changes by addition or subtraction- will require reworking the chain of inheritance, custody, power of attorney, etc. Not to mention the way taxes are filed and health plans structured. Same-sex marriage has none of these bureaucratic issues. It is functionally indistinguishable from the marriages already recognized.

      If there is a slippery slope component to same-sex marriage, I think it runs toward questioning the rules, not abandoning them; it is not inevitable that we will find all old restrictions to be outdated. If the arguments against polygamous and consanguineous marriages (don’t bring marrying children or pets into this if you want the assumption of good faith) are the same as the arguments against same-sex marriage, then I fear they are poor arguments indeed. If they are different arguments (and I think they are), then we’ll make them if the time comes.

      • Kubrick’s Rube

        Also, if the legal basis for same-sex marriage is that gays and lesbians have the right to marry someone, and that restrictions curtail that right, this should have no legal bearing on categories of individuals wanting to expand someone into anyone or everyone. Tim believes gays and lesbians already have the same rights as homosexuals; others disagree. The slippery slope arguments will be more convincing if courts find that Tim is right yet rule that SSM is a right anyway. I find this unlikely.

        • Kubrick’s Rube

          Obviously that should be “the same rights as heterosexuals.”

    • kenneth

      “….I wonder if we will be horrified in a few years at what walked into the same open door because we were not careful to keep it shut.”…..

      The exact same sentiment has been fearfully raised at every change in history. It was certainly raised at the founding of this country on democracy and rejection of the divine right of kings, then taken for granted as a matter of natural law. Allowing men to govern themselves would surely lead to anarchy and genocide. Emancipation was said to be a disaster in the making. If black men were granted freedom and, God forbid, the vote, then murder and rape of white women was sure to be the law of the land, it was said. Giving women the vote was presumed to be the gateway to chaos. Allowing workers to organize to press even the most modest pay and safety demands was said to be the short road to Marxism and the end of free enterprise. The Americans with Disabilities Act would lead to guys claiming laziness as a bona fide disability. All of these changes brought along practical problems and concerns, and most attracted creative plaintiffs and lawyers trying to press an advantage to an absurd nth degree.

      In every case, the underlying change was made because it was the right thing to do, and the accompanying issues were sorted out with some semblance of reason and balance. Considerations of justice and Constitutional rights is not some sort of daisy-chained booby trap where one wrong brush against a wire triggers inevitable disaster. As crazy as we are, our laws and traditions and notions of fair play are stronger than that. I have every confidence that we will, ultimately, find our way to justice on SSM and that the sun will still rise the day after that, even on evangelical houses. I also believe we will retain the faculties and latitude to properly engage other parties who may seek further re-definition of legal marriage.

      • Donna

        You quoted me, and then you linked the quote with times when fear of change was allowed to dehumanize others, and that is offensive to me. I would hope that I would have been an abolitionist had I lived during slavery in America, and I am not so concerned with SSM for couples who are going to be in a long-term monogamous relationship, even though I disagree with it on theological and biological grounds. Living near a major hub of Muslims (Dearborn/Detroit) and doing some volunteer work with the women, my statement is more in regard to the possibility of reopening polygamy, particularly if we allow it for religious reasons. And my biggest objections to it is because of how it dehumanizes women.

        You speak of daisy-chains, and I think it looks like Emancipation WAS daisy-chained into a series of reactions that benefited us–because it treated more and more people equally, as humans. As a woman, I recognize it as absurd to think that (all) men are inherently more qualified to vote than I am. I am not silly enough to believe that our Founding Fathers were all “Christians” according to how I define it, but Christianity was the defining world view that shaped our country. Christianity supports freedom, equality, seeing all people as humans created in the image of God. I DO see those things as daisy-chained together.

        So when one is changing long established laws, it is wise to make sure they are daisy-chained to the right things. Oh how nice it would be if it was just a simple “brush against a wire” that would trigger disaster–because then it would be so much easier to see the consequences of some of our thoughts and directions because the results would be immediate. But since the results are NOT immediate, how much more carefully we need to move! Once upon a time, two-parent families were the norm. In the urban environment in which I live, single parent families are the norm, (or no-parent families, with grandmothers reprising their role as mothers), and the schools and streets are filled with some very angry youth, and virtually everyone lives in poverty. Who knew that easy divorce, and destigmatizing illegitimacy would bring us to this place? So I am going to be cautious, because if SSM is daisy-chained to polygamy, and the door is opened to letting men who view women as property to feel comfortable and “at home” with their non-biblical worldview right next door to me, that is definitely a step backwards.

        You say “our laws and traditions and notions of fair play are stronger than that”–maybe so, but the whole premise of your post was that the traditions need to go and laws need to change! I say “go cautiously” because I am not so sure that everyone has the same sense of “fair play” either. In fact, there are whole categories of laws that are necessary exactly BECAUSE so many people do NOT “play fair,” or so that at least people can see what “playing fair” looks like.

        • kenneth

          There are some weighty women’s rights issues which would have to be addressed in any debate to legalize polygamy. It has some fundamentally issues at play than in a 1:1 marriage, including SSM. Most of your concerns about women as property exist right now, in the everyday monogamous sectors of Muslim, Christian, secular and every other sort of community. In fact some of the worst male offenders derive their notions of complete submission of women from a Biblical world view, if a warped one.

          Muslim women can face some additional issues in the form of honor killings, female circumcision and the insularity of immigrant communities and language barriers which can prevent them coming forward for help. I don’t think polygamy would greatly compound those issues, and I don’t think American Muslims are as prone toward polygamy as you might suppose. I talked with a Muslim friend of mine in depth about this, and I’m told that polygamy in Islam has some pretty stringent and expensive requirements and so its mostly reserved to the oil guys and other mega rich.

          It’s also important for us to understand that these rights problems are happening right now because polygamy happens right now. The women who are in abusive situations there are essentially beyond the help of law because the risk of prosecution drives it all underground. The present system empowers men who use polygamy for selfish ends and who do so with intimidation and manipulation. It cuts women off from any meaningful access to domestic abuse resources child support or other legal protections. The fact that polygamist might use a successful SSM decision in their court briefs will not carry the day for them. No court is going to overturn anti-polygamy law en masse unless and until they see significant cultural and legislative moves in that direction, and some sort of rational framework for addressing multiple partner child custody etc.

  • It would be interesting to know how Christians in South Africa have come to terms with polygamy. The President of South Africa has several wives. If SSM is allowed them I presume the prohibition on polygamy will have to be lifted thus reversing the SCOTUS ruling that ended Mormon practice.

  • Brenda

    I agree, but the only question I have, is will churches/ministers be sued for discrmination if they refuse to allow a same-sex ceremony in their respective churches?

    • kenneth

      No doubt someone will try. Part of the beauty and horror of this country is that anyone can ask a court to consider almost any plea through a lawsuit. Prisoners will try to use religious freedom arguments to say they should be allowed to keep a 12-inch dagger in their cells. That doesn’t mean they will get far. Whatever looniness may be happening in the UK or elsewhere, the courts in this country are very reluctant to insert themselves into the inner workings of religious organizations.

    • Josh Lyman

      Has anyone been sued for refusing to hold a mixed race marriage? Or for refusing to marry Hindus in their church?

      • kenneth

        It’s very hard to envision how a U.S. court would ever support a discrimination suit by a same sex couple seeking to force a church to marry them against their will. Just this past summer, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Court said religious group’s power to hire who they want as “ministers” to teach their theology the way they want is essentially absolute. A teacher who spent 45 minutes a day teaching religion was not even allowed to press a claim under federal disability law because the church didn’t find it compatible with its beliefs. The justices cited chuch-state separation to keep the state off of the church’s back.

        They also said future plaintiffs could still try suing for other types of discrimination claims in churches, but the decision sets a Mount Everest-sized hurdle for them to clear. The anti-SSM hysteria which says that governments will take over churches and arrest anyone who doesn’t praise SSM is based on a flight of fancy (or paranoia) which is calculated to rally their own troops to fight SSM. It has no rational basis in law or fact.

        • Kenneth, someone suing a church over employment discrimination is a very different animal from suing a church for not performing a marriage.

          Although the Hosanna-Tabor Church case was filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the typical route for an employee seeking redress for workplace discrimination is Title VII the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion (although as the Court alluded in Hosanna Tabor, there is a ministerial exception for religious organizations that employing clergy).

          None of this is remotely applicable to performing marriages. No law prohibits a church from discrimination of any kind in solemnizing marriages (or performing any other rite, ritual, sacrament, teaching or providing any other spiritual or religious service). This is very important to understand there: there is no general, universally applicable law against discrimination, and there is no cause of action or right to sue that arised from discrimination generally. Such a law simply does not exist.

          There is no legal basis for a criminal or civil action against a church for refusing to marry a same-sex (or interracial!) couple.

          Could you file a lawsuit anyway? Sure–as you pointed out above, nothing stops a person from filing a meritless lawsuit (other than the expense, the bother, the possible disciplinary sanctions against their lawyer, and other purely pragmatic concerns).

          I went into more detail on this question in a comment to a post on Bill Blankschaen’s blog (twice actually), but the long and short of it is, (1) right now race is the most protected category against discrimination in the United States by a huge margin, but absolutely nothing can stop a church from refusing to marry an interracial couple, or denying sacraments or ordination to people on the basis of their race (2) the mere federally recognition of gay marriage would not provide any protection against discrimination, and (3) even if some sort of anti-gay-discrimination law was passed, which would be a separate issue altogether and entirely unrelated to legalizing same sex marriage, there is no reason to think it would be anywhere near as protective as the existing protections against race discrimination, which do not force churches to perform interracial marriages.

    • A Hermit

      Here in Canada same sex marriages were legalized federally in 2005; the legislation explicitly states that no religious institution can be compelled to perform any marriage which violates that religious institution’s beliefs.

      Of course this is nothing new; try and get a Catholic priest to marry a divorced person…can’t be done without the Pope’s blessing.

      On the other hand, my wife and I have been married for almost thirty years and since they made SSM legal our marriage has turned all gay!!11!!

      (not really…hasn’t affected us in the least…)

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        See my post on Three Red Herrings in the Gay Marriage Debate (or some such title).

  • Rain

    “…in my understanding of the Triune God and how we image God together in marital union.”

    You should convey this understanding to other religions so that they can see how silly they are. But really all you have are a bunch of words that sound silly to them. Not very effective at all. Your best chance would be to indoctrinate children in their youth so that it doesn’t seem so silly to them. But that’s what other religions do too, so there we are again.

    You could try by doing good deeds and set an example for other people, but really all you are showing them is that you can do good deeds. Your best bet in that case would be to somehow trick them and yourself into thinking that it demonstrates the truth of your (arguably not silly) religious beliefs. However, other religions do that too, so there we are.

  • Gregory Peterson

    And I believe that you’re wrong. I believe that you’re comfortable with racist-like stereotypes of “those people.” “Homosexual behavior?” Anything that those sinful “homosexuals” do is “homosexual behavior” and therefor being Gay is inherently sinful just by breathing….autonomic homosexual behavior, right? That’s the same argument that racists were making when I was a child…that “Negro behavior” made those “Negroes” (which conservatives of the day professed to love) simply incapable of being good people, even if they do good things now and then. God hates race mixing…just ask Finis Dake.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      You’re welcome to believe what you wish.

      The point was, people tend to blur it all together, and there are genuine differences of opinion even amongst homosexuals about what constitutes homosexual identity or whether it’s appropriate in the first place to define one’s identity by one’s sexual desires. Neither the desires nor a persistent inclination toward those desires are sinful, in my view. Clearly the “behavior” referenced here is sexual relations with people of the same sex — not anything gay people do. So no, “being Gay is” NOT “inherently sinful just by breathing,” according to this way of thinking.

      The racist slur just assumes what you need to prove. And citing what the founder of the white Citizen’s Council said is — as an academic like yourself should know — not an argument. Does this mean that anyone who claims not to be bigoted actually *is* bigoted? Racism asserts the inferiority of an entire race on the basis of an inherited trait. It’s quite another thing to believe that a certain kind of action (sex with people of the same sex) is wrong.

  • I’m being a Bit Spammy? Really, Patheos?

    As the founder of the white Citizen’s Council, Robert B. Patterson, declared: “We don’t consider ourselves hate-mongers and racists and bigots.” (From the book: “The Deep South Says Never” by John Bartlow Martin. Ballantine Books, New York. 1957. page 3.) What do you don’t consider yourself to be?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      It’s not Patheos, it’s a regular WordPress function that seems a bit over-sensitive on what seems “spammy.” I don’t know what you were typing or trying to say when it said you were being a bit spammy, but it happens. I promise the plugin did not mean to offend.

  • Do you deserve Gay friends, relatives, coworkers, let alone police officers, doctors in the ER who might save your life, professors, soldiers protecting your country, refuse collectors keeping your neighborhood fit to live in? Nevertheless, sometimes you get what you don’t deserve.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      And I’m thankful for that, to be sure.

  • Caleb

    Regarding point#2, you mention your desires as being sinful, but not those of the homosexual. So, when does a desire become sinful? Is desiring a sinful act not sinful? I don’t believe it’s wise (or Scriptural) to leave someone to their desires and wish them good luck. Sin is in the heart, not in the hand.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Having a desire for something is not necessarily sinful. I may see a beautiful woman stroll across the hall and feel a desire toward her. I think where the sin comes is in entertaining that desire, yielding to the desire inwardly even if not outwardly.

      In the same way, let’s imagine a young man who finds himself, for the first time, attracted to a male friend. I do not see that in itself as sinful. It may be evidence of sin, or the consequence of living in a sinful world, evidence of the distortions of desire, but the desire is not sinful in itself, in my view. Yet we are responsible over time, I believe, to yield our will more and more to God and to seek to cultivate the right desires and silence the wrong desires.

  • This is a slippery-slope to interracial marriage.

  • DP

    I think I’m still stuck on how it is that so many Christians think that the Bible unequivocally upholds one-woman-one-man as the only valid relationship.

    • Dano

      I don’t think that anyone is saying that’s what the Bible says. I think the strong view here is that a one woman, one man relationship is the only one which a) qualifiies for Biblical marriage and b) reflects God’s puposes for human sexuality.

    • J. Morales

      I’m stuck on how you could think otherwise. The Bible is a historical documents and accurately records when people deviated from God’s ideal. You notice that it rarely goes well. Solomon had many wives and concubines, which led him astray from God. Abraham had a child by Hagar, and that child was forever the enemy of his and their descendants continue to fight with each other. One could go on. Just read Matthew 19, Christ affirms the model of traditional marriage established back in Genesis there.

      If you want to change the definition of marriage, fine. I disagree, but fine. However, the Bible is pretty clear on what God wants from marriage and how He designed it to be, even if people do stray from that.

  • Dano

    This is a fascinating discussion. Well put argument. I’m an Australian – we’re a little further behind the States on this one, but we’re on the same road. I’m a Christian and we’re already having the same hearty discussions among ourselves. I’d make two points:
    1. I think you’re downplaying what I would see as one of the strongest arguments in favour of resistance on this issue; namely the consequences in terms of further legislation and the state of the family unit. Nobody in their right mind understands this as stand-alone issue. There are very profound ramifications, I would suggest, for the raising of children and for the definition of the family unit. Firstly, are we prepared to make legislative decisions which we believe are NOT in the best interests of an unborn generation? Are we convicted – and like me, it sounds like you are – that the best environment for raising children is the family as God outlines in Scripture? If so, are we not strongly compelled to act in the interests of those whose voice cannot be heard in this discussion? Moreover, I would argue that what is at stake here is more than whether gay couples can legally marry. I think fundamentally we’re talking about the re-defining (granting the State power do so) marriage. Are we happy to set that precedent – that the State, acting in what it perceives to be the interests of society – can redefine marriage? If so, would we let this slide were the case in point whether three persons could be married? Or whether a person could marry a close blood relative? Or whether a person could legally marry a pet? I’m being extreme; and the challenge is that my argument is simply ‘slippery-slope’. But there is nothing wrong with slippery slope arguments if they’re demonstrably reasonble. And I’d put it that setting a precedent for a redefinition of the family unit by the State is a step in a very dangerous direction. That’s the first reservation I have.
    2. The second one is to do with your argument that we have allowed legislation upon other matters which we take a theologically moral stand against. Indeed we do. I’ve been thinking about what the difference might be in this instance. What I can come up with, is that at one level, it’s an irrelevant point. We’re not discussing whether drunkenness should be legal or otherwise. And we can’t apply the context of this decision to try to shed light on whether we would allow a completely separate vice. Until somewhat recently homosexuality was illegal in one state of Australia. 100 years ago, it was probably illegal in just about every state of each of our nations. In less western places, by and large, it still is! It’s easy to use those things as evidence that there comes a time to ‘throw our hands up’. But it’s not evidence that this is a time for us to do so on this issue.

    Thanks for starting this discussion. It’s been helpful for my thinking.

    • Sus

      1. I don’t know if it’s the same in Australia but here in the U.S. the traditional family definition has already been shot to h*ll. There are more single moms by choice then never. That has nothing to do with gay people. They are not responsible for this. If a gay couple would like to have a family, they could very well impact all the foster children waiting for adoption right this minute.
      Gay marriage has NOTHING to do with marrying your close relative or your pet. To lump gay marriage in with those issues is insulting. Gay marriage is between two human beings. It is not incest or sex with animals.
      2. There have been many laws that have been changed or made irrelevant. Slavery comes to mind.

      • J. Morales

        I weary of people dismissing incest out of hand. You have to deal with it. It might be offensive to you, but you need an answer.

        If marriage is not “one man, one woman”, but instead is “marry anyone you want”. If we have a right to “marry anyone we want”, why then would you exclude incestuous and polygamous relationships? After all, they won’t get equal treatment under the law or be able to “pursue happiness” if you deny them the chance to marry the person (or persons) they love? So, on what grounds would you oppose this? It doesn’t matter how offended you are, people are already making this argument in court and you need an answer for it.

        • kenneth

          We have an answer for it. The law has an answer for it. Every middle school kid who’s ever watched a cop show has an answer for it. The answer is that incest is a product of predatory abuse of a minor. There is no ability to give proper consent in that instance. If you can’t see this, you’re either cynically trying to poison the debate, or there’s a fundamental inability to employ moral reason on your part, not ours.

  • You bring up an interesting point about legislative. I’ll think on this.

  • J. Morales

    Mr. Dalrymple,

    A few points, if I may. For starters, you seem to be basically asking, is it inevitable? To which I would say, no. I think that at one time the pro-choice position seemed inevitable, but now the pro-life movement is making a big comeback. Just because the trend is one way today, doesn’t mean that will be the same tomorrow. The only way we guarantee “inevitability” is to stop fighting.

    Another point, why is that we Christians are accused of imposing our views on others when we vote our values? Why do we internalize this? Does an atheist put aside his atheism and his values when he goes to vote? Does anyone demand this of him? Your religion, or lack thereof, will influence your worldview and your values. So long as you’re not violating the rights of another, I see no issue with voting your values. If the atheist doesn’t have to put his atheism in a box when he goes to vote, I don’t have to put my Christianity in a box when I vote.

    Regardless, there are other reasons besides moral and religious ones to oppose SSM. Marriage is usually a positive for men and women, helps create stability in society (when was the last time you saw a gang of married men loitering around the streets at night?), and is the best environment for raising children. You correctly point out that our marriage culture is already in trouble, so what? If the patient is sick, do you give them arsenic? I would love to change our divorce laws away from no-fault, but that’s not where we are as a society right now. I do the best I can within that framework and work to keep things from getting worse. Should we “win” the SSM fight, I would love to work on changing our culture and hopefully changing our divorce laws next! 🙂

  • Michael

    I have never heard this argument before, but it makes sense and I think I agree with it. The one thing I wonder about is the legal implications of allowing gay marriage. You said it would be better for this change (assuming it happens) to come about through legislative means in order to protect religious conscience, which makes sense. But what would happen for secular companies (say a manufacturer, for example) with Christian owners? How could safeguards be built in to protect individual conscience against lawsuits and things like that? Already people and businesses are sued for not providing services for a gay wedding. How can we prevent those kinds of things?