An Evangelical Argument for Permitting Same-Sex Marriage Laws

An Evangelical Argument for Permitting Same-Sex Marriage Laws February 1, 2013

Recently I mentioned that I was sincerely questioning whether religious conservatives should still favor laws and constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage.  My reasons were partly practical, partly strategic, and partly theological.  Let me try to reframe the argument:

1.  It was once the case that there prevailed in the United States an overwhelming cultural consensus on the meaning of marriage.  The United States inherited its cultural consensus on the meaning of marriage from the Judeo-Christian tradition.  While some of the stories of the Old Testament show individuals with multiple wives, the image of marriage that emerges from the whole counsel of scripture is strongly monogamous and unequivocally heterosexual.  When Genesis grounds the marital union of male and female in the created order itself, and when Jesus reaffirms that model, and when countless other scriptures (especially in the epistles) affirm that model as well, it’s 99 percent clear from scripture that marriage should be monogamous and 100% clear that it should be heterosexual.  This is the model that America received from the classical Christian tradition, and it’s the model I defend to this day.

2.  The Judeo-Christian model of marriage is not merely pragmatic or moral, but also theological.  Traditional Christians believe that homosexuality is morally wrong and that same-sex marriage is theologically incoherent.  Marriage is not merely a contract.  It’s an institution ordained by God as a shelter for the procreation and protection of children, as a sacrament for his sanctifying grace to the husband and wife, and as an image of (and therefore a teaching tool for) God’s loving union with the church.  The difference and complementarity of male and female are essential to all three points.  That this is a THEOLOGY of marriage becomes increasingly apparent when you study other theologies of marriage, such as Neo-Pagan models that are frequently polygynous or polyandrous, or Muslim or various Eastern models that are polygynous, or even emerging secular ideologies of marriage in the west that are merely contractual and include none of the theological content, and certainly not the theology of monogamy, that one finds in the Judeo-Christian model of marriage.

3.  There is no longer an overwhelming cultural consensus in the United States in favor of the traditional Judeo-Christian model (theology) of marriage.  If you ask Pew, 49 percent favor allowing same-sex marriage and 40 percent do not.  An ABC poll from last September presents slightly more favorable figures for the opponents of same-sex marriage, with 37 percent in favor of legal recognition and 55 percent opposed.  In either case, however, it’s clear the cultural consensus has been lost — and every indication is that the marriage consensus will dissolve further.  A recent Gallup poll indicates that 73 percent of younger people favor allowing same-sex marriage. The New York Times and CBS News have asked the same three-part question for years — and in November 2004, 21 percent of respondents said that gay couples should be allowed to marry, 32 percent favored civil unions and 44 percent were opposed to any legal recognition. In May of last year, those numbers had changed to 38 percent in support of marriage, 24 percent in favor of civil unions and only 33 percent opposed to legal recognition of same-sex couples.  That’s a quick change.  Gay marriage is now legally recognized in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Maine, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

4.  So the question becomes, in a secular democracy that lacks an overwhelming cultural consensus in favor of the Judeo-Christian model of marriage, can we and should we as Christians insist that our model of marriage and only our model of marriage be legally recognized?  This is where I feel cornered by my own argument.  I have insisted over against critics that the marriage issue is not just a “culture war” issue because it’s not a matter of “cultural” preference but a fundamentally moral and theological matter.  But if the Judeo-Christian model of marriage is fundamentally moral and theological, then do I have a right in our secular democracy to insist that my moral and theological vision of marriage should be legally enforced while other moral and theological visions should not?  My quick answer is:

5.  We have a RIGHT (just like everyone else) to press for laws that we believe are in the best interest of the country, even if those laws are grounded in our religious beliefs — but whether we SHOULD organize to defend our theological model of marriage legally and oppose other ones is another question.  In my view, it’s perfectly permissible for American laws to enshrine common moral and theological convictions, (A) as long as they do not trample the rights of a minority and (B) as long as there is an overwhelming cultural consensus in favor of those convictions.

To take (A) — in a sense, everyone has a right to marry.  The state cannot interfere in someone going into a church to marry.  But there is no right to have the state recognize your marriage.  So I do not believe that current laws deny same-sex partners any rights.  Therefore, I do not accept the argument that there is anything immoral or unconstitutional in promoting the Judeo-Christian model of marriage, just as others will promote other models in the contest of ideas that is democracy.

This is, then, not a moral or constitutional but a prudential question: Should we, in the absence of a cultural consensus in favor of our Judeo-Christian model of marriage, try to get our model of marriage legally enforced and other models excluded?  I’m not sure that we should.  When everyone more or less agrees, that’s one thing.  When a substantial percentage of the country does not, then you have one half of the country (let’s say) forcing the other half to live according to its own moral and theological rules.  We would be asking the American State to take our side over against other religious or non-religious ways of thinking about marriage.  I’m not convinced that’s wise.

  • Even though we should continue to affirm our moral view that homosexuality is wrong and our theological view that only heterosexual marriage is truly marriage in the eyes of God, we might acknowledge that we live in an increasingly pluralistic secular democracy where we cannot insist that our moral and theological vision of marriage holds the power of the state and employs that power to defeat and exclude all other models.
  • Even though we might feel that legally recognizing same-sex marriages is not in the best interest of the country, we might also feel that forcing others to live under our moral and theological convictions — convictions they do not share — is not in the best interest of our witness to non-believers.  We cannot always save others from the consequences of their decisions.
  • Even though we might not want, in an ideal world, for same-sex marriage to be legally recognized, we might recognize that the culture is moving that direction, and make a prudential judgment that it would be better to win a legislative compromise that secures our religious freedoms and conscience protections, rather than waiting for the legalization of same-sex marriage by fiat of a Supreme Court judgment that could haunt us for decades to come.

6.  Finally, however, we can still oppose same-sex marriage legally and theologically, even if we do not prevent it legally.  Hugh Hewitt had me on his radio program recently, in conversation with Owen Strachan, about the Supreme Court taking up a same-sex marriage case.  Hugh asked me: “How would you feel if Justice Kennedy cited your blog post to say that even conservative Christians are dropping their opposition to same sex marriage, and in light of these cultural changes we should legally recognize same-sex marriage?”  It was a killer question.  Honestly, I would feel bad.  I remain a critic of same-sex marriage.  I oppose it morally and theologically.  I think its consequences would be negative.  I’m just not sure I should oppose it legally, because I am reticent to use the law to enforce my theology over others, in light of the aforementioned prudential concerns.  It’s like premarital sex, or extramarital sex, or divorce without biblical cause, or using God’s name in vain, or committing blasphemy.  I want to convince the culture that it’s wrong, and harmful, and based on a false understanding of sex, family, and God.  But that doesn’t mean I should prohibit these things legally.  So even though I would feel bad, if the witness of the church were better heard, and if we served better to persuade the culture of what we hold to be true and good, then perhaps the outcome would not be too bad.  But the question itself points out how important it could be to bring some Christian leaders forward to forge a legislative compromise that does not morally condone same-sex marriage, but removes our legal opposition to same-sex marriage in exchange for religious liberty protections.  Pretty soon, it may be too late for a compromise.

That’s my argument.  What do you think? 

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  • scotmcknight

    This sounds more like a two realms theory to me. An Anabaptist view asks how should Christians live in the context of the church, so it asks what is right for Christians. Maybe this is simplistic but it appears to me you’ve given up the Reformed culture-war battle for a more Lutheran settlement.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’ve never really identified as Reformed, but I get your point. Maybe I’m a two-realmser at heart.

      • Luke

        Interestingly, I had the exact opposite take. A two-kingdoms approach would understand that marriage is a creation ordinance. It is a part of God’s common kingdom and is not limited to his redemptive kingdom (though Christians do have unique responsibilities and motivations in their own marriages). So the case for traditional marriage need not impose a particular theological vision for marriage on the broader culture. Instead, the case for traditional marriage can be made on the basis of natural law, without ever citing chapter and verse in the public square.

        • victoria

          “So the case for traditional marriage need not impose a particular theological vision for marriage on the broader culture. Instead, the case for traditional marriage can be made on the basis of natural law, without ever citing chapter and verse in the public square.”

          A natural law argument is still, in general, at least a quasi-theological argument if not an entirely theological argument. (Imagine what a natural law argument for “traditional marriage” might look like in a society that has historically been polygamous and in which there exists a belief that polygamy is better suited for men because it allows them to meet an evolutionary tendency to spread their genetic material widely.)

  • Keith

    As you said, “there is no right to have the state recognize your marriage.”
    This isn’t about us imposing anything on anyone. It’s about gay couples seeking the sanctioning of the government, which is made up of our representatives, paid for by our taxes. Therefore, they’re asking for our blessing. They seek to impose their beliefs on us. My answer is no.

    • Crœsos

      I’m not sure that follows. I’m sure there are several opposite-sex couples you know or have heard of whose marriage you don’t approve (e.g. Britney Spears and Jason Allen Alexander’s fifty-five hour marriage). Does the fact that they could get legally married mean that they automatically got the blessing of every voting age American citizen?

      • Keith

        If I had a line-item veto for every marriage application (and if God added hundreds of hours to each day to accommodate that), then I’d be tempted to apply my statement to them too.
        But that would be judging their marriage in advance. With gay marriage, I don’t have to wait for hindsight to have my disapproval confirmed.

    • Crœsos

      For that matter, does the fact that American law permits remarriage after divorce “impose” that belief on Roman Catholics? Perhaps for a very limited value of “impose”, but I’m not sure that reason alone would be sufficient to alter American law to bring it in line with the Holy See.

      • rvs

        Interesting point.

    • Kenneth

      Civil marriage is about defined legal rights and protections, not blessings. Nobody seeks nor cares for the state’s blessings, and in fact, our Constitution absolutely bars the state from offering spiritual blessing or condemnation on any matter.

  • You stated that an “overwhelming cultural consensus in favor of our convictions” is one of your criterion for whether we should defent our moral and theological positions – you can’t possibly mean this? As a Christian, looking at the country and “cultural consensus” today, we are clearly in a state of moral decline. Should the “culture’s” morality define what we stand for? What about during times of slavery? The culture was largely in favor of it for a long time – so should we have not “organized in opposition” to it? Same with treatment of women, treatment of children, treatment of the sick – if Christians weren’t willing to publicly go ‘against the grain’ in the name of morality time and time again (as Jesus said we would have to), the world would be a very different and very much more dangerous place today, my friend.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      No, that’s not what I’m arguing.

      I’m asking under what conditions is it permissible to insist that MORAL and THEOLOGICAL convictions are enshrined in the LAW. I didn’t want to go into this too much, but one can conceive of the law as amoral — it’s the minimum set of laws necessary to defend our rights and ensure a functioning society. I believe, in contrast to this view, that it’s permissible for a society’s moral convictions to be enshrined in the law. But there are conditions. Even if 95 percent of us believed that it’s wrong to worship Allah, we could not pass a law prohibiting the worship of Allah because it would trample on the rights of the minority Muslims. And let’s say that 95 percent of Americans once agreed that divorce should only be permissible under biblical conditions (infidelity, abuse, etc). In that case, I think it’s perfectly fine for the laws to reflect that overwhelming cultural consensus on what’s right and wrong. Once you get down to 40 percent, however, then maybe it’s time for the American legal system (which, in spite of the Judeo-Christian background of the country, is intended to be a secular democracy) to permit divorce under other conditions, because there’s no longer an overwhelming cultural consensus on the issue. Does that help?

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        So, in other words, I’m not saying that Christians should cease to oppose something in the face of cultural opposition. I’m only talking about what the law should be in a secular democracy. Christians oppose extramarital sex, quite vociferously, but do not employ the law to do so.

        • The Count

          True, Christians oppose pre-marital sex, and they do not use the law to do so, but nobody forces them to call those sexual relationships marriage . In the same way, homosexual relationships should not be considered marriage, but that is what’s being forced on us.

          The result? Christians will be forced to call them marriages despite deep-held beliefs to the contrary. If people who resist paying for contraception are subject to absurd fines, what will happen to those that don’t recognize the State’s power to re-define the oldest cultural institution?

          Your reticence to “impose” your beliefs on others is admirable but don’t forget that there are no such compunctions on the other side. I too was once (and still am really) for domestic partnerships, but that indeed turned out to be the slippery slope it’s critics predicted, and is now viewed as a morally retrograde position. This sentiment will only get worse.

          Ultimately though this is a cultural issue, one that we are losing. Our culture, with the full backing of the power of the State, is seeking to re-define a central cultural institution that pre-dates the State. It should have no authority to do so. Yet it is, and once it’s enshrined in law I don’t see how it will be possible to go back. That will make the work of the Church more difficult, and that is the biggest shame of all.

          • Riley

            OK…take common-law marriage then…it’s pretty much cohabitation and it facilitates the sin of premarital sex. By the Christian standard, should the word “marriage” be even attached to this category of union? No Christians that I know object to the term “marriage” being used in this case, though we believe cohabitation and premarital sex are sinful according to the Bible, it’s not “marriage.” So, the Church has LEGALLY tolerated (NOT condone) certain sins, but we still believe that they are wrong in God’s eyes and we teach accordingly in the Church. I think it’s possible to do the same with same-sex marriage.

        • Martin

          Aristotle thought the laws should make the people virtuous. Could you expatiate what you think the law should be in a secular democracy?

      • serona

        Please don’t confuse “insisting” with “voting for” or “lobbying for” or “persuading for” or “donating to the cause of”. Our system of government has already answers “what convictions should be enshrined in law”. The answer is, that which 1) conforms to the Constitution and 2) is legally voted or legislatively enacted.

        Our *system of governance* is morally and religiously agnostic (one ballot is neither more nor less intrinsically moral than another). Let we the people engage as motivated by our conscience.

      • Tony

        You asked “…under what conditions is it permissible to insist that MORAL and THEOLOGICAL convictions are enshrined in the LAW”. The answer is simple. None. Neither Christians nor Muslims nor Jews nor Hindus nor Jains nor Zoroastrians nor Sikhs nor any other religion has any right whatsoever to have their own theological convictions given any special consideration or any special dispensation that anyone else need take any heed or account of. Particularly not in the United States which, as you correctly pointed out, was not in any way founded on the Christian or any other religion. If, however, a person insists that their theological views are actually and in fact what god wants, and insists that the law follow their theological precepts, then those who disgree with that person have the right to insist on absolute beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt proof of that. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of any such evidence, it is permissible to dismiss any theological argument against SSM out of hand.

    • Crœsos

      Looked at from another perspective, the willingness of someone to say that theology should be backed with the force of law is almost always directly proportional to their certainty that it will be THEIR theology that is so privileged. As a thought experiment, try considering if you’d be so in favor of legal enforcement of theological positions if it were Hindu or Islamic theology that would be enforced.

      • serona

        That is a Strawman argument. Evangelical opposition to SSM laws is *not* equivalent to attempts to impose Theocracy. But please do try the thought experiment in reverse. What does the law look like stripped of *every* item that is also found in some scripture, from any religion. Don’t forget to include pagan religions, Gaia religions and even strong athiest philosophy (for where do you draw the line between religion and philosophy?) I’d wager there would be little left to the “law” so constructed.

    • Adavis2087

      You’re automatically assuming that the Christian principles on morality intrinsically creates a monolithic support for whatever historical argument you have referenced. Any history book detailing civil rights, slavery or women’s suffrage will clearly demonstrate that Christians were on both sides of each of those rigorous debates that we’ve had as a country. I’m still told today by Southern Christians that the South was righteous in their quest to keep slavery. Christians are just as diverse politically as the rest of the country and throughout history. Christian principles have been used in the arguments for slavery and against women and civil rights. I’d be more careful about invoking a refuted notion that Christians have such a great track record throughout American history of moral issues.

  • Marty

    I don’t grapple with theology vs secular government on this issue. Every person on the planet is still the direct result of the union of one man and one woman. Is Mother Nature a bigot? Maybe she is… all the laws in the world won’t change her mind, nor can any law make separate “equal”.

    Depriving a child of a mother or a father because of your own bias against a particular gender is cruel and unusual, in my opinion. It’s not illegal however, but should The State encourage/reward such behavior? I think that is the critical question that We The People must answer.

  • MikeStar

    Timothy thank you for this post. I have struggled with these issues myself. It’s not that I am intending to surrender my beliefs about God and sexuality, its just that I live in the very blue state of Illinois. Illinois has not legalized same sex marriage yet but is expected to sometime during the Spring Legislative Session. Conservative Christian groups have never had much influence in this state. The Illinois Republican Party tends to be fairly liberal on social issues. The state GOP chairman has even come out in support of same sex marriage and the Democrats have a super-majority in the legislature. At least at the state level, I and many other Christians, are questioning how we should response to same sex marriage when it seems to be so inevitable (at least here in Illinois).

  • Timothy, wouldn’t it make more sense, given your argument, to remove the state’s recognition of marriage all together? Then, no so called ‘right’ is being denied homosexuals, but neither are they able to use same-sex marriage laws to restrict the religious freedom of those who oppose homosexuality (i.e wedding photographers).

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m open to that, in theory, but when one looks in detail at what that would look like in practice, I have to say it becomes less attractive.

      • Kenneth

        It would mean that hetero couples would have to give up all of the same legal protections and tax benefits etc. that they wish to deny gays. It’s a scorched earth tactic, but it’s wise to stop and remember what happens when you torch your neighbor’s field bordering your own…..

    • Crœsos

      Remind me again which section of the Bible says “thou shalt not let queers file a joint tax return, for verily they should render unto Cæsar using the single filer status only”?

  • serona

    You keep using phrases like, “we cannot insist ” and “forcing others to live under our moral and theological convictions”.

    This thinking is false, for it pre-supposes that Christian (or any) belief and motivation holds the power of state. The reality of the situation is that all of the debates, court cases, ballot initiatives and legislative races are being played out in the political sphere where Christian citizens, just like secular citizens, have the inalienable right to vote, lobby, assemble, protest and persuade.

    To suggest that *motivation* is co-extensive with legislative power is false. To suggest that legally enacted laws, regulations or elected representatives are somehow de-legitimized (or worse, an illegal breach of separation) because they comport with a religious position is a logical fallacy of the worst kind.

    Do not confuse legal policy, agenda and candidate advocacy with tyranny, forcing religion down others’ throats or “forcing others to live under our moral law”. That is not what Christians opposing ANY issue do. Only the law compels people in our democracy. How that law is formed and how it evolves is governed by our democratic process open to all citizens, regardless of their motivation or popularity.

    So let the Christians vote, advocate for legal positions, referenda, candidates and regulations both within their States and within this nation. Let the others vote as well. The process decides the power.

  • Duane

    There aren’t enough printing presses in the world to print the kind of money you’ll need to fund the society you’re going to get if you destroy marriage as it as been through all history. What makes the moderns so smart and wise? This has unintended consequences written all over it. Not tomorrow or next year but if you think the black family has been decimated just give same sex marriage and its ultimate outcomes a couple generations.

  • Duane

    So if we allow gay marriage to get religious protection how long do you seriously think that will last? When has the left ever keep any of it’s promises?

  • Duane

    Do you really want to be known as the “Neville Chamberlain” of the same sex marriage wars?

  • Steve

    What about the consequences of federal laws against discrimination being used against those who affirm traditional views of marriage? Once legally enshrined, gay marriage will be used against Christian colleges (no student loans for schools which “discriminate”) and public schools will indoctrinate children against tradional views, and people will be fired from jobs simply because they personally disagree with gay marriage. These kinds of things are likely. There should be stronger protections of religious freedom before Christians (and others) surrender legal opposition to gay marriage. This issue is about more than who can get married; it is a cultural sledgehammer to fully legitimize homosexuality and to stigmatize traditional religious morality. I also think that there is a spiritual battle going on below the surface fueling this debate and giving up on the legal battle will not bring about the “live and let live” ideal that some hope for.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      That was the point of saying that there would be a legislative compromise in return for strong religious liberty protections. Whether any such protections would be forthcoming, or whether they’d last long or be effective, is a very legitimate question.

      • George Yancey

        I think this is key. There is still clout in that about 30 states have laws against SSM and those will not go away easily. But if supporters of SSM want to get rid of those laws and make this a national standard then Christians much insist on high standards of religious freedom and freedom of consciousness. Without those protections there are too many people who have a hatred of Christians who will use this issues to try to silence public expressions of Christians. I am not yet sure if this is the best route to take on this issue but Tim’s arguments are very convincing.

    • Crœsos

      This seems far fetched. How many Catholic colleges have been forced to close because of their position on remarriage after divorce? I’d estimate the number as roughly “none”. And I’d expect those who object to public schools accurately teaching whatever the law is to handle it in much the same way ultra-Orthodox Jews handle the situation. Simply take their kids aside (assuming they even go to public school and not yeshiva) and say “Your teachers say that marriage between Jews and gentiles is permitted, but this is not our way.” Ditto for any Christian Identity followers and inter-racial marriage.

      You act as if this is the first time church and state have ever disagreed on a legal issue. This isn’t even the first time they’ve disagreed on marriage law. Is there any reason to think that legal oppression will follow this time when it’s failed to materialize every other time?

  • George Yancey

    I have developed sympathy towards Tim’s arugments. But if Chrstians go in this direction then care must be taken not to allow such a move to be used against Churches or consciousness in the future. Fifteen years ago no one seriously considered same sex marriage. Now to not accept it is to invite charges of homophobia. So merely because activists are not willing to make a direct imposition on Christians to approve same-sex marriages today does not mean that this will not happen in the future. Christians should not simply give up their opposition without having build in protections for churches and consciousness. That is the only way Christians can maintian a moral opposition but sit out any legal battles over same-sex marriage.

    • Kenneth

      So start negotiating in good faith toward a compromise with protections for churches while you still have a degree of relative leverage. The anti-SSM Christian community seems to be demanding a winner-takes-all scorched earth game right now, and that’s a dangerous game to play when it’s clear you’re not in a position to win that sort of victory. Right now, we still have some opportunity to talk out some equitable consensus in law and culture. That window will not remain open for very much longer. If we let this devolve into a street-by-street battle, the victors are going to press their maximum advantage. The courts will tend to mitigate and balance things in the end, but it doesn’t pay to take actions that win you nothing and wind up defining yourselves as a marginal, extreme and widely unpopular group.

  • Duane

    Gee almost sounds like the early Christians. Maybe not a bad thing to have happen.

  • BlazerJason

    The US is moving forward with the legalization of gay marriage regardless of the views of the faithful. Gay marriage has been been made law by courts, legislative bodies, and popular vote. It’s not completely over, but we are essentially in endgame. All that is left are arguments that Christians are having mostly with themselves. I know many Christians who support gay marriage and they justify it scripturally by claiming that laws against homosexuality represent archaic codes long abandoned after Christ’s crucifixion (eating selfish, mixing fabrics, and executing people who work on the sabbath are other examples). I know gay Christians, and who am I to question their knowledge and interpretation of the Bible. But, these arguments are essentially meaningless, since gay marriage will likely be legal across the country in less than a decade.

  • Brian P.

    Meh. This contemplation is about a decade or two late. We should listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice better perhaps.

  • I personally think Christians should not oppose it legally. Last year I wrote a post on how C.S. Lewis might approach the topic of same-sex marriage based on this quote “My own view[on divorce] is that Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and , therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members.”

  • John Gibson

    Let me apologize up front for the length of my comment.

    Disappointing is probably the best way to describe my reaction. It seems you are falling into the trap designed to snare the wise and intelligent. You are joining many before you who have reasoned and logically thought their way into deception and ungodliness as Paul described in Romans. Remember Paul was well qualified to speak as he himself had reasoned his way into justifying killing and imprisoning believers.

    Your arguments make sense, but only if you first start from a foundation of human based logic. God uses and applies His standard of logic and it quite often conflicts with human logic. Much of His logic is revealed to us in scripture and our direction and beliefs are to be based in it.

    The United States is not losing its consensus on the meaning of marriage. It’s being reformulated, redefined, and readopted. This is happening on many fronts, not just marriage. That which is sin is being redefined as good. That which was good is being regarded as evil. It’s what happens when a culture abandons God and seeks its own path. Isaiah 5:20 warns of this. We are foolish if we think we can avoid the consequences. God will not allow us to continue on our merry way constructing our own path to wherever it is we think we are going. The “whole counsel of scripture” teaches us that good things do not happen to nations that abandon Him. They invariably end in ruin as a result of their sin.

    A serious mistake is made in your second argument. You start out presenting traditional marriage as theology. You end up stating that it is only one theology among many and essentially give the others a level of equivalency that should be considered or allowed for. This is an example of human based logic, not scripture based logic. If you are a Christian, then there is no valid marriage other than marriage in scriptural sense and no other definition pulls alongside. Once you pull back from the scriptural standard of marriage you have no basis to stand against any other deviation. You cannot stand against polygamy, child marriage or any other form the culture wants to add to the legitimacy list. How can you? You have already reasoned away the standard.

    Arguments 4 and 5 taken together are contradictory and make little sense. To summarize your argument, it’s our right to personally oppose non-traditional marriage and it’s ok for me to personally advocate for adoption/maintenance of laws dealing with this. But somehow if I do it with other people (organize), I have crossed some sort of line where I have moved from right to wrong. Did you really give much thought to this or were you just trying to find a middle ground in an issue where there really isn’t any. Either way you make an argument, and then proceed to emasculate it.

    Your summation asks how we can seek to enforce “our” definition (reminder: it’s not ours) of marriage in the absence of an agreeable cultural consensus. What part of scripture teaches us to take the temperature of the culture in order to determine whether or not we stand for what is right? Where is the teaching that we should look down the road to possible negative outcomes we might not like before we decide how to act today? Where did God promise us that we would always get a nice result when we made a stand for Him? Should Stephen (Acts 6 – 8) have taken the time to ponder the possible negative outcomes of taking a stand? If he had then possibly he would not have done so, thereby saving many lives and likely not motivating Paul to become the largest persecutor of Christians. He also would not have become the writer of much of the New Testament from which our teachings come. God’s way is not our way and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

    I respect the place you are in. I encourage you to continue to seek the truth and find God’s answers to these questions. But you are dangerously close to adopting human reasoning leading to false truth. It is not a believer’s calling to become relevant in any culture. It is invariably true that the more relevant we seek to become, the less relevant we actually are. It is our calling and the church’s calling to be faithful, not relevant.

    • rvs

      Yep, that’s a long comment, haha. God-based logic has another name: mysticism, of which I am in favor. Most apologists who make distinctions between human-based and God-based logic are really–in the subtext–saying, “My subjective interpretation is better that your subjective interpretation.” That’s been my experience in these types of discussions.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    I appreciate how you’ve grappled with this issue over the last few years. Looking at your points 5 and 6, I find it interesting how little daylight there is between your position and that of most marriage equality advocates. Sure, we’ll still have some serious and fundamental differences of opinion and yes, the hurt feelings on both sides won’t go away, but legal recognition and the rights that go with it are all most people are asking for. The rest is just the messy but essential nature of a free and pluralistic society.

    • Sue Cyre

      Your comments rest on the premise that marriage is about what makes adults happy. It is not. The debate is about what is best for children. Marriage exists as the place where a child born of the union of a man and woman can be nurtured and cared for for 2 decades. The question we need to ask then is whether a child should be raised by two same-gender partners. Should not each boy and girl be raised by a man and woman who can teach them what it means to be a man or woman? Even in the case of single parents, the “place” of the opposite gender partner remains empty; someone is missing. In the case of same-gender partners, the message clearly is that the opposite gender partner is irrelevant and unnecessary. Statistics are now showing that a child raised in a same-gender household does suffer emotional harm. It’s about the children.
      It is beneficial to society for the man and woman to be married in the eyes of the state in order to provide for the children.

      • Crœsos

        Given your argument, I’m not sure you can separate single parenting and parenting by a same-sex couple. If not having of one parent of each gender does cause children to “suffer emotional harm”, wouldn’t you expect single parenting to be similarly harmful? Similarly, if the solution to this purported harm is the withholding of state-issued benefits or support, why wouldn’t this logic apply to single parents as well?

      • Kubrick’s Rube

        Statistics are now showing that a child raised in a same-gender household does suffer emotional harm.

        If you are referring to the Regnerus study then you are mistaken. There was only one same-gender household in that study. The rest of the study’s gay and lesbian parents were from opposite-sex broken homes. What this study highlights is how the closet harms both children and adults.

        Also, prohibiting same-sex marriage does not stop same-sex couples from having/raising children. All you are accomplishing is ensuring that more children are raised outside of wedlock.

        • Kenneth

          That study was ideologically driven junk science from the word go. It was funded and designed to compare apples to oranges in a way that sought to cast gay parents in a bad light, and (surprise), succeeded in doing so for the majority of people who didn’t read the fine print of the data, just the news headlines.

          • George Yancey

            Please know what you are talking about before posting. Unless you are ready to defend the scientific claims based on 85 couples instead of research based on a probability sample then you should be careful about labeling it “junk science”. Most of what has been done in the study of homosexuality is junk compared to what Regerous did. Does it have limitations? Definately! But the blowback has convinced me that honest science cannot be done on this issue. If the findings are not political correct then you can expect to get investigated and have your article audited. Meanwhile we take small qualitaitive samples with null results and declare that everything is okay. So calling Regerous study junk is the pot calling the kettle black.

  • What advice would you have given to Lot when he was living in Sodom?

    • II Chronicles 19: 2….”Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD and so bring wrath on yourself from the Lord?”….

  • Perhaps those opposed to SSM by listing all of the dire consequences that will automatically follow should look to countries, such as Canada, that have recognozed the rights of gay couples for a number of years. Somehow, our society has not collapsed, pastors are still free to marry who they choose, and refuse others, children have not shown to be at any disadvantages. People who are employed by the government are not allowed to refuse legal services because of their personal (religious, philosophical or other).

    In summary, there have been no negative consequences over the past decade.

    • Kenneth

      But in the conspiracy theory logic world of anti-SSM, your lack of negative consequences for the past decade are ironclad, incontrovertible evidence that they WILL happen.

    • George Yancey

      Hmmmmmm. May not want to use Canada as your example of freedom of religion and speech.

      • Freedom of speech laws are not nearly as strong in Canada as they are in the US. Using that as an example says absolutely nothing about negative societal effects of SSM.

        • George Yancey

          When they start throwing supporters of SSM in jail then we will know that this is not viewpoint discrimination. I am not saying that this is exactly how it will happen in the U.S. But there is plenty of anti-Christian hatred among some SSM supporters who will use this issue to compromise religious freedom.

      • A Hermit

        What does a story from Cumbria, England have to do with Canada?

        • George Yancey
          • A Hermit

            That’s a different story, from a different city(Calgary, not Cumbria) in a different country (Canada, not England). The first story you posted is about a preacher in Cumbria, England, I hadn’t heard that one before, but then I don’t live in England.

            In the Calgary story a complaint was brought to a Human rights Commission, which is more like a civil court, no one was arrested or jailed and the ruling imposing a financial penalty for uttering threats was eventually overturned as it was deemed that his speech could not be shown to have directly contributed to the violent assault of a gay teenager by one of his audience.


            If you’re going to say something negative about my country I’ll thank you to at least get your facts straight first.

            And the fact is that free speech and freedom of religion are just fine here; no one is being arrested simply for preaching that homosexuality is a sin and no church or religious organization is required to marry or serve anyone they don’t choose to.

          • George Yancey

            Hmmmmm. Let’s charge people and then in the end drop the charges after we have trashed them and showed everyone to play ball. Kind of like what happened to Regnerous. He was exonerated in the end but only having his article audited and investiated. Message sent. Do not be politically incorrect in your findings.
            I only said that Canada is not a great example for free speech. The fact that someone can be charged for a letter to the editor says it all. I am glad he was not fined. The next person who writes a politically incorrect letter may not be so lucky.
            If you do think that this is okay then imagine the letter writer supports SSM and called Christians “bigots”. Do you think that the human rights board would even waste a nanosecond on that person. If not then we still have viewpoint discrimination. Getting charged and having to spend time and money defending yourself is the price to pay for holding certain political positions but not others.

          • A Hermit

            ” The fact that someone can be charged for a letter to the editor says it all.”

            Nope, you’re still getting it wrong George. No one was “charged” with anything. A private citizen lodged a complaint against another private citizen in a civil forum. That body made a finding, and asked for a financial penalty and that decision was denied by the court.

            This is like taking someone to small claims court or something; it’s an adjudication of a a dispute between private citizens, not an imposition by the state. Free speech is doing fine in Canada.

            “If you do think that this is okay then imagine the letter writer supports SSM and called Christians “bigots”. Do you think that the human rights board would even waste a nanosecond on that person.”

            If a Christian came forward and said they had been brutally beaten by someone who cited that letter as the inspiration for their violence…yes I think they would likely look at that too…the question here was whether there was sufficient evidence to prove incitement…and in the end there wasn’t.

            Would you do away with laws against libel, slander and sedition, too?

  • Tom

    If we concede on the issue of same-sex marriage, then we destroy the basis for all minority human rights. It’s not by accident that Paul uses homosexuality to highlight the blindness to the natural order that results from idolatry. Nature is very clear, obvious, about the intended functions of female and male sexual organs. Paul labels the violation of that intended use as “against nature.” So, marriage laws seem to be the paradigmatic case invoking natural law, or natural rights.

    The only alternative to a natural right is a right conferred by the majority: as the cultural consensus changes so do rights. Minority rights simply cannot trump the will of the majority unless there is something beyond consensus upon which they are based. So, if we give in on this case, we give up all natural rights, including, especially, the rights of religious conscience.

  • Martin

    Tim, I think the Evangelical community needs to get a head start on the impending future of transhumanism. Forget same-sex marriage for the time being. The world is changing rapidly, and people of all faiths are eventually going to have to come to grips with a technological existence unlike anything we have have ever known. I would refer you to the documentary Transcendent Man: The Life and Ideas of Ray Kurzweil as well as to the website for further information. Patheos would be a terrific platform to have these important conversations.

  • rumitoid

    When Christians enter the political areana, they have ceased to be “separated out” for God’s will and work, being instead “divided against” (supposedly in God’s name) those they are meant to love and help. To be an ambassador for the kingdom of God, as a citizen of heaven, a Christian has one purpose on earth: to love as Christ loved us. Christianity needs to be about attraction, not promotion. We need to live and move and have our being in Christ, not political parties or movements. In Christ, there is no such things as “Conservative values”: there is only spirit and truth. The “spirit and truth” of Christ is about redemption and reconciliation, a restorative justice, not a retributive justice that judges and condemns.

    If Paul can tell us to submit to the “governing authorities” under the tyrannical rule of the likes of Nero, what does that tell us about our role in government? Paul makes that abundantly clear a little further on with the One Rule: “Love your neighbor.” This is what it means to be “separated out.” We are not to get entangled in worldly affairs. The “world,” by nature and definition, does not change: it is broken, fallen. We cannot change the world. What we can do and have been commanded to do is to be as Christ was in the world, and through that have the wherewithall to act to change hearts, as examples and by good works.

    Again, as far as political involvement goes, the Jews (like the colonialists in 1776) were being unjustly taxed out of existence, a ruinous weight, by Pagan Rome. How would the Messiah respond to this great injustice against God’s chosen people? What great act of patriotism for the nation of Israel would he bravely prepose? “Render unto to Caesar…” Imagine the disappointment. They were left with only one conclusion. Such a lack of patriotism and political fervor for their country meant Jesus was a charlatan. Love your enemies? So they rebelled against the kingdom of God in favor of their own kingdom and helped slay the Savior of the world.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    This is a response to George Yancey (my comment is getting blocked as spam in that thread). It needs ot be stated that the Regnerus study, which does have some value, is not a study of homosexuality- it is a study of parental instability in almost exclusively opposite-sex couples, some of whom contributed to that instability by engaging in extramarital same-sex relationships.

    • Kubrick’s Rube

      This tells us extremely little about homosexuality, practically nothing about children raised by cohabiting same-sex couples, and literally nothing at all about same-sex marriage.

    • George Yancey

      The study was not exclusively of same-sex parents. There were opposite-sex parents in the sample. The study is not the last word but if we want to be reserachers then it does indicate that same-sex parenting may not have the same effects as opposite sex parenting. It is much better than the eariler convience samples that showed no effect. It is not the last word but an improvement on previous work. That is how science is suppose to work. The study should be taken seriously for what it is and would be taken seriously if it was not politically incorrect.

      • Kubrick’s Rube

        This is a stretch. Over 15,000 people were interviewed for this study. Only 41 of those “lived with parent’s same-sex partner more than 3 years.” That’s .0027%. Even if we ignore the small sample size (and that Regnerus estimates how many of those 41 were even planned arrangements) we’re still comparing apples and oranges; Regnerus compared these same-sex parents, most of which were together too short a time to qualify as intact, with the IBF- intact biological family- category of opposite-sex couples. Not to mention that by definition none of the same-sex parents in this study were married to each other. That’s a pretty stark confounding factor.

        • George Yancey

          That opposite couples were more stable in the sample than same sex couple is likely a larger feature of society. The argument has been that the stigma faced by same sex couples is what is creating this turmoil. Given the society today we are likley to soon see if this is the case. The question is whether this relationship instablitiy is inherited in the nature of same sex couples and/or whether there are negative outcomes seperate from the instablity. The null hypothesis would be that the instabilty is the sole source of the results of this survey. That is a question that future research can assess if it is allowed to in our PC scientific community. I doubt that we will get the chance to find out. But this study does allow for a relativley large scale probablity sample, something that previous work did not have. Thus it is a step closer to figuring out what is going on.
          By the way requiring marriage in a society where SSM does not exists to assert that we have good data is just a canard. Using that as a standard indicates a willingness to find something wrong with politically incorrect findings no matter what.

          • Kubrick’s Rube

            I think we will have more and better research in the future, if only because there are more and more same-sex couples having and raising children all the time, and from more stable starting points than the vast majority of gay parents in this study. This will eliminate the sample size issues and allow for less sloppy categorizations and comparisons. Also, as the stigma against LGBT people continues to subside, we’ll see how outcomes do or don’t change.

          • Kubrick’s Rube

            Also, I’m not suggesting that there can be no good data without SSM. But I do believe, like most conservatives, that marriage is generally good for children and families. Studies may ultimately show that outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents are different/better/worse than those for children raised by opposite-sex parents, but I’d be surprised if, contrary to what we know about opposite-sex parents, children raised by unmarried gay parents had better outcomes than children raised by married gay parents.

          • George Yancey

            You have more confidence in future research than I do. I do not just look for research that supports my preconceptions. In fact Regerous has done research on abstenence programs that went against my assumptions and I accepted that work. I was very disappointed in the reaction to his latest work and it says to me that there is a political dynamic that does not allow for the possiblity of disinterest work in this subject. So while I wish I could be swayed by future research, it will be very difficult as I have become more cynical about science the longer I stay in the scientific community.

  • Stephanie

    I agree wholeheartedly! I am a conservative Christian and I think we need to be more concerned about the hearts of people than the culture as a whole. If some people want to fight the culture, I can’t say it’s biblically wrong, but I don’t see any biblical support for it either. I think following the command to “go make disciples” is more important than fighting the culture war.

  • A Hermit

    ” The state cannot interfere in someone going into a church to marry. But there is no right to have the state recognize your marriage. So I do not believe that current laws deny same-sex partners any rights.”

    This argument makes no sense. If the state recognizes only some marriages and not others then those others are being denied the right of equal treatment by the state.

    If the state recognized Baptist marriages but not Catholic marriages would you argue that Catholics were not being denied their rights?

    • Crœsos

      That’s the question, isn’t it? How arbitrary can the state be in recognizing or not recognizing certain relationships? Basic rule of law would tend to suggest that it can’t be completely arbitrary, with each government official acting on whatever whim struck his (or her) fancy at any given moment.

      Given a system like the U.S., premised on the legal equality of adult citizens, a positive justification for any disparate treatment should be expected from the state.

  • Joshua

    Thank you for articulating your thoughts on this controversial issue; I agree with your conclusions. I will say that the most prominent worry that I’ve read so far is whether the church will be sued for discrimination if they refuse to marry same-sex couples in a society where gay marriage is supported.

    Several things: I’ve gotten the impression that many churches do not necessarily marry all straight couples unless they go through some kind of marriage counseling with the pastor/church elders. Therefore, in a sense, churches could make the argument that they do not have marry anyone except those whom they deem appropriate.

    On the other hand, the church-state relationship is a tenuous one. The church has long been comfortable with its non-profit, religious status in regards to the state for a while now, but preachers have too comfortably jeopardized that status by explicitly getting involved in politics. Meanwhile, when most people think of the church, many will have the Catholic Church’s cover-up of the pedophile priests in the back of their mind.

    While many Americans are aggressively anti-Christian and anti-religious, it’s hard to argue against the notion that the church has compromised its own moral and ethical authority, and will find it offensive that they would insist on advancing its doctrine on same-sex marriage via the law. It’s unfair to label every Christian as guilty of the moral failures of the churches, but we still should be aware of what has been done in the name of the church.

  • thin-ice

    Poor evangelicals! (I was one for 46 years, now an unbeliever.) Every time modern culture moves beyond some aspect of ancient, outdated biblical culture and morality, it’s theologians and apologists have to do the “Scripture Apportion and Contortion Dance”. Let’s twist and re-assign the old meaning of scripture into something new, so we don’t look so backwards and un-cool.

    It’s kind of painful to watch, guys. Wouldn’t it be easier to relegate this awkward devotion to the dustbin, and follow your heart instead?

  • RedWell

    Exactly. That this argument is not more widely discussed or has taken so long to start making the rounds is a discredit to the Evangelical mind.

    I say that for two reasons. First, polls suggest that many younger believers accepted the inevitability of this cultural move some time ago (though sadly, they’ve lacked this kind of intellectual grounding and typically hold rather imprecise notions of where they should stand on this issue).

    Second, there is a very similar historical analogy that many (unaccountably) forget: conservatives and Christians fought the transition to no-fault divorce in the 1960’s and obviously lost. Many still reject the basic idea, but even the most stalwart conservative recognizes that rolling back this “right” once it took a foothold was and is fundamentally impossible.

  • Thin-ice

    How come most of the theists’ blog comments are moderated, and the atheist blog comments are not? Are the theists afraid of free exchange of ideas?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      At most blogs across Patheos, your first post is moderated. After you have a first post approved (at that particular blog), then the rest of your comments are unmoderated. That is the default setting at Patheos, and it’s the setting here. It’s mostly meant to keep spammers from filling your combox before you can stop them.

      So, nice try, but no cigar.

  • rumitoid

    Remember the Gordian Knot. In the myth, we are to assume than many brave and noble people of great knowledge and wisdom could not solve this riddle. Knowing the simple answer then makes us doubt how smart were the predesessors that faced this dilemma and truly question if it served as a “great test” at all.

    I see Love as that sword. No more tangles! Too simple, simplistic, right? I see this whole discussion as a little weave in the Gordian Knot; it cannot be untangled. At least, not by worldly means.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    One last thought. You talk about the “Judeo-Christian model of marriage,” so as a Jew, I must ask, what do you mean “Judeo,” kemosabe? You’ve still got the Orthodox on your side, sure, but reform Judaism recognizes same-sex marriages and conservative Judaism leaves it up to the individual rabbi’s conscience. And I mean full-on religious recognition, not just recognition of the separation of church and state. I know you’re talking about traditional views here, but I’d appreciate a footnote about or reference to recent developments when my faith gets dragged in to defend what it no longer teaches.

  • I used to be gay, but over SEVEN years ago Jesus set me FREE! I am now free from the sin of homosexuality. Marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman according to the King James Bible (Genesis 2:24) so I am now married and my wife is pregnant by me. What’s really cool is that now my life is not focused on “ME” I actually think about other’s. More to the point, it’s not about “ME” at all it’s ALL about JESUS CHRIST! Jesus is Lord!!

  • Mike S

    Although I also am against gay marriage on a moral and theological basis, I believe we are trapping ourselves under a false premise. It should not be up to any government to say whether ANYONE, either gay or heterosexual gets married. It should not have to be legally recognized in ANY CASE. This is not the governments role and we should never have ceded them that power. if homosexual marriage advocates want to start their own theology and church to espouse such, then they should have that freedom.

    All of the argument on this issue, and the pro’s and con’s to either side, are the result of too much power being granted to the government! We should not be worried about tax benefits being given to gays because tax benefits should not be given to any group! A smaller, less intrusive government is the best solution for legal matters and a Christian actually following Christ and LIVING and LOVING like Christ would change more minds and hearts then any law.

  • Andy

    @victoria: Arguments for the *other* side in this debate is likewise based on a metaphysic, a worldview: one that dethrones God, enthrones nature and man, and pursues a moral course that is consistent with that, uh, “regime change.” Therefore liberals and gay activists are every bit as “theological” in their outlook and argumentation as evangelicals.

    It’s just that evangelicals are honest enough to admit it.

    • Tony

      I don’t think they are, under any reasonable definition of “theological”. I’m not trying to set up a straw man here, but no liberal or gay activist (as far as I know, I could be wrong) is claiming that they know the mind or will of god on this or any other issue, whereas evangelicals claim precisely that. If you’re going to tell someone like me that you *personally* know the mind and will of the creator of the entire universe, and that he is quite definitely against homosexuality and SSM, then I’m entitled to proof of that. It’s a pretty extraordinary claim after all, and unless it’s backed up with some pretty extraordinary evidence, I’m entitled to dismiss it out of hand.

      • UCFan79

        ***If you’re going to tell someone like me that you *personally* know the mind and will of the creator of the entire universe, and that he is quite definitely against homosexuality and SSM, then I’m entitled to proof of that. ***

        No you aren’t. Your mind gets changed only if ___ chooses to make it so. In the meantime, you get to think anything your own mind leads you to think.

        • Tony

          Ucfan79, if you’re going to make a point, make a point. If you’re going to troll, go somewhere else or grow up.

          • UCFan79

            What’s wrong? You don’t agree with your own free will?

            It’s quite possible that ___ doesn’t want you.

  • I haven’t had time to read all the responses to this very thoughtful article, but I would like to offer the following thoughts which I’ve found nowhere else.
    Does integrity matter in our society any more? Specifically, integrity of words, or do we simply operate on the assumption that anyone can define any word any way they choose to and everyone should be okay with that? How do we reconcile such an assumption with writing laws?
    The term “marriage” (or it’s equivalent in other languages) existed and named a religious rite/human relationship before government entered the picture and incorporated the term into civil law. Historically marriage has always denoted a male/female relationship.
    Now consider this word analogy. Two straight lines joined at one end are known as an “angle”. But we use different terms to describe the relationship. There is a 90% or right angle. Angles less than 90% are “acute” angles; angles greater than 90% are “obtuse”. Doesn’t use of these various terms give clarity in describing the relationship? Would anyone consider appealing to the Supreme Court to say that it is discriminatory to call some angles acute and some obtuse? Following the same logic, isn’t it discriminatory to call some adults male (men) and some female (women)? Why not just call all adults female/women (especially since male/men) is already included the the terms?
    If the Supreme Court is going to consider the argument of “equal protection” under the Constitution, it can only do so only if it first assumes that “marriage” has already been redefined to include other than a male/female relationship. If the Court does not affirm that the definition of “marriage” (historically & legally) is a male/female relationship, then it will set a very dangerous legal precedent that government has the power to redefine any word as it sees fit, even if a large segment of the population is not in favor, even if it disrespects historical and religious terms. Isn’t there enough word manipulation as it is? Do you really want to give government such power? Doesn’t that, in fact, give government the legal power to make a mockery of religion, if they claim the right to redefine any word? The issue of “marriage” is not just about this one word. The legal implications here are much broader.
    We have laws that show respect for a person’s written words (copyright) or a company’s logo, for example. Is the law to show no respect for the integrity of religious or historical terms? Just as we use acute and obtuse to name different relationships between two lines, shouldn’t we use a term that designates male/male relationship and a different one for female/female relationships? Laws can be rewritten as needed using these new terms to insure equal protection under the law.

  • UCFan79

    ***Should we, in the absence of a cultural consensus in favor of our Judeo-Christian model of marriage, try to get our model of marriage legally enforced and other models excluded?***

    Yes. Because our cultural model is better, and the other is uncaring of human lives.