The Marriage Debate: Not Just About Marriage (or, Should Christians Be "Anti-Gay?")

The Marriage Debate: Not Just About Marriage (or, Should Christians Be "Anti-Gay?") July 24, 2013

Last week, I posted some helpful responses to the court’s recent disastrous decisions on gay “marriage.” Unfortunately, I’ve also heard reactions from people who still think of themselves as coming down on the conservative side that could stand to be refined. What I specifically want to focus on today is the notion that we conservatives need to be super-careful to separate our opposition to gay “marriage” from being generally “anti-gay” (whatever this means, exactly). The idea is that it’s “unhelpful” and/or “divisive” to zoom out of this very narrow focus and begin addressing the larger sexual issues surrounding the marriage debate. I’m going to argue that this is pretty much impossible.

This is not just about gay “marriage.” This is about everything that constitutes “being gay” in the popularly understood sense of the word. This is about the entire cornucopia of romantic activities that are marriage’s natural precursors in a heterosexual context. We could easily come up with a list of things that may be sweet, innocent and even cute in that context while entirely off-limits in a homosexual context. How about:
youthful crushes
ballroom dancing
love songs
Let me pause to unpack that last one a bit more. While it’s true that there’s ultimately a sexual undercurrent to the fact that men and women tend to “notice” each other, I think we can all agree that there’s “noticing” and then there’s “noticing.” A girl can titter over a picture of Ryan Gosling without dreaming of getting pregnant by him, though obviously if she strays into the latter, she needs to stop and re-think. An honorable man can respectfully note that a girl is pretty without indulging sexual desire for her, though of course if a man’s natural desires take the form of out-of-control lust, he must take steps to curb them. Men and women are naturally wired to be attracted to each other, so of course we “notice” each other in something more than detached appraisal (as when heterosexuals acknowledge attractive members of the same gender).  But merely appreciating feminine beauty in a distinctly masculine way (or vice versa) is not a sign that something’s wrong. When pursued biblically and wisely, it can lead to joyful, sanctified consummation. Yet there is no parallel category when it comes to homosexuality. Any kind of “noticing” is a sign that something’s wrong. While it’s highly controversial to say so, this is a consideration that should have an effect on a homosexual’s freedom of interaction in society.
For example, homosexuals have a duty to society not to trumpet their orientation wherever they go, e.g. by openly showing affection in public, expressing their attraction to members of the same gender, or deliberately behaving in a way that’s designed to provoke people by virtue of its “gayness.” There’s a reason why we feel it “in our gut” when we see a same-sex couple kissing, etc. in public. Recently I heard Todd Friel of Wretched Radio relate a personal anecdote about a lesbian couple who was doing just that in an airport. He threw out the question of why we respond in such a visceral way to this sin but not to most others. I wrote to their “ideas” address with the following answer (which Todd seemed to appreciate a lot when he wrote back to me).
It seems to me that another way of phrasing the question is “Are all sins equally bad, or are some sins worse than others?” I’m not sure whether this is a Reformed vs. non-Reformed thing, but it seems the traditional Reformed response would be that all sins are equally bad. My own response would be that they’re not, and I think there are some biblical texts you could go to that would support that conclusion. But let’s just narrow it down to the realm of heterosexual sin for a moment. Is it equally sinful for a young couple in love to commit fornication and for a man to repeatedly cheat on his wife with multiple women? I don’t think so. To be sure, fornication is a very serious sin, and the couple who commits it needs to repent. But I think the serial adulterer has committed an even greater sin. Not only is he having sex outside of marriage, he’s breaking an existing marriage covenant. A reader of this site gave me a helpful way to think of this a while ago, by creating a little table: Sex outside of marriage? Check. Breaking marriage vows? Check. You’ve got two check marks there, but only the first box is “checked” for the fornication only. And it’s different yet again if you’re talking about emotionless hook-ups. I believe coldly hooking up with whomever is a worse sin than committing fornication with one person whom you truly love. Once again, this is NOT an excuse for fornication under any circumstances! I’m just saying that while both are sins, you really can measure these things on a scale of evil, a scale of danger.

Now, bringing in homosexuality, let’s consider the act of pure homosexual fornication as compared with pure heterosexual fornication (not including adultery for clarity’s sake). Sex outside of marriage? Check. Crime against nature? Ah, there’s another check mark here, and a pretty significant one too. There’s a reason why all the things that are beautifully romantic in a heterosexual context are suddenly twisted and dark the minute we port them over to a homosexual context. When we react with an “Awwwww” to a love song, a kiss, an affectionate touch, a Valentine’s Day card, etc., etc., we’re expressing a basic truth about nature that’s, for lack of a better phrase, hard-wired into our guts. A man and a woman who love each other and have sex without getting married are sinning, but they’re sinning in a way that still acknowledges the natural complementarity of man and woman. A man and a man are violating that complementarity in addition to disregarding God’s mandate that sex must be reserved for marriage. (And obviously, this is the reason why we might well advise the first couple to get married, but we can’t give the same advice to the second couple. It is also the reason why Christians cannot support any union between homosexuals that essentially places them in the same legal position as a married couple, e.g. a civil union. Sadly, many otherwise conservative Christians still don’t understand this.)
This is what the “sin is sin” crowd, who can no more see a problem with introducing young children to the idea of homosexuality than heterosexuality, are at some level failing to grasp. Sure, they acknowledge that one shouldn’t provide graphic details. But the mere notion that “boys sometimes like other boys” or “girls sometimes like other girls?” Well, that’s just another fact of life that we shouldn’t bother hiding from our children. This is deeply misguided. Children’s innocence should be protected as long as possible. And if you say, “Well, good luck with that when it’s in the schools and all over TV,” then perhaps that’s just one more reason not to have television or send children to public school.
So, should Christians be “anti-gay?” In a manner of speaking, yes. No, we should not follow the example of the Fred Phelps crowd and go around holding signs saying that God hates [insert gay slur here]. But we should resist every possible attempt to normalize homosexual attraction, including in our theology. And we need to be clear-eyed about the progress of the homosexual agenda in America and all it entails, working to protect our children from it until they are mature enough to understand its implications.
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  • John Situmbeko

    It is sad to see that the world today at its best is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah at their worst.
    The problem with predominantly liberal nations is that such things as homosexual sins are allowed. It is no wonder that homosexuals feel they have the right to marry and to raise kids. I fully understand why homosexuals there would want to marry, their homosexuality has been tolerated for such a long time. To be honest I feel the very moment you allow homosexuals to freely practice their homosexuality in a country, just go ahead and award them marriage certificates, it’s not like you’ll be lessening the predicament if you deny them the chance to marry. Of course they’ll have sex with or without getting married, they’ll move in together, they’ll hold hands as they roam the crowded streets, with or without the marriage certificate. Not allowing them to marry while allowing them to practice homosexuality is like giving birth control to teens and then telling them to go and not have sex.
    No, you shouldn’t allow them to marry, but in the first place you shouldn’t allow homosexual acts at all. Other countries (like my own) have laws against homosexual acts, public or private. They are not lynched, they are just arrested, which is a rather mild punishment in comparison to the lake of fire burning with sulphur. Our streets are clean, free from homosexual displays and influence, our TVs are a bit corrupt (due to western shows on western channels) but we skip through those.
    The point I’m trying to make here is that once you legalise homosexuality, you have opened the door that cannot be shut by simply not legalising gay marriage, debates and round table discussions may be had, sermons may be preached, all will but fall on ears hard of hearing. At this point in America’s timeline it is almost impossible to reverse the legalising of homosexuality (I don’t even know whether or not it was once illegal). If America was still being ruled by Christian standards, things would be different. But since the majority of it’s people know not God, can it then be a wonder that the law is on the side of the those who cherish lawlessness? Nay.
    Indeed the word we love so well says a man shall leave his parents and cling unto his wife, thus marriage as we Christians know it, is impossible in the homosexual context. But in America’s case, the biblical standard was not regarded when legalising (or not illegalising) homosexual acts, therefore it is quite inconsistent to pull the biblical moral law to deny homosexuals the right to marry. It is the right thing to do, but at a late time, as such the chances of success are nought.

  • I’m not sure what I think about outlawing homosexual acts. I think it would be a big improvement if we would just stop treating homosexuals as a protected class, allow employers to discriminate or not at their own leisure, and stop selling “Mr. and Mr.” wedding cards at Target.

  • Lydia

    There’s a huge amount of room for private ostracism. If, for example, people who rent property can “discriminate” against homosexual couples, if various establishments can refuse to have dealings with public cross-dressers, all sorts of things like that. It creates a culture. America had that kind of culture for quite a long time. If technical laws against homosexual acts were on the books, that was more or less irrelevant to culture, because they weren’t being enforced as such. What _was_ being enforced were norms of behavior, via all those millions of personal decisions that are now called “discrimination.” And part of the behavior that was off limits in most of polite society was coming around and bothering people with declarations that “I’m gay.”
    That kind of thing actually works–social taboos. They work very well. I consider that they’ve been largely torn down in America from the top down, not from the bottom up. That is, it’s the intelligentsia, the legal classes, the professors, the avant garde, those who teach in the public schools, and the government itself (at various levels) that has forced acceptance of this on the public. Without that, there wasn’t really any danger that the public was going to accept it. It didn’t matter whether it was illegal or not. It was considered unpleasant and unacceptable, and nobody had to approve of it.
    Now, whether those taboos can be regained in the culture at large…I kind of doubt. To a large extent they still remain in place in the Christian world, and especially still in the Southern Gospel world (to connect this to the other interest of this blog). I can’t really emphasize too strongly the importance of keeping those “discriminatory” taboos in place. They’re a bulwark. When they’re gone, the flood waters come in.

  • I agree. I don’t think it’s necessary for sodomy to be officially illegal in order to have a society that generally disapproves of homosexual behavior.
    True, about the southern gospel taboo. One does occasionally hear rumors that this or that artist is secretly gay (together with some “har-har isn’t it funny that all those unsuspecting uptight conservative old people just luv that guy” chortles from the scummy leftist types who hang around Averyfineline), and I always feel bad for artists who in fact aren’t gay and have their reputations damaged by rumors like that. On the other hand, there probably are some for which the rumors are true, and while obviously there’s a big moral problem with their continuing to work in SG (especially if they’re living the lifestyle) I still think it’s good that there’s enough of a cultural taboo for them to feel hesitant about “coming out.” Even if you’re not living the lifestyle, you shouldn’t be telling the whole world that you suffer from a perverse sexual orientation. That’s a very private thing that should be kept between you and a few people who know you really well and can help you.

  • John Situmbeko

    I think if it’s legal, general disapproval of the behaviour doesn’t do anything to discourage people from living the lifestyle, since they know whether people disapprove or not, they are free to do whatever they want with their lives without opposition, and the law will visit those who deny them their rights.

  • Not exactly. That’s not really how society works. Because if ALL that’s legal is the specific act of sodomy itself, and people are otherwise free to behave in whatever way they choose that doesn’t violate the truly basic rights that all people (hetero and homo) share under the law, that’s more effective than I think you realize. As Lydia says, it was in America for a long time.
    The problem isn’t that the act of sodomy is legal. The problem is different and two-fold. One, homosexuals are being given EXTRA so-called “rights” that they should never have been given, so that the government is turning them into a victim group by punishing people who do things that aren’t violating a homosexual’s legitimate rights (discrimination, etc.) And two, Hollywood, schools and the media are actively working to push the normalization of homosexual behavior into the country’s collective face, indoctrinating young children from a very early age to think that this is a sweet, cool thing.
    This strategy has proven very effective. With the government, the universities and the media all working hand-in-hand both to persecute people with reservations about homosexual behavior and poison the minds of America’s youth as soon as possible, the public tide of opinion itself is actually beginning to shift, because the liberals are forcing it in that direction. This way the agenda becomes popular from the inside out. And that’s crushing.

  • Lydia

    “the law will visit those who deny them their rights.” Like what? There is no _general_ right to have an apartment rented to you. If some vegan wants to refuse to rent you an apartment because you’re a meat-eater, the law doesn’t do a thing about it, even though eating meat is legal. Smoking is legal, but people can have non-smoker only apartments. And so on and so forth. So, no, in the general sense in which that vast phrase “their rights” is used, that doesn’t follow. Consider as I say, smoking. Insurance companies discriminate against smokers all the time. There’s an increasing social taboo against it even though it’s legal. Tons of restaurants and whole college campuses declaring themselves “smoke-free zones.”

  • John Situmbeko

    The points that you and Lydia raise are quite good, however I still feel the legality of it all is a major problem. Allow me to give an example. If a nation were to legalise the use of the drug known as pot, it would be very unfair for the society to be further told to be acceptable of pot users, to offer them employment and not turn them back because of their habits, to leave children in their care, and so on. But would we marvel if the pot users were to take to the streets and protest for being discriminated against? Indeed we the sober minded ones would greatly marvel! Would we be wrong in placing the blame for such outrageous displays of moral dilapidation on the legalising of pot smoking in the first place? No.
    Coming back to the legality of sodomy, it serves as an empowering tool for homosexuals to proudly wave their colourful flags in disgusting gaity, to demand for non discrimination. Although I cannot deny the fact that whether sodomy was illegal or not it would still exist, I do believe it wouldn’t raise its head as high as it now does if it was illegal. Perhaps we don’t hear much about homosexuality here in Zambia because of the traditional or pre-modernization way of life, perhaps that is why sodomy is still illegal here. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it is illegal and gays are closeted. The more modernized African countries like South Africa have high openly gay people who aren’t afraid or ashamed to showcase their flamboyant attires in the city centers. It wasn’t always like that until they legalised it.
    A question I’d like answered is this, would you advice a nation to make sodomy illegal? If your answer is no, why?

  • Well, to say that you’re bringing a different perspective to all this is a big understatement, that’s for sure!
    I think I would still say no, I don’t think it’s necessary for a nation to make sodomy illegal. One reason is that it really helps foster the gay martyrdom complex. (Gays are being thrown in jail! Look how persecuted they are! How noble. How brave.) And Lord knows that’s the last thing we need.

  • Lydia

    I think I would advise that they leave such a law quietly on the books but enforce it only in cases where it can be combined with some other crime–such as forcible sodomy, for example, or sexual relations with a minor.
    But remember that there is a difference in terms of social policy in simply not taking something _off_ the books once it’s on and putting it _on_ the books when it’s never been on the books in the first place. One might resist taking laws against sodomy off the books for purely symbolic reasons–because it would represent a societal movement toward approval or something. But that wouldn’t necessarily mean one would want such laws vigorously enforced if people were staying closeted. And it wouldn’t be the same as advising that such laws must be put in place in the first place.

  • Lydia

    I’ll say this much. Knowing what I know now, I would in a heartbeat accept the following public policy trade if offered it by a Genie of Public Policy:
    In 1995, all laws on the books of all jurisdictions against sodomy simply as such would magically vanish (though they could be reinstated by legislatures if they so chose), but *at the same time* every state in the union and the United States of America will magically acquire constitutional amendments that say that under no circumstances will protected class status be given to people on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual behavior, no laws may be passed requiring that people be treated as “equal” on the basis of their sexual orientation or sexual behavior, all laws that _do_ make discriminations on that basis may not be struck down by constitutional court rulings.
    You get the picture. Setting in stone an absolute block to all court rulings that would strike down laws based on “perceived animus” to groups because of their sexual orientation.
    That’s nearly twenty years ago. If we could have gotten that magic trade at that time, a lot of evil could have been averted.

  • John Situmbeko

    I see, a reasonable stance.
    I don’t know how sodomy is defined but the Zambian law defines it as carnal knowledge with a person against the order of nature. This entails that not only gays are targeted by this law but also heterosexuals. If gays think the law was set because of hate for them then they are mistaken, it was set to guard the natural order and any one, gay or not, who tramples it underfoot is guilty. So if gays think themselves victims they do so blindly.