The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture


The Problem with Gay Marriage–an Evangelical Christian Viewpoint

posted by Ben Witherington

marriage.gif

 

            I have
watched the debate in our country about gay marriage rights for some long time
and indeed I have participated in the debate. Some things have gotten clearer
over time, and some things have become more murky, but what seems evident at
this point is that the majority of Americans are not in favor of changing the
normal and normative definition of marriage.  

 

That doesn’t mean that it will not
change in one state or another because of course we are a participatory
democracy, by which I mean that the majority does not rule, unless the majority
acts.  If the majority does not adequately
express its opinion through the vote or through other sorts of public actions,
then the minority often does and will rule. 
The squeaky wheel gets the grease says the old adage, and it is often
true.   The problem for legislators is
that they can only respond to the squeaky wheels they hear from.  The majority of letters sent to your
Congressman does not equal the majority’s sentiment, but there are few other
ways for an elected official to judge such a matter.

 

            Let me be
clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians. They
already have that right in most states. 
Nor is this column about the debate about one’s ‘significant other’
getting companion coverage when it comes to health care.  We could debate that as well, but this column
focuses on the most important baseline issue— the definition of marriage from
a Biblical point of view. 

 

Of course it is true that many
Christians don’t agree with the Bible’s definition of marriage or at least don’t
agree that is what the Bible says.  In my
view this is an example of Christians ignoring the obvious or deliberately
disagreeing with the Biblical text.  So
let’s start with Jesus, as all too often we hear the canard that Jesus has
nothing to say about this debate about gay marriage and does not oppose
it.  Nothing could be further from the
truth.

            Listen for a moment to
Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on marriage and singleness—

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every
reason?”  “Haven’t you
read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male
and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother
and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no
longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not
separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses
command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her
away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce
your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the
beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another woman
commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the
situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this
word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because
they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced
marriage
because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should
accept it.”

I take this passage, which has a close parallel in
Mark 10 and surely goes back to the historical Jesus in some form, as making a
clear statement of Jesus’ views on marriage and singleness.  First of all marriage is grounded by Jesus in
his creation theology.   God created
human beings male and female, not androgynous, not male and male or female and
female, but male and female. 
Furthermore, it is not just the fact that God created two genders that
tell us about God’s intent, it is that God plays the role of matchmaker in the
Genesis story bringing man and woman together for their own good and for the
propagation of the species.  Notice the
phrase “what God has joined together”. 
The implications of this are clear enough. God is not merely in favor of
heterosexual monogamy, this is the only relationship which he not merely
blesses but is actively involved in joining people together in.  Put simply, any other sort of arrangement is
not endorsed by God, and does not meet the criteria to be called a marriage. 

            Of course it is true that
all sorts of people, including God’s people, have practiced polygamy, Levirate
marriage, and various other sorts of arrangements.  This is irrelevant as there is no endorsement
of, nor divine instigation of these other arrangements.  Levirate marriage in fact was not seen as
real marriage. It was viewed under the rubric of the duty of a kinsman redeemer
to raise up an heir for a deceased male relative in a world where patriarchy
was king.  This was not God’s original
design or desire, it was, like so much of the legislation in the Mosaic Law, an
attempt to limit sin and deal with the effects of human fallenness effectively.

            What is important about the
debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, which is primarily a debate about
divorce and its grounds, not about the nature of marriage, is that Jesus says
that for his followers there will be no more allowance for hardness of heart.
Jesus is going back to the original creation order design and endorsing it and God’s
original intent, which was for heterosexual monogamy.  Jesus believed that God’s final saving
activity was being brought into the world through himself and his ministry, and
that now God’s original plans and intents, including God’s original plan for
marriage ought to be honored going forward.  
Clearly enough, the First Evangelist took this to be normative teaching
for his community as well.

            But there is more.  When the male disciples protest Jesus’ taking
away their privilege of divorce (which was almost always something only men had
the right to do in that culture), Jesus tells them there is one alternative to
heterosexual monogamy with one wife for life. 
That option is to be a eunuch for the Kingdom of God.  

Now anyone who has studied the role of eunuchs in Ancient
Near Eastern cultures will realize that Jesus is talking about someone who
engages in no sexual activity. Indeed, if they are either born eunuchs
literally or made eunuchs by themselves or another literally, they are
incapable of sexual intercourse.   In
essence what Jesus is telling his disciples is that they have exactly two
options if they wish to be his faithful disciples— either marry one wife for
life whom God has brought into your life, or remain celibate in
singleness.  

Fidelity in marriage or celibacy in
singleness.  This has for centuries been
the Christian standard when it came to appropriate sexual expression, and it
also has been the Christian standard when it comes to the appropriate
definition of marriage.  This definition
is grounded in what Jesus himself taught his first disciples. 

(N.B. I have deliberately not translated the Greek
word in the exception clause since there is so much debate about its meaning.  One thing is clear— it does not merely mean
marital infidelity.  A porne was a prostitute, so it is possible he is talking about an
exception for prostitution, but the other technical meaning of porneia is incest, and Jesus certainly
could have commented on incestuous relationships that were not proper marriages–indeed
his cousin John the baptizer lost his head for critiquing such a marriage–that of
Herod Antipas and Herodias).

            I could go on to talk about
how Paul’s view of marriage, as expressed in places like 1 Cor. 7 or 1 Thess. 4
does not differ from Jesus’ but that is a subject for another post.  Paul also believes there are only two
legitimate callings for Christians in this matter— fidelity in heterosexual
monogamy or celibacy in singleness.  

Here I want to comment on whether Christian views
of marriage should continue to be the standard for an increasingly
non-Christian culture in America.  This is a fair question, and here would be my
response. As it happens, the vast majority of Americans, Jewish, Christian,
Muslim or even of no religious affiliation at present agree that heterosexual
monogamy is marriage, and should remain the definition of marriage.  In a democracy we would and should expect if the
majority people get out and vote and express their views that that view would
continue to be the law of the land.

            Secondly, what about the
issue of justice and fairness? You often hear those terms thrown around loosely
in this debate.  Here is where I say that
redefining the definition of marriage is not an inherent right of anyone in America. It’s
not an issue of justice or fairness.  If
there is a justice and fairness issue at all, which I don’t think there is when
it comes to something like marriage, then surely the provision of the state for
civil unions satisfies that concern.  

No one has an inalienable right to tell the
majority of Americans “you must change your definition of marriage or else you
are being unjust”.   I am afraid that
this whole way of framing the debate is totally misguided.   That would involve not only a redefinition
of marriage but a redefinition of justice. 
And it is hard to doubt that much of this has come out of the increasing
clamor for and sense of entitlement that we hear from so many in our culture
who think that they are innately entitled to have life on their own terms.  I suppose this is where radical individualism
can lead, but as long as we are still trying to be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” 
we need to take the first five words in that phrase as seriously as the
last six.

            Arguing that a minority of
Americans should have a legal right to redefine marriage is rather like arguing
that a minority of Americans has a right to redefine what is and is not godly
love. And on that subject, the Bible most definitely has an opinion.  Holy matrimony is supposed to be a condition which
sanctifies the partners, not a condition in which we baptize, endorse, or
legalize someone’s sin and call it good. It’s not really marriage unless it can
be holy wedlock. 

            Consider for a moment all
of the huge hew and cry about Tiger Woods, and even the jokes now being bandied
about (e.g. that he should change his name to Cheetah Woods). Why do you think
it is that so many people are scandalized by his behavior?  The answer is simple— there are indeed
ethical standards of conduct when it comes to marriage.  Tiger should be faithful to his one and only
wife.  Playing the field whilst married
is immoral.  In other words, our country
does still care about fidelity in traditional marriage.  I am saying that there is no good reason to
redefine the meaning of marriage now, and many good and Biblical reasons not to
do so.    

In conclusion notice how I titled this essay–an Evangelical
Christian point of view.   I realize
there are other points of view even within the Evangelical community, and I am
willing to discuss them.  The discussion
should be civil, and it is not helpful to throw around words like ‘prejudice’
and ‘bias’  to try and settle the debate,
as if those terms could be trump cards.  
One’s man’s supposed prejudice in this debate actually turns out to be
another man’s ethical principles grounded in the Bible.   Think
on these things.      

 

 



Advertisement
Comments read comments(89)
post a comment
Adam Shields

posted December 15, 2009 at 11:38 am


I agree with many of your points. But I would caution you about the majority/minority democracy issues. By many estimates the US will be majority in favor of gay marriage in one or two decades. Then the argument will be the opposite, that the majority should be be forcing the minority to change. So I think it would be better to focus not on the legal but the moral issues around gay marriage. Or if focusing on the legal issues, you need to take into account differently the issues around protecting a minority group from the majority will.
Evangelicals certainly have in the past, and will in the future, be on the minority side of these types of debates. So minimizing the role of the state in protecting the minority for this particular debate is probably a bad idea in the long term.



report abuse
 

Stephen

posted December 15, 2009 at 11:46 am


What you have presented is an argument that Christians shouldn’t participate in same-sex marriages. You have given no reasons, however, for why the rest of us should follow suit. You MUST recognize the fact that “marriage” is many things to many people, and when we, in the USA, establish laws, they must apply to EVERYONE, which in turn means that justifications for such laws must be SECULAR. You have presented no secular arguments here.



report abuse
 

Cassie C

posted December 15, 2009 at 11:55 am


This is an argument for maintaining the biblical tradition of exclusively heterosexual marriage. This argument would make sense in a church in a debate about whether the church will recognize and/or perform same-sex weddings within it.
However, the civil definition of marriage is different. There is no difference between a civil marriage and a civil union in America except for the exclusion of federal benefits (which is a disgrace)— and the cultural significance of the term. Not all gays wish to get married, but those who do and can’t feel the potent sting of being excluded from this cultural signifier. In this way, it is discrimination. Legally, there is little to no difference between husband and wife in a marriage contract. Legally, there is no reason why the two partners must be male and female. Legally, they should be allowed into this civil institution, at least.
Yes, the majority disagrees. But the majority have often disagreed when other actors (judges, say) insist upon enforcing justice. In a democracy, the fundamental rights of the minority must be protected from the majority. If one reads the Federalist Papers, one knows that this was the intention of the judiciary enshrined in the Constitution.



report abuse
 

Chall8987

posted December 15, 2009 at 12:04 pm


There’s just so much in this article that is false. For starters is this gem:
” Let me be clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians. They already have that right in most states.”
This is simply not true, and I don’t know where the author got this idea. To this date over half of all states have banned marriage and any legal equivalent in their state constitutions. That includes Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships. Five states have legalized same-sex marriage, in addition to one with actual Civil Unions (New Jersey) and seven with Domestic Partnerships, which are typically weaker than even Civil Unions (those being California, Maine, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Hawaii.) The District of Columbia is poised to legalize same-sex marriage this year as well.
That’s a grand total of 13 states. I might suggest a little research be done by the author.
Furthermore, there’s another false quote listed here:
“If there is a justice and fairness issue at all, which I don’t think there is when it comes to something like marriage, then surely the provision of the state for civil unions satisfies that concern.”
Multiple sources have found that Civil Unions do not offer anywhere near the same amount of protections as marriage. Employers often do not include Civil Unions in their spousal health benefits packages to simply name one. The New York Times actually recently did a study to show that without same-sex marriage, gay couples end up spending tens of thousands more in their life time than their straight counterparts on issues like taxes and benefits.
How exactly is that not a fairness issue?



report abuse
 

David G

posted December 15, 2009 at 12:17 pm


One thing you seem to have forgotten! Back in the days of the Bible men could marry as many women as they wanted. You get tired of one wife you marry another, so divorce is not needed. Also, It was easier to say No divorce then convince the men of the time that women are their equals and can do more then be mothers Priestess and hookers.



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm


Dr. Witherington,
Thank you for your thoughtful insight on this subject and the opportunity to join a discussion.
My opinions on this are rather modest and tentative. I have almost always been willing to leave the matter unsettled and conclude that I don’t yet have a satisfactorily definite position. One reason I remain so undecided is that I am constantly vexed by the terms of this debate – which seem to be shared by commentators and participants on all sides.
It seems to me that there are two kinds or versions or iterations or meanings of marriage. We can talk about these two marriages as being “contract” and “sacrament.” By marriage contract I mean the relationship between two parties as defined by the civil law of a state or governing authority. By marriage sacrament I mean the joining of a man and a woman in a union – Holy Matrimony – blessed by God and assented to and witnessed by a congregation or community of believers. (I do not mean to imply anything of sacramental theology here. My own church wouldn’t call marriage a “sacrament”.)
As a Christian I am not sure that I care how the governments and civil statutes of the states of Arkansas and Louisiana (or any other place my family may move) define or understand my relationship with my wife. Nor am I sure that I should care how the IRS or a health insurance company or a hospital understands that relationship. I am not really interested in what these authorities and corporate entities call our relationship, how they account for it, or the provisions and processes they put in place for how to dissolve it. (I should say that I am not sure I am concerned about these things insofar as they don’t appear to have any bearing on my understanding of the relationship. Obviously, I have to know where to sign and submit the appropriate paperwork.) All that is to say, I am not sure why I am supposed to care, from a spiritual-religious perspective and beyond the logistical considerations, about a marriage contract. And by extension, I am not sure that I should care who else the state allows to enter into a similar contract.
(A note: there are too many obvious caveats to make in the paragraph above. I understand that nearly every sentence will raise some objection, and I would be happy to expand or clarify later. I am trying to be fairly brief. I am failing at that.)
I am, however, very concerned and interested in the ways my church defines and understands the marriage sacrament. But it seems like that’s a discussion to have in church – an issue for bishops or committees or local churches to mediate or decide, depending on the denomination. And, in my own situation, yours is a voice and perspective I would seek out and value.
Our national “gay marriage” or “marriage equality” debate – DOMA, prop 8, Maine, etc. – is about the marriage contract. It is about the ways political authorities define and recognize contract-based relationships from a legal perspective. You say that you’re not talking about civil unions, which are, theoretically, marriage contracts by another name (and I would be surprised if your assertion that civil union protections exist in most states is correct). But your post constantly conflates the, I think, obvious distinction between the marriage contract and the marriage sacrament. As I mentioned above I don’t think you’re alone in this. Much of the commentary on this issue does not accept or recognize or deal with this distinction. Why?
This has been a long comment to get to that question, but that question is the entire reason for my post. Why do you not make a distinction between a marriage authorized by the state and a marriage solemnized by a church? I am asking earnestly, not rhetorically. Why should a civil/legal definition of marriage matter to Christians?
To ask it in a different way: You make a very convincing argument about the Biblical understanding of the marriage sacrament, but what has that to do with Tiger Woods (unless he is a Christian – is he?) or, for that matter, with two non-believers who “get married” at the county courthouse or city hall.
(Having written this at work while doing a number of other things, I just refreshed my screen to get a valid captcha, and I see that a few folks have already commented in a similar vein. I do not mean any disrespect by not mentioning other comments – there weren’t any when I started.)



report abuse
 

Bill

posted December 15, 2009 at 12:41 pm


I realize that this is a ‘belief’ web site, so I will not slam ‘Christians’ even though they deserve a good slamming…
However, civil marriage has Z-E-R-O to do with religion. ‘Christians’ and their inability to understand that is very perplexing. Dumb, even.
As far as this ‘writer’s’ statement that the ‘majority does not rule,’ I would advise him to ask some gay citizens in California or Maine what they think of that statement.
Especially since heterosexuals (who are 100%, either by nature or nurture, responsible for homosexuality) have recently stripped their gay children of EXISTING MARRIAGE RIGHTS.
Morality indeed, heterosexuals.
Morality. Indeed.



report abuse
 

Kenny Johnson

posted December 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm


I consider myself an evangelical Christian and agree that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but I don’t agree that the government needs to enforce that limitation. While my faith helps form my political beliefs, I can’t restrict other’s rights because of my personal beliefs and interpretation of the Bible.
I wonder how many of those Christians who voted yes on Prop 8 in California (to limit the legal definition of marriage to a man and woman) will use the same Biblical principles to vote on a new Divorce amendment to the constitution as well.



report abuse
 

charisma in life

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:13 pm


Another question for Witherington and Follyforhire….
How do I live in this kingdom without the dichotomy of separating my life into 2 different realms – nature vs. sacred – if I have to think about a civil marriage and a marriage of sacrament? How can government, my protector, support all of life being sacred? Just looking for ideas and thoughts to help me articulate.



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:21 pm


Thanks for some of these comments. What is missing from the discussion of those who are busy trying to correct me on this or that point is that our country was established on the basis of certain Judaeo-Christian principles, including principles in regard to what counts as marriage and what does not. Even those who were Deists or Unitarians amongst our Founding Fathers overwhelmingly agreed on this matter. So the notion that America was founded as a secular democracy run on secular principles is historically false, in fact it is way out of bounds. The issue that is being raised by the marriage discussion today is whether we not merely want to reject the views of the majority of Americans but whether we also want to reject the ethical principles of America’s founders. In my view the answer to those questions should be no, and no. America was never set up to be a strictly secular nation. If we want to become one now and argue about things like marriage on that basis, we need to be honest enough to realize we are arguing for something entirely new, and at odds with our founding principles.
Blessings,
BW3



report abuse
 

Cassie C

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm


Dr. Witherington,
Are you honestly of the belief that this is the first time the citizens of this country have attempted to create policy that runs contrary to our founders’ Judeo-Christian ethics? How can you say that secular laws/laws that contradict traditional Christian/our founders’ beliefs are ‘utterly new’?



report abuse
 

Chall8987

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm


I often hear the argument that the US was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, but I have never heard anyone cite what those principles. Frankly, if you read the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers you find so many more Enlightenment and Classical principles than those of the Bible.
To my knowledge, principles of Democracy and Republic come from Athens and Rome, not the Bible. The entire American Revolution went against Christian principles because Jesus and Paul both advocate that Christians not oppose legitimate governments (which Britain was). The colonists certainly did not give Caesar his due in terms of the various revenue acts passed after the American Revolution, nor did they turn the other cheek when he sent his soldiers to collect on their debts.
So, while Christians might cite the Just War Theory as a response to this, that requires a legitimate authority declare war which didn’t happen. The Continental Congress was a hodgepodge of incendiaries essentially, particularly if one remembers that only about 1/3 of the people supported the war effort. Doesn’t all of that make this country somewhat at odds with Christianity?



report abuse
 

David

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm


Wow, you certainly attracted some fire with this one. That was inevitable, of course, but I wonder how so many with views antithetical to yours came to find this article. You think someone may have pointed them in this direction?
My thoughts on the matter are that there should be two different types of contracts that comprise what we think of as marriage. A domestic partnership should exist so that any two people who wish to merge their financial and legal affairs can do so. This would encompass a man and a woman, two men or two women, a parent and child (I’m envisioning where the child is the caregiver to an elderly parent), one man and multiple women, or vice versa. Any group of people who wish to be bound together in this way could do so, and the law would recognize it for purposes of benefits, transfers of property, taxation, etc. Participants in these arrangements would refer to each other as domestic partners, or any other formulation that works for them, but not as spouses or as husband and wife. Those terms have a specific meaning that should not be subsumed into these secular arrangements.
There would be a second type of contract that would encompass the religious aspects of marriage. This would not be recognized by the state or have any impact on any legal rights. Married couples would generally enter into both contracts – a domestic partnership to handle legal issues and a marriage for religious significance. Some might choose to become married but not domestic partners, for whatever reason.
It seems to me that when you try to make the state recognize religious rituals or observances, the religion gets watered down in the process. Why do we feel the need to have society validate our religion? Is that any different than gays seeking to have society validate their relationships? Do we get special recognition just because we’re the majority? Or because homosexuality is “icky”? Let us try to run the state according to the shared cultural values, however those may evolve, and let us run our personal lives according to our convictions, religious or otherwise.



report abuse
 

Chall8987

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:52 pm


I really couldn’t concur more with David.



report abuse
 

Kenny Johnson

posted December 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm


For the record, I have an RSS subscription to this blog because I like Ben’s writings and agree with much of what he writes. We just differ here.
Ben,
If, as Christian Americans we are supposed to promote laws that agree with Judeo-Christian views on marriage, shouldn’t we also push to have divorce made illegal?



report abuse
 

Patrick Simpson

posted December 15, 2009 at 3:07 pm


Ben,
The major problem with your argument lies in the assertion that nothing should contradict the majority viewpoint, especially in light of the founding fathers’ religiosity–when in fact–it was the founding fathers that were so concerned with the oppression of the minority by a tyrannical majority.
So afraid were they, of a tyrannical and religious authority, that in the very first amendment to our constitution, they inserted the establishment clause, preventing the government from taking adopting religious stances (especially contentious ones) as a matter of policy.
You may believe you speak for all Christians–at least ones who are not “disregarding the obvious” or “ignoring the obvious”–but the reality is that some Christians and some Christian churches (see: United Church of Christ) support same-sex marriage.
I’ll also say this: While you back up your argument with your interpretation of Jesus’ life–I’ll point out “the obvious,” as it were. Jesus did not spend his life advocating to the powers that be–the Romans–that other people should be *FORCED* to live under Christian ideals, under Christian-enforced laws. Jesus persuaded people using words, living by example–not by violence of the sword or violence of the law.
In the United States, marriage, as written into the law, exists a civil marriage: agreement upon certain terms, the granting of rights and responsibilities. So uncontroversial is this reality, that the average person–the majority you love so much, including the vast majority of Christians–that they would not even blink if a straight male and female, totally *agnostic* or atheist, were to marry. Where, exactly, is the evangelical Christian push to influence the laws so as to require religiosity (specifically: Christian religiosity) before the “majority’s government” grants a marriage license? I suspect, likewise, the majority of the nation similarly has no problem with two Hindus getting married, provided one is male and the other is female.
This paradox: Christians claiming that they are trying to protect “the sanctity of marriage” by limiting same-sex marriage while simultaneously NOT trying to limit atheist/agnostic/non-Christian marriage is the *absolute* evidence that trying to vote, now, of all convenient times, your religion into the law is the result of nothing more than antipathy towards homosexuality and homosexuals.
Eventually, this behavior will be prohibited by the supreme court–it is a violation of both the First Amendment, in trying to force the government to adopt *one religious position* over the religious position/non-religious position of others, as well as further considerations of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
I sincerely believe you are on what will, in our lifetimes, be viewed as the very wrong side of history.
Sincerely,
Patrick Simpson



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm


Dr. Witherington,
You are certainly right to point out that “the notion that America was founded as a secular democracy run on secular principles is historically false, in fact it is way out of bounds.” But wouldn’t you agree that times and people change and that the things we mean by “liberty,” “freedom,” “equality,” “justice,” and “fairness” evolve as well? We did not arrive at this moment straight from 1776 or 1789.
We are now living in what is functionally a secular democracy. And is that not both more preferable to and more practical than nearly every other kind of potential political structure, especially since, as you say, we are living in “an increasingly non-Christian culture in America?” I think we should prefer a secular (or maybe Jeffersonian?) democracy that respects the rights of its members to assemble and worship as conscience leads (as long as that assembly poses no threat to the life and liberty of the citizens who choose not to participate).
You say the issues raised by the gay marriage debate are
1) Should we reject the views of a majority of Americans?
2) Should we reject the ethical principles of America’s founders?
First, Re 2: We clearly do this all the time (slavery and the counting of persons being just two, though extraordinary, examples), and there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, the founders, with considerable wisdom, foresight, and humility, recognized we would and set up a process whereby we could amend and correct the constitutional basis for government.
Re 1: We do this frequently as well, especially when issues of civil justice and fairness pertain.
You contend in the original post that justice and fairness run both ways and that “[n]o one has an inalienable right to tell the majority of Americans ‘you must change your definition of marriage or else you are being unjust’.” Is that really happening in this debate? Who is telling whom “you must change your definition of marriage”? Non-Christians are not telling Christians we must change our definition of marriage, that would be laughable and preposterous. The recent spate of ballot initiatives, legislation, and court cases are not about that. They are about (in very theoretical and generic language) a (small) minority of citizens asking their fellow citizens to allow them the right to make a civil contract and to have that contract recognized in civil/legal/political society.
While that formulation may be too generic to be of much use, it leads me back to my earlier question: Why should I, as a Christian, want to prevent that? What has it to do with me, with my relationship with my spouse, with my place within the Christian fellowship and in the larger society as a Christian? When two of those citizens show up at the church door, it obviously becomes my concern, and we may have some really difficult and important conversations, prayer, study, and decisions in store.
Do you think there is a distinction to be made between civil or contractual marriage and sacramental or ordinal Holy Matrimony? If so, to what extent should we be interested in, care about, or be bothered by the eligibility requirements for civil or contractual marriage?
Peace,
John Beller



report abuse
 

Freeman

posted December 15, 2009 at 3:42 pm


First, it’s important to realize what’s not in dispute: the prerogative of religious bodies to define marriage as they choose. Regardless of what majorities believe about marriage, the right of the members of a church or other religious body to marry whom they please on whatever terms they please is not at issue.
Second, as to who should be empowered decide who’s to be permitted to marry. I would agree that it isn’t judges, elected or otherwise; it is instead legislators elected with some frequency and possessed of a duty not to uphold the law but to make the law in conformity with their duties as representatives of the people.
Given the structure of the Constitution, in this country the institution of marriage should be determined not by the national Congress but by the various state legislatures.
Majority sentiment matters, indeed it should be decisive. Already in some states legislative majorities have voted in favor of gay marriage. It is a mistake to suppose that any state that permits gays and lesbians to marry is acting in contravention of ordinary majoritarian-democratic norms. (Legislatures for various reasons, not necessarily illegitimate ones, may support positions contrary to the results of surveys of public opinion, as did the New York Senate a couple of weeks ago. What legitimacy requires is that elections be fairly contested and that legislative procedures conform to democratic standards.)
Finally, today’s majority may be tomorrow’s minority. Since voters in their twenties support gay marriage at rates considerably higher than do voters in their sixties, it may well be that an argument based on the premise “the majority should get is way” will produce a different conclusion ten years from now than it does today.
Jesus was, in all probability, a celibate, He was also convinced that—and his choice of celibacy may have been informed by a belief that–the marital relationship should be evaluated in light of the overwhelming, central reality he came to proclaim: the kingdom of God is at hand. The same is true of Paul.
When legislators consider changes in the law of marriage, what should be their chief criteria of evaluation? One stands out: the well being of our children. Nothing about marriage comes near its importance as an institution that provides children care and nurture and guidance.
Looking at the matter from this standpoint, we start from the fact that, according at Williams Institute-Urban Institute report, over 65,000 children are living with lesbian or gay parent, as are over 14,000 foster children. This comes about under the controlling principle of law regarding the placement of children, the best interests of the child.
It would seem plausible to conclude that tens of thousands of children would be benefited were their parents able to marry, as the presently cannot. Thus marriage’s main function, the socialization of children, would be better served were gays and lesbians permitted to marry.
The Constitution of the United States lays out it purposes—six of them—in its preamble. They are entirely secular, and in this sense that the United States was founded on secular principles is historically true. But it’s evident that the Founders intended that the law of marriage should be decided at the state level.
I suppose that the possibility of gay marriage never entered the mind of member of the founding generation. Whether they all regarded the practice of homosexuality as contrary to their ethical principles I’m not so sure. I am sure that the Supreme Court was correct, when in 2002 it held that “adults may choose to enter upon this [personal, male-male] relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.”



report abuse
 

#John1453

posted December 15, 2009 at 4:02 pm


Although I am still thinking and working through the issues and do not have a settled opinion in relation to governmental laws in respect of marriage, I think that it is important to point out and note that a secular argument for the restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples can be made.
As far as discrmination in legal terms is concerned, neither homosexuality nor transexuality are analogous to race and gender. Race and gender are 100% heritable and immutable. While there appear at this time to be some unidentified biological risk factors for some homosexual development and even transgenderism, science has failed to establish that homosexuality and transsexuality develop deterministically like race and gender. For example, twin studies have failed to show a relationship of predictability which indicates a lack of direct genetic connection. However, other studies indicate that there may be some biolobical (but not necessarily genetic) factors that may predispose people to be homosexual. Moreover, rates of homosexuality vary widely between countries. In addition, even the Kinsey Institute has acknowledged that at least one shift in the Kinsey spectrum of 0 to 6 is the norm over the course of life for those who identity themselves as homosexual (75%).
Homoosexuality is not primarily a non-behavioral conditions of life, and consequently is not intrinsically benign as is gender and race (apart from the fact that blacks are more at risk from sickle cell anemia, and men do not get ovarian cancer, etc.). Homosexual relationships also exhibit a disproportionately high rate of scientifically measurable harms. For example, homosexual males experience disproportionately high numbers of sex partners over the course of life and of sexually transmitted infections, not only in relation to heterosexual males but also in relation to homosexual females. As another example, the limited studies to date suggest that homosexual females experience on average disproportionately high rates of measurable harm as regards shorter-term sexual relationships and higher instances of mental health problems, relative not only to heterosexual females but even to homosexual males.
Furthermore, unlike race and gender, homosexuality and transsexuality are in the first instance impulses to engage in behavior that is structurally discordant with embodied existence (as male and female). That is, the bodies of homosexuals are either male or female, but the behaviours of homosexuals do not match the biology, especially in so far as the biology has evolved over time to further the successful reproduction and survival of the human species.
There is also the interest that society, and their representative governments, have in the continuation of that society and therefore in the encouragement and furthering and favouring of reproductive relationships over other types of relationships. Concurrent with that concern is a concern over the development and raising of children, which over millions of years has developed to be most successful in a two person heterosexual relationship.
Of course, it goes without sayting that regardless of one’s views on marriage, it is not right to hate anyone or commit violence against anyone.
regards,
#John



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 15, 2009 at 4:27 pm


Hi Cassie: of course you are right that there have been times and ways we have differed from the founding fathers on other issues before now. The point is that in regard to gay marriage in particular the issue is new.
David you have suggested an intriguing solution to the public dilemma. However your suggestion implies that the government no longer should be endorsing some of its founding Judeao-Christian ethics. I disagree. Why do you think it is that every single President who has been elected in my lifetime is either some kind of Catholic or Protestant in their stated belief systems? Why do you think it is that they all have affirmed in one way or another that marriage is an act between one man and one woman? Even Obama has said so in public at Rick Warren’s church.
My answer would be because most Americans want our leaders and our policies to continue to affirm these values, not strictly secular ones.
Blessings,
BW3



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 15, 2009 at 4:27 pm


Hi Cassie: of course you are right that there have been times and ways we have differed from the founding fathers on other issues before now. The point is that in regard to gay marriage in particular the issue is new.
David you have suggested an intriguing solution to the public dilemma. However your suggestion implies that the government no longer should be endorsing some of its founding Judeao-Christian ethics. I disagree. Why do you think it is that every single President who has been elected in my lifetime is either some kind of Catholic or Protestant in their stated belief systems? Why do you think it is that they all have affirmed in one way or another that marriage is an act between one man and one woman? Even Obama has said so in public at Rick Warren’s church.
My answer would be because most Americans want our leaders and our policies to continue to affirm these values, not strictly secular ones.
Blessings,
BW3



report abuse
 

Chall8987

posted December 15, 2009 at 4:45 pm


John,
With reference to the Kinsey Institute, shifts in sexual identity do not necessarily mean a change in a person’s sexuality. They simply reflect different stages of self-discovery. Many gay men first come out as bisexual because they see it as less threatening. The same is true of gay women. The binary established by society does not help either. Too many people believe bisexuality to be simply a phase that all gays go through, but such is not necessarily the case. These ill-defined terms easily account for shifts in a persons sexual identity.
Also, in your reference to the problems of gay and lesbian relationships, can we really say that heterosexuals don’t have the same issues? Even in polls this can be skewed because heterosexuals are more likely to identify as “traditional” and thus feel uncomfortable listing their problems on paper. Gays, on the other hand, don’t have that stigma and therefore accurately or even over represent their life situations.
Furthermore, if one does not consider homosexuality something arising from human biology, then what is it? Can you really argue to me that gay people choose to identify as second-class citizens? If you take the nurture route, then what circumstances create homosexuals and which ones create neurotics because typically those cited for the first group match those of the second group?
Finally, with children, the point has already been made that tens of thousands of children are being raised by gay people currently, and there’s no documented proof of harm done to these kids. Many from older generations are even beginning to come out and speak in defense of their gay parents.
All-in-all, I don’t find your arguments, which are verily against gay people as a demographic in general, very convincing that we constitute as an inferior group.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 15, 2009 at 5:13 pm


“Let me be clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians. They already have that right in most states.”
Ben Witherington is either a liar or an idiot, as even a quick glance at gay rights laws in the US shows that gays and lesbians DO NOT have the right to civil unions in “most” states. Only 10 states allow civil unions. But I guess facts don’t matter to Evangelical Christians that think only some Americans deserve rights and not others.



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 15, 2009 at 5:32 pm


There’s one underlying idea that hasn’t so far been questioned, which is the idea that marriage would be redefined by allowing gay people to have recognized civil marriages.
People tend to focus on the idea of marriage as some sort of monolithic institution, and then say that since there would be a change in who is allowed into the monolithic institution, there is a change in the definition of marriage.
But people don’t join “marriage” and become another two members of the millions of people who are part of it, as though it was a club they were joining. Two people marry each other, and each couple is a completely separate unit.
As proposed allowing same-sex marriage doesn’t change a single thing about how marriage affects straight couples. Not who can get married, not who can perform marriages, not how to sign up for it, not the benefits and responsibilities that come from it. Not a single thing.
The definition of marriage as it affects straight people wouldn’t change in the slightest, much less completely redefine it.
It’s like claiming that the dinner on your table is completely redefined by what your neighbors are serving on theirs next door.
Even if (and it isn’t) gay marriage was somehow completely different in all respects from marriage as it affects straight people, it still wouldn’t change it for straight people.
That being the case, the Christian question is NOT how they are supposed to police everyone else, but rather, “how do I treat my neighbor?” I can’t see any justification in the answer being “hurt their families, destabilize their relationships, and keep them disenfranchised.”
What part of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” isn’t painfully apparent in this situation?



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm


I also like David’s potential solution. He identifies a distinction between a marriage contract and a marriage sacrament, and suggests we just stop calling the marriage contract “marriage.” He recognizes that a fight over the dictionary is a silly fight.
The way in which a politician, even a Christian politician, answers a particular question at a particular moment involves any number of considerations and calculations. Obama also went out of his way throughout his campaign and even in his Inaugural Address to validate the homosexual experience (often adding some form of the phrase “gay and straight” to his rhetorical litany of opposites when trying to sound inclusive: “black/white” “young/old” etc.) and speaking to the concerns of gay rights advocates (calling for the end to DADT). Obama also affirms, as do the majority of Americans, the rights of gay folk to own property, to operate commercial enterprises, to seek employment and/or advancement without prejudice toward sexual orientation, to walk down the street without being harassed. John McCain would affirm all that as well. George Bush would too.
Yet, surely this is not consistent with the “Judeao-Christian ethics” of our founders. So what’s so special about a marriage contract? Is it really just about the majoritarian view? As a Christian response, that seems lacking.
Thanks for continuing the discussion.
John Beller



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 15, 2009 at 6:56 pm


To David and to follyforhire:
We already have that distinction today. It’s why even people getting married in church need a license from city hall, and their priest or minister has to file the paperwork with the state.



report abuse
 

MarcLuxe

posted December 15, 2009 at 7:09 pm


BW: Let me be clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians. They already have that right in most states.
Your misstatement above begs the question: What do you think about gay couples having a choice to enter a legal status equal to civil marriage, i.e. “All-but-in-name” marriage like in Washington State?
I’m uncertain on your philosophical position on marriage, since you base arguments on both majoritarianism and traditionalism, along with New and Old Testament exegesis. Therefore, might you clarify your approach by telling us your position on ROMA, the Respect for Marriage Act, whereby federal law treats all state-sanctioned civil partnerships and marriages equally for federal purposes?



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm


Wouldn’t that be, like giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and all that?



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 15, 2009 at 7:53 pm


Hi Marc:
I don’t much like the law in Washington State. Let me ask you a counter question. Suppose some state had a law that made polygamy all but in name the same thing as heterosexual monogamy or made pederasty all but in name the same as marriage? Would we be happy with that subterfuge of marriage? I don’t think so.
As for the notions of equality and liberty and etc. being evolving concepts, I’m not for the epistemology that says there are no absolute standards for any of these things. I believe there are.
For example, the Constitution says “all persons are created equal”. Notice the term created, as in created in the image of God. That is the basis of human equality in our founding documents, and it is quite false to say it is some secular principle. We were ‘endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights’. So the attempt to secularize the founding documents founders and sinks.
Peace,
BW3



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 15, 2009 at 7:59 pm


Lymis,
Of course we make that distinction in practice, but most popular commentary and debate on the issue conflates those differing meanings/instances/understandings of marriage. That was the reason for my original comment/question, i.e. should the distinction matter to Christians? And that is also the reason that while I tend to lean toward conclusions like David’s, I am so hesitant to stake out a real opinion.
Most Christians I know/respect/listen seem to either rail against homosexuality in general, oppose or are uncomfortable with gay marriage on biblical grounds, or are willing to claim that biblical or traditional attitudes toward marriage are irrelevant in contemporary culture. The first response is beyond the pale from a public policy perspective. And unless you’re a part of the UCC, the third is largely beyond the pale from a practical religious perspective. I am sensitive to that middle position, and I really want to hear a thoughtful Christian like Dr. Witherington weigh in on whether a whether and why Christians ought to oppose gay civil or contract marriage.
Should Christians (even Christians who believe firmly in a biblical understanding of marriage as Dr. Witherington outlined in the post) oppose civil unions, what MarcLuxe above calls “‘all-but-in-name’ marriage”? If so, why? And if not (Dr. Witherington indicated above that he is not against some type of civil union or legal partnership protection), what is so important about the term “marriage”?
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 15, 2009 at 8:44 pm


Dr. Witherington,
Though I think you are ultimately correct to refuse to secularize the founders and the founding documents, the phrase “all persons are created equal” is not in the Constitution. The founders did use the less inclusive “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence.
Interestingly, one of the instances where the term “persons” was used in the Constitution occurs near the beginning of Article I, Section II: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
So, while I share your conviction that there are “absolute standards” for things like “equality” and “liberty,” I cannot agree that a phrase like “all men are created equal” means the same thing for everyone in every time and place. The founders quite clearly did not mean the same thing you and I mean when we discuss an inalienable right to liberty and “all men are created equal.” They believed, literally, that some “other Persons” could be owned and that they were worth “three fifths” of whole “free Persons.”
But, we agree, they were not what we would call secularists.
You asked a counter question of MarcLuxe about Washington’s ROMA law. It is a fair one. I would say that I am unsure why a Christian should oppose a polygamous civil marriage law. There may be biblical reasons for opposing polygamous Holy Matrimony, but why should we care how consenting non-believers choose to structure their own relationships and have that structure recognized in civil law? It’s the same question I’ve asked all day.
As to pederasty, we obviously have an interest as Christians (though I think most non-Christians share this interest) in protecting children, from predators and from themselves. We forbid minors from doing all sorts of things. I see no difference in preventing them from entering into a civil marriage and preventing them from driving cars, voting, buying alcohol, etc. I don’t think pederasty has much to do with the present discussion.
Thanks for continuing the discussion.
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 15, 2009 at 9:09 pm


Thanks for all this posting. I believe I am correct in saying that besides the 10-13 states that have civil unions for gays, there are another 10-13 where the legislation is pending and will likely pass. That would be half the country right there. My point is, its pretty readily available in the U.S. or will be soon enough, even if it requires a little travel. It is in fact not the case that heterosexual marriage is not affected by other things being declared marriage as well. For one thing, it affects the tax structure! For another thing it affects health insurance! For a third thing, it affects the curriculum in public schools! For another thing, it affects rules in regard to what ethical rules Christian institutions can use in determining employment.
Blessings,
BW3



report abuse
 

R Hampton

posted December 15, 2009 at 9:43 pm


No one has an inalienable right to tell the majority of Americans “you must change your definition of marriage or else you are being unjust”.
Does the mere presence of Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Wiccans, et al. force Christians to alter their beliefs? Only if their faith is weak, but it is not the place of the State to nanny wayward Christians. In the same manner, Christian churches (or any other for that matter) are under no legal obligation perform Same Sex marriages in Massachusetts – nor are they forced to marry those who are already divorced – despite the differing definitions of the State and other citizens. In fact, the democratic plurality of our nation is what protects the religious freedom of (almost) all.



report abuse
 

Chall8987

posted December 15, 2009 at 10:37 pm


“I believe I am correct in saying that besides the 10-13 states that have civil unions for gays, there are another 10-13 where the legislation is pending and will likely pass.”
Really? Because I follow this issue quite closely, and I can only think of Illinois (where the polls are not favorable) and maybe Maryland as being potentials for adding Civil Unions.
I’m also curious just how same-sex marriage will affect school curricula. I’ve heard people talk about various books with same-sex partners in them, but will same-sex marriage really have all that much to do with that? Even if you confine marriage to heterosexuals you won’t do away with gays, and you won’t stop them from forming couples. Even anti-sodomy laws failed to do that despite the threat of prison, and eventually kids will come into contact with gay people on their own and will form their own opinions about the matter. If that’s the case, then why do we worry if they learn about what’s already there in school? Isn’t education suppose to teach them about the real world?



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 15, 2009 at 10:39 pm


Dr. Witherington,
I do appreciate your remaining engaged with the topic. It looks like commenting on this thread has outpaced normal business – and it is maybe more dense and fraught as well. I apologize for contributing to the madness; my posts have been ridiculously long (this one likely will be as well). I realize this isn’t your day job.
This isn’t mine either, but I am vexed by this debate. I feel like I should have an opinion on this, but I have struggled to find one that makes sense, argues well, reflects my values, and is compatible with (or at least justifiable to) my faith community. I was excited to see your post this morning because I would really like to know what a nuanced, thoughtful, and sensitive Christian argument against gay civil marriage sounds like.
A biblical argument loses this debate: among its other problems, it faces the practical impossibility of surviving in court, even in front of very conservative jurists.
An argument based on the founders’ Judeo-Christian ethical standards loses this debate: it’s too easily dismissed or destroyed.
An argument based on majority rules works maybe, but not for long: it’s a big loser in a generation. And it’s morally suspect.
So what’s left?
“It affects the tax structure!” In a way that disadvantages or harms the rights of married Christians or non-believing heterosexual couples? Of course not.
“It affects health insurance!” In a way that disadvantages or harms the rights of married Christians or non-believing heterosexual couples? Of course not.
“[I]t affects the curriculum in public schools!” Maybe indirectly. I don’t remember the part of my public school experience where they taught me I could marry a woman and not a man. And since I have two children in public schools, I can attest that I do not expect their teachers to raise them for me, and I do not pretend I am sending them to church. I imagine I will spend many evenings and weekends of their childhood and adolescence disabusing them of any number of slightly insane notions they arrived at after spending time in a public school. And I wouldn’t expect to approve every single element of their curriculum. It’s not a terrible argument, but it’s pretty weak.
“[I]t affects rules in regard to what ethical rules Christian institutions can use in determining employment.” How? Most anti-discriminatory labor laws and EEOC regs already include sexual orientation and marital status as protected categories. How would legalizing gay marriage or gay “all-but-in-name” marriage change that situation at all? It wouldn’t. Nobody is going to tell B&H Publishing who they have to hire and/or promote.
I would really like to believe we’re not just arguing over a definition. I’ll keep looking.
Thanks, again, for your thoughts and continued engagement.
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

David

posted December 15, 2009 at 11:58 pm


I’m glad to see so many posters see some value in my suggestion. One of the primary benefits, as I see it, is that it removes from the concept of the domestic partnership the expectation that the parties to the contract will be engaged in sexual activity. Obviously if a man and a woman have a child together, you can safely assume that they have “done the deed” and are probably continuing to do so. Outside of that, no one needs to know.
Let’s face it: the reason that the church gets so up in arms over homosexuality as differentiated from other forms of sin is the squick factor. I believe that the Bible clearly identifies homosexuality as being counter to God’s plan. It is a sin, despite all attempts to define it otherwise. However, not all sins are illegal, and more importantly, all sin is equal in God’s eyes. Any single sin is enough to send you to hell for eternity if left uncovered by the blood of Christ. And any single sin, if unconfessed, gets in the way of a Christian’s fellowship with God. But Christians get extra upset about homosexuality simply because they find it “icky.”
To the extent that churches want to single homosexuals out for special judgment, they are wrong. And to the extent that homosexuals want to portray Christians as evil for believing that homosexuality is a sin, they are wrong. They have the right in our society to be sexually involved with any other consenting adult. And I have the right to find the conduct distasteful and consider it sinful in God’s eyes. I don’t have the right to judge them (or anyone else) for their sin, and I can only legitimately attempt to outlaw sinful behavior if the exercise of such behavior interferes with the right of another person to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.
It’s interesting being both a churchgoing Christian and a libertarian, because many of my fellow parishioners would be horrified at the idea of legalizing drugs or prostitution. However, as sinful and harmful to the practitioners as those behaviors can be, the exercise of them does not interfere with anyone else’s fundamental rights. Until we start adopting that principle with regard to public policy decisions, these types of controversies will continue to paralyze our legal and political system.



report abuse
 

Freeman

posted December 16, 2009 at 12:25 am


The Constitution does not say “all persons are created equal.” The Declaration of Independence holds that it’s a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.”
Advocates of gay marriage are not advocating multiple-partner marriages. Such relationships arouse sexual jealousy and at the societal level frustrate those with diminished chances of finding a mate. Nor are advocates of gay marriage advocating man-boy, nor man-girl relations. These relations are wrong because they are inherently exploitative. On what basis do you maintain that same-sex relations are in some comparable fashion a “subterfuge” of marriage? Is that a man’s love for a man must be morally inferior to–less devoted, less caring than–his love for a woman? Why so? I hope I am mistaken in reading you to suggest that you know my friend’s John’s love for Aaron to be exploitative or otherwise morally objectionable. What is it in their natures or in their relationship that could possibly justify such an a priori conclusion? Or so vile a comparison as to pederasty?



report abuse
 

Gayle

posted December 16, 2009 at 1:22 am


Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.”
Great! So the members of your own religion can go right ahead and accept it. But it sounds to me like Jesus made it pretty clear that it is completely wrong to pass laws that require even non-Christians to live by the rules of a religion that they don’t even believe in. If you care about converting non-Christians to a belief in Christianity, you should recognize that legislatively forcing them to follow the rules of Christianity without any such belief is a sure way to make them angry at Christianity and harden their hearts against ever considering Christianity to be an at all moral religion.
Religions should recognize only whatever forms of marriage the religion in question commands. But state and federal civil marriage laws recognizing same-sex marriage are the right thing to do.



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 16, 2009 at 1:39 am


Thank you Dr. Witherington for reminding us what we as Christians believe. The scriptural teaching is clear. And try as some will, they can’t take away our right to vote out beliefs. But what has not yet been well emphasized here is that it is not only Christians who oppose homosexual “marriages” but the entire world in all times and in all places, with of course in the very recent years when a great confusion has come over certain judges, legislators and many others.
Even in ancient Greece where for some time homosexual practices were rampant, demonstrating that it certainly can spread through societal approbation, even then, with their great practicing homosexual philosophers, did they ever imagine that homosexuals could possibly form a marriage.
Fortunately, as you note, the majority of Americans, and I add the majority of citizens of every single nation on earth, has not been so confused. Homosexual “marriage” has in all places been imposed on society by a select or elect few.
A marriage, by universal definition, can only be formed through the complementary relationship of man and woman. The effort to deconstruct marriage so as to appease a highly powerful minority can only produce a mockery of marriage.
Now, it is important to emphasize that as Christians we cannot support homosexual conduct in any form. It is an abomination. Therefore, we cannot condone homosexual unions, partnerships, or any abominable sexual conduct whatsoever and we can vote our views. This is also the view of the vast majority of humanity though a powerful propaganda campaign and naïve intellectual rationalizations continue to confound increasing numbers.
For better or for worse, we live in a democracy. And it is possible that a majority can become so confused or tired of the struggle to defend marriage that it may in time deconstruct marriage. I pray not.
It is my hope that homosexuals themselves will realize that they can only form a marriage by marrying someone of the opposite sex. If they wish to campaign for special rights and privileges, generally offered to real marriages, they should do so without conflating terms. Don’t call a horse a cow. You might be able to get that through certain legislators and judges but it creates great confusion. The solution I suggest is that you simply call your relationship what it is, The Homosexual Relationship. There, no more word problems. No euphemisms. Then freely campaign for special rights and benefits honestly rather than under the guise of marriage, which it can never be.
Peace.



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 16, 2009 at 7:11 am


Hi Freeman
I must object vigorously to one thing you say. There are plenty of gay activists who have sought orally and in print to justify ‘boy love’ or pederasty. Spend some time in San Francisco and read some of the literature there on this subject, advocating pederasty. It made me quite literally ill the same way child pornography should make us all ill. And this brings me to another point—male homosexual behavior so often begins with a man messing with a boy that it can only be called too frequent to be an accident or exceptional thing. Something is deeply and profoundly wrong with this whole approach to sexual behavior, and this sometimes becomes clear when you ask how it all begins in particular cases.
Blessings,
BW3



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 16, 2009 at 8:57 am


Dr. Witherington,
But what does it matter to the present discussion that “plenty of gay activists who have sought orally and in print to justify ‘boy love’ or pederasty”? That is certainly disgusting, and Christians as well as non-Christians are right, and well within their rights, to reject the practice and protect children. From most of the rest of your comments I take it that you don’t think all homosexual relationships are based on a deviant or dysfunctional or abusive personal sexual history. Why bring it up? It has no relevance to the question of whether and why a Christian should oppose gay civil or contract marriage.
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 16, 2009 at 10:40 am


Of all things in this debate I don’t understand is how we should think government should have no role in legislating morality or limit/define marriage. After all this is exactly what gay marriage proponents wish.
My secular argument against gay marriage is a marketplace one. About 20 or 30 years ago the value of baseball cards was at an all time high. Young boys were hoarding rookie cards in shoe boxes and storing them for a future day when they would help pay for their retirement plans. Unfortunately, the baseball card market was flooded with cards undermining the value of my Robyn Yount rookie card and today it is worth just about nothing.
I see the value of the state excluding the marriage contract to a man and woman the same way. The day we flood the market with new definitions/versions/arrangements marriage will soon be value-less. First homosexual marriage, then we open the door to all types of arrangements.
Currently the government excludes marriage (and incentivizes it with tax benefits, value etc…) to a man and a woman and by doing so affirms it as the best context for civilizing children. Once this incentive is erased by flooding the market with other options the incentive to enter a marriage covenant for life (particularly for men) is removed. God help us all with the resulting chaos of a culture in which boys will be raised in a majority of homes without a vested biological male and female.



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 16, 2009 at 11:37 am


I too collected baseball cards in the mid/late eighties and early nineties. My own worthless (but priceless!) Don Mattingly cards were later all ruined during the flooding in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Though they wouldn’t have fetched the money I hoped they would, I miss having them around.
It’s a clever way in to the argument, I think, but a market-based analysis fails because, unlike the massively over-produced yet finite supply of baseball cards, marriage is not a commodity. It is an arrangement, an agreement (I, too, would call mine a covenant), and every state in the U.S. already has assured that there is a unending supply of opportunity to enter into it: divorce. Civil laws do not treat marriage as a “covenant for life.” Instead it allows men and women to enter into and break the contracted relationships at will with due process.
(The current divorce rate for first marriages is usually estimated to be between 40-50%. Most estimates also suggest the rate rises with subsequent marriages. Most likely somewhere between 40-50% of all marriages involves the remarriage of one of the parties. In 2008, the CDC estimated the marriage rate at 7.1 per 1,000 members of the population. The divorce rate for that year was 3.5 per 1,000 population.)
Divorce is awful, heartbreaking, destructive, and disastrous from an emotional and spiritual perspective. (I would also argue that it is quite harmful from a social perspective.) But we, as Christians, are not willing to enter the public square to condemn and denounce civil divorce laws. We’d be well-advised not to at any rate, as we’d be laughed out of it.
And nearly every Christian denomination make internal arrangements to accommodate for divorce because we have recognized, in what I understand to be fairly direct contravention of scriptural teaching, that divorce is a tragic unavoidability, but we still have to minister to and care for and worship with and love the individuals who are broken and beaten by it.
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

Scott J.

posted December 16, 2009 at 11:38 am


One of the things I find most disturbing about the whole issue is related to something you (Dr. Witherington) brought up early in your post, and that is that the minority view is the only view that gets press, attention, or put into letters to representatives. I suspect that the main reason that the majority view is not heard is not so much apathy or complacency, but fear…fear of ridicule, fear of being labeled a bigot, a fundamentalist bible-thumper, etc.
The degree to which a majority opinion is essentially bullied into submission by a minority opinion is utterly astonishing. I’m all for open discourse, but that simply isn’t happening, at least not in mainstream media. The chilling effect of the reprisals for loudly voicing an opinion contrary to the mainstream media’s stated position makes that virtually impossible. Tolerance has become the new intolerance. (Or is it the other way around?)
And so people like me sometimes find themselves shocked to learn that one’s opinion on gay marriage or abortion or any of a number of other moral issues is actually the majority opinion…who’d have thought? The messages we are bombarded with would have us believe we’re the lone barbarian with some antiquated, irrelevant world view.



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 16, 2009 at 12:33 pm


Scott J,
I think you’ve identified, albeit in a different way, the phenomenon I was talking about early in the thread: the tendency of commentators, pundits, journalists, reporters, and activists whose voices come to us filtered through the mainstream (or even various alternative) media outlets to conflate and confuse the issue. So we hear [pick-a-liberal] who advocates for gay marriage on the basis of fairness, justice, civil rights, etc. and then [pick-a-conservative] who talks variously about the traditional understanding of marriage, God’s intentions for men and women, or religious freedom.
Nobody ever bothers to stop and talk about what is at issue: CIVIL MARRIAGE.
Should Christians oppose it? Why? The argument has to be sensible, sensitive, and eloquent.
Sensible:
It can’t be biblical: biblical precepts have certainly been formative in our society, but they have no standing or force, as biblical precepts, in our civil statutes.
It can’t be majoritarian: it’s a loser in the long run and besides, we don’t really believe the majority should always rule. The Pew Research Center says that for most of the last 15 years a majority of Americans favored preserving legal abortions. Support dipped below 50% this year but still outpaced those who favor making it illegal. My guess is that a fairly strong majority would support retaining limited access to early-term abortions legal. Are we swayed by that as a reason for keeping abortion legal? Of course not.
Sensitive:
It has to be right, by which I mean that it has to be an argument we can make in good faith, with a reasonable chance of being able to continue to make it in the forseeable future, and with a clear sense that we are called to love and minister to the people who will be hurt by our having made it.
Eloquent:
It can’t be made solely by the usual suspects: the [pick-a-conservative]s who really do just sound like they don’t like gay folks. (The kind of Christians David correctly identifies who are quite obviously infected by the “ick” factor.)



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm


“It is in fact not the case that heterosexual marriage is not affected by other things being declared marriage as well. For one thing, it affects the tax structure! For another thing it affects health insurance! For a third thing, it affects the curriculum in public schools! For another thing, it affects rules in regard to what ethical rules Christian institutions can use in determining employment.”
Not really.
If Adam, Eve, Amy, and Steve are all single people. If Adam marries Eve and Amy marries Steve, then there are all sorts of things that happen, including, yes, effects on their taxes, and their access to health insurance, Social Security, inheritance benefits, etc, etc, etc. Since they are all heterosexual, this is something to be embraced and celebrated. If they were “living in sin” before, this is actually something that religious folks and conservatives effectively demand of them, and somehow, it isn’t going to bankrupt the system.
But If Adam marries Steve, and Amy marries Eve, somehow, the exact same people living and working in exactly the same places, quite possibly raising the same number of kids, become a horrendous financial burden that the system cannot absorb.
Oddly, most of the same people who say that Adam and Steve can’t get married are the same ones saying that homosexuality doesn’t really exist, and if they just tried hard enough, they could fall in love with Amy and Eve and get over it all.
In other words, since it is so expensive for these people to get married to the people they love, they should settle down with the people they don’t and create the same costs to the system.
Doesn’t work.
As for the school curriculum, all that anyone is likely to teach is that gay people exist, and if marriage is legalized, that the gay people who exist have civil rights. Why is that so frightening. You honestly think that if the school system doesn’t mention us, kids won’t know we exist, when some of them are themselves gay, some of their classmates are gay, some of their teachers, parents, legislators, and yes, pastors are gay? What exactly do you think they teach in schools?
As for the hiring practices, first, religious organizations already have broad exceptions in most non-discrimination laws, and second, marriage doesn’t change those laws. Marriage adds no new provisions to non-discrimination laws. Catholic employers have to treat divorced people equally and yet it violates their personal religious teachings. Why is this different?
And golly, since gay people are somewhere between 3% and 7% of the population, and not all gay people are going to get married, why is our influence so powerful? Is society really that shaky?



report abuse
 

Jehovahnissi

posted December 16, 2009 at 2:14 pm


For a long time, as an Evangelical Christian I posted against gay marriage on other Christian sites condemning it as evil and against the Bible. However, I have come to realize that I was wrong. I firmly believe that gay couples should be allowed to marry and I think that the Evangelical community needs to re-think its position. The Bible speaks of love and clearly two people in love are fulfilling that. The gender should not matter.



report abuse
 

Freeman

posted December 16, 2009 at 2:50 pm


1. Advocacy of adult-child relations. Since heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals about 25 to 1, I suspect that the number of heterosexuals advocating adult-child relations exceeds the number homosexuals doing so.In either case, they are within their rights
2. As I understand the problem of predation, the great preponderance of offenders are pedophiliacs. It may be that the incidence of pedophilia is higher among homosexuals than among others. I’m ignorant of any data that confirms that this is so. But I’m confident of two facts. (a) The great majority of gay men are not pedophiliacs, and (b) the great majority of pedophiliacs are heterosexual.



report abuse
 

R Hampton

posted December 16, 2009 at 3:57 pm


All governments must necessarily decide what is a marriage and what is not — and in the United States, such decisions are bound by the Fourteenth Amendment (which profoundly altered the nature of “States’ rights”).
Because there are Churches that do perform gay marriage ceremonies, the State must show a compelling need to violate their religious rights.
But as I mentioned previously, the 6 year history of Massachusetts has failed to demonstrate any harm to the institution of marriage. In fact, the rate of divorce for heterosexual marriages has continued to be the lowest in the nation – 2 per 1,000 – a rate not seen since 1940 (before the sexual revolution). Nor has there been a decline in the quantity or quality of heterosexual marriages. Thus the State has no (secular) reason to continue this discriminatory practice.



report abuse
 

Drane Reynolds

posted December 16, 2009 at 8:42 pm


I can’t agree with the accuracy or the relevance of the statement that this country was founded on Christian values. No country is founded on Christian values. All nations rely on coercive power and violence not on the way of Jesus (“Let it not be so among you”). Romans 13, which does speak of that kind of power is referencing the pagan Roman state. Christian behavior, of a very different nature, is described in the preceding verses of chapter 12. Our nation’s treatment of the original residents of our land, and of the African slaves who were forced to help them build their economy on the land they forcibly settled, had no regard for Christian values. The language of the Declaration of Independence and the constitution echo enlightenment thinkers, not Christian theologians.
Further, this argument is irrelevant, since that was then and this is now. It seems clear that the movement of history is toward the legalization of gay marriage. This will almost certainly happen soon. The younger generation is overwhelmingly in favor of it. The “Majority Rules” argument that Ben Witherington has endorsed here is a house built on sand. It will surely fall, and soon.
I would rather take an entirely different line of reasoning: that homosexual marriage, like violence, is a pagan value which some are wanting to import into the theology and life of the church. A distinctive feature of the enlightenment is the redefinition of freedom, and it is under this rubric that gay marriage is advanced. This expansive view of freedom into the area of love and marriage takes us far outside of the bounds Christian moral life. This is the danger we face, not that the majority will either support or oppose us, or especially that the state is on our side. Nor should we expect non-Christians to act as Christians. The danger to Christian marriage is rather that Christians live as nonchristians.
Where does this leave us? It means we must learn again to live as a faithful minority in society (faithful to Christ, not to a mythical Christian America). We can no longer rely on the power of the majority in society (as if we ever could, really) to enforce our views on the unwilling, or to support us in our beliefs. This is something that the church, except for a few small, dissident groups, mostly pacifists, such as Anabaptists, English Baptists, Quakers and Mennonites, has forgotten since the time of Constantine.
The state is not the agent of salvation — that is the church. The state does not protect our liberty, Christ does. The state (even a democratic state) does not form the basis of our fellowship — that is the Spirit which is given to the church. The state does not determine the values of God’s people, Jesus, the Word of God, to whom the scriptures bear witness, does that. Authority is not given by the state, nor does it exercise authority over the church, that authority is given to Jesus, who is with us always, even to the end of the age. Witness and demonstration of God’s New Creation in Christ is our political strategy, not reliance on the coercive power of the state.
Follyforhire is on the right track in separating Christian marriage from its legal, secular counterpart.



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 16, 2009 at 10:24 pm


Christianity under monarchies or dictatorships is one thing and under a democracy it’s another. In a democracy we have a right to vote and influence our government. Under certain dictatorships we might need to go into the catacombs.
Many here are implying that we should go into the catacombs while living in a democracy and let the irreligious, the morally confused and self-centered rule the country. Nonsense. The state is certainly not the agent of salvation. It is the agent for the “general welfare” of society. And Christians have something to say about what that means.
One reason that Christians and many others focus heavily on the problem of homosexual practices is not just because of its assuredly “icky” perversity, but because so many people are condoning this abominable practice and imagining it’s not a sin. There is no such large scale effort to condone other forms of sexual deviancy. Many other forms of sexual depravity are unfortunately tolerated by our society but not justified through any political or government effort. Those justifying homosexual practices are working hard, through the media and in schools (GLSEN) to desensitize us to the “ickyness” of homosexual practices. But it is in truth as the Catholic and other Christian denominations teach, they are “acts of grave depravity” . . . “intrinsically disordered” . . . . “Under no circumstances can they be approved.”



report abuse
 

hopespringseternal

posted December 17, 2009 at 7:53 am


BW3, despite his prominence among evangelical scholars, is not adding anything new to the conversation with this ‘response.’ What is notable is the high level of discourse in the comments that follow. The problems that I see with this article include:
There is clear, factual misinformation about the availability of civil unions, but that error is essentially defended by the author rather than corrected.
While Dr. Witherington presents impressive information on his understand of the biblical text, it is simply that – his understanding. To insist that a position that is not even shared by all faithful Christians should influence civil law is troublesome. There is a critical difference between religious marriage and civil marriage, and evangelical apologists like BW3 who do not make that distinction miss the boat in the debate.
Like several others above, I was struck by how illogical it is to argue the concept of ‘majority rules.’ Apart from the near-certainty that majority opinion will shift on this matter is this key principle: civil rights are not put up for vote. Marriage itself has been determined as a civil right. Many persons, including myself, believe that excluding persons from marriage on the basis of sexual orientation is discrimination and therefore a violation of civil rights. Certainly not everyone agrees with that, but that is what this discussion is really about.
I sincerely wish that evangelical spokespeople such as BW3 would more adequately inform themselves on the current discussion re: marriage equality before they write pieces such as this. In my opinion, this article says more about what Dr. Witherington does not understand than about what he does.



report abuse
 

Chapp

posted December 17, 2009 at 10:44 am


I found this interesting from Eugene Volokh, professor of law at UCLA who favors same sex partnerships…
In 1996, Jonathan Rauch wrote that if same-sex marriage is to succeed, it must become the general norm in the gay community, not just another lifestyle option. At least so far, that does not seem to be happening in Holland.
Also in the past 10 years, the overall marriage rate has dropped, from 5.4 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1994 to 4.5 per 1,000 in 2004. More heterosexual men and women are entering into civil partnerships — which are much more easily dissolved — instead of marriage; in 2004, about 7% of new male-female legal unions were civil partnerships. This does not prove, as Stanley Kurtz has argued, that same-sex marriage undermines heterosexual marriage; the drop in marriage rates is undoubtedly due to many complex factors. However, one can plausibly argue that the changing attitudes toward marriage that make same-sex marriage possible may also be related to overall lower marriage rates. . . . .
Why am I pointing this out? Because, while I fully support legal rights for same-sex partners, I think both sides in the marriage debate have been prone to unwarranted and exaggerated claims about the social impact of same-sex marriage. The legalization of same-sex marriage has not, as some have claimed, led to polygamy in the Netherlands. But at least so far, it has not created a “marriage culture” among gays and has not boosted marriage among heterosexuals. As we continue our own discussion of same-sex marriage, we need to have all the facts on the table.
I do think time will tell the tale of what happens to the institution of marriage as we watch what happens in the Netherlands. Personally, I do think legalizing it will water down the institution particularly for men and women who will increasing choose not to get married.



report abuse
 

Chapp

posted December 17, 2009 at 10:47 am


btw…this confirms my grandparents wisdom…”why buy the cow when the milk is free”



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 17, 2009 at 11:17 am


There is no civil right or any right whatsoever to be given a license for what you are not qualified. In all time and places, until very recent confusions, only man and woman qualify for a marriage license. I cannot simply demand that I be given a driver’s license if I’m blind or can’t drive. I can’t say that it is my civil right to be given a PhD in physics. This is just nonsense. A sow’s ear cannot become a silk purse by merely naming it so.
What same sex couples may qualify for is a license to form a permanent or temporary Homosexual Relationship with whatever benefits and privileges society may wish to give them. But they are not asking for this. They wish the appellation that has in all times and places be given exclusively to the relationship of man and woman. This is absurd and homosexualists wish government to affirm this absurdity. They want government to affirm mock marriages. Such a mockery of marriage undermines marriage.
If two men may marry because they “love” each other then a man may also marry his mother or a grandmother her niece, etc. The logic of this is irrefutable.
Now, because in polygamy there is a relationship between man and woman it can legitimately be called marriage. It has been called marriage as long as that institution has existed. The very word refers to marriage. But even here there is no civil right for a society to license such relationships.
If homosexual relationships capture the name “marriage” then we would need to come up with another term for the distinctive relationship between man and woman. Though homosexuals appear embarrassed to refer to their relationship as The Homosexual Relationship, heterosexuals should have no problem referring to their relationship as The Man and Woman Relationship. Indeed, hombre y mujer, man and woman is what the relationship is actually called in Spanish. And in English the married couple is pronounced Man and Wife.
In time homosexuals will have to realize how utterly wasteful and empty their costly and socially divisive campaign to capture the name marriage has been.



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm


Jose,
Brother, you have highlighted the essence of this debate.
“There is no civil right or any right whatsoever to be given a license for what you are not qualified.”
Let’s look at most of the rest of your argument, then return to this.
“I cannot simply demand that I be given a driver’s license if I’m blind or can’t drive.”
Because licensing you, as a blind person or as someone obviously unable to drive, to operate a motor vehicle would be irresponsible of the state. It would pose an unacceptable risk to the general welfare of the population. Licensing individuals of the same sex to contract a marriage does not pose such risks.
“I can’t say that it is my civil right to be given a PhD in physics.”
Universities award PhDs to individuals who apply for them and have done enough work to show exceptional competency in the field. The state issues a marriage license to anyone who has done nothing more than reach a certain age and is able to sign legal documents for his or herself. These are not analogous.
“What same sex couples may qualify for is a license to form a permanent or temporary Homosexual Relationship with whatever benefits and privileges society may wish to give them.”
It is interesting to read you have no objection to this. So, why do you care what the state of Texas may choose to call such a relationship? Why not call it a “civil union” rather than a “Homosexual Relationship”? (That would seem to be an unnecessarily obvious appellation – after all, either two men or two women would be involved, no?) Or they could call it a “sow’s ear”. Or a “silk purse”. Or, because it clearly doesn’t matter anyway, why not just call it “marriage”?
“They wish the appellation that has in all times and places be given exclusively to the relationship of man and woman.”
Not so. Throughout history in many times and places, and perhaps still today in some traditional cultures, the terms “marriage” or “married” have been used in reference to a man and young girl (a child). The practice of arranging marriages often led to the “betrothal” of two children. And, as you later note, polygamists entered relationships they would have called Marriage. Isaac’s son Jacob being a fairly obvious example. We (or most of us, anyway) would find any of those situations intolerable today, and we would call them immoral. We might even say that they violate our Judeo-Christian ethics.
But if you mean that the term has always been used to reference relationships between male and female(s), that is almost certainly correct.
“If two men may marry because they “love” each other then a man may also marry his mother or a grandmother her niece, etc. The logic of this is irrefutable.”
Irrefutable? Logic? There is no logic in that statement. I think most would call it a “slippery slope,” which is, in fact, a logical fallacy.
But it is worth addressing. David suggested above that we use the legal language of domestic partnership for all such relationships. Because from a legal perspective, a marriage contract is about the ownership of and responsibility for assets and liabilities, not sex, love, emotional support, etc. Check out David’s earlier post, it is intriguing, as Dr. Witherington suggests.
On to polygamy.
“Now, because in polygamy there is a relationship between man and woman it can legitimately be called marriage. It has been called marriage as long as that institution has existed. The very word refers to marriage. But even here there is no civil right for a society to license such relationships.”
There is if the civil society says there is. We’ve decided, some of us rather recently, that there isn’t. For what it’s worth, I happen to think its silly and degrading,
“If homosexual relationships capture the name “marriage” then we would need to come up with another term for the distinctive relationship between man and woman. Though homosexuals appear embarrassed to refer to their relationship as The Homosexual Relationship, heterosexuals should have no problem referring to their relationship as The Man and Woman Relationship. Indeed, hombre y mujer, man and woman is what the relationship is actually called in Spanish. And in English the married couple is pronounced Man and Wife.”
This is really odd stuff. Maybe we should all wear very detailed and descriptive name badges. It might also be helpful to carry around a dictionary so that we can precisely explain every term we use on the badge.
It’s hard to believe that you have no objection to the state sanctioning a legal relationship between gay couples, as you indicated above, but will draw a line so emphatically at what the state calls it.
“In time homosexuals will have to realize how utterly wasteful and empty their costly and socially divisive campaign to capture the name marriage has been.”
Or Christians may realize how destructive and divisive and insulting it is to wage cultural war against people we’re supposed to love, witness to, worship with, and care for with lazily-considered, second-rate, and such easily destroyed arguments.
“There is no civil right or any right whatsoever to be given a license for what you are not qualified.”
Unless we can give a clear and convincing argument for why only a man and a woman, and not two men or two women, qualify for civil marriage, this debate is lost – lost in court and at the ballot box. Without appealing to biblical authority or our Judeo-Christian heritage or our majority opinion, we have to articulate why it is inappropriate to allow same-sex couples enter into marriage contracts.
I’ve not heard it yet. I am beginning to think Christians probably should have assented to, even championed, full rights civil unions a decade or so ago.
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm


folly,
There are compelling arguments not to codify marriage as anything but between a man and a woman–you just don’t agree with them. If you can accuse Christians of anything it’s that we have bought into the whole idea of privitizing relationships for pleasure alone. We have equated the purpose of sex for self-fulfillment and not for ensuring the propagation and protection of children.
The thrust of the gay marriage argument is the happiness of the individual and the responsibility of the state is to protect their right to happiness regardless of who is hurt.
The problem is that radical individualism always leads to someone being hurt. Marriage must be anchored not to the rights of two individuals, but two communities–the family and the state. The state’s best interest is to validate the nuclear family.
Marriage commuicates that within the normative boundaries of the nuclear family exists one man and one woman accountable to one child.
I for one repent as a Christian for radically individualizing sex as something that exists for pleasure and not for the intended (if you want to insert evolutionary) purpose of children.
I also pointed to the Netherlands as a current social experiment that does not seem to be assimilating homosexuals into marriage unions, and potentially discouraging heterosexuals from marrying. But, I guess there are no good arguments to maintain a traditional viewpoint of marriage?



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 17, 2009 at 8:09 pm


“If you can accuse Christians of anything it’s that we have bought into the whole idea of privitizing relationships for pleasure alone. We have equated the purpose of sex for self-fulfillment and not for ensuring the propagation and protection of children.”
Provocative. But have we bought it or sold it? As a teenager in a conservative community and church and as a young adult attending a Baptist university (this hurts to say) more than a decade ago, I was inundated with the “true love waits” message.  That message often was packaged with a “sex is great, just wait and see” sort of spin. That was obviously a ploy to get the boys to pay attention, but it also had the benefit of being true. When my wife and I got married, three different people either recommended or gave to us some pastor’s series on sex and Song of Solomon!
Thing is, sex is pleasurable, and to deny that would be to deny a basic fact of our biology and being. So while sex is about the propogation of children (not really sure how it’s about protecting them), it is also very much for the individuals engaging in it. 
And sex, theoretically, has nothing at all to do with a civil marriage contract. Gay folks and straight folks can have consensual sex (no end of it) without a civil marriage contract. 
“The thrust of the gay marriage argument is the happiness of the individual and the responsibility of the state is to protect their right to happiness regardless of who is hurt.”
Who, specifically, would be hurt?  And how so?
“Marriage commuicates that within the normative boundaries of the nuclear family exists one man and one woman accountable to one child.”
How many times must this be said: we allow divorce. It’s easy to obtain, even when children are involved.  And it means arguments along these lines fail. 
Because allowing divorce means we don’t really believe, or at least don’t care to act like we believe, that statement from a legal or social perspective. We will let one man and one woman sever their legal bond, despite the presence of a child or children. So we may want marriage to communicate that message, but we allow divorce to communicate another, quite different one: it doesn’t really matter, you can quit this when you’re tired of it.  
“I also pointed to the Netherlands as a current social experiment that does not seem to be assimilating homosexuals into marriage unions, and potentially discouraging heterosexuals from marrying.”
Your data from the Netherlands is certainly worth considering and studying more. I haven’t done so and know of the data only as you presented it here.
There seems to be a difference in Holland between a state-recognized marriage and a civil partnership, with the civil partnership being easier to dissolve. What is the difference between these two agreements?  Was the distinction new in 1994? Are Dutch civil partnerships easier to dissolve than US marriages? Divorces in most US states, when they don’t involve complicated contests over the disposition of large, complex assets, are really easy to obtain.
Your numbers say the “marriage rate” in Holland is going down, but the number seems not to include civil partnerships.  Are we comparing a situation in which marriage was the only option to one in which couples choose between marriage and civil partnerships? If so, shouldn’t we compare the older marriage rate to the combined rate of marriages and civil partnerships? From the description in your post, it really sounds like the books are cooked. 
Also demographics and demographic trends matter a great deal. Is the population older or younger than it was when the new law went into place? Is the population growing or shrinking? Is immigration or emigration an issue? Are demographics or demographic trends in Holland comparable to the US?
More: what about the rest of the low countries and central and northern Europe more broadly? Is the Dutch situation comparable to neighborhing countries? 
Does culture matter here? How?
Without answers to these questions, I’m not sure how helpful your example of the Dutch experiment really is here.
Enjoying the exchange,
John Beller     



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 17, 2009 at 8:09 pm


Chapp,
It strikes me as very odd that you miss the conclusion that follows from the data that you provide in your own post.
You say that marriage is declining in the Netherlands because more and more heterosexuals are forming domestic partnerships than getting married.
But the domestic partnerships only exist because at the time, they didn’t want to allow gay people to marry, so they created the “not marriage” relationship specifically to grant some, but not all of the benefits of marriage to gay couples – and then extended the option to straight couples as well.
Only later did they extend actual marriage to same-sex couples. But the domestic partnership option remained.
It isn’t same-sex marriage that created the problem you seem to see in the Netherlands – it was refusing to allow it, and coming up with the same sort of “separate but not quite equal” system that so many people here are championing.



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 17, 2009 at 8:26 pm


““There is no civil right or any right whatsoever to be given a license for what you are not qualified.”
The problem is that there isn’t anything that gay couples are unable to do that is a requirement for marriage for straight people.
Or to put it another way, for every single thing that is brought up as a reason that gay people are supposedly not eligible for marriage, there are legally married straight couples out there who meet that criterion.
Children? A marriage between a woman who has had a hysterectomy and a man who has had a vasectomy is pretty much the best example. They are not going to have children with each other. Either one may have had a child before with another person, or they can apply to adopt, or they can choose not to have kids.
Religion? They can get married in a religious tradition or not, choosing a civil ceremony instead. There are several major denominations, and lots of individual congregations happy to perform religious weddings, and civil marriages are just as valid.
You use the metaphor of a driver’s license and try to apply it to marriage, because gay people can’t have kids together.
Sorry, but a more accurate parallel would be the argument “People use their cars to drive to work, so nobody who is unemployed or retired or independently wealthy is allowed to get a driver’s license.”
The obvious flaw in that is that while some people drive to work, some people with jobs take mass transit, and some people drive who don’t have or need jobs.
Some people who marry have children, true, but some people have children without marrying, and some people marry without children. Excluding gay people for the inability doesn’t fly.



report abuse
 

R Hampton

posted December 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm


To foist your religious definition of marriage on others of a different religious belief is most definitely an act contrary to the teachings of Christ.
Did Jesus use the laws of Rome to ban the practice of polygamy? No. In fact, at the Council of Neocaesarea (315 AD) sinners like polygamists were required to do penance and to refrain from Church activities until a “purification” period had been completed, demonstrating their personal reformation. Yet polygamy was still practiced as was the worship of other god(s), non-observance of the Sabbath, and other normal (legal) violations of Christian doctrine.
You must remember that defending marriage requires advocacy and leading by example. But to deny others who are naturally attracted to the same sex to marry someone of the same sex in no way diminishes the quantity or quality of heterosexual marriages (see Massachusetts marriage statistics since legalizing SSM) — unless you fear/believe millions of Americans are closet gays trapped in traditional marriages only for conformity sake and legal limitations. In which case you are using the law to prop-up a very weakened Church – an implicit admission that Christianity can not succeed strictly by Free Will alone. Now that is what I call “Crisis of Faith”



report abuse
 

Ben Witherington

posted December 17, 2009 at 10:46 pm


Wow– this conversation is like the little engine that could, it just keeps going and going. As I said in the original post, there is a difference between civil unions, and marriage. Marriage is by definition a religious matter. The phrase civil marriage is as much of an oxymoron as the phrase female uncle. I am not opposing civil unions in this particular post, I am supporting marriage as a religious institution. The failure to see that marriage is a religious institution whether one likes it or not, and the attempt to redefine marriage, against the will of most Americans was the subject of this discussion. Along the way we have discussed a lot of other things, which is fine.
And finally to Mr. Jehovah… love in the Bible is defined as something holy, and just any kind of relationship between men and men or women and women or men and women does not qualify just because those involved think it is love. There are far too many people in this world who think they are in love, when actually they are mainly just in heat! Love, agape love, holy love as defined in the Bible is another matter altogether.
BW3



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 18, 2009 at 4:23 am


“The problem is that there isn’t anything that gay couples are unable to do that is a requirement for marriage for straight people.” Lymis
I think I’ll start here before I seek the time to address folly for hire’s misunderstandings and disconnects. Let me warn the reader, this is a bit long but necessary.
I thought I had made it clear and it has certainly been obvious to humanity in all times and places what the fundamental requirement for marriage is. It’s the complementarity of the sexes . . . . This is the sine qua non of marriage. If you have this you have the minimum qualification for marriage. If you don’t you’re not qualified to marry. Second to this is the possibility of procreation even if a small number cannot. The rule is not determined by the rare exception and we have no right to run tests to see who might be able to procreate or not. This would be absurd and justifiably illegal. If they lack the minimum qualification for marriage they cannot possibly form a marriage.
Now a society need not provide licenses for marriage simply because people meet the minimum qualification. For marriage eligibility societies add specific ages, issues of consanguinity, or specify monogamy, within the same species, etc. There is great variation in these marriage requirements so that in one state you may marry a sixteen-year-old yet it’s prohibited in another. Discrimination? Absolutely! No problem. Cousins marrying? Yes in some places, no in others. Brother and sisters marrying? Yes in some societies, no in others. Same sex “marriages”? Never anywhere on earth at any time, except in the confusion of recent years. Why? They lack biological complementarity. I would say they also lack psychological complementarity but that is not as obvious. The union of yin and yang is a splendid symbol for marriage.
It seems so thoroughly obvious that heterosexuals can do things that homosexuals cannot possibly do. Homosexuals simply can’t get the parts to fit properly!! On top of that they can’t reproduce with each other. What is the exception with heterosexuals is the rule with homosexuals. What is happening to people that they are blinded to what is so obvious. Enough said. It reminds me of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Now briefly on some follyforhire comments. “Licensing individuals of the same sex to contract a marriage does not pose such risks.” That , “an unacceptable risk to the general welfare.” But making a mockery of marriage is a totally unacceptable risk to the general welfare. It produces enormous confusions and denigrates a venerable institution, to say the least.
You think it interesting that I have no objection to “What same sex couples may qualify for is a license to form a permanent or temporary Homosexual Relationship with whatever benefits and privileges society may wish to give them.”
But I didn’t say I had no objection to their forming a homosexual relationship. I would hope they never do such a thing for their own well being. But they certainly would qualify for such a license. It is nothing more than a truism and if they sought to create a license for which they would qualify it remains to be seen what benefits and privileges society might wish to offer them when their campaign is not filled with deceptive euphemisms.
You are correct that boys and girls have been married and that they would fall under what I mean by man and woman. As I have explained here, the better term is sexual complementarity.
The irrefutable logic is in concluding that if “love” is the sole criteria for marriage then any two, three or more people may marry. And the examples I offer do not demonstrate a “slippery slope” because the homosexual relationship is just about at the bottom of the slope. Slippery slope per se has nothing to do with logical fallacy.
“It might also be helpful to carry around a dictionary so that we can precisely explain every term we use on the badge.” Obviously you do not understand the importance of words having meanings. You would have us reduce communication to gobbledygook. Such an attitude always favors anarchy or the imposition of “do as you please.”
May you have a meaningful life.
(BW has many more fascinating topics to cover. Come to http://opine-editorials.blogspot.com where the defense of marriage is a full time job.)



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 18, 2009 at 8:22 am


“Second to this is the possibility of procreation even if a small number cannot. The rule is not determined by the rare exception and we have no right to run tests to see who might be able to procreate or not. This would be absurd and justifiably illegal.”
But just above, you made the claim that people had to be able to demonstrate the ability to do something before they are allowed to get a license for it. If, in fact, the ability to procreate is a necessary condition for marriage, it isn’t “absurd” any more than having driver’s tests to get a license is. And you wouldn’t need to run tests. If it is an absolute requirement to procreate in order to marry, then we would do the driver’s license equivalent – issue some sort of temporary permit, and then give full benefits when the first pregnancy happens, and eliminate all benefits when the last kid leaves home.
The reason we don’t do that is because procreation is NOT a requirement for marriage. Even your own metaphor doesn’t hold up. Only a tiny number of blind people would apply for a driver’s license. By your logic, the fact that a majority of people can see is the real point. “The rule is not determined by the rare exception and we have no right to run tests” – hogwash. That’s because being able to see IS a requirement for driving.
Procreation in marriage is an entirely different thing. The fact that people marry all the time who can never have kids together for age, medical, or personal preference reasons is in itself proof that you don’t have to be able to. When was the last time you saw someone from the government check up on a marriage to see if they had kids yet?



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 18, 2009 at 8:28 am


“Homosexuals simply can’t get the parts to fit properly!!”
How to phrase this politely….
I assure you that the parts fit just fine. A brief search of internet videos using the appropriate keywords should get you ample proof.
For that matter, a slightly different set of keywords will give you ample proof that a significant number of heterosexuals (statistically, likely more than the total number of gay people) choose to fit the parts together in the same ways that homosexuals do.
What people might or might not choose to do with their parts is not a part of marriage licensing. If you think that medical testing to determine mutual fertility would be intrusive and illegal, then you need to drop the idea that the government has a right to base marriage on, shall we say, the gymnastics of marital relations.



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:23 am


Jose,
Lymis address this rather effectively, I think (though I might have chosen slightly different ways of phrasing it): we do not impose procreational or sexual complementarity tests for civil marriage, or religious marriage (Holy Matrimony, covenant marriage, sacrament marriage, whatever you want to call it), for that matter. In addition to facing problems outlined by Lymis’s thoughts on marital gymnastics, your qualifications also do not take into account, say, male impotence. The fact that we don’t impose these tests invalidates your claim. That fact also (in addition to the fact that we allow divorce), according to your terms, means that we already make a mockery of marriage, an issue that seems quite important to you.
Other things:
I never said that “love” has anything to do with civil marriage. Rather, I have consistently argued that love has nothing at all to do with civil marriage. The county clerks don’t ask folks if they love each other. The state isn’t concerned with it.
An argument based on “slippery slope” reasoning is, in fact, a logically fallacious argument. Slippery slope reasoning goes like this: “if A happens then B, C, D, & E are certain to follow.” I see, now, that you do not seem to have been reasoning along those lines. Your claim was that if “love” is the basis for marriage, then any two people may marry. I did not read that appropriately, and I apologize. Since I hadn’t made anything like that argument, I was unable to see why you would feel the need to dispute it. As I said above, I cannot see that love has anything to do with civil marriage.
I must deny quite insistently that I “would have us reduce communication to gobbledygook” and that my attitude toward words and their meanings “always favors anarchy or the imposition of ‘do as you please.’” I believe words have very specific meanings, and I believe those meanings are important. I also believe that we give words their meanings and that there is an obvious difference between a thing and what we call that thing: “a rose by any other name…”
I also think this about language: my wife and I have two daughters. Now, one of them joined our family in the traditional, biological way – we procreated. And one of them joined our family through legal adoption – two other folks we do not know procreated. I choose to call them both “daughters” because everybody generally gets what that means, even though that may not be a complete description. But I could call them, say, “silk purses” and that wouldn’t change one single thing about my relationship with them.
Lastly, “may you have a meaningful life.”
Thank you. And may you as well. I do and will, though thinking about and posting on this thread has consumed more of it this week than I care to admit (especially to my boss!).
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 18, 2009 at 12:28 pm


Some of the best reasoning I have read on this topic is in this thread. I especially appreciate the respectful tone from both sides.
Dr. Witherington, I am a gay man. Also a sincere follower of Jesus and the pastor of a sizeable mainline congregation. For many years I was married to a woman, but it didn’t last because my sexual orientation wasn’t compatible for that. For several years I have been in a committed relationship with a man who fits my needs for love and intimacy. Our love is holy. I will not try to justify or prove that to you, nor should I have to. The suggestion that I am confusing this for being ‘in heat’ (like a dog?) is insulting. I do not need people to agree with my understanding of sexual orientation, but I will object strongly when the particular religious beliefs of some are used to block civil oppporunities of others. Our government has chosen to involve itself in the marriage business. Undoubtedly it would be best if that was undone and marriage was left to religious groups and civil unions were offered to all by the government. That is highly unlikely to happen. Since marriage is offered to some, sexual orientation must not be used to deny others the ability to marry the person they love. That is what is being debated here, and I have not heard you or others yet give a reasonable argument against marriage equality.



report abuse
 

follyforhire

posted December 18, 2009 at 1:54 pm


Dr. Witherington,
I must quibble.
“As I said in the original post, there is a difference between civil unions, and marriage.”
You did not say that exactly. You said, “Let me be clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians.” Then you spent much of the post conflating the ideas represented by that distinction. I originally posted, and continued to post, because I was interested in whether you think what the civil laws of our states call “marriage” is really just a civil union. And I genuinely wanted to know whether you thought Christians could support allowing gay men and women to participate in this specifically and explicitly political/legal/social (and not religious) form of marriage.
“Marriage is by definition a religious matter. The phrase civil marriage is as much of an oxymoron as the phrase female uncle.”
I agree completely with you, but our civil law uses the term “marriage” and means something very different by it than we do when we use it in church. So while it may be an oxymoron, it is one used in our legal system.
“I am not opposing civil unions in this particular post”
But I ask again, as I have throughout this thread, do you oppose them? Or are you in favor of them? Do you believe Christians in general should favor or oppose them? If you oppose them and believe Christians generally should as well, do you do so solely on the grounds that our civil law would call a “civil union” a “marriage”?
You appear not to oppose civil unions (oxymoronically called civil marriage), but I don’t think you’ve said explicitly either way. If you’d rather not deal with that question, I understand, and this is your forum. But with your conflation of civil and religious marriage, I felt like that was a natural question to ask after reading a post with an open comments section that ended with “Think on these things.”
I lean toward supporting gay civil marriage (or civil unions, though as we’ve been discussing, our civil law, whether correctly or not, uses the language of “marriage”) because while I am open to hearing one, I have not yet heard a credible argument against allowing them. Most of the arguments made, here and elsewhere, are so poor I end up thinking and sounding like an ardent supporter. I am not, but I have yet to be able to formulate or to hear what I consider to be a reasonable basis for opposition.
I live in Arkansas, so I’ll not likely have to decide soon. But I suppose I think it’s a civic and moral duty to have an opinion/position that makes sense and that I can articulate.
“I am supporting marriage as a religious institution. The failure to see that marriage is a religious institution whether one likes it or not, and the attempt to redefine marriage, against the will of most Americans was the subject of this discussion.”
I most definitely have not failed to see that marriage is a religious institution, but I also see that, whether we like it or not, marriage has already been redefined in our civil law. We, as Christians and as a civic people and culture historically, may have assented to that as a matter of course and without bothering to consider the implications, but that doesn’t change facts. We, as Christians, may understand marriage as a specific commitment we make to a spouse (of the opposite sex) in front of God and fellow believers, but the institutions of the states in which we do so only care about that partnership insofar as it means something for the way in which we are taxed, own and dispose of property, and accumulate and repay debt etc.
We don’t rely on the state to validate, affirm, or license our baptisms, confirmations, ordinations (sort of, our ministers are usually licensed as a matter of course to… sign marriage certificates), or various Eucharistic devotions. Why do we demand it of our marriages?
“And finally to Mr. Jehovah… Love, agape love, holy love as defined in the Bible is another matter altogether.”
Quite so. Whether this is directed toward me or not, I do not know. My overlong posts may have seemed pedantic and/or humorless. They probably deserve some ridicule, and I apologize. I was going for thorough, circumspect, and precise. I forfeited concision.
I have referred to love only sparingly: to suggest that the states have no interest in love as it relates to civil marriage in our legal system (civil unions, whatever, etc.) and to suggest that Christians have a duty to love people or, rather, persons. The first of those hardly needs to be considered further.
The second, I think, is of fundamental importance to Christian life. You wrote, in an earlier comment, of persons created in the image of God as being the basis for human equality. It is also the basis of love, no? We love other folks, each other, with this agape, holy love (spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies, etc.) because they are loved by God, made by him in his image, and are in the constant state of somehow responding to him and his efforts to be with them. That means certain things for the way we treat each other. At a minimum, I think, it means we listen to each other.
Thank you for your thoughts on this topic, and for the opportunity to respond (at such length). I am exhausted (seriously, last night I spent the hour and a half that my daughter spends at dance class, when I’m usually able to run errands or read for pleasure, typing a comment on my phone) and will probably not post any more comments on this thread. I enjoy your blog and will continue reading.
Regards,
John Beller



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:27 pm


Though some of the marriage deconstructionists commenting on this thread seem well educated, I must really question some of their reading comprehension skills, or are they merely consciously or unconsciously trying to create straw men to evade what I have clearly stated?
I never said that procreation was a requirement for marriage! What I said repeatedly is that the requirement was sexual complementarity! This has been known and accepted as the sine qua non of marriage in all times and places, except in recent years when a highly confused and elect few have chosen to impose public acceptance of homosexual mock marriages, “marriages” that can never qualify under its universal definition.
A marriage that cannot procreate has already met the qualification to marry by its complementarity and it just so happens that it is only through the exchange of male and female gametes that people procreate. Procreation is therefore inextricably linked to marriage as the relationship of man and woman. Man + man or woman + woman cannot procreate. And even if through some diabolical genetic manipulation they could reproduce, they would still fail the entry-level exam.
Sexual complementarity has been universally imposed for marriage. What is imposed for civil unions is that the participants be homosexuals. I support the concept of “reciprocal beneficiaries” in which the focus is on mutual support cohabitation and not the sexual orientation of the parties. These are not marriages.
Only through some confounding sophistry can people be deluded into imagining that two men can form a marriage. And it’s happening.
And so, since same sex relationships cannot qualify for marriage licenses homosexuaists must change the meaning of marriage.
I do not have the time to respond to every strange anti-marriage and pro-homosexual relationship comment that has been made here. Some don’t merit a response as they are trivial or have not really understood what I have said.
I will say something about “a rose by any other name . . . .” It is indeed the thing, the “rose,” that I am naming and defining. But the homosexual relationship is a totally different thing from the complementary relationship. They are obviously not both “roses” and so must have different names. Any botanist or taxonomist must classify them differently. The complementary relationship has always been called marriage, matrimony, hombre y mujer, man and wife, etc. I have proposed that this other thing simply, non-euphemistically be called, “The Homosexual Relationship.”
Peace.



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 19, 2009 at 11:09 am


Sorry, but that argument doesn’t work. It isn’t that we are creating straw men consciously or unconsciously to confuse your argument.
It is that we disagree with it.
“Sexual Complimentarity?”
If procreation is left out of the mix, you are left with one of two things:
Either you are just doing word play, with “sexual complimentarity” meaning exactly the same thing as “one man and one woman”, which devolves your argument back to “marriage is between a man and a woman because marriage is between a man and a woman.” Restating the terms in different language doesn’t make an effective argument; it’s just circular.
Or you are using more elegant words to float “the parts just don’t fit together” argument, which is patently offensive, because it takes what most people find to be the deepest, most complex voluntary relationship in their lives and reduces it to genitalia, and then not even successfully, because gay people fit together too.
Or the argument is actually something that has merit, but doesn’t exclude same-sex couples. If what you mean is that “it is not good for man to be alone” as the Bible puts it, that for whatever reason (and I believe it IS God’s plan and our nature), most people are not able to be most fully themselves in isolation, that we need intimacy and vulnerability, and that the nature of the pair-bonding in a marriage of two kindred souls lets us fill in the gaps in who we are with the strengths and resources of another, that we can share our strengths with that other, and that two who become one are far greater than the sum of their parts, I absolutely agree.
It isn’t the only way that people can become fully themselves – single people, celibate people, widowed people aren’t any less fully human by definition, but yes, throughout history, one of the most common and celebrated ways is to pair up in marriage.
But again, if you say that the only criteria that makes this possible is that one is male and one is female, then you are once again reducing people to their genitalia. In effect, you are saying that the genitalia is far more important in establishing compatibility and complimentarity than any aspect of personhood, and element of character, any skills, any gifts, any flaws, any life experience.
Essentially, you are saying that marriage happens below the waist, not between people.
Believe me, my husband and I are deeply complementary. I have strengths and flaws that are deeply different than his. He brings out things in me that I don’t experience in isolation, and I do the same in him. We are each able to support each other in areas where we are less able to support ourselves. We make each other better, happier, more honorable, more interesting, more fun, more holy. When I look in his eyes, I see God in a way that I cannot see Him when I just look in the mirror.
And I can point out any number of couples who have the genitalia mix you insist on who DON’T compliment each other. Who bring out the worst in each other, make each other more petty, more uncaring, more self-serving, more intolerant, less human. Whose relationships gradually wear away anything special in each other, tear each other down, and leave wounded, traumatized souls.
People are not interchangeable mechanical parts, defined by how they fit together like plumbing fittings.



report abuse
 

hopespringseternal

posted December 19, 2009 at 11:25 am


I believe this: Many people do not realize the extent to which their personal feelings about homosexuality (e.g. discomfort, disgust)shape their theology. When I read this and other articles by you, Dr. Witherington, along with explanatory thread comments, I sense an unwillingness to fairly consider new understandings about homosexuality. Not that I expect you to change your mind or position (that would relocate you out of the evangelical world), but I have not seen any real reflection on reasonable information from others on this topic. A common theme in these exchanges – offered by persons on the ‘other side’ – has been that homosexuality is not all about sex, anymore than heterosexuality is about sex. While I understand the reluctance of evangelicals to acknowledge the reality of sexual orientation as something fixed and morally neutral, I am baffled by the statements – including those from you – that deny the ability of homosexual partners to express genuine agape love. When my partner was seriously ill, I was not in heat while I cared for him. When I was unemployed, it was not lust that prompted him to support me in the way any loving straight person would care for their partner. The words you’ve used betray a fundamental unwillingness to ‘get’ the reality of love outside the parameters of accepted evangelical thinking.
The world is changing, and thank God for that. I am distressed by the closed-mindedness I have seen and experienced all my life within evangelicalism, but our society as a whole is leading the way re: a clearer, reality-based understanding of sexual orientation. It really doesn’t concern me if churches hold to their beliefs re: the rights of homosexual persons to marry, but it does matter to me that civil opportunities are equal for all persons regardless of orientation.
Seriously… on reflection… do you really believe that my partner and I – and others like us – cannot experience genuine, agape love for one another?



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 19, 2009 at 1:07 pm


I’m going to try and keep this short because all the major points have already been made.
Marriage is the conjugal relationship of man and woman that provides the possibility for procreation in most situations. This has always been known whether articulated in these terms or not. Another way of saying this is that marriage first and foremost consists of the complementarity of the sexes. This is not an argument and there is no need to argue it. It’s a definition and it is obvious.
If you don’t agree with this you have simply not been observing what has been universally occurring in all marriages, except in our recent highly confused times.
So, it is impossible, by the universal definition of marriage, for two men to form a marriage. All you can do is call it what it is, The Homosexual Relationship.”
Love is an essential element of marriage only insofar as one must love everyone. It is also abundantly clear that scripturally, and in almost all religions throughout the world homosexual relationships are an abomination and therefore there cannot be any love in such a relationship, per se. Ask the Dalai Lama if you don’t believe Jesus, Paul, etc. If there is love between the homosexuals it has nothing to do with their sinful activities, just as if there is love between heterosexuals it has nothing to do with their sinful activities.
That people pursue their lusts is obvious and adultery is rather commonplace. One can say they “love” their lusts and don’t give them up easily.
I must leave it here and go get my daughters from their basketball game.
Merry Christmas.



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 19, 2009 at 1:12 pm


I’m going to try and keep this short because all the major points have already been made.
Marriage is the conjugal relationship of man and woman that provides the possibility for procreation in most situations. This has always been known whether articulated in these terms or not. Another way of saying this is that marriage first and foremost consists of the complementarity of the sexes. This is not an argument and there is no need to argue it. It’s a definition and it is obvious.
If you don’t agree with this you have simply not been observing what has been universally occurring in all marriages, except in our recent highly confused times.
So, it is impossible, by the universal definition of marriage, for two men to form a marriage. All you can do is call it what it is, The Homosexual Relationship.”
Love is an essential element of marriage only insofar as one must love everyone. It is also abundantly clear that scripturally, and in almost all religions throughout the world homosexual relationships are an abomination and therefore there cannot be any love in such a relationship, per se. Ask the Dalai Lama if you don’t believe Jesus, Paul, etc. If there is love between the homosexuals it has nothing to do with their sinful activities, just as if there is love between heterosexuals it has nothing to do with their sinful activities.
That people pursue their lusts is obvious and adultery is rather commonplace. One can say they “love” their lusts and don’t give them up easily.
I must leave it here and go get my daughters from their basketball game.
Merry Christmas.



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 19, 2009 at 5:36 pm


I’m going to try and keep this short because all the major points have already been made.
“Marriage is the conjugal relationship of man and woman that provides the possibility for procreation in most situations.”
No it isn’t.
Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. And at no time is it required to be. It may be what people want to be true, it may be what people think is ideal. It may be particularly common. But it is NOT what marriage legally is.
Your definition is made up, and is made up in this case specifically to exclude gay people. But it isn’t the legal definition as it applies to straight people.



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 19, 2009 at 8:21 pm


Eh, actually what is being made up is the new thoroughly contrived definition imposed on the people by an elect few, in a few states and a few nations, so as to appease an increasingly powerful few who do not qualify for marriage under the universally recognized definition of sexual complementarity.
The homosexualists cannot even define marriage. All they demand is to give people of the same sex the same license given to people for whom the institution of marriage was created, namely man and woman.
Sorry Lymis but you’ve been hoodwinked into accepting the recently fabricated “legal definition,” fabricated by a few in a few places.
In the bouquet of roses has been placed a cauliflower that demands it be called a rose, and under intense political pressure some judges and legislators have said, “It’s discrimination not to call it a rose. We must call it a rose.” But this is just nonsense. We must discriminate. Vivre la difference!
Like the word marriage, which they have corrupted, they have for political ends corrupted the significance of the word discrimination to confuse hoards of people into mindless non-discrimination and inability to draw lines of distinctions between totally different relationships.
Why do you so refuse to call it what it is? The Homosexual Relationship! Why try to mimic marriage, to mock it? Why perpetrate such a hoax on humanity?
I think I know why, and in the twilight of their conscience I suspect most homosexualists also know.
Merry Christmas.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm


“One flesh”–that’s the essence of traditional and biblica marriage. Princeton’s law professor Robert George uses natural law theory to support the biblical mandate of “becoming one flesh.” Historically, marriage is marriage when the couples consumate their marrige in the act of sex (becoming one flesh). Nature’s design to accomplish “one flesh” through the act of sex of heterosexual partners.
Can lesbians and gay partners accomplish the “one flesh” unison of the bible???NOOO.
Better call their union as civil union…and don’t force their definition upon the rest of the society
Seni Penitani
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 20, 2009 at 10:56 am


I will cede to folly an interesting take on the argument for the state codifying two classes of unions… the civil union (for gay and staight people) and marriage for heterosexual religious ceremonies. Perhaps seperating the two would re-ignite the meaning of marriage under God.
The problem of course is that homosexuals will never be happy with a different class (even if it is exactly the same as the “marriage” class with all of it’s legal benefits and protections) because it will not be sufficiently culturally validated with the label marriage.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted December 20, 2009 at 11:01 am


sorry, that is my post above…always forget to re-enter my name after captcha expires and I don’t like posting anonymously.



report abuse
 

Chapp

posted December 20, 2009 at 11:02 am


oops, see I did it again lol



report abuse
 

José Solano

posted December 20, 2009 at 11:45 am


Greetings Seni,
Question: Why should anyone wish to merge non-marriage with marriage, the rose with the cauliflower? Why “cede to folly?” Why do you not wish to create a separate category for the homosexual relationship honestly and simply calling it, “The Homosexual Relationship?” Then see if society wishes to provide this relationship with the special benefits and privileges that it provides to marriage.
Peace.



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm


Chapp,
If you are going to make a distinction between “civil union for gay and straight people” and “marriage for heterosexual religious ceremonies” why, other than pure discrimination, prohibit religious denominations that do celebrate gay unions performing marriages?
If you are using whether or not a religion recognizes the union as the basis for a civil category, (bad idea, and Unconstitutional though it is), how can you justify imposing an external religious standard on religions that don’t share it? There are more than a few Christian denominations, as well as groups of other faiths, that support same-sex marriage.



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted December 20, 2009 at 2:34 pm


Okay, Leviticus prohibits eating pork and shellfish, calling it an abomination. It is understood that this does not bind Christians, even though the prohibition is explicit and absolute, because in the New Testament, it is revealed that nothing that enters a man makes him unclean, but only what comes forth from him.
Leviticus prohibits men having sex with each other, calling it an abomination.
However, the New Testament explicitly and very clearly states that “In Christ there is neither male nor female.” Someone want to explain to me why this doesn’t override Leviticus the same way? If Christ cannot see a difference between male and female, and if in Christ, there is no distinction, what is the New Testament justification for preventing same-sex marriage, holding Leviticus as any longer valid? Why don’t the Christian definitions of love prevail?
If Leviticus is held to prevail despite clear New Testament overrides, then what is the justification for ignoring the Levitical prohibitions about diet, dress, contact with menstruating women, farming rules, and so on?
Please don’t cite the English translations of “malakoi” and “arsenakotai” in the list of who isn’t in the kingdom unless you can explain why the original Greek meanings don’t apply, and why investment banking is okay (on the same list.) Let’s remember that the same-sex attractions in Romans were not the sins, but the punishment given by God for other sins, including idolatry.
Let’s also remember that the definition of marriage “a man shall leave his mother…..” was the answer to a specifically asked question about the legitimacy of heterosexual divorce, not a sweeping definition of legitimate relationships.



report abuse
 

Your Name#John1453

posted December 31, 2009 at 8:15 am


Though laws in Leviticus may no longer apply to us who are not under the “law”, they do reveal things about God and his creation and his original intents for the order and rightness of relationships. Hence the Leviticus passages are important. The portrayal of physically intimate relationships in the Bible is exclusively male-female and never anything else. The original order established in Eden is male-female intimacy, not same sex. No one has provided an adequate reason why this pattern should be changed after several thousand years. God has, however, provided a reason why some people would desire to change it: sin. Sin disorders our desires, and is an aspect of our nature that is inherited and not ultimately changed until we are resurrected.
A social practice such as marriage has its own intrinsic rationality, based on the inherent nature of humans and the goods that fulfill humans–goods that God has designed and created into people. The rationality and naturalness of male-female pairing in marriage appears so self-evidently true that it is usually only implicitly grasped; most people do not need to be, and do not think they need to be, explicit about its rationality because it appears to them as common sense and self-evidently true. Thus exclusive male-female pairing as the standard for marriage predates the institutions that support it: the state, the courts and the church. Marriage as a consequence becomes embodied in political, legal and religious institutions–not the other way around. None of these institutions created marriage but instead are vehicles for the after the fact recognition of this pre-political (and even pre-religious) natural institution. The institutions provide marriage with legal support and religious solemnization.
In this regard, David Blankenhorn’s (a Democrat) book, “The Future of Marriage”, does a great deal of the heavy lifting in taking apart the myth that redefining marriage to include same-sex partnerships would be a harmless innovation.
Blankenhorn engages in a cross-cultural and historical study in which he draws upon the resources of evolutionary biology, psychology, history, anthropology, and sociology. Blankenhorn finds that marriage is a natural institution present in all (or nearly all) human societies and is not just a private emotional bond between lovers, or a mere religious affair, but rather a natural and profoundly public institution.
Blankenhorn does affirm that “the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons.” However, he insists that the institution of marriage is not the vehicle for advancing gay-rights, because marriage is not “fundamentally about the rights of adults” but rather “is fundamentally about the needs of children.” On the basis of his study he argues that “what children need most are mothers and fathers. Not caregivers. Not parent-like adults. Not even ‘parents.’ What a child wants and needs more than anything else are the mother and the father who together made the child, who love the child, and who love each other.”
Blankenhorn concludes that marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together in a sexual relationship — one publicly recognized and approved because of its unique aptness for the bearing and rearing of children.
These insights are not something that we should lose sight of in our discussion of this issue.
regards,
#John



report abuse
 

Lymis

posted January 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm


You left out any justification why shrimp are no longer an abomination, but loving same sex relationships are, when “in Christ there is neither male nor female.”
There may be value in Leviticus; the prohibition of murder still applies, but Leviticus reveals far more about how the people of the time saw God than it does about God’s plan. The vast majority of the requirements and prohibitions are no longer considered to apply today, except (oddly or conveniently) the one about gay people – creating a convenient loophole in the requirement to love thy neighbor.
“No one has provided an adequate reason why this pattern should be changed after several thousand years. ”
That’s hardly true. The reason given – that same-sex couples love and form families and raise children and pay taxes and are children of God, is a perfectly adequate reason, without even taking into account that we’re talking civil marriage and not sacramental requirements.
But to claim that anyone is suggesting that “this pattern should be changed” is disingenuous. Nobody is saying that straight people shouldn’t get married, or, in fact that anything whatsoever should change about the way straight people marry today. It isn’t a change in the pattern, but a recognition that the pattern applies more broadly.
And it isn’t new, either. Same-sex couples have been around a long, long time.
There’s also something deeply wrong with trying to claim that Eden is the blueprint for all relationships, or even all marital ones. First, not everyone acknowledges that it is a literal story. But even if it were, and God only created two people, of course they needed to be a breeding pair if they were supposed to reproduce. But that says nothing at all about their children or grandchildren.
Taken literally, we only know of three sons (one of whom died apparently childless) and an unspecified number of daughters, in a 900 year lifespan of Adam’s.
Use Eden as the only allowable marital model, and you make incest a Divine mandate – the grandchildren either came from sons and Eve, or brothers and sisters. And nothing in the Biblical text says one way or the other whether any of them were gay or lesbian by today’s standards. Statistics would indicate that some percentage probably were. And don’t claim that that is out of line with God’s mandate to procreate – gay people have kids all the time.
As for the claim that male-female pairings are so inherently obvious that most people don’t even have to think about them, that is simply because most people are straight. Why should they think about them. However, the command to do unto others as you would have them do unto you requires that people step outside of their own experience and allow others with different experiences equal say.
We are children of God. We are your neighbors. You are absolutely commanded to treat us well, to treat us as you would be treated, and to be judged by the love and grace you showed us.
Is hurting people, damaging our families, and perpetuating hurtful lies about our existence what you really want to be judged by?



report abuse
 

Father Doneau

posted February 14, 2010 at 1:34 am


It is an old debate, one of which there will be no clear resolution simply because it is a matter of opinion and conjecture, not fact. The fact is, the author has several key points wrong. In terms of major religions, Christianity is but a newborn, barely 2 millenia old. Marriage by most religious standards prior to Chritianity was polygamous, not monogamous. The author also states that, “God plays the role of matchmaker in the Genesis story bringing man and woman together for their own good and for the propagation of the species” however what the Bible actually says is that God made Eve from Adam’s rib. They were together from the start, and certainly not as equals. Had they been equals, God would have punished only the woman for disobeying and not held Adam responsible for Eve’s disobedience, nor would Adam have shared in the punishment. One of the major arguments used to justify the denial of marriage to the gay and lesbian population is the one mentioned as well by the author, that of propogation. If marriage should be afforded only heterosexual couples because of procreation, then why does the church allow couples who cannot procreate to marry? Infertile couples, if we follow this logic, should be banned from marriage as well simply because they cannot procreate. It is in these small areas where the “picking and choosing” of scriptures and justifications call into question the whole argument. Others argue that gays and lesbians are generally incapable of fidelity and as such, should be denied the right of marriage. In Biblical times adultery was punishable by death – why are we not stoning Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard? As for the author’s statement, “Let me be clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians. They already have that right in most states” that is also in error. Civil Unions are only recognized in Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. While 6 other states have domestic partnership laws similar to civil union, they are by no means the same. 3 other states have some form of same sex partnership recognitions dealing with insurance right and the like but these are not civil unions either. This type of misinformation is exactly why both sides are at each others’ throats over this issue. The heart falls in love with whom it will. Our nation tried to legislate that before. There was a time when caucasians and blacks were legally prevented from marrying. Despite the many arguments that “that was different” in reality it in not – it is exactly the same thing. When we start legislating which 2 consenting adults can marry and which cannot, we open the door to all stripping citizens from other freedoms. When we start legislating discimination into our laws instead of protections, we are moving backwards, not forwards. If one doesn’t believe in same sex marriage, let them refrain from entering into a same sex marriage. Why only heterosexuals should be allowed to marry the person they fell in love with is beyond reason, argument, and logic. It is, simply put, discrimination.



report abuse
 

Joann Prinzivalli

posted August 10, 2010 at 9:55 am


In 1 Samuel 18, at least some texts (notably Darby and ASV) make it clear that when Saul’s daughter Michal is given to David in marriage, David is becoming Saul’s son-in-law a second time, the first time, clearly being in David’s marriage to Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18:3. Jerome’s Vulgate (and later translations that follow the Vulgate) obfuscated the verse for fear that others might realize that there was same-sex marriage in biblical times.
The Leviticus “abomination” refers to lying with a man as with a woman. It marks as unclean a single kind of sexual act – which makes me assume that perhaps David and Jonathan found other ways to express their love for each other – much can be made of the passage in which the two embrace in a field, and David “exceeded.”
After Saul and Jonathan are killed by the Philistines, in 2 Samuel 1, David, having known both Jonathan and Michal as spouses, mourned that the love of Jonathan was better than the love of a woman.
Paul, in 1 Cor. 7:8-9, makes it clear that for Christians, marriage should be rare, and should be reserved only for those who are unable to remain continent. The vast majority of Christians are called to celibacy – for Paul, marriage becomes a clear admission of an inability to control sexual urges.
Regardless of these biblical points, marriage as a civil institution has evolved over time. Before 1848 under the Anglo-American common law, in marriage, “the two become one and that one is the husband.” For women, marriage essentially meant civil death – married women were incompetent to enter into contracts and were under the complete control of their husbands. If a married woman had an inheritance, it was controlled by her husband. In New York, the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1848 (inheritances) and 1860 (wages) fundamentally changed the legalities of the marital relationship. Similar laws were enacted in other jurisdictions. Divorce laws have changed substantially over the years. Even the laws relating to responsibility for children were changed aroud the 1950’s in many places – it used to be that a man was not responsible for children out of wedlock unless he voluntarily “affiliated.” Nowadays, the value of marriage has been diluted by forced paternity suits, and easy access to divorce.
On the other hand, while it should be possible to respect the religious beliefs of those who are unwilling to bless a same-sex marriage by not legally requiring marriages to be performed in their churches, the religious rights of those who believe otherwise should also be respected. As to civil rights, those should be color-blind and gender-neutral. People tend to forget that there are many gay and lesbian couples with children, and those children would greatly benefit from having their parents in stable legaly recognized marriages, and not legally stigmatized into some sort of second class recognition.
With the recent decision in California’s proposition 8 case, and the Massachsetts challenge to federal DOMA, the day may come soon when we all have equal rights in this area. Of course, that’s not the last hurrah for human rights in America.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted February 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm


“Let me be clear that this column is not about civil unions for gays and lesbians. They already have that right in most states.”
This is a LIE from the pit of Hades.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted February 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm


“Suppose some state had a law that made polygamy all but in name the same thing as heterosexual monogamy or made pederasty all but in name the same as marriage?”
And:
“There are plenty of gay activists who have sought orally and in print to justify ‘boy love’ or pederasty.”
This is one of the vilest, most hateful posts I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading from someone who claims the name of Christ.
WE speak of committed relationships. You slur all of God’s GLBT children with the polygamy comparison, with pederasty! Multiple-partner marriages and child-molestation is NOT the topic here.
I hope God will forgive you because I sure won’t.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted February 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm


BW,
“As I said in the original post, there is a difference between civil unions, and marriage. Marriage is by definition a religious matter.”
No. It. Is. Not.
YOU are the one confusing things. What you are referring to is Holy Matrimony. Many faiths, Christian and otherwise, DO perform same-gender marriages. Your particular branch of your particular faith is (and always will be) free not to. No one is forcing you to. Or even to approve of other faiths that do.
Meanwhile, WE are discussing civil marriage.
“The phrase civil marriage is as much of an oxymoron as the phrase female uncle.”
Wrong. Again. Civil marriages take place – and have taken place for centuries – at City Halls and Justice of the Peace’s offices throughout the nation. Those that choose them probably want to be as FAR away from religion as possible. Your conflatin is not worthy of this discussion.
“I am not opposing civil unions in this particular post, I am supporting marriage as a religious institution.”
And yet, and yet – some religions DO perform same-gender marriages. You do NOT “suppport” SOME marriages performed in some faiths. Sad.
DO BETTER!



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

The John Wesley Fellows Meeting at Candler---- The Senior Fellows
The John Wesley Fellowship began in 1977, with Steve Harper and yours truly being two of the first John Wesley Fellows chosen.  I have told the story of Ed Robb and AFTE  this past Fall on the blog so I will not repeat it.   Here are some of the senior fellows attending the meeting.

posted 5:46:30am Jan. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Guns and Religion--- Enough is Quite Enough
I was sitting at the traffic light when a pickup pulled up next to me.  On the back of the cab window was a bumper sticker saying 'Guns and religion. Now more than ever.'   Then I found the picture you see above, and then this one below......   My response to this nonsense above

posted 7:05:08pm Jan. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Revival 2011--- At My Home Church in Charlotte

posted 9:58:02am Jan. 10, 2011 | read full post »

The John Wesley Fellows Meeting at Candler---- The Art of Theology
The John Wesley Fellows meeting this January was held in Atlanta at Candler School of Theology, and its Dean,  Dean Love is a collector of art for the seminary, with some 50 or so paintings now gracing the walls of their beautiful new seminary building.  The art of choice comes from a West

posted 5:30:50am Jan. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Ancient Readers and Manuscripts--- William A. Johnson's Take
  In the American world of bigger is better (and more erudite) it is refreshing to find a smallish book  (207 pages of text, including some pictures)  that makes its points in detail with full primary source documentation and then resists the tendency to be verbose or erudite for all

posted 9:30:59am Jan. 07, 2011 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.